Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Favorite Teachers

In the last two years of my primary school, my home teacher was a lady with the same last name as mine. Her name is Huang Ren-fong (黄任芳) 。 She was kind to everyone in the class, never punished anyone physically in the class. She came from a country in Southeast Asia who was giving Chinese descendants a hard time. So her family moved back to Taiwan. I was one of her favorite students, which made me study harder than I would have, just to please her. I was the second in the class (六甲) (by grade point average) when I graduated, which seemed to have come so easy but which hurt me later in my junior high entrance examination, a situation which I will report to you later. She wrote on my memory book: Be a good child at home, Be a good student in school!

My Math teacher was a very attractive lady; her name is Ke Hwei-zhu (柯慧珠). Unfortunately I do not have a picture of her. But I still remember her face and her manner. She was always well dressed and very confident of herself. She wrote in my memory book: You are smart, and very able. But at times you are too rushed. You could calm down some and adjust yourself properly. I hope that you develop your strong points and eliminate your weaknesses! Remember this! She certainly knew me, but it took me too long to appreciate what she said!

Many others wrote in my memory book, but I no longer remember them. For example, my art teacher Chen Shu (陈述) drew a horse in memory book, but I do not at all remember what he looked like! Another page included here is a teacher's beautiful painstakingly done calligraphy. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lon-An Elementary School

I enrolled in Lon-An Elementary School (龙安国民小学) in early 1950. It was the fourth school where I attended the fourth grade. The first time was in Nanking, the second time in Zouying, the third time was at Navy Elementary School, and, finally, I finished my fourth grade in Taipei. I felt that I knew everything about fourth grade – it was time to play! During that next year, I learned to ride a bicycle, to play baseball, to play Ping-Pong and to play many other Chinese games.
Between our home and my school were rice fields. To find the shortest way to school, we usually took the small paths in a rice field. The farmers taught me quite a number of tricks about how to catch a certain kind of fish called a loach or mudfish (泥鳅)。
They move extremely fast in the mud, so you must move out a large chunk of mud so that they will be enclosed inside the mud. Then you put the mud on the dry ground and break it slowly to uncover the fish. They are very tasty when you fry them with ginger. Another technique I learned was to catch snakes, large or small. When you face a snake, choose a position so that he could not possibly strike you easily. That means that you must stand on his side or at his back. Move slowly until you are able to reach his tail quickly. Then, as quickly as possible, you catch his tail and shake it in one motion. The shake will paralyze all snakes, their back bones will be temporarily disengaged and they can no longer make any strike action. This skill helped me not only to have no fear of snakes, but also to collect some samples of very toxic snakes for my biology teacher.

Taiwan has quite a number of poisonous snakes. I have personally encountered two kinds. The one I caught in the picture below was a bamboo green:

Another was the hundred-pace snake. I have never encountered one of these in the wild. I only saw them in a store. (The name of this snake derives from the fact that you will only live long enough to take 100 paces after being bitten by this snake.) 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


1949, China was painted red very quickly. Father was lucky that he got on the last plane to leave Nanking and eventually got to Hong Kong, thus avoiding becoming a refugee. That was not true for thousands of Chinese who could not evacuate fast enough and were swept up by the communists. Some of our relatives were in that situation. Xiao-gi (小姐), Er-ge(二哥), and Susu(叔叔) were all under communist rule for some short periods of time. Xiiao-gi's case was the most serious, since her husband Yuan-ge(袁哥) was a high-ranking police chief in Wuhan. In early 1950, Yuan-ge escaped separately by himself. Xiao-gi had five children with her, the oldest was ten, and the youngest daughter was born less a year before. Using a variety of strategies, she managed to make her way from Wuhan to Hong Kong in less than two months, all while the country was under communist control. Sometimes she would pay bribes, sometimes she begged, sometimes she cried and asked for people's mercy. I still cannot imagine how she did it! Er-ge and Er-gi were young. They somehow also bought their way to join them in Hong Kong. They were in Hong Kong less than half a year. In late 1950, they all came to squeeze into our small house on lane 48 of Wenzhou Street, which had been provided temporarily to us by the University until more appropriate house became available. So for a short time, we had three families crowded in a two-bed room house with two very small babies. My Mother was not happy, but there were no alternatives!

Yuan-ge in late 1950 found a job as the police chief of a small township called Jinshan(金山). They moved there quickly. A picture was taken at his place when we went to visit his family:

I was surprised to see how "big" I was in this picture. I was 11 years old, while De-dong(德東), who is in the middle of the picture, was 12, one year older than me. Yuan-ge was the third adult person to my right, and Father was the fifth. Dean was the second child to my right, the first is De-shu{德恕}, Ed was next to the right from De-dong who is at the center of the picture. Next to Ed is De-bie(德璧). Xiao-gi is the third lady from left, holding, most likely her new son Derie(德瑞). De-lang(德萳) is in front of De-dong and next to the left is De-I(德誼). Hwei-ge(慧哥) is the second from left. She came slightly early than the Yuan family and was never under communist control. (There are several other people in this picture but I do not know who they are.)

Susu was not in the picture, he was at the Hong Kong refugee camp when he asked father for help in 1951. According to family poem, he was related to us at my father's generation, therefore our Susu. My father had never met him before or knew about him. He became part of our family after he arrived in Taipei, and he died just one year ago.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Turning Points

I do not know how many turning points one gets in his or her life. Everyone will get some! Turning points are different from breaking points. Turning points are where your life goes in a new direction. Breaking points are dealt to you with no chance to avoid them, such as if a bomb is dropped on your house, or a car accident occurs when it is unexpected. My family had quite a number of breaks, as no Japanese bomb reached us. We were lucky to be just a step or two ahead of the Japanese troops and the communist soldiers. My parents certainly made a correct decision to go to Taiwan, instead of Wuhan or Vietnam (places which were considered).

The year 1950 was the first turning point for my life. At least, this is the first one that I recognized. When I look back, I can clearly feel that the change which occurred was good for me and for the family in all aspects. At the end of 1949, we took a train to Taipei. The train station was very not crowded then. Taipei was still quite small with a population of about .6 million. 

We moved to a house in the middle of many rice fields. Father was appointed as the chief accountant for National Taiwan University. The University provided a house and a popular transportation vehicle, called a pedicab, with a driver. Mom at the time was pregnant with Kai whose was born in March at the University Hospital. Dean even went to stay with Mom in the hospital as Mom was lonesome there for more than a week.

From 1950 on, the life of this ordinary Chinese became very normal. My parents' primary worry had changed from where to get enough food to how to stop me from playing too much, as I had to prepare for the junior high school entrance examination in two years

Kai was born in March, at the end of the year; we took a picture together without Mom in front of our "new" house. No, I do not know why Mom was not in the picture. We did not have a camera at home then. It's possible that someone came to visit us with a camera and took the picture. It is a very nice picture of Kai. Since there was no tradition to take a picture after birth in Taiwan, this picture might be the first picture for Kai. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Comparing Early Education

When our children, Margaret and Steven, went to school in Johnson City, I commented on the fact that my early education was so different from theirs. First of all, mine was so formal, the class was large, usually up to forty or fifty students, and there was just no time for gradual steps so that children could adjust and ease into the classroom education. From the first day, students sat and remembered what teachers said and did what they were told to do. On the other hand, when I walked in our children's classrooms, there were only usually less than twenty students scattered around a large room, everyone seemed to be working on their own, individually. Teachers spoke softly to each student separately. And many times, there was another assistant helping another student separately. There were interruptions continuously. 

For our grandchildren, the early education has even more to offer. They have supplies, more options, more support and fewer students in a room. Extra curricula activities are even more plentiful. For example, my granddaughter has piano, ballet, gymnastics, swimming, and Girl Scouts. Home work is relatively minimal. The elementary school is even linked to NASA for direct activities on space.

When our children were at the University School in Johnson City, they were the very few tokens of multiracial students. But now, everywhere in the USA, school is full of students with very different backgrounds. Demographic change has been amazing in the USA. It is usually shown clearly in the early years of elementary schools.

Clearly, discipline was the most important thing in the Chinese classroom. For so many students in a room, the lecturing styles may be the only way as well. So what a teacher knows is the crucial factor to be a good teacher. I remember one time when a male teacher was so mad with the whole class that he had everyone lined up in front of him two or three at a time, so he could use a piece of bamboo branch to spank the backs of both hands of the students. Girl students were crying, boys tried to be brave to hide their pain.

I read quite a number reports, they all say that early education in the U.S. is better than or at least as good as other countries'. But after fourth grade, US education starts to slide down, and by the eighth grade, US education in mathematics and science is quite a bit behind most of the developed countries. So why is this true? Let me make a suggestion. There is a very old saying in China: It takes ten years to plant a tree, it takes one hundred years to establish a person." When this saying was stated close to 2000 years ago, the average life span was less than 60 years. So it may take longer now! So it will take generations to establish a "human being". The U.S. educational philosophy is based on learning while having fun; The Chinese philosophy is based on discipline. Both are right and good, but they should only applied to different times of a person's life. For early education, having fun while learning is enough. As one grows older, most people feel it is no longer fun to learn, and some discipline is necessary and needed. To improve Chinese education, they need to put "some" fun in early education. That is not easy, since there are too many students! For US early education, the idea that you must invest time and effort in pursuing any subject must be provided by school or at home!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Remembering the Past

It is nice to be able to remember the past. Unfortunately, only a few very special people can remember what they experienced when they were young. Even fewer people had their pictures taken and preserved so that they could confirm their memories and re-experience their feelings of their past. My mother tried very hard to have some pictures taken and she certainly did her best to save all her pictures carefully. But there were no pictures taken at all during the period when we lived in Zouying (the new spelling for Tzung-en, sorry, I just learned), none whatsoever! And this was the period that I was old enough and started to remember things!

In 2006, I went back to Zouying. There was nothing that looked the same as what was in my memory. The trees were all gone and buildings were everywhere. Views like the one in the picture below were completely gone. I had to confirm my memory by the image in an old painting!

 There were no bamboo forests, no steams, no fruit trees, no ground for farmers, and no tomb for my younger sister. My cousins now live on the 12th floor of this building:

Our old school next to a lake was still next to a lake but with new buildings and a new board at the door:

Classrooms still held 50 students. Activities for students were similar, yet so different!

There was a stone grinder in front of a house, it looked just like the one father used for making soy milk! Was someone played a trick on me!?


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Big Picture!

Let's take a look at the big picture of the period of the first ten years of my life.

The Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945) was a war that the "new" China decided to wage in order to stop further colonization by the Empire of Japan. Historically, the following are quoted from:

"The Japanese hated European and American colonialism and were committed to avoiding what happened to China after the Opium Wars. They felt humiliated by the unequal treaties that were forced on them by the United States after the arrival of Perry's Black ships in 1853. But in the end Japan became a colonial power itself.

The Japanese colonized Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and several islands in the Pacific. After defeating both China and Russia, Japan began conquering and colonizing East Asia to expand its power.

The Japanese victory over China in 1895 led to the annexation of Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and Liaotang province in China. Both Japan and Russia claimed Liatong. The victory over Russia in 1905 gave Japan the Liaotang province in China and led the way to the annexation of Korea in 1910. In 1919, in return for siding with the Allies in World War I, the European powers gave Germany's possessions in Shandong province to Japan in the Treaty of Versailles.

In some ways, the Japanese mimicked the Western colonial powers. They built grand government buildings and "developed high-minded schemes to help the natives." Later they even claimed they had the right to colonize. In 1928, Prince (and future Prime Minister) Konroe announced: "as a result of [Japan's] one million annual increase in population, our national economic life is heavily burdened. We cannot [afford to] wait for a rationalizing adjustment of the world system."

To rationalize their actions in China and Korea, Japanese officers invoked the concept of "double patriotism" which meant they could "disobey moderate policies of the Emperor in order to obey his true interests." A comparison has been made between the religious-political-imperial ideology behind Japanese expansion and the American idea of manifest destiny. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

The Japanese tried to build a united Asian front against Western imperialism but its racist views ultimately worked against it."

Ordinary Chinese suffered a great deal under Japan's invasion. During my first six years I was too young to realize the brutality and cruelty of the war. An estimated 35 million people died during the period; 50% of babies born in 1939 did not survive to their sixth birthday. Poor Chinese! Without a day of peace they suffered both from the war with the Japanese as well as from the internal war between the Kuomintang and the Communists, a conflict which continued to keep the country in flames. In 1949, when I was ten, Mao Tse-Dong took over China. A bamboo curtain was dropped over the whole of China. This ordinary Chinese' destiny was shaped without his realization! Because we were in Taiwan, our worst nightmare was over. A great number of ordinary Chinese, on the other hand, had just started their horrifying experience!