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Ahtong's diary 1948

Ahtong's diary July 31-December 24, 1948

By Dora Kuo 阿彤, and Lei Liu 雷六

August 4, 2020



[Lei Liu, August 16, 2020] At the beginning of the diary our eldest sister, Baobao/Helen 寶寶, had just died in Singapore. The remaining siblings were big step-brother, Da Ge (大哥) Xunxun/Hunter 恂恂, two sisters older than the diarist, Didi/Julie 滴滴 and Feifei/Vivien 菲菲, the diarist Tongtong/Ahtong/Dora 彤彤/阿彤, and three younger ones, Pengpeng/Peter 蓬蓬 (aka Su Wu 蘇五), Pupu/Paul 勃勃 (aka Lei Liu 雷六 ), and Zhizhi/Nancy 止止. The diary covered a half-year period during which both China and our family experienced great changes. On November 8, 1948, the Nationalists suffered a catastrophic military defeat in the hands of the Communists in the Northeast, triggering wide spread panic over the entire country, including food riots in Suzhou, one occurring right next door to where we lived. In the ensuing upheaval the family lost practically all its real estate, household, and equity possessions. During the entire period Didi stayed in her convent school in Singapore as boarder; she rejoined the family in Hong Kong in 1949. The diary vividly records events happening to and in the family through the eyes of an eleven year old child, in a calm tone that suggests that she was not aware of the gravity of some of those events. That is thanks to our parents, who, through their infinite kindness, kept the sufferings to themselves while doing everything they could to shield it from their children.


Jul 31, 1948, lv S'pore. Aug 3, arr HK. Sep 27, lv HK. Oct 1, arr Shanghai. Oct 3, lv SH arr Suzhou. Nov 10, lv SZ arr SH. Nov. 16, lv SH, and the family leaves Mainland China for the last time. Nov 16 arr HK (via Formosa/Taiwan). The family stayed in Hong Kong for almost three years; in the summer of 1951 it moved to Taiwan.

|Letter, AT to LL, August 5, 2020

Dear Pupu,

...As to your second question (to where did we go after leaving Singapore), you are in luck. I found my diary of 1948...Following is what I discovered:

The Diary

July 31, l948 - Left S'pore on SS Canton, a P.&O. luxury liner, with Mummy, Da Ge, Vivien, Dora, Peter, Paul, Nancy. School ended the day before.

Aug. 4 - Awakened by Vivien's shout of "Land!" I'll never forget my first view of HongKong. It was stunning, so aptly named. Went home. Saw Winnie and her son Li Kwan (Road 利群道). Apparently we didn't bring Winnie to S'pore as the country had rabies.

Aug. 6 - Yao Ye (Uncle 么爷#), came and spent two nights with us. (I remember this as it was the first time I met him and he brought preserved fish in oil. (It was probably sturgeon).

Aug. 8 - Daddy left for Nanking, and Da Ge went to Canton.

Aug. 10 - Went to Raymond Lui's Music Studio. Vivien and I started Hawaiian guitar lessons and Peter and Paul signed up for ukulele lessons. We were to go 3 times a week and the charge was $75. each. Paul was free.

Sept. 9 - Vivien and I started school in (Edit. St. Paul's) French Convent in Causeway Bay which we had attended before we went to S'pore. I had Mrs. Aherne who also had taught Julie.

Sept. 27 - Left H.K. for Shanghai on the SS. Boissevain, a Dutch vessel. I carried Winnie on board.

Oct. 1 - Arrived in Shanghai. Cleared customs with 24 trunks (the rest went as cargo), and every trunk was examined. "The sea captains took away our Radio and Gramophone and other things". Stayed at the Palace Hotel (now the International Hotel) for two nights.

Oct. 3 - Took the 12:45 train to Suzhou. Arrived at our home, 34 (Edit. should be 30) Pan Men DongDaJie 盤門東大街. "It is very nice". My diary says that "Aunty lives there with her six children". Could that be Yao Niang 么娘? She only had four children at that time.

Oct. 4 - We went to Laura Haygood School 景海女校 where Dad had reserved places for us, but we arrived after the term had started and our spots were given away. We were finally accepted.

Oct. 5 - We had an English test given by Miss Bradshaw. She said my English was fit for Senior III probably 高三. I was assigned to Junior I, Vivien to Junior II Middle School, Peter in Standard III, Paul Standard II and Nancy Std. I.

Oct. 6 - I went to school but only stayed for the first period as I was going to go to Shanghai with Mummy to settle the luggage affair. That was unsuccessful and there was no room at the Palace Hotel so we went back to Suzhou.

Oct. 7 - Viv, Peter, Paul, and Nancy went to school today but I didn't as I was to go to Shanghai again with Mummy. We went with Aunty because she wanted to see a friend in Shanghai. We took the 9:45 train and arrived at about 12:30. We had our lunch in a restaurant and all of us had chicken curry. After that we went to the Palace Hotel and booked a room on the 4th floor-423. After visiting Aunty's friend in Broadway House, we went back to the hotel. In the evening we walked from the beginning of Nanking Road (南京路) to nearly the end. It is a very long road. (it is a pedestrian street with the earliest department stores. Even today it is very crowded.)

Oct. 8 - We woke up early because we were going to Thomas Cook to get our trunks. We took the 2 o'clock train and got back to Suzhou at 5 o'clock.

Oct. 9 - I went to school and I was late. The Head was waiting at the gate for us to sign our name...The first period we had was History. The lessons are all in Chinese. Today (Saturday) is half-day.

Oct. 10 - Daddy brought us out to tea today as it was Sunsun's§ birthday and also Double Tenth. There was nothing for sale in all the shops because a lot of customers had bought them already. We had ice cream, milk, Chinese buns with meat and smashed sweet beans.

Oct. 16 - Aunty and all her children went away to Hankow 漢口.

Oct. 25 - Today is my 11th birthday. I am not having any party as there is a shortage of food. Daddy gave me a "Wearever" pen. Mummy gave me two hankies and a pair of socks. I am writing with the "Wearever" Pen.

Nov. 8 - Daddy went to Shanghai again and did not come back.

Nov. 9 - Daddy came back in the night.

Nov. 10 - We went away today. We packed everything in a hurry because of the coming communists. We were going to Hong Kong. We all went to the station but Mummy told me to go with Daddy to pack the trunks again. They (Daddy, Feifei, Pengpeng, Pupu, and Nancy) would go first. We (Mummy and I) would go afterwards. I packed and packed until lunch came. After lunch we went to get our cloth back at the tailor?s. We (Mummy carrying Winnie) went to Shanghai at 10:15 (train) and arrived at 3am. in the morning. (I remember Daddy met us.) We are staying in the Palace Hotel again.

Nov. 16 - We went aboard the SS "Wingsang" (bound) for Hong Kong via Formosa. Both Vivien and I were very sea sick.

Nov. 19 - We went ashore to Formosa to play (). We had a nice day.

Nov. 20 - We arrived in Hong Kong and went ashore. We did not pass (go through) inspection because of our diplomatic passport and not only that, the officers saw that we had so much luggage. It is Nancy's 6th birthday. We had lunch in the Hoi King (海景) Restaurant. We went by Star Ferry to Kowloon, but Winnie couldn't go. She needed a permit. (HK was rabies-free)

Dec. 1 - Vivien and I are boarders at French Convent. I like being a boarder. The girls are very friendly.

Dec. 5 - I am in Class 5A.

Dec. 24 - Vivien and I went home today (Christmas holidays). Daddy came back from Shanghai.

lv, at

#Father's only sibling, a younger brother. ‡Our family dog; Mother bought it for Helen on September 17, 1946. †Uncle's wife. §恂恂, our step brother, is Xunxun in Pinyin, but was pronounced at home in our Hubei inflected Mandarin as Sunsun.

Night of November 10, 1948

|Letter, AT to LL, August 17, 2020

Dear Pupu,

... I added the Chinese characters recently. In 1948, I didn't know how to read or write Chinese.

Regarding Nov. 10, the night Mummy and I left our home in Suzhou, my memory is that I went to school not knowing that we would be leaving. When I came home at dusk, the front gate was shut and I saw Mummy on the second floor window. She gestured to me to come by the side gate. When I entered I found that Mummy was alone - everyone had left - and she and I were to leave when it got dark. Our trunks and baggage were piled in the room. When night fell, two men came and loaded everything onto their flat-bed wagon and Mummy (with Winnie in a cloth bag) and I proceeded to walk behind them in dark cobbled streets to the railway station. I remember that when we arrived in Shanghai, my teeth were chattering, probably from both the cold and the fear. In my haste to leave, I left one of my birthday hankies stuck on the tile wall of the bathroom, and also not knowing that it would be my last day at school, I did not clean out my locker.

I don't know why the version in my diary differs from what I remember and corroborated by Mummy. I think I must have written it days later. Years later, I have taken taxis from the train station to the Pan Men 盤門 area and it is quite a hike. But Suzhou has changed so much, so many boulevards and high-rises. Still, I have to smile that I shared that experience with Mummy, exiting Suzhou in her qipao and high heels.


lv, at

Copyright ©Dora Kuo 2020