Watching From Afar
By KEITH BRADSHER
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Long before Jeremy Lin began winning games in spectacular style for the Knicks, his Taiwanese grandmother, Lin Chu A Muen, came to the United States to look after him as a young child while his parents worked. She diapered and fed him and, as he grew up, cooked big batches of fried rice with dried turnips and egg, a Taiwanese favorite.
On Wednesday night, Lin Chu, now 85, went to a sports restaurant to watch a delayed broadcast of her grandson’s latest heroics, a last-second shot against the Toronto Raptors that propelled the Knicks to their sixth straight victory since he emerged out of nowhere and took charge of the team.
Lin Chu’s face lighted up every time her grandson came on the screen. But each time he fell or was knocked down or elbowed by the Raptors, who played a pugnacious, battering defense against him, her face froze.
“I don’t know too much about basketball, but this is not how it should be done — why do they do it?” she said with dismay. “I know nothing about basketball. I only know when Jeremy puts the ball in the basket he has done a good thing.”
Much of Taiwan has been watching Lin’s extraordinary performance over the last week and a half with almost as much emotion as Lin Chu and perhaps with more knowledge of the sport. Newspapers and magazines have almost monotonously similar front pages with photographs of Lin. Offices go quiet each morning when Lin plays in night games on the other side of the world, as workers try to follow the court action without being heard by their colleagues.
Lin Chi Chung, Jeremy Lin’s 63-year-old uncle, said he kept working at his job as a warehouse manager Wednesday morning as the Knicks-Raptors game was being played, knowing he would watch it that night. But almost none of the other 60 people at the warehouse showed the same discipline.
“All the senior managers at my office and all the sales managers immediately updated me — they all had iPads they were watching,” he said.
Politicians are also paying attention. Taiwan’s democracy is famously fractious, not just between the ruling Nationalist Party and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, but among factions within each group. But on Lin, they are united. And Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, caused some amusement this week by wishing that his cabinet showed the same team spirit as Lin did.
Lin Chu said her grandson had always been a mild-mannered boy who shared his possessions with others, and indeed Lin is drawing plaudits for doing exactly what a smart, and poised, point guard should — passing the ball to teammates when they are in a position to score.
While the Taiwanese news media have breathlessly suggested that Lin Chu taught basketball to her grandson, she emphatically denied this.
“My son, when he came home from work, would always take the kids to play basketball,” she said. “He took Jeremy to the basketball courts as soon as he could walk.”
The hunger of the Taiwanese news media for every detail of Jeremy Lin’s life has proved a problem for his grandmother and uncle, who live together. So many reporters and photographers camped outside their home in the Taipei suburbs that they briefly fled last weekend to their ancestral village, Beidou, in south-central Taiwan, only to be pursued there by reporters.
The two agreed to an interview Wednesday night in Taipei only after taking elaborate precautions to avoid paparazzi. This subterfuge included meeting at a cake shop in a nearly deserted neighborhood and then driving a circuitous route in the uncle’s car while watching to see if anyone was following. No one was, and they then proceeded to dinner and the ballgame at the Brass Monkey sports restaurant.
While in the car, Lin’s uncle volunteered his views on one of the most contentious questions on the Internet about Jeremy Lin and his family: whether they are Taiwanese or Chinese. “For sure, they are Taiwanese,” Lin Chi Chung said. “I spoke to Jeremy Lin’s father, who is my younger brother, and he said, ‘Make sure you point this out.’ ”
Both of Jeremy Lin’s parents were born in Taiwan and retain dual citizenship in Taiwan and the United States, Lin Chi Chung said. Jeremy Lin was born in California and has American citizenship but has been offered dual citizenship in Taiwan as well by the foreign ministry here, his uncle added.
Lin Chi Chung said that he and Jeremy Lin’s father were eighth-generation descendants of immigrants from Fujian province in southeastern China who moved to Taiwan in 1707. They were part of a large wave of Fujian migration then, from whom most of Taiwan’s current residents are descendants, and these descendants tend to identify themselves as Taiwanese.
A senior official of Zhejiang province in east-central China suggested over the weekend that Jeremy Lin’s ancestral home was there because his maternal grandmother grew up in the province before moving to southernmost Taiwan in the late 1940s, at the end of China’s civil war.
A devout Christian, she was married for a while to a Taiwanese Christian pastor, gave birth to Jeremy Lin’s mother and raised her, and later moved to the United States.
While acknowledging that the maternal grandmother is still fond of mainland China, where she sponsors a scholarship at her hometown’s high school, Lin Chi Chung said that mainland Chinese culture and Taiwanese culture both dictate that Jeremy Lin’s identity should be determined by his father’s side of the family.
“We are a male-dominated society, so while I know there are relatives on the mother’s side on the mainland, you should go by the father’s side, and that is Taiwanese,” he said.
Lin Chu remained quiet for the most part during the discussion of her grandson’s identity, preferring to discuss his basketball abilities. She said that she was struggling to understand her grandson’s basketball games because while Lin’s father has been sending her videos of the games for years, she has not tried to watch them until the past few weeks.
“My grandson would say, ‘Did you see the films?’ and I hadn’t, but I would tell him I did,” she said.
Jeremy Lin’s grandmother and uncle have agreed that they will only watch delayed broadcasts of Jeremy Lin’s games, after she has been told the outcome. The reason, Lin Chu said, was simple: she needs to limit stress.
Lin Chu watches her diet. She ordered a large salad at the sports restaurant while watching the game, but ate very little of it.
When Lin scored the final 6 points of the game to give the Knicks a 90-87 victory, the restaurant patrons threw up their arms in exultant cheers. Lin Chu stayed seated but grinned broadly, her eyes sparkling.
Then she and her eldest son walked quietly to the restaurant door, cast a wary eye for paparazzi and headed for their car and the half-hour drive home. Ahead were more games this week featuring her grandson, and, perhaps, more chances to celebrate.