My great grandfather left China in the 1840s to seek his fortune in the
United States of America. During the Gold Rush of 1849, he amassed a sizeable
fortune and wisely set up several restaurants and hotels. These reaped huge
profits from the influx of prospectors, who hoped to strike it rich.
1924, my father stood to inherit abundant wealth. Unfortunately, the family's
assets dwindled during the great economic depression of the 1930s and, later,
the Second World War. Dad moved to the coastal area of Monterey and established
a company specialising in the export of abalone and sea urchins.
I was born in
1960 and Dad believed that, being the eldest son, I would bring him luck. He
paid homage to sea, upon which our lives depended, by naming me "Xiang Yang",
which means "facing the vast ocean". Perhaps, my name did have some bearing on
my character for I grew to love the ocean and all the living things it
I decided to major in Marine Biology in the university. Dad was
aghast for he wanted me to read Business Administration and run the company
after graduation. Dad felt betrayed and said that I was turning my back on the
very business that had provided for me. I tried to explain that it was important
for me to see my own toil and struggle come into fruition, but it was in vain.
Upon graduation, I joined a conservation group attempting to revive the sea
otter population, which was on the brink of extinction. Our successful efforts
incurred the wrath of fishermen. The otters, which had ravenous appetites, fed
on abalone and sea urchins. The fishermen feared that the resurgence of the
otters would cripple their livelihood. It was ironical, for it was the
near-extinction of the otters that created the fishing industry in the first
place - in the absence of the otters, the shell-fish population had drastically
increased. My involvement in the group soured relations with Dad even further
for it placed us on opposite sides of the fence.
One day, Dad came to see me
at the laboratory. I had just rescued an orphaned pup, a mere seven weeks old.
It wailed pitifully as baby otters would when separated from their mothers. Dad
was intrigued - he had encountered these 'adversaries' at sea but had never seen
them up close.
I explained why our conservation efforts were important. There
were less than 2,400 California sea otters. A major ecological disaster like an
oil spill from the numerous oil platforms along the coast could wipe out the
entire population. To make matters worse, their population growth was a slow
five percent a year.
"Otter milk is twenty-five percent fat and this helps to
keep the babies warm. I'm afraid our provisions are not adequate," I said as I
tried to feed the orphaned pup. Dad left a few minutes later but returned the
"This is for Gus," he said, holding a bottle filled with a murky
liquid. He sheepishly explained that it was his name for the otter. I was
pleased that Dad had actually been charmed by the little, furry creature. He had
concocted a mixture of chopped squid, clams, cod liver oil, saline, vitamins and
minerals. For Gus, it was the elixir of life for he gained strength and weight
in the ensuing weeks.
I acted as a surrogate parent to Gus. Each day, I donned
a wet suit and foraged for abalone and sea urchins on the seafloor while Gus
watched. Dad always waited by the shore and we would discuss Gus' progress.
Without our realising it, Dad and I had come to an understanding and were
mending our estranged relationship.
Our hearts were heavy when we eventually
had to release Gus into the wild. We would monitor him for a few months, using a
transmitter but we were confident that he had acquired sufficient skills for
"It is hard to let our loved ones go, but we must let them chart
their own journeys," Dad remarked as Gus worked up the courage to venture forth.
I understood Dad's veiled meaning and gave him a hug. Gus was a true blessing in
disguise - he gave me back my father.