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Lena Ou recalls life as diplomat's wife

Lena Ou, wife of Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou, shares with members of the World Association of Women Journalists and Writers (ROC Chapter), her ...

Lena Ou, wife of Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou, shares with members of the World Association of Women Journalists and Writers (ROC Chapter), her ...

Lena Ou, the wife of Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou, has lived a richly colorful life, continent-hopping and living in different faraway countries.
As a child, she dreamed of becoming a journalist or even a diplomat. But she did not make the grade at the college entrance examination to be able to pursue her childhood fantasy.
"Upon entering the university, I decided that I would like to be a radio announcer," Ou told the members of the World Association of Women Journalists and Writers (ROC Chapter), also known as the Asociacion Mundial de Mujeres Periodistas y Escritoras (AMMPE), at a general meeting in Taipei recently.
To prepare for her future, she tried to improve her Mandarin pronunciation, consulting the dictionary often.
She recalled: "My efforts paid off because I landed a part-time job as radio program emcee during my student days. I was employed until I graduated from the university. I then found work in the field of education."
Ou went on: "Not long after, however, a television network in the preparatory stage began recruiting announcers. I was fortunate to be hired."
After Ou realized that not everyone could be a news reporter, she shifted to work behind the scene, serving as technical assistant for six years. She also got married and became a mother. Ou stayed at her job until her husband began to be posted overseas.
Life from then on changed completely for Lena Ou. She remembered: "In the beginning, I often woke up in the middle of the night to ask my husband what day of the week and what time it was. Was it my turn to work the straight shift and run the documentary film? This went on for at least six months."
The highly supportive Ou accompanied her husband throughout his postings in five countries, including Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Spain for a total of 26 years.
The assignment in Nicaragua proved the shortest, lasting only one year and three months, Ou pointed out. The leftist government's takeover abruptly brought Taiwan's diplomatic ties with the country to an end. The posting in Guatemala turned out to be the longest. Her husband was assigned to this Central American country for 11 years.
Lena Ou arrived with her husband in Chile back in 1975, the year Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown by the rightist military strongman and dictator Augusto Pinochet. The government of Pinochet agreed to allow Taiwan to establish an economic and trade office.
And so Ou turned up with her diplomat husband plus their two daughters in Santiago, Chile, to set up the office. Their eldest child was only two years old and the younger one just two months old at that time. A nanny went with them.
The travel to the Chilean capital took more than 30 hours, said Ou. At that time she did not speak a word of Spanish. Her husband had to look for a house to rent, order furniture and cast around for a car to buy. He also had to discuss with the local government officials the setting up of his office.
Lena Ou stayed with her children at the hotel most of the time. She turned on the TV set but did not understand the Spanish broadcasts, even thinking the language sounded rather like Japanese. The food was unfamiliar, too, according to her.
"Thirty-three years ago, a letter sent home from Chile took three months to arrive," said Ou."I was not able to make a long-distance call. I felt very homesick but I did not let my husband know what I was going through. I simply hid under the blanket and cried my heart out."
She continued: "In the end, I decided to come to grips with reality. I wiped my tears and started looking for a Spanish language tutor. With my helper, I tried to make tofu, prepare spring rolls and dry watermelon peel under the sun to produce a dried radish substitute, mainly learning from famous culinary book author Fu Pei-mei."
There were only two Chinese restaurants in Santiago in those days, she pointed out. Dining at one of them meant spending the entire month's entertainment budget. Therefore, entertaining at home became the only other option. There was a need to make friends to break into the Chilean society.
The Chilean people Ou became acquainted with were very warm and they showed good breeding. Friendships experienced in those days have been cherished to this day.
Ou, who was from Zhejiang, was particularly proud of her spicy "ma po tofu" in those days. But she could not find tofu or bean curd in the market. So she improvised, using fried cow's brain as substitute. She chuckled, thinking about how her foreign guests then relished unknowingly her high-cholesterol food.
Ou recalled the need to use secret code when communicating with the home office in those days. She went to her husband's office at the end of the day to help translate the telegraphic messages, using the code. Every word had to be converted into five-digit numeral. Afterwards the message was sent through the Post Office.
Telegraphic messages received had to be translated back into Chinese. The exercise was very time-consuming, according to Ou.
The Ou couple's family grew in size over the years. Their four children moved from one country to the next one, getting educated wherever their father was assigned. According to Lena Ou, the children became fluent in both Spanish and English, lagging far behind though in their Chinese language proficiency. They all received only three years of education in Taiwan. In fact, they found it difficult to gain admission to universities in Taiwan.
The wife of the top Foreign Ministry official remarked at this stage in her life that she has absolutely no regret traveling the world with her diplomat husband. She accepted her fate, saying: "Looking at my closet filled with suits and 'chi pao' dresses, I could not help falling into fond reveries of all those years. My husband and I experienced first-hand the difficulties of diplomacy, particularly safeguarding the country's dignity and interest. We did it with unyielding persistence."

Updated : 2021-07-25 02:37 GMT+08:00