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.

World War II and The Shanghai American School

U.Mich Peony Garden

Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks at the University of Michigan Peony Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Mike and I traveled  to the impressive University of Michigan in early May to join a reunion of the Shanghai American School (SAS) —  part of the conference, “China Between Two Worlds.”

Hans Pederson died when I was one month old. My mother remarried when I was two. We left Seattle, and so the mystery of the noted builder who was my father grew for the next 70 years. My new “Dad” took us to China where he was an agent for the Standard Oil Company.  As well as Seattle history, the “Mysterious Builder” describes my Far Eastern early childhood in Shanghai, Honolulu, and Manila, along with Dad’s attempts to do business there during the turmoil of the pre and post-war World War II years.

The Michigan conference described “China Between Two Worlds” partly through the memories and photographs of American expatriate families —the missionaries, doctors, and businessmen in China between 1927 and 1949; years that bridged the Chiang Kai Sheck and  Mao Tse Tung regimes withWorld War II in between.  We, the children of these families, had all lived in China. We had lived those photos. We had felt that sense of straddling two cultures.

Such freedom we had. Missionaries upcountry had put their children on the train for Shanghai to board at the Shanghai American School sometimes at the tender age of nine. My husband, a day student at seven, roamed freely around Shanghai with his older brother, jumping over sampans on the Whangpo River. I, however, a five-year old girl, stayed with my amah. Conscious of her bound feet, I never ran away from her, because she never could have caught me.

Most business families were evacuated from Shanghai as we were in 1939, and most expatriates as well by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on  December 7, 1941. The Shanghai American School closed from 1941 to 1946. It was another story for the missionary families in smaller cities upcountry. Some of them were interred in Japanese Prison Camps.

Japanese cruelty towards the Chinese was legendary. Brutality, in fact, was a part of Japanese military training. But one or two people at our reunion had filtered out the cruelty and remembered basically happy childhoods in prison camp, even though they were always hungry.

European and American prisoners organized their camps into rotating teams with specific jobs. With plenty of teachers around, the children had good schooling. They fielded sports teams and put on plays. They always invited their captors to sit in the front row. A few western camps run by Japanese consular officials, were seemingly able to maintain discipline without excessive cruelty.

And so we learned, sometimes there is light within the darkness.

World War II Car Travel

 

 

1941_nash_ambassador_black_sedan_%22a%22_ration_sticker

1941 Nash Ambassador courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

During my World War II childhood in New York, my mother, my sister, and I escaped the city and went to Maine every summer. We left the car in the garage all winter, took  buses and subways, and saved our gas rationing coupons for the summer trip.

It took two full days to drive the 350 miles to Maine since the wartime speed limit was thirty-five miles an hour. We watched the cows in the fields and read the Burma Shave shaving cream signs along the sides of the two-lane roads.

                      “His cheek was rough                                  His chick vamoose

                       And now she won’t                                     Come home to roost

                                                                                                                            Burma Shave”

The first night we stopped at a tourist home in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Someone told my father about this new kind of place out West called a motel. You’d just drive your car right up to the door of your room and carry in your own suitcases. “Keep your eyes peeled for a motel,” Dad told us, but we never saw any. All we saw were cows and Burma Shave signs.

The next day we drove to Maine through all these little town on Route 1—York, Ogunquit, Kennebunk. More Burma Shave signs entertained us.

                   “To kiss a mug                                                 That’s like a cactus

                    Takes more nerve                                          Than it does practice

                                                                                                                         Burma Shave”

We stayed a couple of days in Portland with our aunts and uncle. Whenever our uncle had fun somewhere, he’d say, “Gorry, it was a real whiz-bang.”

They saved their meat coupons for our visits. Aunt Edith cooked huge roasts. If we stayed over a Saturday night, she made baked beans and brown bread. Aunt Edith knew a good bean baker. She took her bean pot over in the morning, he baked it all day, and then she picked it up that night. I loved the spicy smell and the soft dark bread.

We  stayed in Portland long enough to get gold fillings from Dr. Woods, Dad’s dentist. He never used Novocain. “If I hit a nerve I want to know it,” he’d say. Boy, did I know it. He drilled awhile, squirted cold air on the tooth when it got hot, then swabbed the cavity with iodine or something before he filled it. It was awful, but it was only once a year.

Next we drove up the coast to the camp. Dad stayed a few days before he took the train back to New York. In August he’d take the train back up to get us and we’d drive back to New York in time for school.

We were so  lucky we could spend summers in Maine away from hot New York City with its danger of polio.

%d bloggers like this: