Heart of gold

Updated: 2013-11-28 11:05

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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It was a three-year whirlwind: She had married in 1968, left for the US in 1969, and her first child was born in 1970.

"We didn't have much money," she says, "so I started baby-sitting for other Chinese couples in the school as I was taking care of my own daughter." As an elementary school teacher, she was a natural in that role, and grateful for the opportunity since she liked children and could make some ready cash.

"My English wasn't good then," she recalls, though today she's comfortably bilingual. "I had learned it as a student in Taiwan, but I didn't need to use it growing up."

Heart of gold

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Heart of gold

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She also began teaching Mandarin to children at Chinese schools for expatriate families and American-born Chinese, and assisting students and families. She often became a young substitute mother, helping newly arrived Chinese families find apartments, work, lending them money and - in emergencies - providing room and board until they got on their feet.

She became expert at recruiting volunteers from the local Chinese community.

"In Philadelphia, the incoming Chinese were from Taiwan," she says. After six years, her little family moved to Rochester, New York, and then to Dayton, Ohio. By the mid 1980s, China's opening up was really getting started, and the first wave of Chinese from the mainland was coming to the US.

"I remember those first students who came in 1986," she says with a fond smile. "They arrived here with $10 in their pockets, and little idea of what to do."

Liang hustled her community association and Chinese friends for donations - some cash but also the small electronic appliances needed for daily living right away: Rice cookers, toaster ovens, microwaves, grills.

Two different experiences in Dayton, where the family lived for 10 years, took Liang on a path that made community volunteering not just a pastime but a vocation.

She loved the Ohio city that gave the world the Wright brothers. "Their bicycle shop is still there, did you know?" she asks brightly. "We took all of our visitors there, and also to the Air Force Museum."

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