Micro-Reflections on the Pandemic – Elizabeth and the Liao Family

Northeast  |  June 15, 2021
After graduating from college, Elizabeth Schieffelin, who grew up in the U.S., decided to start a business in China and made friends with a group of like-minded people. Photo/courtesy of Elizabeth Schieffelin Liao

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

“Micro-Reflections on the Pandemic”

A blog series presenting the stories of three American households facing different aspects of the pandemic together, with wisdom.

Elizabeth and the Liao Family

Hello, my name is Elizabeth. I grew up in the United States, and I’m very interested in multiculturalism.

Elizabeth Schieffelin Liao, a Holistic Nutrition & Wellness Coach, looks like the quintessential All-American girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, and grew up in a traditional Catholic family. And yet, she showed an early interest in foreign languages and cultures and began to study Chinese and French at age 16.

A childhood photo of Elizabeth (first left) and her two sisters. Her parents value the importance of education and family, which aligns with traditional Chinese values. Photo/courtesy of Elizabeth Schieffelin Liao

She visited China for the first time through a high school exchange program that brought her to Beijing, then studied abroad in Shanghai during her junior year. Elizabeth fell in love with the culture and knew she wanted to live in China after college, as she had discovered an openness in Eastern culture, and a community:

The one thing that I really loved about living in China is the friends I made there and the people I interacted with. Their thoughts and concepts are open and tolerant. People are really interested to get to know me and understand where I was from. On the contrary, in the West, maybe it’s more of a closed mind or other perspectives.

And so, Elizabeth returned to Shanghai after graduation, and in 2014, opened Lizzy’s All Natural, the city’s first superfood smoothie cafe chain. Then in 2017, valuing the synergy of physical and mental health, she established the Zenergy Holistic Wellness Center, a space dedicated to hosting yoga, meditation, wellness classes and workshops, and private coaching and healing.

Elizabeth, who values ​​the link between physical and mental health, at the wellness center she opened in China. Photo/courtesy of Elizabeth Schieffelin Liao

After the outbreak of COVID-19 she closed Lizzy’s All Natural, a business operating in China for six years, and returned to the United States. There, she was dismayed at the racial tensions that soon followed, with a series of attacks on Asian Americans in her native land. 

Elizabeth felt that the pandemic had ignited racial hatred caused by fear, something that may always lie dormant about “difference.” She has never focused on people’s external differences but always seeks common ground, universal characteristics, and learning from one another.

If you’re curious about someone else, if you go in with a question instead of a statement, if you go in to meet someone with the intention of learning instead of telling, it would be a totally different interaction. Everyone from all over the world, from all ages, from all backgrounds, we all have something to learn from each other.

Elizabeth personifies the principles she believes in, as her husband, Warren Liao, a second-generation Chinese American, is from a different cultural background than her own. Her in-laws, Kenneth Liao and Lifen Song, are Tzu Chi USA volunteers originally from Taiwan.

Elizabeth and her husband Warren Liao celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan. Photo/Lifen Song
Elizabeth joins her parents-in-law at the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan during the Lunar New Year celebration. Photo/Lifen Song

On her part, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Lifen, who is from an Eastern culture, welcomed her daughter-in-law from the West, keeping the teachings of Master Cheng Yen close to heart: “Everyone’s habits are slightly different, but just like Master says, ‘Only with love, respect, and gratitude, can everyone be together peacefully.’”

In fact, the pandemic has brought the family even closer together as they’ve been living under one roof every day. The recent birth of a granddaughter, Lila, further cemented the family bond.

Elizabeth is most grateful for the current living arrangement, sharing that, “‘When a [daughter] is born, a mother is born, so this baby is a newborn mom; she needs to be mothered. And so having my mother-in-law be there to mother me and take care of me, it was so healing on a physical level, emotional level, and spiritual level.”

Nelly PerateaElizabeth Schieffelin Liao (left), holding daughter Lila, Warren Liao (second left), and his parents, Kenneth Liao (second right) and Lifen Song (middle), are currently a multi-generation family living together. Photo/Pinhau Chiou, a local, waits in line to pick up food from the distribution for her family of six. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Elizabeth is currently focusing on online coaching full-time. And, emphasizing the importance of gratitude to her clients is central to her coaching services. Eastern culture has long emphasized gratitude, and in the past 30 years, the West has also used science to confirm that gratitude correlates with health and happiness.

Practicing gratitude is like putting on a pair of sunglasses. The color of the glasses will affect our view of the world. It’s not just grateful for good things, or for good moods, promotion, and wealth, but grateful for all things in life. It’s a blessing and learning from within.

During the pandemic, Elizabeth published her gratitude journal from childhood. After it launched online, her journal format and coaching is guiding readers from all over the world, helping them overcome their sense of fear:

Every morning, you can answer different questions from the journal, such as what made you happy yesterday, and there will be special gratitude assignments every month, and a complete set of templates every week.

Elizabeth’s gratitude notebook is helping readers eliminate their fears and negative energy during the pandemic through mental gratitude exercises. Photo/Pinhau Chiou

The pandemic has made human beings face long-standing ethnic and cultural differences once again, but the public health crisis will eventually pass. Yet what people will still have to face is not a virus but the necessity to embrace all of humanity equally and coexist with goodwill, gratitude, and respect.

Elizabeth learns a lot about the culture of Tzu Chi during the Chinese New Year and has visited the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan twice during that time. Photo/Lifen Song

The value of a person has nothing to do with where you’re from, how much money you have, or what you look like. At the end of the day, it’s not about the outside, it's the inside.

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