Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Third Time in 4th Grade

In the fall of 1949, the Chinese Navy moved its command center to Zhung-en. Along with that move a brand new elementary school was constructed. Everything was to be taught in Mandarin. Since there were not enough Navy-related children, I was allowed to register in the fourth grade for the third time. I had thus lost one year of regular academic progression.

The school was located not far from where we lived. Dean and I walked there every day. September in Zhung-en was still quite hot. I remember that we jumped from one shaded area to another, and stayed under the shade for a while before ran to the next. Thus it took quite a while to get back home. The school was quite small; we had a lot of personal attention from our teachers. Mom, as a former teacher herself, was quite impressed. In the fourth grade, we had to write a report every weekend about what had happened, nationally, locally, and in school, and about what we had done personally the week before. It must have been a big Job for me, as I remember that I tried to ask Mother all weekend what happened here and there. The weekly report was graded word by word by the teacher; my Mother told me later that the teacher had paved a solid foundation for me. It is too bad that I do not even remember his or her name now! I was in this school only slightly more than one semester, but it gave me a deep impression.

Father, of course, was spending his time looking for a job, like everybody else. He was trying not to get a government job again. The fact that the communists were killing everyone who supported Chiang-Kai-shek’s regime had scared a lot of people. Finally, he accepted a job offered by President Fu Szu-nien of National Taiwan University (January, 1949-December, 1950), as the accountant for the University. He was moved to the position equivalent to the Vice President of Administration when Chien Szu-liang (January, 1951-May, 1970) took over. He retired in 1972 at the same position under President Yen Cheng-hsing (June, 1970-July, 1981). I will talk about his position more later. In January 1950, we were very happy to move up to Taipei. We moved into a very nice Japanese-style house on Wenzhou Street.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Life’s Low Point!

1949 was the low point for Chiang-Kai-Shek and for a lot of people following and depending on him. My Father was one of them, one of literally thousands. Communist army rolled down from north to south faster than they could run. While Mom was happy that Father got away from under the communists’ hand, the reality was very cruel and immediate. How to live with four children, one who was very sick, without any income possibility and under an extremely high inflation condition?

First, Mother went out at night and carried with her everything that could be sold, which included some jewels, cloth, glasses, china, etc. A few days later, it was clear that the monetary rewards were not worth her effort. Then Father, with the support of Yauyau, started a soy milk business. They would get up before 2:00 am in the morning. First they ground the soaked soy-beans with a hand stone grinder, and then they would boil the raw milk in a big pot until the oily surface could be removed. They bought 400 bottles and a push-cart to carry them. Filling the bottles with hot soy milk took some time; a specially hired young man would push the cart to deliver the soy milk to the Navy apartments nearby. I remember getting up a few times to watch them in action. And I even walked with the young man once to deliver the soy milk from 5 to 7 am, just in case I would be needed to substitute for him and take over that delivery job. I do not know if it was fortunate or unfortunate that the business failed after only a couple of months. The customers complained that the soy milk was not hot enough. Quite a number refused to pay as they said that they did not get the milk on some days or that the bottles were not full enough. The excuses people used to take advantage of this small business made Father realize that he would not be able to count on this as the family income source at this tumultuous time.

At the end of two months, more or less, Father found that the total profit for the period was what was left of the 400 bottles!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Death of my Sister

The death of anyone at a wrongful age is difficult for the family left behind. My sister (黄道培) died at barely six years of age, in the fall of 1949, which might be the most devastating event of our family. She was my parents’ favorite child. You are not supposed to have a favorite child in a family. But when a child had shown herself to be an understanding person beyond her age and had been able to anticipate her parents’ emotional changes at a difficult stage of our family life, it was natural for my parents to pay more attention to this sickly sister. As her older brothers, Dean and I rarely interacted with her. She was interested in girls’ stuff and she was close to our parents and she paid attention to what interested them. She had a sensitivity way beyond someone of her age!

She was in the hospital for quite a while after she was diagnosed as having pneumonia. I do not know what they did for her. Our parents went to the hospital daily. Sometimes they took turns; occasionally they were both there for a whole day. Even though there were quite a number of people at the house, no one seemed to notice that Dean, Ed and I were at home and hungry. (Ed was about one and a half at this time.) Mom was very bitter about the people in the house. Then the pneumonia turned to the inflammation of the brain and there was little chance for her to survive since no antibiotics were available for her. If you ask me why, I have no answer! Most likely there were just no antibiotics available in Taiwan, since I am sure that my parents would have paid with their lives for the medicine if it was available.

Dean and I were asked to go to the burial ground, among several stands of bamboo forests, where she was buried. My parents were sitting on the ground right beside the small wooden box where my sister was lying peacefully. (The reason that she was buried in a small wooden box was because my Uncle had asked his assistant to purchase a coffin for her but he bought one too small. As a result, at the last moment, a wooden box had to be built.) My Mom, with tears smeared on her face, told us that this would be the last time we would see her and that we would never hear her telling us to obey our parents again! Both Dean and I felt my parents’ sorrow, but it was much later when we realized the magnitude of this devastating event! Years later, when I visited Taiwan, I tried to find the location where my small sister was buried. But everything had changed and I was unable to locate it.

Every time, when I talk or think about this period in our life, the picture of my sister lying in the wooden box comes up. But it generally just flashes by quickly, without giving me much disturbance. But this time, as I am writing about it in this blog, it has stuck me hard, with an emotional impact bigger than I expected. Maybe now that I have a granddaughter who is older than the age when my sister passed away, my emotional burden is much heavier.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A place with plenty

Tzung-en(左營) is also a place of plenty. Let me tell you more about this place today! Not only does it produce well all the fruits and vegetables that are planted there, but it also has quite a number of local varieties, which may have been planted by the Japanese quite a while earlier: such as mangoes(芒果), star fruits(楊挑), guava(番石榴 ), rose apples(蓮霧),and longan(龍眼). There were so many fruit trees that we had fresh fruits all year around. We took advantage, literally day-in and day-out, to eat these fruits. Since I had quit my 4th grade class, I had quite a bit time to explore the forests nearby fully. I knew all the trees - which ones produced sweet fruits and which ones produced larger ones, etc.

Then, on different occasions, I discovered two more important resources for spending my time. There were quite a number bamboo trees around the area. I walked into a thick stand of bamboo trees and found a lot of shoots. The bamboo hair made me itch all over for quite a while. I took a few shoots back to Mother and she loved them. From then on, we had fresh bamboo shoots on our table. On another occasion, I was at a pond along a small creek about half a mile from where we lived; my small improvised bamboo pole with a hook caught a small bluegill. For a period, the fish that I caught provided the only source of "meat" on our table. After Father joined us from Hong Kong, he joined me to fish daily so that we had "meat" on the table on the regular basis. I did not realize until much later that, since the family had no income at that time, what we caught was very important to supplement our diet.

Later, my uncle Yauyau joined us to go fishing whenever he could. And he started to take us, first to bigger ponds, and then to large lakes, to catch other kinds of fish, especially bigger fish. I remembered that once we caught nine large fish, each weighing more than two pounds. I had to take off my pants and tie the ends together so we could carry the fish and walk home. We were so ecstatic thinking that we could have "meat" for a whole week! Fishing became Yauyau's life-long hobby and it started there!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Life in Tzung-en

Tzung-en is a very warm place, even in the winter time. We lived in a military compound, specifically an artillery base. My uncle, Yauyau, came to Taiwan to accept this military station from the Japanese, who surrendered in 1945. By the time we arrived here in late 1948, he was well established. This artillery station was designed to protect the Kaohsiung harbor. The compound had quite a bit of land with fruit trees, and quite a bit cultivated land which was leased out by famers to grow peanuts, corn and other plants. My uncle's home was a simple building with two floors. The family lived upstairs with a stairway right in the front of the building. We had a room downstairs and my uncle built on the side of this room an attached frame-building with another room and a kitchen so that we could live independently. Our daily rice came from the military distribution. There was a garden just next to the house maintained by an old soldier who planted quite a number of common vegetables, such as green beans, egg plants and Chinese greens. As you can see, our basic needs were supported pretty well.

The hardest task for my Mother was to go outside to wash our cloths on a concrete slab with one single cold water spigot. Generally, that is also the place where my Mom got her report s about how the "internal war" in China was progressing. During that period, the reports were ALL bad. First the communists went into Beijing, then they won the battles along the way south and moved quickly into Hsuchou (俆州). Then, to our surprise, Nanking came under communist rule very, very quickly. Where was Father? Did he get out? Was it possible for him to get out? When the fall of Nanking was reported to Mom, she slipped in the washing area on the concrete floor, as she was trying to figure out how was she going to live with four young kids without a father. We had no news about Father for the next four months. However, we heard plenty of rumors. Shanghai was gone?!, inflation was 300 percent, Chang-Kai-shek had resigned.

Without a word, suddenly my Father showed up in the front of our building four months later. He had gotten on the last plane to leave Nanking. The plane's wheel was shot by the communists as it took off but It landed safely in HongKong. Of course he had no way to let us know, as there was no mail service, no telegram or phone services during the period. From HongKong he got on a Navy ship to get to Kaohsiung. This is a typical story from that time!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Trip to Taiwan

My Mom cooked the usual dinner for my ninth birthday in 1948: noodles with some delicious meat. I no longer remember what kind of meat, it must have been some pieces of pork or chicken. There was no cake, no candles, and no funny hats, as in the US, to symbolize the celebration. Since noodles are long they represent "long life", which is of course the most important for kids. Ed was born in April, we now had four siblings in the family.

The talks during dinners after my 9th birthday got more and more centered on the communist problems in the Manchu area, and how and where we needed to go when they became serious. I started to notice the urgency of the matter. They mentioned that we could go back to Wuhan where Father had properties. Or we could go to Vietnam where Father had very good friends. Or we could go to Taiwan to visit my Mom's brother (YauYau to me) temporarily and wait to see how the situation settled down before a final decision could be made. After much discussion, for many days, the "wait and see" option to Taiwan was finally decided upon. The situation became more urgent rather quickly; Mom had barely enough time to communicate with her brother, my YauYau, before we stared to move.

One late afternoon, Father came home to tell us that he had got boat tickets for the whole family for the trip to Taiwan in three days. I do not remember whether or not the tickets were easy or hard for Father to get. Mother had to pack up everything for us kids in a hurry. In addition, we saw Mother sew some silver dollars into our clothes for safe-keeping. You could feel the serious air in the house. In the last quarter of 1948, after a short train ride, we all got on the boat to sail to Keeloon, a port in North Taiwan. I do not remember much about our boat ride, as we were not allowed on the boat deck. Both parents were not feeling good on the shaking boat. After three long days, we finally saw land.

From Keelon to Kaoshung was more than 12 hours on a slow train. Somehow my parents were not prepared for this part of our journy as we did not have local currency to buy food. We had a pot of tea and some dried apples for the whole family of six. That was a long day. Mom cited that experience often later. Father went back to Nanking right away, maybe on the same boat. Our life in Taiwan started in a small town near Kaoshung named Tzung-en.

I was then in the fourth grade. Mom tried to register us, Dean and me, in the local school as soon as she could. We found out quickly that we were in trouble as all classes were conducted in Taiwanese. We did not understand a word in our classes. Further, everyone in the whole school was bare footed. Dean and I were the only students who wore shoes. We had a difficult time to adjust to bare feet, even part of the time, in school. Making things worse for us, all students were required to work in the afternoon to cultivate the vegetable garden for the school. Maybe that's why everyone had bare feet. As a result of the combination of these factors, my parents decided that we were not learning anything there and we were soon pulled out of the school. There went my fourth grade!

From the start of our move to Taiwan to the time when we settled down again in Taipei two years had elapsed. In this period, we did not have one single picture of any one in the family. I remember what happened in sequence, rather than just any specific event. Oh, there were a lot of things that happened!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Seven Clever Boards

You cut a square board into seven pieces with different shapes, as shown in the picture below, and then color them differently. Now you have Seven Clever Board (七巧板)You can follow other peoples' examples, as shown in the collection of pictures below which Olympic Games published in 2008. Or you can create your own. I was told that there are literally thousands of possibilities. You certainly can find quite a number on the web now! When we were young, this game was played by everyone while they were young. It's one of those games that no one loved but everyone played!