Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Grandparents- Yin and Yang.

My grandmother's tutor turned out to be her future husband. By all accounts, as tough-minded and pragmatic my grandmother was, my grandfather was the yin to her yang so to speak. He was quiet, scholarly, and apparently a little ditzy. (Ask me about my dad and hornets some time).

My grandparents married, and in another remarkable move, my grandmother continued with her teaching with my grandfather's support. It wasn't until my grandmother had her first miscarriage that she left teaching.

My grandfather had joined the Kuomingtang and eventually became a military officer, a colonel in charge of supplies. This meant that the family had to leave their native village near Nanjing and move down to Xian. By this point, the family had grown to Daniel (born in 1936), Julia (born in 1938), and Samuel (born in 1941). My grandmother had to leave Samuel behind with her family for the time being as she thought traveling with such a young child would not be good for him. The picture posted in the first post above was of my grandmother, my uncle daniel and my aunt Julia. I think this was of them traveling to Xian.

While living in Xi'an, my grandmother gave birth again, this time to the youngest, Moses, otherwise known as BoBo. (little treasure). The picture here shows the entire family some time later.

The family stabilized in Xi'an for some time, even as the entire country was engulfed in both a Japanese invasion, and Civil war between the communists and KMT. (Nationalist government). My grandfather's family suffered terribly and eventually his twin brother was killed by the communists. My grandmother did retrieve Samuel, and the after the fall of the KMT in 1949, she took her children and fled to Hong Kong. My grandfather was not able to join them as he felt it would be a desertion of his post, and had to stay in Xi'an.

When my grandmother left Xi'an and China, the country of her birth, her youth, and her adult life at the time, she did not know that she would not return for more than 30 years. She also didn't know that she would never get to have any communication with her family for decades due to the delicate political problems at the time.

I have often wondered what that was like for my grandmother. She loved her children and the family so much, and I simply can't fathom what it would be like to not know or hear anything about your mother, your father, your brothers or sisters for decades. She never spoke of her sibling or her parents to me, and she rarely spoke of them to her children too. By the time my grandmother died, she was the last surviving member of her generation.

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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Land of Milk and Diplomas

The pull of America had little to do with money (i think) and much more to do with degrees and education. My uncle Daniel was the first to make his way to America, receiving a scholarship to study at Heidelburg College. Uncle Samuel moved away from Hong Kong to get his college education in Japan (a pretty dramatic decision given the Japanese invasion was less than two decades old) and went to Rutgers for his graduate studies in Biochemistry. My father, Moses, got a scholarship to go to Bridgewater College in 1967 (he chose the school partially because the name sounds nice in Chinese). And my Aunt Julia came to the United States in either 1968 or 1969.

My popo and yehyeh (grandfather) was living in Hong Kong away from their own families, and all their children were in a strange and foreign land. When my uncle Daniel got married, my grandparents were unable to afford to fly to the United States, and so instead had a Wedding Banquet in Hong Kong in their honor.

The parents and children communicated on a weekly basis using "aerograms". I have wondered what it must have been like for my grandparents. Apparently all the children were encouraged to pursue their studies, and back in that time, there was no better place in all the world to get an education than in the United States. But, how strange! how utterly exotic and foreign it must have been, to send your children across the oceans. They both had been forced out of their hometowns and native country, forced to live away from and even communicate with their siblings and parents. Yet, here they were encouraging all of their children to make their way to a land that couldn't have been stranger.

Did they think that my uncles and aunt would return to Hong Kong at some point? Did they dream about their own trips to the United States? This was the Age of Aquarius in American cultural history, and i can't help but wonder what my grandmother thought of hippies, free love, and drug use.