Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Games

There are quite a number of games we played when we were young.  Yes, we did play a lot of marbles. It was a dirty game, as you played on the ground all the time. There are three other games we played quite a bit, I remember. They are still played in China now. Since we did not have many toys as today, we played these three games all the time, it seems.

1)      Shuttlecocks: You tried to kick it by bending your leg upwards as many times as you could. The person who kicked the most times won.

2)      Tops or Tuo-Luo: You use a stick with strings attached at the end. You hit the Tuo-luo with the strings so that the tops will spin continuously. This can be a competitive game as well: two or more people can play together. You try to hit your tuo-luo so that it collides with others in order to score your points. You win when you are the last to "not die", or continue spinning.

 In China now, people are playing this game as an exercise tool.

3)      Diablo or Chinese yoyo:

 It comes in many forms and colors:
I used to be very good at this game. There are a lot of moves associated with this type of yoyo. There are “experts” in China to teach children to perform this game.  I did not realize that there is even a club on Harvard campus.  

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Simple Game

Every Chinese kid knows how to play this game.  Generally, you learn this game as soon as you enter primary school. You do not need any equipment, and you could use it in any occasion. I was told that US kids play a similar game. Whenever you need to make a decision without prejudice, you can use this game. In the US, every sport game generally starts with a coin tossing to start a game, I am not sure when did they start this tradition. It is taken for granted now that this coin tossing is the way to start the game. Even Olympic game has adopted this tradition without any argument.  This simple game was used to make such decisions.
This game is called “scissor, rock, and cloth” (剪刀,石头,布). You use one hand to represent these three items, as shown in the following pictures:



Cloth can cover rock, rock can break scissor, scissor, of course, can cut cloth. The cyclic functions of these gestures make the game fair. One of the two people can decide who goes first, or who win, by calling out together “one, two, three”, followed immediately by displaying one of these three gestures. One of the two will win, or both have the same gesture, you just repeat again until one wins. Try this with a Chinese, he or she will be surprised that you know this game.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chinese Civil War

The Chinese Civil War (内战) was fought between the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). It started as early as 1927. The war was fought off and on during the eight-year Japanese Invasion of China. After the war, this civil war started to heat up. The CPC was able to capture a large number of weapons abandoned by the Japanese in the Manchu area, including some tanks. But it was not until large numbers of well trained KMT troops surrendered, and joined the communist forces, that the CPC was finally able to master the hardware. However, despite the disadvantage in military hardware, the CPC's ultimate trump card was its land reform policy. This policy helped the CPC establish a stronghold in Manchuria (the northeast corner of China), which eventually overwhelmed the KMT and forced them to retreat to Taiwan.

We (Dean and I) were in heaven in those years after the war, as we attended our first few years of school in a very "normal" setting. We had candies after school, boiled eggs at lunch time, and chicken for dinner. And we played games and had some toys. Certainly we had a lot of fireworks during holidays. I was very good at lighting the fireworks, I remember. Once my Father's younger sister came to visit us from Hubei for a few days. She (Gu-gu, 姑姑) gave me some change every morning, and it all went to fireworks! The civil war was certainly not on our minds.

At the beginning, only once in a while, one or two people would come to our door asking for food. Then gradually in 1948, we saw a whole family, with children our age, come to knock on the door every evening for our left-over's. Mom told us to leave something in the pots every night at dinner for the beggars. She also asked me not to touch them when I poured the food into their containers, as they might transfer some disease to me. We started to recognize the children in these families. That was the evidence of the seriousness of the civil war. That was certainly the reason why the KMT eventually failed. The society was just not fair to the poor people. And there were just too many poor people!! That was the first time that I recognized those facts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Another Event!

Another event I remember that happened in Nanking was a scary one. It also involved Dean!

Our new compound was still being developed and more new houses were being built behind our house; our building was on the first row. There was quite a bit of space in front of the house, which was intended for public use, and a small pond was on the left side of the empty space. We used the pond for catching frogs, and other bugs. One winter, it was frozen solid – or so we thought. Both Dean and I joined a group of kids playing on the ice. We ran from the shore, and as soon as we touched the ice we would slide on the ice as far as we could. Sometimes, we could slide all the way across the whole pond to the other side. It was so much fun that we did not realize the ice was becoming softer as the day went by. To make the story shorter, one day when we did not pay attention the ice cracked and Dean fell into the lake. On that day, I was there on the ice trying to pull him out. I do not remember how I got him out from the pond. I do remember that he and I were totally soaked with water, and we had to go back to the house to change.

Recently Dean and I had a chance to talk about our past; this event came up simultaneously in our discussion. So it is on his mind as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Adults should pay attention

When we first moved into our new house in Nanking, in 1945, my parents were very happy and proud that we had a new place in this building, specifically designed for us and provided totally free from the government. (Our home was provided because my Father was working as chief accountant for the government by that time. The house and a car and driver were provided.) My parents got Dean and me together, maybe several times, to tell us to pay attention. They said, "You children must pay attention, this is a new house, do not write or paint anything on the wall". I do not remember how many days later, they found on the new wall that someone had written "adults should pay attention too" (大人要小心)。 Dean was four then, and had just learned how to write a few words. Both of our parents were furious, it did not take very long for Dean to admit that he did it. I do not remember specifically what did they do to punish Dean, maybe standing in front of the wall for a long time with his nose close to the writings. I just remember thinking that writing on the wall was not a good idea. It was very serious!

Friday, April 9, 2010

My First School

In 1945, we moved to Nanking, we flew to Wuhan first, where we stayed at Xiao-gie’s home for a few days before we continued to Nanking. I was six then, it was the first time I watched a movie in the theater across the street from where we stayed. The movie’s name was “The Yangtze flows to the East” (一江春水向东流). At the end, the main lady jumped into the River, it was so sad!
When we got to Nanking, I was immediately enrolled in a primary school which was managed by Central University. I was there for three years; it was quite a distance to walk to and back every day. It took a long time to walk home, I remembered, especially in the winter time.  Nanking is equivalent to the DC area; winter could be severely cold. I remembered that our hands were cracked once and was told to make sure to wear gloves all the time. 
In 1981, our whole family was able to visit my first primary school and our old new home in Nanking.


It was then belong to Nanking Normal University. There was still one teacher who taught there when I was there, but she was not teaching first three grades. Margaret and Steven were teasing me about what a short distance the school was to my old home. Of course, my answer was that “ we were in the car”. I am sure that we will still have arguments about that.
   1981 in front of our brand new home in 1945

It was then belong to Nanking Normal University. There was still one teacher who taught there when I was there, but she was not teaching first three grades. Margaret and Steven were teasing me about what a short distance the school was to my old home. Of course, my answer was that “we were in the car”. I am sure that we will still have arguments about that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wedding Pictures

We have a wedding picture of our parents taken in 1938. It was very much washed out, but after some touch-up, it gives us a glimpse of its original glory. My mother tried very hard to keep her pictures safe. She valued them more than the old silver coins, which she knew would save lives during the war emergency.


In this picture, you can see that taking a wedding picture was an event in itself. You would have to go to a studio, bringing your formal clothes, and spend a considerable amount of time there, with hair-dressers and with your best friends’ help. It was a more intimate commitment. You may be surprised to learn that this private “ceremony” could be more important than the public wedding ceremony followed by dinner.  
By 1965, the photographer would come to the wedding and be part of the process to record the ceremony:


Nowadays, everyone who participates in the wedding can take his or her own pictures of the ceremony. The record is multidimensional; it is more than a technological change. The whole purpose of having a record of the event has been expanded. Our children’s wedding pictures are more relaxed and natural:



Friday, April 2, 2010

Da-Mao, where is Xiao-Mao?

When someone had a new baby child in my Mom’s generation, he or she was always given a nickname with some diminutive meaning implied. For example, I was called Da-Mao which literally means big hair, and, when Dean was born, he was called Xiao-Mao, or small hair. Since hairs are tiny, whatever gods or spirits had power would not be jealous or interested in taking them away, which would deprive the parents of their happiness. As child death was common at the time, this was one way to ensure the safety of a precious child. For a girl, words like small, tiny, obedient, “peas”, or even ugly, could be used in the nickname.

One event, which happened when I was three and a half, is still very clear in my mind. I am not sure whether I remember it or whether my mother made sure that the event would be imprinted in my memory forever. The fact is that I remember very little about the years of my life before I was eight. For example, I do not have much of an impression about escaping into the caves whenever the Japanese planes came to bomb the city, which would have been on many, many occasions, sometimes up to 24 hours a day. The event I am describing happened in Beipei, north of Chongqing, about 25 miles outside the city. We lived in a compound of several families. In the back of the compound, there was a small hill, or a large dirt pile; I am not sure which. One day, we, Dean and I, or Xiao-Mao and Da-Mao, were both playing with some other kids in the neighborhood. Mother told me that we were playing well there for quite a while. In theory, my mother could see us from her kitchen window. Next thing I heard was: “Da-Mao, where is Xiao-Mao?” My answer was “he’s down the hill!” Mother later repeatedly told me “how stupid could you, not know where your brother was”!!! The truth was I knew exactly where he was, I just failed to tell her earlier. As Xiao-Mao had fainted and was unconscious when he rolled down the hill, it took several days in the hospital for him to recover. Fortunately, in later years he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is a much smarter person than I am. Otherwise Mom would have reminded me more often about this incident in the backyard.