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Sojourn in Hong Kong, visits to Nanjing, Hankou 1945-47

Exchanges between Su Wu 蘇五 and Lei Liu 雷六

April 29-30, 2006


Note by LL. After WWII ended in 1945, Father was called back to Nanjing from India, and Mother took the family to Hong Kong, where we lived for a about one year before leaving for Singapore where Father had his new post. During that period, Mother took the three small ones to Nanjing to see Father and made stops in Hankou and other places. The four older sisters attended St. Paul's girls' school.

|SW to LL | Sat, April 29, 2006

The Tiger Balm Garden 胡文虎花園

Remember this picture of all our sibs at Aw Boon Haw's Haw-Par Mansion 虎豹別墅? This park was within walking distance from our house on Li Kuan Road 利群道.

The dark Magnificent Seven. Back row from left: Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤; front row from left: Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃. The Tiger Balm/Hu Wen Hu Garden, Hong Kong, 1945.

Aw Boon Haw 胡文虎 and his brother Aw Boon Par 胡文豹 made their billions selling 萬金油 (Tiger Balm Oil). With the proceeds, Mr. Aw purchased a side of a mountain, upon which he built his enormous mansion, and consigned the construction (ca. 1937) of an adjacent Haw-Par Mansion (also known as Tiger Balm Garden, or 胡文虎花園), replete with fake rock, caves, grottoes and pagodas, decorated with colorful murals of fairy tales and of gods and demons meting out justice to evildoers in their afterlife. I remember being fascinated with scenes of sinners roasting in fire, frying in oil, eyeballs being gouged, etc; curiously, I did not find it gruesome but rather entertaining, like a big comic strip painted on a wall. As Mr. Aw was also a philanthropist of sorts, his 'theme park' was open to the public; I can't remember whether or not it was free of charge. We spent many happy weekends there; I?m sure you remember facets of it.

Youngest boarding student at elementary school

Our interesting sojourn in HK was a time between India and Singapore. Our family lived on Li Kuan Road in HK. Our older sisters went to St. Paul's girls' school in Causeway Bay, but I was put up as a boarding student at Kowloon-Tong Elementary School 九龍塘小學. Mother picked me up once a week to go home via bus, Star Ferry, and bus.

I recall the first night as a boarding pupil. At six years of age and the youngest boarder, I was so terrified that I cried with the sheets over my head; the principal Yip But-Chow 葉不秋 consoled me for a considerable time before I could fall asleep. After the initial shock of "independent living", my routine existence at school became less stressful. I don?t recall having made a single friend in 1st grade, because all I longed for was to play with you during the weekends.

Fortunately, Dad was assigned to Singapore, and so, after several months of suffering, my ordeal ended. Another adventure was to begin.

Take care, hi to everybody.

We carried Winnie home from Tiger Balm Garden

|LL to SW | Sun, April 30, 2006

Until rather recently, I was not aware, not clearly anyway, that there was a stay in HK between India and Singapore. A stay there between Singapore and Shuzhou 蘇州 (or was there one?) was more firmly part of my personal lore. I do not think I have the picture you show. How handsome Helen was! And all those long legs our older sisters had. I have vague memories of the Tiger Balm Garden. I remember going there quite a few times, but I can't say I could tell when the visits were made, that is, during which of our HK stays. I remember once having to help carry Winnie, who was sick, home from the garden. Thinking back, such vague memories as I have, they must have been blissful times.

Veranda of fancy Hankou 漢口 hotel, was I there?

Another period is even more misty in my mind. I remember being with Nancy, and only Nancy, on a veranda from a hotel room. Somehow I think it was a fancy hotel in Hankou. Since we did not make a detour back to Hankou after India (or did we?), I suspect that trip was made before India. But that must have been impossible, according to the lore that Nancy was born in India, because that (the stay in Hankou) would make me barely one year old at the most, and I know my memory does not go that far back, not by a long stretch. So we must have stayed in Hankou after India. But then, when?

All this traveling. The amazing thing is that I have no memory of being ever feeling stressful from it. Can hardly remember any of the sojourns, except the boat trip, during which I was mostly seasick, from HK to Jilong 基隆, that opened a brand new era of our lives. But that was much later, in the summer of 1951.

Yes, an exceptional family saga indeed. If you can keep writing, just the way you wrote the passage above, after a while we will have a truly wonderful memoir. I for one would dearly love to read it.

|SW to LL | Sun, April 30, 2006

Nancy, the eagles, Dad's poor shoe

Firstly, your memory serves you correctly. We traveled to Hankou after India.

We were back in HK from India (Do you remember the boat, SS Buchanan, on which little Nancy nearly became a meal for a family of eagles, etc). At the time, Dad was working in Nanjing and came to see us, at least once. I recall an event most vividly. One night I had to get up to take a crap with some urgency; but I had this morbid fear of darkness, so I groped around, found a small container near the bed and neatly deposited my da4-bian4. The small container turned out to be Dad's left shoe. The repercussion was unpleasant the following morning; Dad pulled on my left ear so hard that I thought it was going to be ripped off. After that ear-stretching episode, I never crapped in Dad's shoe again, or anybody's shoe for that matter.

Mom took us to see Dad in Nanjing

The travel you recalled was a visit to see Father. Mother was probably discussing family matters with Father, perhaps also about Father's upcoming Singapore assignment. We went to Nanjing and stayed at Dad's modest living quarters, which you see in the pictures.

Dad/Mom and the three small ones, in Dad's Nanjing quarters, 1945. The kids from left: Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃 Nancy/Zhizhi 止止.

Hankou 漢口, Piqi 蒲圻, trophies of war

Then, by train we went to Hankou, for Mom had to tend to some family visits/business in the Hankou and Puqi 蒲圻 (Note: this is the Lees' hometown, about 50 km south west of Wuhan on the south shore of ChangJiang) area. You and Nancy were deposited in a fancy hotel in Hankou, in the care of a nanny, which I'm almost certain was the trustworthy and good-natured Ah-Mun 阿文. Mom took me along with her for several brief excursions to the city and countryside to visit relatives. On one trip, I recall that we traveled by two-man palanquin to visit Wai4-Po2 外婆, who had given me loving care when I was an infant. One of Mother's cousins 舅舅 gave me some trophies of war, a Japanese knife and a silk rising-sun flag with Hiragana written on it, it was about the size of a handkerchief. I remember being very curious about it, but 舅舅 did not know what the writings meant, and couldn't care less; however, he believed that the knife was for 'seppuku', committing honorable suicide by cutting out one's guts. Some years later in TW I gave that knife to you. Now, I have doubts that it was a seppuku knife; it was much to dull for such operations.

I can still remember the rustically primitive conditions in the villages; there were hard, shiny, dirt floor indoors, and rough, narrow footpaths outdoors, which served as roads. On another trip, we spent a night at a village inn. The next day, an 'aunt' came to visit. The first thing she did as she came in the room was to clear her throat and spit a thick green goober on the floor. After the 'aunt' left, instead of scuffing the goober into the floor, as others would have done, Mother cleaned the dirt floor with toilet paper and washed it with some soap and water, restoring the floor to its original shiny gloss.

Bandits in Puqi 蒲圻!

The episode Mother often repeats from the trip to Wai-Po's is that she sensed that something was awry, so departed immediately after an early dinner, and angered Wai-Po by adamantly refusing to spend even a single night at her house, in spite of Wai-Po's elaborate preparations made for Mother?s stay. That evening, raiders invaded Wai-Po's house, robbed and beat up everybody in sight; Wai-Po was also a victim of some violence and received a few lumps on head. Wai-Po later wrote to tell Mother that she made the correct choice to leave, because the robbers actually came to kidnap Mother for ransom. One of the young maids (without bound feet) climbed up a tree to hide and witnessed the whole event, including the yells and queries of where Mother was hiding; this maid was so terrified that she pissed generously in her britches. Thus Wai-Po reported, according to Mother.

A JingDeZhen 景德鎮 porcelain dog

We traveled by boat from Hankou back to Nanjing. This impression was deep because the boat made a stop at JiuJiang 九江. Just prior to arrival, Mother told us that Jing3-De2-Zhen4 景德鎮 of JiangXi 江西 province was very famous for its fine porcelain. The dock scene was bustling with humanity, chaotic and noisy. Mother bought me a small white porcelain dog from a hawker and bargained with him. The hawker carried on a pole two baskets full of knick-knacks, which he swore were all "absolutely authentic" Jing-De-Zhen wares and demanded prices commensurate with their origin. The dog, in a sitting position, was hollow; it had a hole in the back and a tiny hole at its mouth. The dog was a water container to be used to dispense drops of water from its mouth onto a stone tablet for grinding calligraphy ink. I used it throughout my later Kowloon-tong school years and subsequent junior years in middle school.

I don't know what happened to the mementos of that trip, the knife, the flag, and the dog. These are my impressions. I'd very much like to hear of your perspective of these events.

Secondly, thanks for the encouragement. It's reassuring to know that I have at least 1 interested reader (besides the nosy you-know-who, if they could open the password-protected doc). Actually, I am more accustomed to writing for a slightly larger audience, and I used to anxiously wait for "fan mail', i.e. post-cards of "Request for Reprint". But, that was some time ago during another life, of scholarship, erudition and tranquility.

Finally, no need to be embarrassed by the PR on your success. In fact you should be as proud of it as I am. One of my scientific heroes from the USSR, Yakov Zeldovich, said: "Without publicity there is no prosperity". Good to remember!

|LL to Su | Mon, May 1, 2006

My memory was speaking after all

What revelation! I have NO memory of any of events you mentioned above, with the only exception I mentioned previously, a very vague and shaky memory of the scene on the verandah, which somehow I connected it to Hankou, a connection made purely by deduction. Perhaps a little more than that. The first time I (re)visited Hankou in 1980, I was put up in an old run-down European hotel. At that time I had a feeling that the building and street-scape was vaguely familiar, as if I had seen it before, but I could not understand how would that had been possible. Now you have finally helped me put this piece of puzzle together. Until very recently - that is, till I had a chance to discuss a little about these things with Ahtong within the last few years - I had thought we went directly from India to Singapore.

As to SS Buchanan and the boat trip down Chang Jiang, the stop in Jiujiang 九江, the stay at Nanjing 南京, these are completely news to me. Of course I have heard mother speak of the eagle episode, but I had never connected it with any specific boat trip. So now the geography of our upbringing was even more of a random walk than I had thought it was. What year was the India-HK-Hankou-Nanjing trip? And how long was it altogether. More precisely, when did we leave India and when did we arrive in Singapore?

The crap-in-the-shoe episode is a blast! One can understand how angry dad could have been; a good pair of leather shoes must have been very expensive in those days. But mother being so resourceful, perhaps she was able to clean the crap off sufficiently to make the shoe wearable again? Interestingly enough, I myself have become quite a crapper in my old age. Knowing where I can go for big-convenience is now a very important part of planning a running route, and I always bring keys, magnetic cards or whatever with me so that I can enter buildings along the route in case of emergency.

I have seen the photo below, but until today did not know where it was taken. It is a great photo of four very beautiful people. Sometimes it is embarrassing to realize how truly handsome a family the Lees is.

Thanks for the great letter and pictures.

©P.H.Y. Lee, Lei Liu 2006