Katie Velasco and I go way back to Calvin College 2005-2009 when we were roommates with each other for most of that time period. She is now Katie Crosby and has a super cute son named Logan, and we still keep the bond alive visiting each other and taking diving trips together (pre-pandemic).
In this interview, Katie is joined by her sister Nicky, with special appearance from Rosie – Nicky’s 2 year old daughter. Katie and Nicky are half Filipino, a fourth Korean, and a fourth German, and their children get even more diverse! Everything is discussed here from their Korean halmeuni (grandmother) who was a nurse in the Korean war, to how their father immigrated from the Philippines to the USA, all the way to how Katie and Nicky’s looks have affected them growing up in South California. Katie and Nicky have vastly different college experiences and careers, but they’re always there for each other.
Trigger Warning: Nicky shares a bit of her painful experience with racism in this episode.
Now, Bobo Lie (as the huge Efferin-Lie clan) calls her, can’t recollect clearly who she is. Due to her dementia, she has no idea what day, time, or year it is. She has no teeth. But she doesn’t need teeth anymore because her food is all soft porridge-like meals.
She was one good cook.
Around the time my parents got married (the 1980s), Bobo Lie was about fifty years old. She lived in a large estate which she turned into a boarding home, sometimes with up to ten boarders at a time. She needed the money from boarders to survive and care for her sons. She has four sons, plus two nephews that she took under her wing because their mother-Bobo’s sister-had died at a young age.
In her home, Bobo always made sure the best meals were set out for everyone: sons, nephews, boarders, eventually daughters-in-law, and all the grandchildren that visited. Her signature dish wasrawon: black beef soup with turmeric, lemongrass, lime, and green onions.
She was one angry lady.
The reason she needed to turn her house into a boarding home was because Kung-Kung (my grandfather) divorced Bobo in her forties. He was a highly respected doctor in Surabaya, East Java. One of the first medical professionals in the whole province, in fact. After three children, he left Bobo (who was pregnant with a fourth child) to marry another lady. Now, I call her Granny Rika. I call her that behind Bobo’s back. I suppose reconciliation takes generations.
According to Bobo Lie, she never wanted the divorce. But somehow, in one of her angry emotional fits towards an unfaithful husband, it is possible that she signed the papers in exchange for ownership of the large estate.
She was one talented lady.
Before she got married to Kung Kung, Bobo loved to sing. As a teenager, she won singing competitions and even sang regularly on the radio. Being a radio star in the 1950s is like being a YouTuber with millions of followers in 2021. She was the belle of the town.
Bobo continued singing as a hobby, even when her mental capacities started to decline. Somehow, she managed to remember melodies and songs. Sometimes, she even sat on my piano and plunked out some tunes.
I suppose she doesn’t remember any of this now.
But I do. And now, you do too.
Bobo means grandmother. It’s a common term for Chinese-Indonesian families. Kung Kung means grandfather, another common Chinese-Indonesian term.
In November 2020, my 95-year-old grandmother’s health condition dropped. After clearing with the necessary checks to confirm that it was not Covid, we admitted her to the hospital for about a week. Honestly speaking, her 4 sons, 4 daughters-in-laws, 12 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren probably all had the same thought: Bobo Lie (that’s what we call her) is going to die soon. Her sons even gathered in the hospital room, hosting a masked service. Just in case.
Well, here we are in February 2021, celebrating Chinese New Year-Zoom family dinners and all. My father contracted the virus and got better (see my reflections on that), the nurse contracted the virus and got sent back to her village but through it all, Bobo Lie? Despite her dementia, she’s still alive and virus-free.
She is one tough lady.
She now lives with my uncle who takes excellent care of her. About five years ago, she was still staying with my parents. I was there practicing piano, as usual, preparing for a concert. I remember I was working on a Brahms Rhapsody. It was a particularly loud passage, so I couldn’t hear anything else. After the forte passage, I heard the household helper scream. My parents were not home, so the helper ran to my piano room in a panic. All she could say was “Bobo, Bobo, blood!”
I stopped the Brahms and went to check inside Bobo’s room. Bobo was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood. She was conscious though and calmly asked me to help her.
“What happened?” I asked, trying to help her get up.
“The scissors,” she answered vaguely. I saw there was a pair of scissors in the pool of blood, and there was a huge gash on her hand. I knew that she did her sewing, so it was likely that she lost muscular control and somehow fell while cutting her hand very badly.
She is one generous lady.
Bobo is much too old to go anywhere now. Ten years ago she was still able to go to church every Sunday. At that time, her dementia was just beginning. She dressed up as usual, and put some money in her wallet for the offering. The church protocol was for an offering bag to be passed from person to person as people put their money gifts in the bag. Sometimes there would be different colored bags for different purposes/projects.
When the bag reached her, she took out her wallet. There was the money she had prepared: a twenty thousand rupiah bill (equivalent to 15 USD), and spare change in the form of a one hundred rupiah coin (equivalent to 0,01 US cent). I suppose she originally meant to give the bill. However, she reached for the coin instead and dropped it proudly in the offering bag. Reactions from surrounding people included laughter and embarrassment. Perhaps in her mind, she was back half a century ago before the devaluation of the Indonesian currency. Back to a time when coins were still valuable while that particular bill had not even existed yet.
She is one beautiful lady.
When I was a child, my parents often took me to visit Surabaya in East Java. Bobo Lie lived in Surabaya until she was seventy. Then she moved to Bandung (West Java), where three of her four sons lived.
She introduced me to this amazing thing called nail polish. Her nails were always shiny with bright colors. She taught me how to cut my nails properly, how to patiently polish them, and also how to remove the polish when I got bored of the color. Bobo had a large collection of different brands and shades of nail polish. Manicure was an art form for her.
Sadly, I don’t keep up with proper care of my nails. I wonder what she would say now, if only she still recognized who I am.
Cung, my second husband, and I got married last year in August 2020 (see my Covid wedding post). Due to Covid restrictions, we did not go on a honeymoon following the wedding. Instead, we planned a delayed honeymoon slash break (didn’t we all need a break after 2020?) in December 2020. Destination: Bali, Indonesia’s paradise island. Domestic travel had opened up allowing for domestic tourism. Plus we wanted to visit our friends in Bali because the downfall of the tourism industry hit them hard.
We took the necessary health tests and protocols and booked the accommodation in several places. Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Lembongan, Ubud, and Tabanan-off we went. We only bought a one-way ticket because, to be honest, we were hoping to stay in Bali for an extended time. Since all our work is done online nowadays, we just need stable internet to be able to keep working.
The first part of our trip went very well. It was wonderful to see our friends at Bali. At Nusa Lembongan, we were able to do a bit of scuba diving. I am on a Dive Master Training program at Big Fish Diving, and I was able to review many necessary skills (visit my article on what I learned about fear from scuba diving). One fateful afternoon, however, I got a text that my father was not feeling very well. In pandemic times such as this, even minor health problems can become majorly complicated.
Our fears were validated. Several days after that, he tested positive for the Covid virus. A couple of days after that, his situation worsened and his oxygen saturation dropped to 75%. The target oxygen saturation range for patients is 92-96%. At that point, I had to decide whether to go back to Bandung or to stay and support from Bali. In a normal situation, this would have been an easy decision. In these crazy pandemic years, however, it was not that easy. Covid being as infectious as it is, my father kept insisting to be treated at home. He insisted that being isolated at the hospital stressed him out and made him unable to get better in spirit.
Well whenever in Bandung, Cung and I stay with my parents. So I had to think twice whether I wanted to be caught in the same home as a Covid positive patient. On the other hand, he was my father, of which I only had one. Now to give a bit of a background: our relationship is not the smoothest of relationships. Sometimes we find it very difficult to get along. This all factored in while we were on the island.
Making A Difficult Decision
After some thought, I finally decided that Cung and I should cut our trip short. We changed our plans and headed back to Bandung where we are at least closer to support my mother in a worst-case scenario. That was mid-December. Thankfully, my father got better, and everyone adhered to the protocols so that he was only released after being tested negative. He returned home on 30 December 2020-Covid survivor.
He said that he felt like someone that had just returned from war. Victorious, but weak, exhausted, and depressed. At the time of my writing this article (end of January) he is already much better. I feel though, that it was not only him who fought a battle. Everyone involved fought an internal struggle of emotions and what-ifs.
A Space Inside Myself
Having made the conscious decision to sacrifice our plans to be able to support my mother (and my father), I felt like something changed inside me. Something shifted, something was let go. A space-no matter how small-was created into which something new might grow. I have an inkling of what this new thing might be, but I don’t want to name it yet.
I do, however, want to acknowledge the space.
With special thanks to Devika Brendon, a dear friend who introduced me to the concept of “spaces” inside us.