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Water and Clouds

by Nancy Chen Baldwin

A Precious Name

I am Nancy Chen Baldwin, an American name that I came to identify with most of my life.  My given birth name is Lai Shui Yun (賴⽔雲), meaning water and clouds, a precious name given by my birth father set my life path to a challenging yet wondrous and enriching journey. I am a Taiwanese native, born in the hills of Laomei, a small farming village in the township of Shimen in New Taipei City. I received my primary and middle school education in Taiwan. The first 14 years of life in my native country enabled me to retain my linkage with Taiwanese culture and its languages. My advanced college studies in the United States earned me a prestigious career in the American male dominated aerospace industry. My experiences as a senior executive in a large corporation and community leadership provided me with the opportunity to connect with people from various backgrounds and citizenship. My volunteer work has been and continues to focus on women’s rights, professional and leadership development for young adults, and life skill teaching for all ages.

Major Life Change

Life can be challenging and complicated. My major life change event came when I was sold by my maternal grandmother to a Taiwanese “bar girl” at the age of five for $100 US dollars. While giving away a daughter was not unusual during the 1950’s Taiwan, being sold gave me a different connotation about life. It motivated me to develop a strong sense of self worth. Living in post WWII Taiwan, I was caught in the transitional period of Taiwan modernization with influx of Chinese natives from the mainland and American GIs. I remembered being displaced by both the Taiwanese and the American communities.  My presence was not acknowledged by either of them.  For the Taiwanese, I was the unwanted child of a treasonous working woman servicing the American military men. For the Americans, I was a secret that they were not supposed to know. Under these circumstances, one would wonder if life was worth living. Yet the curiosity about the world on the other side of the Pacific sparked my will to live. 

Passage to Freedom

With good fortune, I was offered the opportunity to immigrate to the United States when my adoptive mother married an American merchant marine. This unexpected transition gave me the “passage to freedom” as it led to a journey of self discovery, growth, and healing. I spoke very little English when I arrived in San Francisco, California. American culture was foreign and often not easily understood. Since we lived mostly among Americans, it created urgency for me to learn English and adjust to the new lifestyle. With the help of teachers and school counselors, I attended University of California at Davis with a full scholarship. I graduated with two Bachelor degrees – International Economic and Oriental Languages. Later, I obtained a graduate certificate in business and a master degree in clinical Social Work from California State University at Sacramento.  During my academic years, I learned about social activism when I participated in anti-Vietnam war protests, Cesar Chavez’s labor movement, and Women in Politics lobbying activities. I believe these were my callings to seek my place in an unjust world. At those moments, I felt my life was bigger than the little girl who was sold.  

Challenges and Surprises

Nancy Baldwin Book Launch - COT 0324-4

I forwent my law school ambition when a luscious offer came from the United States Air Force upon my college graduation in 1972. Life came with many surprises. I joined Corporate America as a financial analyst and concluded my career as a Senior Engineering Director for a leading defense company in the US. I had no engineering degree nor formal technical training. I believe my mathematics and economic background have enabled me to learn quickly.  My ingrained Taiwanese values taught me the work ethic to be successful in my career. From my corporate experiences, I learned the politics of affirmative action, pay inequity, gender and race disparity.  I also learned to create opportunities for women and younger generations through mentoring and coaching. For over 40 years, I chose to live up to the challenges of a complex business world. As an immigrant Asian female, a non-engineer, who spoke with a heavy Chinese-English accent, I often clashed with the bi-cultural conflicts, but my strong will and pride triumphed.

One Thousand Layers of Water and Clouds

From the personal perspective, while I was able to achieve my academic and professional success, my childhood trauma surfaced from time to time.  I wrote my memoir, One Thousand Layers of Water and Clouds, as a way to heal, physically and spiritually. Through the process, I recognized the story is no longer my own, rather it is a reflection of the lives of young girls of my time.  I wrote the book for these women who didn’t have a voice. I want my story to inspire young generations and provide a forum to address women related social issues. 

“The lifelong learning from my adoptive grandmother has finally come to its fruition – love deeply, give freely, and be what we want to be with confidence.”

Nancy Baldin Bookclub COT 0324-1

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