Pre-World War II China

1939-Shanghai-Cookie (age 2) Amah Paula (age 6) Doris (age 32)-we ride in rickshas to avoid floodwaters at Grosvenor House, our apartment building in the International Settlement copy

Cookie, Amah, Paula, and Mom ready for a rickshaw ride in Shanghai

 

Prior to World War II, we lived in the Far East where my adopted expatiate father worked for the Standard Oil. In the photo above, we’re about to take a rickshaw ride through the flooded streets of Shanghai—Cookie in Amah’s lap on the left, and me in my mother’s lap on the right. Rickshaws were fun, I thought back then, but I’ve recently learned more about rickshaw drivers, or pullers, in the April 19, 2017 Delancey Place blog states otherwise. It features a selection from The Search for Modern China, by Jonathan D. Spence. 

Everyday life was a struggle for survival for most Chinese in the 1930s. Few could afford to marry, and among those who did, many had to sell their children, or watch them slowly starve. The country was increasingly ready for a revolution.

“China’s hundreds of millions joined scores of their fellows at 4:00 a.m. or earlier, waiting in anxious groups with their tools to see if any work would come that day. Most such men died unnoticed after brief, miserable lives. Some of them ‘escaped’ to the factories or became human horses, pulling two-wheeled rickshaws through the crowded streets of China’s cities. These rickshaw men were constantly exploited by racketeers, and returned after each backbreaking day to grim tenements, where they slept in rows, packed side by side, in spaces just vacated by fellow pullers who had returned to the streets.”

Life was no better for poverty stricken country peasants. “Few of the wealthier farmers went to the expense of mechanizing farm work, even when machinery and fuel were available. Nor did they invest much in draft animals, since the wages paid to a hired laborer per day were the same as the cost of a day’s fodder for a single donkey. The man could be laid off when the need for him was over, but the donkey had to be fed the sheltered for the whole year.”

Such is often the fate of the world’s powerless.

Expatriate Career Training for China

Shanghai1920s- wiki commons

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.

 

Immigrants and Prejudice

640px-Dugout_home2

A Homesteader, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother’s family immigrated as Ukrainian homesteaders to the Alberta plains in 1898. Mom was the first in her family to go to school since Canada offered schooling only to English-speaking children. Her older siblings never learned to speak English well. Her younger siblings, Helen and Alex, followed her in school.

When Mom grew up, she left the farm about 1925 and headed to Edmonton to study nursing. Soon her sister Helen and brother Alex joined her as they studied to become teachers. Her brother’s friend also moved in “to help make ends meet.” The guys ate them out of house and home. One time my mother said they were down to their last quarter. So they bought a quart of strawberries and some cream and feasted on the luscious fresh fruit —so expensive in Northern Canada.

Mother obtained her nursing degree at Edmonton Hospital in 1928. She followed her mother’s advice and left for Seattle — just as the depression was about to hit. Four years later she married my father, Hans Pederson, a Danish immigrant who rose to become one of Seattle’s largest early 20th century contractors.

Her reticence  about both my father and her Canadian upbringing launched me into detective work after her death. I was already  more than seventy, but family secrets only bring more curiosity.

Mother’s siblings, Alex and Helen, returned to Andrew, Alberta where Helen taught and Alex became principal of the Andrew School. Even though Andrew was their home town and their school, Canadians continued to harbor such prejudice against the Ukrainian community that a generation later, college-educated descendants of Ukrainian immigrants could find jobs only in Ukrainian schools.

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