Mon, Feb 14, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Romantic ties link Taipei family and Washington

CLOSE CONNECTIONS The son of a Taipei shop owner is engaged to the niece of ex-AIT chairwoman Therese Shaheen and Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Katherine Williams is shown with members of the Sun family in a photo taken during her visit to Taipei last August, including Liu Lien-mei, second left, Sheila Sun, third left, Steve Sun, center, and Sun Sen-sen, right.

PHOTO: THE SUN FAMILY

It never occurred to Sun Sen-sen (孫森森), a hardworking arts and jewelry store owner in Taipei, that he might someday become a member of Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita's family or develop diplomatic connections.

Moving from China to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government in 1949 as a child, Sun grew up in a poor family.

Sun married Liu Lien-mei (劉蘭妹), an Aboriginal and despite the couple's strained finances, fought against all odds to send their son and two daughters to the best kindergarten and elementary schools in Taipei.

Sun Hsiang-chou (孫祥洲), the eldest child, graduated from National Taiwan University's department of economics several years ago. He is now studying for his master's degree in financial engineering at Baruch College, the City University of New York.

2004 Surprise

Last year, Sun Hsiang-chou, who is also known as Steve Sun, told his parents he had met an American woman named Katherine Williams and that they were interested in each other.

Steve and Katherine, whose nickname is Katie, planned a trip to Taipei last August.

Before the trip, Katherine told Steve's parents that her aunt was Therese Shaheen.

"At that time, I didn't even know who Shaheen is," Liu said.

Shaheen, former chairwoman of the American Institute in Taiwan, is married to Di Rita.

Famous Aunt

She became widely known among the Taiwanese public because of broad media coverage of her warm reception of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) during his stopover at New York in 2003.

Her comment that US President George W. Bush was the "secret guardian angel" responsible for Chen's trip to New York has lingered in the memories of many people in Taiwan, who have tended to associate Shaheen with American friendliness toward Taiwan.

To introduce her family members to the Sun family, Katherine faxed a color photo of them to Steve's parents. In the photo were her parents, Thomas and Julie Williams, Shaheen, Di Rita and other relatives.

Julie Williams, a music teacher, is Shaheen's sister.

Seeing the Williams family photo and comparing it with Shaheen's photos in newspapers, Steve's parents eventually understood that their son's girlfriend is the niece of a former US diplomat who played a vital role in ties between Taipei and Washington.

Cultural Concerns

However, his parent's reactions differed when Steve told his parents last year that he wanted to marry his American girlfriend.

"For me, it is OK," Sun Sen-sen said.

"When my son went to the US to study, I blessed him and wished him a great future. An American wife can help him in many ways if he stays in the US," Sun Sen-sen said.

"I couldn't accept it in the beginning. I was shocked. She is from a different culture," Liu said.

"When my son told me he had an American girlfriend, I asked him to find a Chinese girl," she said.

After Steve and Katherine's August visit, however, Liu's worries about the possibility of having an English-speaking foreigner for a daughter-in-law had largely been erased.

Williams, who lived in China for a year, has learned enough conversational Chinese to be able to communicate with the Sun family without much difficulty.

Family Ties

Knowing that Katherine comes from a wealthy family, Liu was afraid that she might be unhappy with the smallness of the Sun family's Taipei home.

"But she did not complain about the dirtiness and smallness of our house at all. She is a nice girl," Liu said.

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