Thursday, July 31, 2014

Smooth Sailing

I learned my lesson. For the next twenty-six days, I remembered to take my seasick pills everyday.
After my nap, the medication kicked in and I was almost as good as new.
That evening, I joined Joyce in the dining room. When our waiters saw me, they did not conceal the fact that they were surprised. With twinkles in their eyes, half-smiles, and an occasional nod of the heads, they paid me more attention than usual. Everything for the Young Miss!
They were too well-trained to ask me what Magic I performed to conquer my seasickness so fast. 
The food was delicious and plentiful. The service was superb.

Now, you know on a ship all your meals were paid for, and you could eat all you want. If you wanted three main courses and five desserts, you would be served that, no less. The waiters did what was asked, not an eyebrow was raised. On board with us, there were some young men, students most likely. One of them, kept asking for more food. I thought he was going to be sick at the table.  Of course, heads were turned, but no one made any comments. I bet he got sick that evening. After the first evening, he settled down, he realized that he did Not have to eat all his meals in one sitting.

We had some  HKU friends who were traveling on the same ship, but since they were in Third Class, Joyce and I did not see them at all. First Class and Third Class were not to mingle. You probably saw that on "Titanic." (Of course, S. S. Asia was not the Titanic, but rules were the same. Discrimination! )

The sea was calm, but there was really nothing to see but water. I don't remember seeing any spectacular sunsets either, for some reason. May be I was not observant? What you saw was simply water. "Water, water, every where."             

Why was the Ancient Mariner haunting me? Hey, Coleridge! (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 19th Century English Poet wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
      Water, water, every where,
      And all the boards did shrink;
      Water, water, every where,
       Nor any drop to drink.)

On a long voyage, when you were at sea for days on end, life could be a bit of a one-note song. The first few days, you could explore the ship. Then, you might saunter around the Promenade, lounge in the canvas deck chair, or play shuffle board. Read a book? Play cards? Go to the movie ? (There were no floor shows on an Ocean Liner.) Harass the Purser? (The ever romantic Italians love to flirt with the girls!) Or, go to the bar? I was not that desperate. However, I did try some "Singapore Sunset" - our bartender's own concoction. A colorful drink! (I am not against a little drink every now and then, it just didn't like ME.)
But how many games of Shuffle Board can you play? 
Thankfully, we had Ports to call. After a few days at sea, we saw land, Hooray!

Our First port of call was Singapore, British Crown Colony.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

S. S. Asia

I was glad that my friend, Joyce, decided to go to London for further education, so the two of us made plans to travel together.

Father was generous and gave me a First Class ticket on an Italian Liner, S. S. Asia, which would carry us to Genoa, Italy. From there, Joyce and I were to take the train, traveling through France, crossing the channel, and end our journey in London.
So, the summer found me busy, getting ready to leave HK.  
Like many unseasoned travelers, I probably packed way too much unnecessary items. I busied myself with the preparations. It kept me occupied.

The day finally came for us to board S. S. Asia.
Both Joyce's parents and mine came to see us off. After our parents viewed our cabin, the grand Dining room, the awesome Ballroom, the library, the theater, and so on; then it was time for them to get off the ship.
Joyce and I went to the upper deck, leaned over the railings and throw confetti and colored paper streamers down the side of the ship  - just like what you see in the old movies. The ship bellowed out its loud "Ohmmm", we were ready to "set sail."  Slowly the big ship turned away from the dock, with its tugboats leading the way, gracefully gliding over the water, heading out of the harbor. Till this day I get excited whenever I witness "setting the sail". Of course, now-a-days, we don't have confetti or streamers for the cruise ships. And, believe me, even the cheapest cabins are more roomy than our cabin on S. S. Asia. 

Joyce and I were to share our First-Class cabin (mind you, First Class!) with a middle-aged WAC from the U.S. She was a plus-sized woman, I don't know how she ever fitted into that bunkbed. Joyce and I were skinny then (I only weighed ninety-three pounds and Joyce was not much bigger) so we did not have too much trouble. There was about a four feet space between the bunkbeds, barely enough room to turn around. Our large trunks were in the ship's storage, we had suitcases in the cabin, still - it was tight. Now, the bathroom was such, the wash basin was the size of a large salad bowl (I swear it was the truth.) And, the shower was so tight you could touch both sides with your elbows bent. We also had to learn how to conserve water - no waste!
Don't get me wrong, the cabin had old-world-charm with its mahogany wood everywhere and polished shining brass fittings, good linen, it was not shabby at all. But the SIZE! Alas, we were in the 1950s.

With all the excitement, I forgot to take my seasick pills.

Lunch was served soon after we set sail. I sat down at the dining table, took one look of the table . . . ( we did not even have the first course yet!) I had to excuse myself and barely made it to my cabin's tiny bathroom. I took a pill and flopped down on my super-narrow bunkbed - to sleep off my embarrassment!

The ship picked up speed.

  

On The Home Front

Meantime, at home, there were changes.

Father 's fortune improved.

Mother had two servants helping her to run the household.   
   
My older brother, Fu, decided to return to China to finish up his last year at the University. Mother said that was because he had a girl friend back home. Fu graduated in Engineering and worked under the People's Republic of China. Under Communism, his life changed drastically. Our parents had communication with him, somehow. Mother would send him money, care packages, and medicine, when needed. Father told me not to write to Fu. Then we received word that Fu wished for mother to stop sending him any more packages, because he had to go for "confessions" whenever he received something from the family in HK. All letters were censored. Fu married later, had two children. Eventually, he and his family did find their way to HK in the 80s.. Fu was retired then and in poor health. His wife was bitter. The children, a boy and a girl, then in their 20s had little education. Fu never said much about what life was like in China. We did know that they had some extremely difficult times; the family was separated often; Fu had to go to the country for what they called "re-education" because he came from a "Western-corrupted" family. In HK, his son learned to drive a bus and did find a job. His daughter had no skills in any field and was not keen on learning. She, later, married an Overseas Chinese in Holland, and moved there. Fu's wife passed away some 10 or 12 years ago. Fu and his son and daughter-in-law still live in HK. Fu is in very poor health, but hanging in there. 

My hot-tempered and selfish younger brother Henry behaved for a while, knowing that there was not enough money for him to "throw away." Then when father started to do better, Henry reverted to his former violent self. However, he was afraid of HK law enforcements, so things were not nearly as bad at the house as before. He did take it out on our little sister, Winnie. I regret that I was away in school, and did not stand up for Winnie. Henry went to Flying School and got his license to be a pilot. He also learned to speak English quite well. He could be very charming, if you don't know him too well. (Henry's complicated life did not stop there.) 

My youngest brother, Michael, was about 9 or10 when he first went to HK. Soon after, he went to a public school. He did not give my folks much trouble when he was young, mainly because he was over-shadowed by Henry. Later he did stand up for himself and conflicts erupted between him and Henry. Michael's  short life was also full of drama and tragedy. He died young. I suspect he had AIDS.

My baby sister Winnie was not yet five when she went to HK. A year or so later, she entered a Catholic School. There she stayed until graduation from Form six (High School.) Being educated by Maryknoll nuns, she became a Catholic. However, she is not a practicing Catholic. Winnie made some beautiful drawn-thread table-clothes under the nun's instructions. I have the table-clothes still. She always viewed me as her Big Sister who had everything, social life, high education, and going abroad. If only she knew the truth!
She is a retired educator (Winnie has her degrees from HKU) and a proud grandma now - stilling teaching privately.

(Chong, my other younger brother, stayed in China with Grandma Kim for some years and did mange to go to HK in the early 60s. Just a note, he was a toymaker and worked for Martel making Barbies in HK at one time. Later, he also made Cabbage Patch Dolls. Remember them? He passed away a couple of years ago.) 

Michael was a teen and Winnie was only about nine when I left HK for Edinburgh, Scotland.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dragon

There are twelve Chinese zodiac signs, each representing an animal.

Legend had it that one New Year's Day, Buddha called all the animals to appear before him, promising them rich rewards. Only twelve came. To honor them, Buddha named a year after each animal in the order of his (or may be her?) arrival.

The twelve animals are:
    Rat. Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

I was born under the sign of the Dragon. I am a Dragon.

It is said that the Dragons are -
    Energetic  (I am somewhat that way, getting less so these days.)
    Intelligent  (I don't know. I do know that I am not really dumb.)
    Brave  (I don't think so. I put on a good front. Remember that I did not have the courage to follow my heart?)
    and, Generous  (I am generous most of the time.) 

It is said that things usually run smoothly for the Dragon (Not true, not true.  Most of the time I feel like I am struggling.)
It is said since Dragons are successful in almost everything they do, they are easily spoiled (May be it appears to you that way, but I really have to work at it. I failed History, remember?)
Dragon people dislike fastidiousness and criticism (I am working on this.)
It is also said that Dragons find it hard to control their tempers when things fail to run smoothly (I usually get mad at myself when that happens. I am of the opinion, don't get mad, get even. I go shopping when I am mad. Good therapy, you know.)

I might add, we Dragons are usually intuitive, and a bit eccentric. We march to a different drum. 

With fire coming out of our nostrils, we like attentions. Puff, goes the Magic Dragon.

So, here we are. Now you know more about me, can we still be friends? We Dragons are fiercely Loyal, you know..





Monday, July 28, 2014

Some Thoughts For Today

Life goes on no matter what. Right?

Here are some thoughts that I wish to share with you today. You see, I need a day "off" from my "Memories of the Past."

So, Here Goes -

      Be Positive.

      Good, Better, Best, Never Let It Rest.

      Be hard on yourself, and life will be easy on you.

      If it's to be, it's up to me.

      Be "Solution conscious", not "Problem conscious."

      It's better to "wear out" than to "rust out."

      There are no shortcuts in Life.

      What happens to you on the Inside becomes      
      Reality on your Outside.

      Live Healthy to be Happy.

      Be all you can be.

      May you always be surrounded by Good Friends!


 P.S. Do you know that I have a shoebox full of scraps of paper  where I have jotted down whatever catches my eye when I read? I am simply sharing a few of those Pearls of Wisdom with you. If you are reading this, you are fast becoming my Good Friend. Thank You.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Young Prof. From Wales

It has been some sixty years since I buried my memories of B.J.
It was during my last year at HKU, B.J. came into my life.

That fall , there was a tall, fair-haired, good-looking young Welshman (from Wales), a bachelor, who joined the English Faculty. He had a nice smile, but there was a hint of sadness about him. 

At the time, most of our lecturers had been in the Colony for sometime. B.J. was a newcomer.

He was possibly fresh-out-of the University, Oxford or Cambridge. He had no Welsh accent. I suspected that he might have come from some Wales mining family and went to school on scholarship. (In those days, people didn't ask too many personal questions. It was not polite.) He had never been to the Far East. The Expats were a different breed. B.J., the newcomer, did not quite fit in. He was taken aback by the sounds and sights of the Far East and the opulence at HKU. He was a bit bewildered.
However, he soon got our attention as a caring, intelligent, and good lecturer. I was in his class.
As time went by, he adapted. He became more at ease with himself and the faculty, and with us students.
As I said before, at HKU, we students mingled with the faculty. We saw one another inside the classroom as well as outside, at all those Cocktail Parties! The lecturers got to know us a bit better, and we got to know them a little better. 
B.J. was easy to talk to and interesting to listen to. Soon, we became friends.

The next half of my Fourth Year found us more than Lecturer and Student. I can't remember exactly how and when it happened. We started dating.
We attended Dances and Parties together, We went to shows and dinners together, We had a lot of coffee together. Sometimes, we would go for long walks around the campus or around town. We talked and we enjoyed each others company. He was truly fond of me and I was crazy about him. I requested Late Passes often.
However, we were both mature and realistic enough to know that the relationship would  not get anywhere. (Remember, we were in the 1950s?) After much heartfelt discussions, we decided not to "see" each other again. I was heartbroken.

My father had commented to me that he would rather see me marry a Chinese beggar than to see me marry a Welch Professor. He wanted to send me away somewhere so I could forget B.J.

I didn't really know how I managed to get through the last few weeks of my Fourth Year and managed to pass the Finals. With a heavy heart, I immersed myself into Studying before the Finals and I still attended his lecturers.

In the meantime, Dum, my friend in the Hall, had sent a picture of our little Circle to her brother, S.C.,  in Houston, TX. S.C. asked who I was, because he thought I was good-looking and sexy. Dum told him that if he was interested in me, may be he should contact me then, because I had just "broken-up with my boy-friend."

I was starting to apply to some universities for post-graduate studies. I just wanted to get away. My then history Prof. (an Oxonian) said that he could get me into Oxford if I would Read History. History? No, I told him, I did not think so.

S.C. sent me a lot of info on Rice University, Houston, and urged me to apply. He wanted me to go to Houston.

In the end, I was accepted at Edinburgh University, Scotland, into Post Graduate Studies in English in the Fall.

The last time I saw B.J., we were at another one of those social functions. He asked me how I was. "All right," I said.
"It's for the best," he said.
"I am going away, to Edinburgh."
"I think you will like it there."
"Do you?" 
"I will always remember you, dear," with much sadness in his eyes, he said. Then, he leaned over and kissed me on my check. Our eyes met for the last time, we parted.
I managed to survive that year.

In the fall, I set sail for England.


                            my parents and me

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Years At HKU


When I got into the Honor Class, I overheard one of my English lecturers who was not particularly fond of me for whatever reason, remarked, "I could just see her (meaning me) strutting over the stage for her Diploma." How very unkind!
And "walking proudly" I did, three years later, with honors.

It was one of the best years of my life; it was one of the worst years of my life.

Throughout the next three years, I made some lifelong friends. I enjoyed the Courses I was taking, even History. The Following years, I read Ethics/Logic, Philosophy, History, and English. English would be what you would call my major. We went from General to Specific. English Language. History of English Literature. English writers - including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Shaw . . . Writers for fictions, poetry, plays, and so on. I eventually concentrated on 19th Century and Modern English Literature. My Fourth year's English Lit. Prof. was a known poet. E. Blunden. We got along wonderfully.
I used to write some poetry then.
He talked me into being President of the Arts Association. 
He was a great mentor. I learned a lot from him. He thought I could do anything if I wanted to. Hooray for Prof. Blunden.

Throughout those years, I went to lots of Banquets and Cocktail Parties - mingling with Faculty and students alike. Actually, I did not drink. I still don't now. I was probably the only one asking for orange juice or tea (what was I thinking?) at those parties. Sometimes, the Butler or the Houseboy would give me strange looks while handing me the juice. I did not care. My host, the vice-Chancellor had invited me. So? 
I also attended lots of other Functions and Dances with some friends or schoolmates (I don't really want to call them Dates.) Well, we were expected to have someone to go to those parties with, Right? We had Dances - formal ones with evening dresses and tuxedos.
Our Chancellor of the school was the Governor of Hong Kong - we were the privileged bunch. 
The Vice-Chancellor actually was the one who ran the school. The Vice-Chancellor and his family lived on the campus, like most professors and their families did. .

When the Duke of Kent (or was it Duke of another region?) came to town, I was one of the six girls selected to "Dance with him." He was, at that time a mere teenager. Oh, what could I say? He was somewhat a Bore. He did not really care to fill our Dance Cards, we didn't really wanted to dance with him either. Much to do about nothing!

Sometimes, some of us students were invited to Garden Parties at the Governor's House. Very British.

Jackie, my Portuguese friend, was crazy about our Vice Chancellor's son, Ed. Ed seemed to be fond of Jackie. Jackie had hopes of marrying Ed, but Ed's parents did not approve. A sad story! There was discrimination - Ed was British, Jackie was Portuguese. Jackie was heart-broken. She went to Portugal after graduation. Ed eventually went to Australia, where his family came from. In later years, I heard that he had written a book about HK. I wondered if he mentioned any of us. Ed had passed away. Jackie still lives in Portugal.

And in my fourth year at HKU, I fell in love.  

Learning How To Swim

When you live on an island or on a peninsula, you are not only near water, you are surrounded by it.
"Water. water. everywhere" - my Ancient Mariner!
People who grow up around water can swim - it was a Given, Right?

I remember seeing very young children "diving for pennies" at the wharf - an entertainment for tourists. Some of those children made a fair living out of this.

At that time, HK harbor was not so polluted, and most of the beaches were pristine. People engaged in water sports. The rich had yachts and the not so rich could hire big Launches (boats) for the day or by the hour.
There were, and still, many what we called "water people" or "boat people" who lived and died on the water. They seldom came on shore. You could see toddlers perched on the edge of those boats without a care in the world, and if they did fall into the water, they could swim.
There were Sampans and motor boats.
There were small launches, which we called "Wala-wala", which served as water-taxis.
And, there were Junks, those Chinese flat-bottomed ships with battened sails. The word Junk came from Portuguese Junce and Dutch Jonk. The Portuguese were the earliest traders and settlers in HK. Years later, when I was in Sintra, Portugal, visiting the city, I realized how much the Portuguese influenced HK - the  steep curving roads, the stone walls, made me feel like I was back in HK.  

Coming from Shanghai, though we were near the mouth of the River, there were no beaches.

Now, in HK, we university students sometimes would go on Launch Picnics, and have a day out at sea. (I did have to take my seasick pills). We anchored near the beaches but we did not dock. Most of us would jump off the boat for a swim. The "boys" would often pick up us girls and dump us into the ocean - it was one of the games they played. The water was so clear, you could see the bottom of the ocean, but it was still deep.

My mother said that if I were to go on any of these outings, I needed to learn How To Swim. So, she employed a Channel Swimmer to teach me. 

Well, I am really afraid of water. I panic if I cannot touch the bottom when I am in the water. But, I had to conquer my Fear if I was to go on Launch Picnics. Right?
So, for months, I went to my Swimming Lessons.
My poor teacher, he did not realize what he was getting himself into.
I was practically unteachable.
I may look somewhat graceful, but I am a Kluz - I had no sense of  co-ordination.
We both tried to do our best.
I did learn how to dive - he literally pushed me into the water, I had to survive. HELP!
I Did learn to dive, to surface, to Float (Big Success!), and to do back-strokes. In other words, I managed to survive, so I could go on Launch Picnics!

I never really learned how to swim.

Did I tell you that my father nearly had a heart attach when he knew that I had a swimsuit and I went swimming? 
It was just a modest one piece deal, really, Father.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Carefree Days

As my life in the classrooms, especially in History Classes, improved, my life at HoTung Hall, miraculously, followed suit. I started to make friends.

Joyce came into my life. Joyce is a couple of years younger than I. She was also from Shanghai. However, Joyce is not Chinese. 
Joyce is - a little bit of French,
               a little bit of German,
               a little bit of Asian - may be Chinese,
               a little bit of Eastern European,
               and, a good bit of English . . .
               (I lost count.)
Joyce and I started to hangout together, and we became good friends. As a matter of fact, we became Best Friends. A retired teacher, she now lives in Australia with her husband. We still communicate with each other. 


I, also, started to run-around with a few others. Among them; Jackie, an attractive, petite Portuguese girl born in Hong Kong; two girls from Malaya; a few native Hong Kong born Chinese - one of them, later became my sister-in-law. Brenda -we call her Dum.

I continued being vigilant about improving my English and studied hard.

Besides the regular classes and tutorials, I became quite active in the many Clubs, some social, mostly educational. Of course, those of us in the School of Arts all belong to the Arts Association. At the same time, I got involved in Music Appreciation, Drama, Choir (I did sing a little then, I cannot carry a tune now), and so on.
Believe it or not, I was in Girls' Hockey, for a short time. The games were too rough for me. I dropped out. Nevertheless, lots of us girls were in the Cheering Squad, cheering for our athletes - our tennis players, our hockey players, our football players, our swimmers, and so on. No pom-poms.
I remember one time, I went to the Portuguese Colony of Macao, some sixty or seventy miles west of Hong Kong by sea, with the athletes for some big tournaments. After the many Games, we were wined and dined by the Governor (the perks of being in small colonies) - the dinner lasted three hours with a great number of delicate dishes being served. We were VIPs.
It was great fun.

I did not go home on Wednesdays anymore.

I studied hard, and I played hard. Life was good.
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Nemesis

At HKU in 1949, classes were very small. Remember, the total student body was only around 800. 

There were four Schools - School of Arts, School of Engineering, School of Science, and School of Medicine. I entered the School of Arts.

We had lectures and tutorials. For lectures, the small classes gathered in classrooms to listen to the Lecturers - our Professors. Then, we formed small groups of 3 to 5 each and were assigned to be under certain Professors (our Mentors) for tutorials every week. We were given assignments and had to read books, write papers, and so on. There were no monthly tests or quizzes - none of that Multiple choices or True or False tests. We had discussions and debates. The Yearly Finals in April determined your fate. 
At the Finals, for each Subject, you have three hours to write essays in answering the few questions on the exam paper. That was the Exam. Passing or failing depended on this once-a-year deal.

In Shanghai, I had World History, which was taught in Chinese by Chinese teachers. Here in Hong Kong, listening to a cockney lady from East end of London, with the most monotonous voice, rambling on and on with a number of strange names and facts (which to me, at the time, was stranger than fiction) that I could hardly comprehend, I was lost most of the time. 
Tutorial in History did not help much, because I was too shy to speak-up. I usually took the assignments and managed to read and write about them somehow. I seldom voiced my opinions at the tutorials. On the surface, I did all right. 
I probably should have asked for help when I had trouble understanding what we were doing, but I didn't. My Prof. did not have enough sensibility to spot my problems. So, I muddled through - from day-one to April.
To read hundreds or even thousands of pages of World History in English, and to try to memorize all the names, details, and the many events was beyond me. So when the time came for the Finals, I sat for the Exam, and I Failed.

I was devastated.

Before we were dismissed and sent home, the results of the Exams came out and they were posted on the Big Board for everyone to see.

I was in the hallway, in front of the Big Board.

I found out the results of the Exams - A+ for Chinese, Pass for both English and Psychology. FAIL for History. I nearly died on the spot. 

Prof. Mary, one of my English Professors (I cannot even remember her last name now) saw me.
Prof. Mary was not much older than I. She was from England and spoke King's English, so she must have come from Oxford or Cambridge or one of the top Universities in England. She was a likeable, learned, and an individualistic lady. She, of course, had already known that I failed in History. She asked me to go into her office, she set me down, and told me that she wanted to know Why this happened because I was, she said, a good student, and had done so well in Chinese. She said that she wanted to help me.
With controlled sobs, I told her how I could not understand the lectures and so on. 
"A language problem," she said.
Then she proceeded to tell me that, in order for me to conquer this, I was to read everything that I could get my hands on, from nursery rhymes, children's stories, essays, and short- stories to beyond. Read at least a book a day. Read Mythology, read fables, read the Bible - anything in English that I encountered until I solved my Problem. (I became a regular at the Library and became our Librarian's pet. Later on, I even worked as a Librarian.)

Now the system was such, when you failed one Subject for the Year, you have to repeat every Subject of that Year to Pass. Was I up to this, mentally and physically? She promised to guide me during the summer months, and may be beyond, and urged me to swallow my pride and forge ahead, and take the First Year again in the fall.
I Agreed.

My parents were very understanding. They did not chide me or punish me - which made me feel even worse. My father's only concern was: he did not think it was necessary for me to further my education. For one, it was costly. For another, the more educated I was the more I would not be able to find a husband. Men wanted their little wives, less-educated and so on.
My Number Three Grand Uncle stepped in. He told my father, "If the girl (meaning me) wants to go back to school, you should support her." 

So, I read everything that I could get my hands on, from "Mary had a little lamb" to stories for children and to Charles Dickens and beyond. I met with Prof. Mary all summer regularly. My English improved, in leaps and bounds.
Swallowing my pride, I entered HKU in the fall, again as a First Year student.

At the end of the year, I made the Honor Roll.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My First Year At HKU

Believe it or not, I was a shy youngster. And, I was somewhat of a loner.

I know, I know.

You cannot picture me that way. 

Now-a-days, I will speak up in front of groups, no less. I may, sometimes, as you perceive me, being too assertive, bossy, or even brazen.
Take my word for it. I was shy.
As for being a loner, I am still one at times. And, I am also a cynic.
I always say, "One may have lots of acquaintances, but one very seldom has more than a few 'true friends'. I can count mine on one hand. What about you? 
One may have a handful of 'good friends', if you are lucky, but 'true friends' are rare."
"Don't trust anyone."
"Look out for Number One."
"People will take advantages of you, if you let them."
 
My chosen activities these days: painting, reading, and writing are lonely businesses. Yes, painting can be a lonely activity, believe me.
No, I don't feel lonely these days like I did when I was first at HoTung Hall in Hong Kong.

I had few friends at that time. I was somewhat homesick, and I went home every weekend, and, sometimes, even on Wednesday afternoons. I was blind to the fact that I wasted a great deal of time traveling, to and fro from home to HKU and from HKU to home. HoTung Hall was on the south side of the Island. My family lived on the Peninsula near the Boundary line, close to New Territories. To travel home, I had to take a bus, then the Ferry, and then another bus, plus do some walking each way. I should have made better use of my time, but I was not mature or smart enough to know what I was doing was unproductive.
My first year at the University, particularly the first half of the year, was difficult for me. The students at the Hall were a mixed bag of English, European, East Indian, Malayan, Eurasian, Hong Kong Chinese, and others. And, a very, very few like me, Chinese from Shanghai.
Children and adolescents could be cruel. Some would make fun of me for speaking broken Cantonese, some would do the same with my Shanghai-accented English. Of course, there was always a group of  "holier than thou" snobs, with noses-in-the-air and believing themselves to be superior than anyone-else; girls, in particular. 

Hazing was not really allowed. But it was in the air. Sometimes, what was not said but felt could be equally bad, if not worse. Don't you think? 

I studied all the Subjects  in China in Chinese, except English, of course. Now, the Subjects I would take at HKU would all be in English, except Chinese. Subjects (Courses) were decided upon by the School according to what you are Reading (what you major in), No options. So the Year began with me taking Psychology, English, Chinese and History. Psychology was not a problem, I enjoyed it. Though oftentimes, I had to struggle with the terms. English covered Language and Literature. I managed. Chinese was a breeze for me. I was at the top of the class always. 

Now, History, World History, in the form of thousands of printed pages in English, my second language, became my Nemesis.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Expatriate

Expatriate: To banish from one's native land.

An expatriate: An expatriated person. 

An expatriated person, that was what I was.

After the initial euphoria died down, we started to face the facts-of-life as expatriates. Yes, I know, most of the residents in Hong Kong were Chinese or of Chinese decedents. But, they were different from us northerners. So, we had to adapt.
First, the language. We had to learn Cantonese since we were not from Canton.
Then, the ways of life . . .
Some of the Hong Kong Chinese had preserved some very ancient ways of doing things that were foreign to us.
Some ways were results of the "marriage" between European ways and Asian ways. And, so on. 
We even dressed differently.
I thought, sometimes, we carried ourselves differently. 
Was that my imagination? 
We could almost always spot someone who was from Shanghai.
At the same time, hundreds and thousands of Chinese from Mainland flooded Hong Kong. Pockets of Shanghainese communities developed. In time, there were so many of us who came to Hong Kong and formed our own districts - it was almost like having China Towns amongst the Chinese (the Hong Kong people).
Strange, isn't it?
By 1950, Chinese population in Hong Kong exploded into the millions.
 
Assimilation - (Sociology): the process whereby, a group, as a minority or immigrant group, gradually adopts the characteristics of another culture.

We mainlanders started to be assimilated. But wait - In fact, in many ways, we changed the ways of the "natives". 

In the meantime, I entered HKU.
If my memory serves me right - HoTung Hall was an imposing structure of steel, stone and concrete, with three stories, on the south side of the Island - half way up the hill. Actually, HKU campus was not too far from the Peak, which is the highest point of the island. The Hall was one of the many residential housings for female students - not at all like the dormitories we know in the U.S.
HoTung Hall housed some seventy or eighty girls. We had options of single rooms or double rooms, - maybe there were some rooms that housed more than two girls, I cannot remember. I had a single room. We shared several big common bathrooms down the hall on each of the two upper floors. Of course, there were some "powder rooms" on the ground floor (almost like what you would find in office buildings or hotels). We had a Common room on the ground floor, too, to receive visitors or for us girls to "lounge in". Male visitors were not allowed on the upper floors. If you had read Harry Potter or had seen the movies, you would have an idea . . . 

And, YES, we wore black robes, short ones, however, to classes and to functions. The officers of the Hall wore green ones with stripes. In time, I had a green robe with stripes - I was Secretary at the Hall, maybe even President, one year!

And each floor had a room where we girls could use for ironing our clothes. Yes, those days, we ironed our clothes a lot. We were not suppose to have our floor Amahs do this job. Of course, our parents would slip a tip or two to them, and they would quietly iron our clothes for us. The Amahs, our house helpers, our servants, cleaned our rooms and the bathrooms and the common areas. They also helped serve in the dining room at mealtimes. 
For our laundry, we would lug our dirty clothes home on weekends to be done at home by our Amahs.
There was a house-boy who stayed on the ground floor. He and his crew took care of the ground floor areas, and sounded the Gong for our meals, Calling all girls to Dinner, in particular.

On the ground floor, there was the flat for our dorm-mother, we called her house-mother; the flat for her assistant; the huge entrance hall; and the side-entrance hall for those who came in late in the evenings. We had to request for after-hour (after eight or nine o'clock, I believe) entry, and Sign-in when we returned in the evenings. Midnight was curfew. If you forgot to sign-in or missed the curfew, you would be in big trouble with Mama King. 
Also, there was the kitchen, the servants quarters, and other rooms that I never set foot in. 
There was a huge dining-room with a raised stage where our house-mother, her assistant, guests, and "invited girls for the evening" sat. The rest of us girls would stand and then took our seats after the VIPs were seated at the Head Table. You could hear the Wooosh sound when that happened.
The dining room, at times, became our assembly hall or even served as a performance hall.

Mama King - the nickname we girls gave Mrs. King - the large, buxom English lady, wife of our Director of School of Medicine, and her husband, Dr. King (the Head-surgeon at the island hospital), and their two daughters lived in a fairly good-sized apartment. Dr. King was so good-looking and nice, we all adored him. Miss Chew, Mama King's assistant, a spinster science lecturer of Chinese decedent, lived in a smaller apartment. They had their own servants who took care of them and their apartments. Sometimes, we girls would be invited to have Tea at either of the apartments. That Was a Big Deal.

We dressed for dinner every night. Lunchtime was more casual, but NO shorts; slacks became acceptable in later years. Skirts and blouses, or dresses were the norm. Chinese styled dresses were allowed. 
Did I tell you that my father was abhorred when I took-up wearing slacks in Hong Kong?
Those were the days.
Everything was prim and proper.

Yes, we did have to stand for God Save The Queen. 

So, I learned proper British manners, I learned which cutlery to use for which "course" during the meal . . .
Assimilation!

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Friend Camilla

That summer, before I started my life at HKU, some visitors came to see us in Hong Kong.
My father's German partner in Shanghai, Mr. Shanaman? (I don't really know how to spell his name now), and his family finally manged to leave Shanghai. 
The Shanamans had a daughter about my age, when we were in Shanghai during my teen-years, my father would send me to the Shanamans on weekends, so I could "practice" my English with Camilla. 
I believe Camilla was born in Shanghai. She spoke some Shanghainese. And of course, she and her family spoke both German and English.  
I would go to the Shanamans' house on a Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Mrs. S would try to teach me how to bake cookies and cakes. She was a great baker, but I never learned to be one.
She would tell me how I should compose my letters, if I should be writing a letter in English. She said that I should always close my letters to friends with the words "With Regards". Then, she would demonstrate writing "With Regards" with a great flourish. I still remember that. 
She also taught me how to do embroidery the European way. I still have some table clothes that I embroidered then. 
As to practicing speaking English with Camilla, it did not go very far. I remember, the two of us would be laughing and giggling in Camilla's room, but not really speaking too much English. I did learn a few words in German though.
Camilla played the accordion and I loved to hear her play. 

I was excited to see her again. And, of course, excited to see her parents as well. For a few days, my parents and I entertained them and showed them around Hong Kong and helped with some shopping.  And then they left for Germany.
I often wonder, now-a-days, where is Camilla?     
Her parents are probably gone by now, but -
Where is Camilla? I would like to see or hear from her again.

So, Camilla, if you happen to read this Blog, contact me please. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peter, The Photographer

During the last few years in Shanghai, I did not see my cousin (my mother's cousin really) Peter as much as when we were very young. Partly because we tried not to venture outside if we did not have to during the Occupation. Also, I think, partly because we were growing up and the grown-ups probably thought it wasn't a good idea to have me going to the villa for weekends all the time. 
Then, after we moved to Hong Kong, we all lived in the same building and saw each other every day. Peter, my other cousins, my siblings, and our Shanghai young friends took a lot of outings together, mostly sightseeing.
Peter was very interested in taking photos. He was forever with his camera, shooting one thing or another. He had a darkroom in Shanghai and developed his own films. In Hong Kong, he manged to have a place for a darkroom for his Hobby. He was constantly taking pictures. I became his model.

I still have some of the pictures - me, on the rooftop; me, on the beach; me, three images peeking out the transom windows (I believe he did triple-exposure); and me, everywhere. Years later, when someone saw the many pictures of me taken by Peter, he made a comment, "he must be in love with you." Maybe it was so. However, I was blind to the fact if he was. 

                                          Me at lady Hotung Hall

                                    Me           Peter's younger sister Janet

                                    In front of the Peninsula Hotel

                                          On the roof top ladder

                                         On the roof top terrace

                                               Triple exposure

                                                At the beach

                                         Peter's sister             Me

                              Winnie     Me     Michael
So, we had a great and carefree Spring and Summer in this beautiful place.

In the fall, my mother manged to enroll me at the University of Hong Kong. I had to start as a First year student, but no matter. I did not have to take any tests!
Not so with Peter. Peter is a year older than I. he had already finished two years at St. John's University in Shanghai when we went to Hong Kong. Still, they made him take a test in English, before the University would admit him. 
Now, I do not understand this a bit. 
St.John's was the top university in Shanghai. All St. John's students were supposedly proficient in the English language. He was to enter the School of Engineering. How come he had to pass the English test and I did not have to?
My mother must have performed some magic.
HKU, at that time, had only 800 students. To be at the University was Something. Hundreds of students sat for the Entrance Exam and only a small number was admitted each year. Also, it was not cheap.
So, thank you, Ma.

In the fall, I moved into HoTung Hall, the residence for female students.
Remember the HoTungs? HoTung Hall was built with the donation from HoTung family.  
I would spend the next few years there during school terms.

Peter did pass his test and was accepted. He was housed in another part of the University. We did not see each other much after that fall. .    

Flower Market Street

Number Three, Number Four, my father, and two of their business-friends bought an apartment building with six units on Flower Market Street, in Kowloon. Number three and his family occupied two of the flats and the other families had one flat each. The apartment building was three stories high, with no elevators, of course. There were two flats on each level, and there was a rooftop terrace. 
The apartment building faced a British football field - we would call it soccer field now.
My family occupied one flat on what we called second floor (third floor in American). I had plenty of exercises going up and down the stairs.
There was a good sized veranda each for the upper story flats. Since we faced the football field, we had a free "box seat" for viewing the games. My father became quite a football fan - may be I should say soccer fan.

Kowloon means nine dragons, so-called because the mountains resemble nine dragons. It was said that the mountains were nine dragons at one time, long ago.
From our veranda, we could see the mountain range very clearly. I loved the view of the green football field against the soaring mountains and the clear blue skies. Even on raining days, the view was beautiful.
Kowloon is a peninsula with deep ports, highly suitable for large ships to dock. Whereas Hong Kong island has beaches on the south side, with the north side having docking areas for boats and ferries, sometimes, large ships. Even in those days, there were lots of activities, with the boats, ferries, and ships, coming and going.
There were several ferry lines linking the island and the peninsula, and ferries going to the outer islands. Thousand of people and cars were transported from Hong Kong to Kowloon and from Kowloon to Hong Kong everyday.  Years later, the tunnel and underground transportation (the tube) came. They helped to ease the traffic somewhat, making going from one side to the other much easier. Today, with seven-plus million people, there is constant congestion. 

The Star Ferry ride was the cheapest and most enjoyable ride for tourists. To ride the ferry and watch the sunset was one of my enjoyments in Hong Kong.

For us - each of the five families had children, ranging from babies to twentysomeythings. I remember, we had at least more than half a dozen of us of my age. We explored the island and the peninsular in groups. Mindless of the sufferings that our elders were feeling, we, the young ones were having the time of our lives. We visited the many sights, we went to the beaches and the surrounding islands, we experienced the new sounds and sights of this sub-tropical paradise.
In the meantime, our parents worked frantically to re-establish themselves and toiled to set up new businesses. And they did. In less than a year, they were in import and export, textiles, etc. Life improved, though all of them constantly shielded us the children from the World. None of us had the faintest idea how our parents struggled, we only knew that they succeeded. 

Number Three was so distraught for a while, we did worry about him. However, he bounced back. In a matter of few years, he was on top of the World once again. 

Eventually, one by one, the families moved out. Eventually, all of us young-ones went our own ways.
Shanghai suffered a major brain-drain, Hong Kong benefited from it. 

P.S. Hong Kong at that time, was the official location for "R and R" for the men in services, American and other ones. Have you seen the movie, The Story of Suzie Wong or heard the song Love Was a Many Splendid Thing, starring Joseph Conrad?
For those who are too young to know, R and R means Rest and Recreation. Got me? Hong Kong had a Red District on the northeastern shore of the island where the warships anchored.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Some Musings

Before I delve into the next ten years of my life, allow me to divert.

Changes are always difficult. We fear them, because we distrust the unknown. We welcome them, because we anticipate good things, not bad things, to come out of the changes - hopefully.
We circumnavigate. We delay the happenings. We ignore the inevitable. Eventually we had to surrender, then, we even embrace Changes.  

The next ten or so years packed my life with more changes and happenings than the time I was in China. With the War and the constant unrest in China, my growth, mostly my mental and social growths were probably stunned. 
I am not saying that I did not learn to take care of myself under those difficult times.
I am not saying that I did not learn to manage my day-to-day living under my parents' guidance. 
In some ways, I was way ahead of people who did not grow up in big, wicked cities such as Shanghai where one learns a great deal: How to take care of yourself -do not Trust everyone, watch out for the pickpockets, not everything is what it appears to be, But I was very ignorant in many ways.

The next ten years possibly shaped me more for what I am today. More so than I would admit? I am not saying that I did not learn and grow during my life in China. Somehow, life in HK and in England, touched me more than ever. It was possible that my awareness of my surroundings and my senses sharpened. We change, hopefully, we grow as we change.

My mother, in her ways, always tried to help me in my growing years. When I had trouble understanding my science classes, she employed a tutor to work with me after school hours. During  summer vacations, she found different teachers to give me private lessons - I took lessons in French, I took lessons in piano, I took lessons in guitar (Hawaiian style). I became a Jack of all Trades, and master of none. I did learn to do embroidery, to sew, and to knit. And I did become quite good at sewing. And, did I mention that I loved theater and acting? I was a Ham.
But, she shielded me from the outside world. She and my father both.

Of course, during the Japanese Occupation, I wore no makeup ( I was a teen) and I did not dress to attract attention. We were very low key in every way. Do Not call attention to ourselves! There was no such thing as Dating. Although I had lots of brothers and male second-cousins, I did not know much about boys. I went to a girls' school. remember?

Being in Hong Kong changed almost everything.
I grew up in the old Chinese way. I was taught Confucius philosophy - Do to the others as you would others do to you. Take care of Family, then the town will take care of itself, then the province, then the country. Obey your parents, respect your teachers and elders, work hard, etc. . . . and worship ancestors.
We used to have elaborate ceremonies, worshiping our ancestors during different seasons. We had to stop doing that because we had no room for the  rites and rituals. We had to economize. 
At the same time, we had to learn a new language, so to speak - learning to speak Cantonese. Cantonese dialect is so very different from Shanghainese. To us, it was a foreign language. Mother learned quickly. Father had more trouble. Many a time, especially, if we were dealing with the British-educated Chinese, we had to resolve into speaking English. 
so, we gradually adapted.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hong Kong, Here I Come

Hong Kong, or Hongkong, alternatively known as H.K. - its name means Fragrant Harbour, was a sleepy fishing village with  pirates' coves in the early days. A little island off the southern tip of China. 
The island was ceded to the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839-42), this followed by Kowloon Peninsula in1860. Then the New Territories were put under lease in 1898 (with a 99year term). The total area covers only around 426 square miles. The British also leased Lantau Island later in 1898, a much larger island than Hong Kong itself, but undeveloped.
The British officially established Hong Kong as a Crown Colony, and founded the City of Victoria on the north side of the island. 
When the Union Flag was raised over Possession Point in 1841, the population of Hong Kong island was about 7,450, mostly Tanka fishermen and Kakka (which means Guest People in Chinese). In the late 19th century, large number of Chinese emigrated from China to Hong Kong due to the Taiping Rebellion. Other events, such as floods, typhoons, and famine on mainland China also played a role in establishing Hong Kong as a place to escape the mayhem.
The establishment of the free port made Hong Kong a major port from the start, attracting people from China and Europe alike. 
In the early days, the society remained racially segregated. The Chinese population had little or no official governmental influence. By the late 19th century, a small number of the British-educated Chinese upper class were accepted their place in the Hong Kong hierarchy - Sir Kai Ho was an unofficial member of the legislative Council and Robert Hotung tried to welcome Chinese citizens to Hong Kong to establish their homes there after the fall of the Ching (Qing) Dynasty in 1911/12.
I, later, went to school with some of the Hotungs at HKU.
Hong Kong, like Shanghai, had undergone Japanese occupation form December 1941 to1945. Hong Kong suffered as much, if not more than Shanghai.
When I arrived in Hong Kong in February of 1949, Hong Kong had a population of a little over half a million.

The plane landed in Kowloon, where the runway jetted out into the ocean - a narrow strip in the midst of residential areas. We flew over roads, houses, shops, etc. The very skillful pilots set down the plane as smoothly as you could ask for. I understand there were never a mishap throughout the years. The pilots never missed the narrow landing strip. This "Inside The City" airport continued operating until many years later. Now, there is a huge state-of-the-art airport on Lantau Island.
We stepped outside the plane into bright sub-tropical sunshine.
Our heavy winter clothing felt cumbersome.
We took a taxi from the airport to our new home on Flower Market Street, Kowloon - to one of the apartments where my mother, the rest of the family, her uncles, and their families had settled a few months ago.
My first impressions of Kowloon left me almost speechless. We drove pass clean, well-maintained streets, where profusions of bright purplish-red flowers spilled over whitewashed walls that surround red-tiled roofed homes. The air was clear, the ocean was blue, the atmosphere was serene, and people around did not have "long faces".
We arrived at the apartment (we call it "flat") - sure, it was not the size of home that we were used to; sure, we had left China and our belongings behind; but, we reunited with our family.
I was looking forward to my new life.

Hong Kong population exploded to almost two million the next year.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beginning A New Life

My father and I settled into our seats, buckled-up,  heaved a big sigh together; and prepared ourselves to began a new chapter of our lives. 
The plane started taxiing and taking off. 
My first airplane flight - I believe it was a Pan Am plane.

Those days, you dress up to travel. And, we did. We also tried our very best to stay calm and composed. I am sure, both of us were thinking about the security procedures that we had just gone through. Of course, our luggage had been carefully searched, we were repeatedly questioned by the officials, and, we were even been body-searched. 
It was common knowledge, smuggling forbidden items was par for the course. And people had ingenious ways of hiding contraband - inside their bodies even. I mean, Inside, as inside the stomach and other places.
If precious jewelry was not openly worn by the people, it was suspect. Remember I had said that Chinese gold jewelry was almost pure and could be traded as currency? We, refugees, wore what we could on us. Nevertheless, I would not be surprised if diamonds or other gem-stones were not sewn inside some coat linings or in hatbands; or hidden elsewhere. 
My family did not hide our jewelry. We wore them - on men, women, and children alike. There was no law saying that men couldn't wear jewelry. 
When my mother and my siblings left China, everyone of them wore gold bracelets, gold chains, etc., even my baby sister, who was only four at that time. The fact was whatever we could bring to Hong Kong would be part of our seed-money to start our lives over. Our lives depended on it.

Number Three Uncle had asked me to take two small boxful of carved jade pieces for him to Hong Kong - which I did. Of course, I had to hand the boxes over to the Officers at the check-in station. Two of the officers took the boxes, fingered the jade for a while, took the boxes and went inside some office. They were gone for a long time. I thought I would never see the boxes again. But what could I do? 

Eventually, they came out, and gave me back the boxes, and waved me through. Later in Hong Kong, I gave the boxes to Number Three and he thanked me, telling me to pick out a few of the jade for my reward. I did - I took three little pieces. 

I suspected that the number of jade in the boxes were a little less than when started out in Shanghai. Neither Number Three or I said anything. We were glad the boxes made their way to Hong Kong. 

We tried to forget the chaotic scenes at the airport - the mob trying to get inside the front gate. People were hanging on the gates, pushing and shoveling, elbowing the others, trying desperately to get to the front line. 
People were shouting, yelling, swearing, or crying. Some people were openly trying to bribe the gatekeepers, hoping to secure a seat on the few designated planes that were leaving Shanghai that day. Time was running out. People needed to flee.

Our flight was actually very comfortable, not very long, and quite pleasant. 
I had mixed feeling about leaving Shanghai. On the other hand, going to Hong Kong, a British Crown Colony, an exotic island in the sub-tropics, was very exciting. 

So with mixed feelings, my life as a person with no country started.

Farewell Shanghai

While the country was being rebuilt, the people waited.
However, as a nation, our dreams of  having peace and prosperity were slow coming. 

Nevertheless, life in Shanghai and in other parts of China did improve somewhat. Of course, like I said before, Shanghai recovered faster than any other parts of China.
During the War, the Republic of China Party and the Communist Party made peace with each other and joined hands to fight for our nation as One against our common enemy, the Japanese. This Marriage, of course, did not last. After War ended, and before too long, the two forces resumed their struggles within the nation. 

There was, as always, the difference between the Haves and the Have-nots; the difference between the powerful and the powerless; the difference . . . the difference . . .  There were lots of problems. Corruption on every level was a major one. Shortage of food, another one. The list went on and on. Soon, the people became disillusioned with the government. There were battles between the Republic of China and the Communists in the countryside. There were riots - riots by workers, riots by students.
Believe it or not, I went on a 2-day hunger strike with other students once.   
 
People were unhappy. People were dis-satisfied with the quality of their lives. People were tired of the constant struggle to survive, with no relief in sight.
Even as a very ignorant teenager, I sensed that there were problems in the Nation.

And, we had our own personal problems.
A year or so after the War, Henry, my younger brother, a young teenager at that time, got involved with some gangs. He skipped school and started hanging around with some gangs. He often demanded money from our mother and was physically abusive to her when she refused him. But, she would always give in to him in the end. Henry had a short fuse - he would lose his temper at the drop of a hat, and behaved like a wild animal. In short, he terrorized the household. My parents could not control him. I remember, one time, he got a gun from somewhere and started to threaten everyone in the house including our parents. Father was helpless, so were the Police. Henry was detained at the police station one night, but he was sent back home the next day with some empty promises to be good. 
After every such event, he would suddenly become very gentle to our mother, sweet-talking to her, apologizing for his horrible behavior, and promising that he would never, ever hurt her again. Mother always forgave him. As a matter of fact, she would chide us for being in Henry's way and said that we provoked him. What blindness was A Mother's Love!

I entered the University of Shanghai in the summer of 1947. I lived on the campus because the University was some distance away from the city. Life on the campus was bleak. Food was terrible. Housing, primitive. Somehow, the University had some connections with some Baptist churches or Baptist schools in the U.S. I remember that my English teachers were Americans. And I remember there were some so-called Baptists Revival Events. I don't know if the teachers were missionaries or not.  But, at any rate, even in Shanghai, I had some contact with the Baptists.
I was there only for one year, because my father wanted me to stay home the following year - we were preparing to leave Shanghai. 

The Communists had taken over the northern parts of China and were advancing towards Shanghai.
Mother and my siblings, except Chong, left for Hong Kong at the end of 1948. Chong went to stay with Grandmother Kim. 
I stayed in Shanghai to keep my father company since he still had to attend to his business. I learned later, for ten big gold bars we allowed some family to have the "right" to rent the house we were in. It was called "tea-money". I wondered why did people do that since a lot of us were trying to flee. 
Anyway, father and I moved into Number Three's villa. 
Number Three and Number Four Uncles and their families had already fled to Hong Kong.
Father was working frantically trying to transfer whatever assets of  his and Number Three's that he could mange to get out to Hong Kong.
The two of us were in the great big house with a houseful of servants - they were promised full pay till we left. 
Talking about being pampered. Two people with six or seven servants waiting on us day and night!           
Our suitcases were packed and sitting in the hall. Father and I were prepared to leave at a moment's notice. 
February of 1949 came, after several "tries" to get on the plane at the airport, father and I finally boarded one plane heading towards Hong Kong. Mayhem at the airport.  
           
Father had left what real estate he had and most part of his assets behind. We had packed up our whole household, furnishing and all, including photos of the family and such and put them in storage. Father thought that the "little" revolution would be "taken care of" and we would be back in Shanghai in a few months. 
I did not get back to Shanghai until 2001 - I was there, a tourist from the U.S. 
By then, our Longtang had been demolished to make way for a "fly-over" (a highway) in the City. 

Today, I do not even have one photo of my grandparents, or photos of any other relatives we left behind in Shanghai.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Songs and The Changs

China was on the road to recovery.
Shanghai would recover - much faster than the rest of the country.

Shanghai people were resolute, resourceful, and dogged.- with a Can Do attitude. Like bamboos, we bend, but we didn't break too easily.
One by one, the foreign companies came back. One by one, the beautiful Art Deco buildings along the Bund opened up for business again. Hundreds of people poured into the City from the country everyday. There was housing shortage. Building industry was booming. Old business reopened. New business sprouted up. Soon, the city regained much of its prewar glory.

My mother was a Song - not related to the famous Madame Song, wife of General Chiang Kai-Chek, President of The Republic of China. (My mother-in-law, however, was friends with the other Song sister, wife of Dr. Sun Yat-San, Father of the Republic of China - I will tell you more about that later.)  

My maternal grandmother came from Soochow which was noted to have the most beautiful girls "under the Heaven" (we did not say under the sky). The grandmother I remembered, however, was the widowed lady with somber-colored and shapeless clothing, with straight cropped hair; never ever had any makeup on; and wore few jewelry. To me, she looked very old - she was probably only in her forties at that time, but she looked over seventy. I don't remember ever hearing her laugh. She did smile. She was, however, loving and kind.

My maternal grandfather was the oldest son of a family with five boys. He passed away when my mother was only 5 or 6 years old. My mother, an orphan, and her widowed mother lived with the whole extended family. She was more or less raised by her Number Three Uncle who was the family genius and respected breadwinner. All his brothers worked for him, in one way or another. He reportedly created several very successful businesses, including the Ferry Company that carried passengers and goods across the river between Shanghai and Potong. (Potong was consisting of farmlands and fields then. It is now an ultra modern city, with one of the tallest buildings in the world.)
Number Three had a Trucking Company, a scrap-metal business, a salad-oil business, a shipping company, and others companies. My father, in later years, was in some of the businesses with Number Three.
Number Three had been to Europe, so his nephews and nieces called him Foreign BaBa. Everyone was in awe of him, including his children - may be with the exception of his oldest son, Peter. 
Number Three favored my mother and somehow trained my mother to be his right-hand person. My mother was a math whiz though she only had junior high schooling. She also had great managerial skills in her younger days. Whenever there was any function in the family, my mother would be the "Manager". Later, both my father and my mother would be "managers" at all large family functions. My parents ran most of all the social events for Number Three. 
My mother's cousins called my mother "Big Brother", although she was a female cousin. She was also quite a bit older than all her uncles' children. When those cousins were older, instead of going to their parents, they would come to my mother and father for advice on any problems they had, financial or otherwise.
So, my Number Three Granduncle was like my grandfather.
Number Three with his wife, and six children, three boys and three girls, lived on Bubbling Well Road, in a Villa. I remember the imposing Italian style four-story home, with stone balustrades on verandas like you see in pictures of Italian homes. They even had a butler's pantry.
His oldest son, Peter, who is a year older than I, and I were particularly close - we grew up together. I, also was the only child who was not afraid to go into the Drawing room, sat on the sofa, and chatted with Number Three. He treated me like a grown-up, giving me advices on life and so on. If only I had taken some of those advices. I was too young and too ignorant to heed him.
However, he was the one, later on, encouraged my father to let me go to the university. By the way, he was the one who prevented my grandmother from binding my mother's feet.
He was the one who gave me my first bicycle, in spite of the fact that my father thought it was not ladylike for me to ride bicycles. Those days, I did not wear slacks. They were for servants or the working-class girls only. How we have changed!

When I was very young, on weekends, he would send his chauffeur with the car to pick me up so I could spend the weekend at his house. I would take my little Weekender, packed with my clothing and some tiny little doll dresses I made for his daughters' dolls (I was a little older than his two younger daughters and I was learning to sew and design clothing, even at the age of eight or nine or ten) and I would heave myself up to the backseat - and off we went for my weekend visit at the villa. Came Sunday evening, the chauffeur would bring me home. Number Three's wife, my Grandaunt Number Three, would give me a couple of dollars. When I reached home, I would give the chauffeur one of the dollar bills for a tip and saved the other one for myself.
I have lots of fond memories at Number Three's home. 
Oftentimes, he would have us kids make up plays and filmed us. Sometimes, we played cops and robbers and he filmed us. Other times, he showed us movies -  Charlie Chaplin and cartoons.
Peter is still my best friend to this day.  
What did Number Three's father, my great grand-father, my mother's grandfather, did for a living, I did not know. He was a Shanghainese. Years later, I was told that he was a carpenter. He  ran away from home when he was young. He apparently never told anyone much about his Family. I remember him -  he was in his eighties, a tall, slender figure with a goatee, bouncing a tennis ball on the ground as his daily exercise. He smoked opium for medicinal purposes. Peter and I used to sneak up into the upstairs backroom to watch him smoke opium. I can still smell the pungent odor today. He died when he was eighty-four.
My mother met my father through Number Five. Number Five was my father's classmate. He was the matchmaker. Yes, I know, in those days, there was no "boy meets girl"; but my parents did. Number Five arranged for my father to "meet" my mother on a tram (a street car), I believe. I don't think they had any conversation. I guess my father fell in love with my mother. After the encounter, he and Number Five manged to persuade Number Three to allow him to marry my mother.

My father's family came from Ningpo, a town south of Shanghai. My grandfather came from a long line of business people, I believe. Although my mother used to mention that some of my grandfather's ancestors bought some official positions under Ching Dynasty court. I have a little worn book that recorded my father's family, going back to Emperor K'ien-Lung of Ching Dynasty, noting that my great, great, great, great grand-father was a North Sea Official during 17th century. The book mainly recorded names, dates - birth and death - no careers were noted. When did the family move to Shanghai? I don't know. When did my grandfather started running a business in Manchuria? I don't know either. I think my grand-father was born in Shanghai, but he spoke with a heavy Ningpo accent. He was an only child. I do know that my father was born in Shanghai.
Can I call my little book a genealogy?
Our family name is Chang. In China, there were three big families, the Changs, the Wongs, and the Lees. We had one hundred family names and there is this book which, in the old days, children had to memorize in school (actually there are a couple more names than that); it meant we all came from these one hundred families. And the largest families were those I mentioned - the Changs, the Wongs, and the Lees. The Pinyin spellings are a bit different now-a-days, but they still mean the same names. I guess, we Changs are like the Smith family.

My paternal grandmother also came from Ningpo. But I have no knowledge about her family, except that she was a Kim - which means Gold. I do know that there are a lot of Koreans named Kim. I don't think, however, she had any connections with the Korean Kims.
Grandma Kim was somewhat aloof and not kids-friendly. She did not like to have us kids mess-up her rooms. She was only a bit close to me just before I had to leave Shanghai.
I remember that she loved to go to the Casinos. She was tall and slender, always well-dressed - Mother of Miss Tientian, my father's youngest sister.

Both my grandmothers had bound feet. Grandmother Kim's feet were smaller than my other grandmother's.

My mother was not much older than Number Three's wife. They used to go to a lot of social functions together back in the 30s, before the Japanese occupation. 
She had a woman who came to our house to fix up her hair. And the Flower woman would deliver flowers to our house for her to wear in her hair.
I used to watch her get dressed in the evenings. She would put on some most gorgeous silk chongsans - those traditional form-fitting, sexy high-slits Chinese dresses. I remember one in particular. It was a black lace long dress with a black silk slip underneath. The backside of the slip had an open web design, cut very low in the back and very intricate.
I thought she was beautiful. 

Those were the days before Japanese Occupation.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Victory, Finally


The morning started just like the others - with air of Gloom and Doom

The sky was gray. The air was thick. 

Mid-afternoon, we heard lots of noises coming from the Russian Club which was right across the street from our Longtang's front gate, in the French Concession- the French Settlement.

"What is happening?" we wondered.
There had been little activities at the Russian Club since the Japanese soldiers marched into the Settlements in 1941.
There used to be a Russian Bakery close-by and they baked the most heavenly, mouth-watering breads and other goodies. Every afternoon around four, the wonderful smell of baking would permeate the area. We would go there and purchase a loaf or two, fresh out of the oven. Then, of course, with the rationing of everything, the Bakery stopped baking. 

August, 1945. (I believe it was August 15 in Shanghai) -
That day, on the street., the soldiers disappeared.
The stores began to close - boarding up their fronts.
There was More Fear in the air.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of arson.
Fear of looting.
Fear of disorder - since there were no soldiers or policemen around.
We all wondered, "What was going on?"
Then, we heard the Russians singing, and saw them dancing - on the street. We smelt Vodka.
"The War was over," some people said.
"The Japanese surrendered," others echoed.
Some people with short-waved radio received the news of Victory for the Allies. America, England, French, and China defeated Russian, Germany and Japan.
News of Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not reach us until later. News of any details of Victory eventually did come to us. 

Shanghai went wild with joy.

Soon the American GIs marched into the city.
There was order in the city, but recovery was slow.
However, we scrounged up enough money to buy GI rations - Butter, Chocolate, Nylon stocking  . . . things we had not had for a long, long time.
The Blackout curtains came down.
We saw smiles on people's faces.
We still had to deal with shortages of many things - we did begin our journey of Recovery.

Peace, however, was short-lived.