Chung Mei "Justina" Liu of Orem is trying to cram two lifetimes into a four-day period.
The two lifetimes are her own and that of Dr. Chung Hua An of the People's Republic of China - a sister whom she had never met until Sunday."There's a lot of things we want to catch up on," said Liu, admitting that she and her sister have been staying up until early morning hours talking about a family divided by an ocean and several decades of uncertainty.
The sisters' father had worked for the Republic of China's Central Bank, with part of the family fleeing from Shanghai when Chiang Kai-shek moved his government to present-day Taiwan in 1949.
However, An was left behind with another sister to help care for a grandmother and an uncle. The eldest child of the family, she was 10 years old at the time.
Born soon after in 1950, Liu - the sixth of seven children - was often reminded by her mother of the two siblings left behind on the mainland. She was often told that, as an adolescent, she looked quite similar to her eldest sister, whom she had never known.
For years, the family was uncertain of what had happened to the two sisters and other family members still living in mainland China. Were they still alive? Meanwhile, An was left with similar questions about departed family members.
After graduating from medical school in 1973, Liu followed other family members in immigrating to the United States and worked for a decade at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center's maternity ward and newborn nursery as a nurse before turning to a current career in computers.
Meanwhile, An also followed the medical profession, becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist in China, first practicing near the China-Russiaborder. She now works just outside the capital city of Beijing. An was contacted by family members in the United States about 10 years ago, even though her father's initial letter was sent to a former, incorrect address. Family members have maintained written and phone correspondence, and the father visited An in the People's Republic of China several years ago.
While the other sister originally left on the mainland 40 years ago has since joined the family in the United States, An has been frustrated in her recent attempts to obtain a visa to visit. Liu sought the help of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to intervene on the family's behalf - the result was a six-month visa for An, now 52, who is currently planning to spend two months in the country.
Her four-day stop in Utah County is a mere interlude in meeting family members on both the East and West Coasts. Thursday, she leaves for New Jersey, where the family's eldest son lives. Also waiting at the airport will be the family's parents, now in their 70s, who live in Philadelphia. It will be the first time that An has been reunited with her mother since 1949.
In addition to the drawn-out briefings about family members, Liu, 38, has found time to introduce her sister to fried chicken and hot dogs. Plus, she also arranged for a Tuesday visit to her former place of employment - Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
The makeshift tour of the medical center allowed for a close look at obstetrics and gynecology in the Western world. An was said to be impressed with technology and techniques - from ultrasounds to how the umbilical cord is clipped.
Both Liu and An admit that the highlight of their meeting has been the chance to share stories about their once-fragmented family and now learn about the other's own immediate family.
With her new-found sister serving as intrepreter, An spoke of "family love" as being the underlying benefit of her visit. "I just saw my sister,"
she said, before the emotions of the meeting again overcame her and resulted in tears of happiness.
Said Liu of her sister: "She's so smart and so understanding of why the situation was as it was."