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Chinese Ann Landers : Columnist Has Advice for More Than the Lovelorn

September 08, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

The writer of the letter to the Chinese World Daily News in Monterey Park had a tough problem.

A fortuneteller had warned her that if she refused a marriage proposal from her Taiwanese boyfriend, she would have to wait two more years for another offer.

"What should I do?" the writer asked.

For Nancy Lin, the closest thing in Southern California to a Chinese Ann Landers, it only took a moment to come up with an answer.

"How can you listen to a fortuneteller and decide this willy-nilly?" she responded. "In this scientific and intellectually prosperous age, we must thoroughly investigate and analyze to make the best decisions."

Welcome to the Friends Mailbox, an advice column that focuses on the problems of the Chinese immigrant community.

The column is buried deep within the Los Angeles edition of the World Daily News, the largest-circulation Chinese newspaper published in this country. A company spokesman said the Los Angeles edition has a circulation of about 60,000, with a total circulation of more than 180,000.

The column occupies a modest corner of the features section surrounded by articles on local clubs, Dodger games and real estate ads.

But with headlines like, "I Don't Want to Live," "Money! Money!" and "Daddy Is a Drunk," it's hard to miss.

For the last year and a half, Lin has dished out her homey brand of advice to a grab bag of problems such as family relations, sex, child rearing, mental illness and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

No one is sure how popular the column is.

Lin concedes that Friends Mailbox does not have nearly as many fans as the enormously popular column written from Taiwan by Madame Wei Wei or the computer fortunetelling column.

But she said the purpose of the column is not fame and fortune. In fact, her name is never used and the paper does not pay her.

The column is sponsored by the Asian Pacific Family Center, a mental health clinic in Rosemead that serves the Asian community.

The center sees the column as a way of reaching the immigrant community and showing that its problems are neither unique nor unsolvable.

Many letters are from readers, such as the one concerning fortunetelling, but Lin also composes some herself to illustrate a problem.

Gladys C. Lee, the center's director, said the column has been successful in bringing out problems that many traditional Chinese tend to ignore.

"There are many issues the Chinese find hard to talk about, but once you publish it, the problems are out in the open," she said. "It's a very safe way of educating people. They can read it at home or read it alone in the bathroom. There hasn't been a very high response, but when I go to community meetings, people say they like it and read it."

Some topics, such as mother-daughter relations or teen suicide, are common fare for any American advice column.

But in her Sunday column, Lin focuses on the experiences of recent immigrants, many of whom are still grappling with problems in adapting to this country.

One column last summer dealt with extramarital affairs--nothing new to readers of "Dear Abby."

Wife Thinking of Dating

But Lin wrote about a woman who came to this country with her children three years ago so they could attend American schools, a common situation in the Chinese community. Her husband stayed in Taiwan to manage the family business.

Overcome with loneliness, she had begun thinking of dating a co-worker.

Lin's answer was that there was nothing wrong with making friends, but she encouraged the woman to write more to her husband and develop hobbies to fight off her loneliness.

She ended with a final warning: "Don't forget, affairs are a cancer to family happiness."

Lin began the column while working part time as a counselor at the Asian Pacific Family Center. She had written an advice column in Taiwan, and agreed to write one here for the center.

"The chance to educate people is very good," said the cheery 46-year-old Diamond Bar resident. "Besides, I like writing it."

An Unlikely Candidate

Lin said that in some ways, she is an unlikely candidate to give other people advice.

"I was a spoiled kid, and I'm still very dependent on people," she said.

But she has experienced and understands the problems faced by immigrants.

Lin and her husband came to this country in 1985 so their daughter could attend American schools and avoid the dreaded college entrance exams in Taiwan.

She spoke little English, knew almost nothing about American society and felt lost in the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles.

"I was so scared to go out," she said. "Everything was so big here, and I couldn't even read a map."

At first, she took a job as an office worker in a motel, a big comedown after being the chief social worker at the Taipei City Psychiatric Center.

But after a few months, she returned to college so she could be a social worker in this country. She now works at the MacLaren Children's Center in El Monte as a psychiatric social worker counseling abused and neglected children.

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