Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Life in the "Fragrant City"
My grandmother arrived in Hong Kong with three children in tow and no husband to help her. My father was an infant at the time (3 or 4) and only my uncle daniel was over the age of 11.
The choice to go to Hong Kong was an odd one. Most of the KMT went to Taiwan, and for good reason. Hong Kong was a large British port and the language spoken was not the normal "Mandarin" but rather was cantonese. (in all fairness, my grandmother's mandarin is only marginally better than her cantonese). Most of the KMT structure was back in Taiwan, and in fact had hijacked the government there. The choice to move to Hong Kong where the family would be treated as refugees, and foreigners was an odd one, but one that probably shaped the family and the eventual move to the United States.
My grandmother lived with her children on the top floor of a farmer's house in the outskirts of Hong Kong without any communication or knowledge of the whereabouts of her husband and without a keen grasp of either cantonese or a means to get food on the table and a roof over the family's head.
It was during this period that she began to earn her reputation as a survivor and the "tough" one. In China, shewas the wife of an army officer, which meant not only status, but also special quirks such as servants, a cook, and what not. (I think most of this was prior to the move to Xi'an, but i am not sure). However, by the time the family was in Hong Kong, they were living in buildings made of straw, with straw ovens.
The family, at my grandmother's direction, did everything necessary for survival. The family raised chickens and ducks (poorly), created tourist items, and my uncles and aunt were earning money from an early ages. The beaded belts and other tourist items were a staple for the family and the subject of competition from my uncles. Food was scarce, my father remembers going as a small child with my grandmother to the open air markets to pick through the produce and food left the stalls had closed.
My grandfather was able to rejoin the family after nearly a year, and he rejoined the family with a harrowing tale of how a junior officer gave his life for him to help him leave China. My grandfather changed his name to mock the communist party.
Despite my grandfather's return, he did not do much to contribute to the family finances. He was more of a scholar and eventually after a religious conversion, entered seminary. During his studies, once again it was my grandmother who was expected to keep the family together. My uncles and aunt worked, but my grandmother made sure they all continued to go to school and get educations.