Expatriate Career Training for China

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Shanghai 1920s – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The stepfather who adopted and raised me from the age of two, spent his career in the Far East before World War II. He described his 1915 hiring and training by the Standard Oil Co. of New York.

“An opportunity to work in the Orient presented itself. It was December 24, 1915. I had been told to report to 26 Broadway, New York, offices of the Standard Oil Company of New York, to enter a training class for service in the Orient. A group[ of forty-five men had been selected from three hundred applicants. Most were recent college graduates from different parts of the country. Many held degrees in engineering — civil, electrical, and mechanical. Supposedly these fields were crowded with little future. The opportunity to go to China at a salary of $2,000 a year, and sell kerosene oil for a period of three years, followed by a home leave of six months, seemed very attractive. The fact that we reported on the day before Christmas was of little concern; the chance to go to the Far East was not to be overlooked.

…each Monday, we noticed that some of the men were missing. At the end of the training period, eighteen out of the original forty-five remained. Two were assigned to Java [Indonesia] and the other sixteen to Shanghai, China. We considered ourselves lucky.”

I was a two-year-old when late in those expatriate years, my mother married “Dad” after Hans Pederson’s death. We joined Dad in Shanghai, Manila, and Honolulu. How my parents reveled in those privileged expatriate years until World War II brought them to a close.

 

Seattle, Canada, and the Klondike Gold Rush

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Prospectors ascending the Chilcoot Pass, 1898, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

100,000 prospectors joined the Klondike Gold Rush stampede between 1896 and 1899, most of them, embarking either from Seattle or San Francisco. They followed either the Chilcoot or White Pass trails to reach the Yukon River and wait for the ice to melt before they navigated the Klondike River to reach the gold fields.

Canadian authorities required the prospectors to bring a year’s supply of food, or they would have starved. Most of them spent the winter carrying their supplies, weighing close to a ton, in several trips over the passes themselves. Some, who fell, just careened back down the mountain.

My father, Hans Pederson, a pioneer Danish immigrant, was one of the 30,000 who actually reached the Yukon. After a bout of pneumonia, he did make it back to Seattle, although with empty pockets. He later bought stock in the Alaska Reindeer Company, and today I have several of his worthless stock certificates His partner, who was in more of a hurry to leave the Yukon,  abandoned Pederson and drowned when his ship sank on the way back to Seattle.

Seattle Libraries Contain History

After his Woodinville homestead burned to the ground in 1892, Hans Pederson, my  Danish immigrant father moved back to Seattle and spent the winter studying English and American history in the public library.  He died in 1933, one month after my birth.

When I decided to write about him from my home in Maine, I called the the Seattle library to request information. They sent passages from city histories along with newspaper articles about Hans Pederson. I had to wait a year for other articles that had been archived in the state library in Olympia since the building had been damaged by the 2001 earthquake. Finally, for the sum of $30, they sent me priceless information I could not have found in any other way.

Today you can read a book in e-format on a Kindle, buy one for $.99, or listen to an audiobook on your smart phone. Many believe that the internet has now supplanted physical libraries.

No way. Grand or humble, stone, wood, or fiberboard, these vital spaces are the repository of our history and our culture.

In 2013, a Parade Magazine annual salary survey listed a princely $8,840 salary for Mary Stenger, the Lost Creek West Virginia Director of America’s best small library. In this world of increasing noise pollution, a library can sometimes seem as peaceful as a mountain stream.

E-books are convenient for some. Audiobooks help multitaskers. Some readers still prefer the feel of a physical book. I mark mine up so I can find my favorite passages. Libraries are important. I don’t believe anyone has hacked one yet.

Hitler built a bonfire and burned books in one of his pre-World war II acts as Fuhrer.

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Seattle Central Library Photo by Bobak Ha Eri, June 4, 2009 courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

Today’s Seattle public library is worth the walk. The building will take your breath away when you see it. But to reach it from the waterfront you have to climb four blocks up  Seattle’s ever-present hills. The natives surely must develop strong legs.

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