By Su Wu 蘇五, Dora Kuo 阿彤, and Lei Liu 雷六
May 2006; July 2020
When Mag 7 was under one roof¶
[Introduction. Lei Liu, July 30, 2020] Our parents (Father, 李直夫 Lee Zhifu; Mother 雷若昭 Lei Ruozhao) had seven children: Baobao/Helen 寶寶, b. 1934, Beijing; Didi/Julie 滴滴, 1935, Shanghai; Feifei/Vivien 菲菲, 1936, Shanghai; Tongtong/Dora 彤彤, 1937, Shanghai; Pengpeng 蓬蓬 (aka Su Wu 蘇五), 1939, Chongqing; Pupu 勃勃 (aka, Lei Liu 雷六), 1941, Hong Kong; Zhizhi/Nancy 止止, 1942, Guiyang. The Magnificent Seven, or Mag 7, as we sometimes, in a self-congratulatory mood, call ourselves, lived under the same roof only for several short periods between late 1942, after Zhizhi was born in Guiyang, and the spring of 1948, when dear Baobao died prematurely at the tender age of fourteen in Singapore. The places where Mag 7 lived altogether under one roof were Guiyang, late 1942; Chongqing, 1942-43; Calcutta/Kalimpong, India, early 1943 to September, 1945; Hong Kong, fall, 1945 to sometime in 1947; Singapore, 1947 to Spring, 1948. For the family as a whole, these brief periods probably were the happiest.
Figure 1. The First Three. From right. Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲. Shanghai, 1936
From the different schools we attended, Mag 7 had two subsets: Set A, the four elder sisters, who attended English Catholic (mostly convent) schools; and Set B, the three younger ones, who only attended Chinese Schools with Confucianism based curricula. As a result there were some small difference in cultural background between members of the two set, but as far as I can recall, this never had any effect on our bond.
Figure 2. The Four plus One. From left. Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Hong Kong, 1940-41
|Letter, SW to LL, May 19, 2006
Now that we have managed to get dear Didi past her (temporary) discomposure, I can return to my recollection of our wonderful memories. I need to do this with some urgency, since memory erasure could happen anytime at my age, among other reasons.
This collection is about sibs, during the golden years as well as post-Baobao years. Is there a photo you have not seen previously?
† Lieber Heem means Dear Heem; Heem is the Cantonese pronunciation of 謙, part of LL's formal Chinese name.
Sibs in Calcutta, but where's Nancy?¶
This picture was taken sometime in early 1943, shortly after we arrived in Calcutta (now Kolkata), more than a year
before the time of the 'Asian Steppes' (the Magnificent Seven lined up against our house in Kalimpong) photo, which leads me to believe that Nancy was either crawling somewhere, or in the arms of a nanny.
We were so fortunate to be together, a happy well-fed bunch during a time when most children in China were starving and in great distress.
Figure 3. The beginning of Magnificent Seven, minus one, at home in Calcutta, early 1943. 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, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃. Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, number 7, is somewhere out of range. Credit, Su Wu
Set B, the three small ones¶
The three small ones. In spite of wartime difficulties, Mother scrubbed us clean, combed our hair, dressed Nancy up in ribbons, and clothed us in wool coat and tie; she made us look like rich dudes. Incidentally, I now recall that 'Mother with set B' (1943) was used for a passport; I remember seeing it in Mother's passport while in India. I sent you that photo in the 'Mother et al.' series.
Figure 4. "Set B", the three small ones. In the winter of 1943-44, either in Chongqing or in Calcutta. From left: Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Credit, Su Wu
Mag 7 in Kalimpong¶
Maj. Chen probably shot this out-of-focus picture; he was a heavy smoker and drinker with a shaky hand, and was the most literate but least 'technical' person in Father's employ.
Nevertheless, I find this photo interesting because AhTong's facial structure looks similar to Feifei's, and Didi's cheeks looks like Baobao's. More importantly, this is also one of the few childhood photos in which I see you laughing!
Figure 5. The Magnificent Seven, sitting at home, the "Panorama", in Kalimpong, 1945. Back row from right: Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤; front row from right: Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止. Credit, Su Wu
First stay in Lay Kwan Dou 利群道, Hong Kong, 1945-47¶
[Speak, Memory. Note added by Lie Liu, August 10, 2020. Material is edited excerpts from letters by Didi, Tongtong, Su Wu, July 30, 2020] After WWII the family left India and sailed to Hong Kong, September, 1945, and lived in a terraced apartment on Lay Kwan Dou. During this period in Hong Kong the four older sisters all attended the Catholic convent school St. Paul's at Causeway Bay 铜锣湾, and Su Wu was a boarding student at 九龙塘小学一年级 for one semester in 1945-46. Mother fetched him once a week to go home. The family acquired its first dog, Winnie, during this period. In her essay "My Pet Dog" dated 17th Sept, 1946 written in a notebook labeled "French Convent School, Causeway Bay", Baobao wrote: ""Mummy gave me Winnie for a birthday present. Winnie was very happy when I brought her home and she liked me at once..." The family sailed for Singapore, (probably) in the spring of 1947. Winnie was left behind and cared for by friends, and was re-united with the family when the latter stayed in Lay Kwan Dou a second time after returning from Singapore in the summer of 1948. A more detailed description of this period is given in the blog "Sojourn in Hong Kong, visits to Nanjing, Hankou".
In Singapore, shortly before Baobao fell ill¶
[Letter, SW to LL, May 19, 2006, continued] I feel a surge of unspeakable sadness when I look at this picture, because this was during the time I started interacting with Baobao. I still remember her voice as she admonished me to play less, practice my piano lessons regularly and pay more attention to schoolwork.
We were at a stadium watching some sports event in Singapore. I remember being hungry and very thirsty; perhaps that is the reason for the glum faces. The person behind Ah-tong was either a private tutor, or a music teacher (not mine).
Figure 6. At a sport event in Singapore, spring, 1948. From left: Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Julie/DD 滴滴, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Credit, Su Wu
The big, swift transition¶
[Notes. Lei Liu August 1, 2020] Baobao died in Singapore on April 16, 1948. In the summer of 1948 the family, with the exception of Didi, left Singapore to return to the family house in Suzhou, China, arriving on October 3, 1948. Didi were left in Singapore to continue her schooling. (A more detailed description of the family's period in Singapore is given in the blog "Calcutta, Kalimpong, and Singapore".) In Suzhou Mother figured that the family would now finally be able to have an extended stay in one place, where the children would be able to finish their high school education, and perhaps attend the famous DongWu University right in Suzhou. Due to the civil war between Nationalists and Communists, this plan was once again disrupted almost immediately. On November 9, 1948, news arrived in Suzhou that the Nationalists suffered catastrophic defeat in the Northeast, and the family, leaving all its possession behind, hastily left Suzhou the next day and embarked on another refugee's journey. After a short interval in Shanghai the family arrived in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, hyperinflation ensued and in no time the currency then in circulation became worthless. Thus, the family's fortune, including the house in Suzhou and everything in it, and equity built on savings from Father's income of more than twenty years and mother's substantial inheritance, was completely lost in the span one month. From a relatively well off household we became practically indigent. Coming right after the death of Baobao, these events must been cataclysmic to our parents. Through unimaginable fortitude, courage, resourcefulness and kindness, they kept their sorrow and disappointments to themselves and continued to provide a save and peaceful haven for the children and paid maximum attention to their education. From then on, to various degrees, the children were aware the family was no longer well off, and very often cash poor, but there was never despair in the air. Instead, as far as I can remember, going home was always a happy event.
The family stayed in Hong Kong for almost three years. In the summer of 1949 Didi left Singapore to join the family, and Mag 6 (now minus Baobao), were together again.
Hong Kong-Suzhou-Hong Kong, July 31-November 20, 1948¶
[Speak, Memory. July 30, 2020. Excerpts from Ahtong's diary of the period] "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 Arrived in Hong Kong. Aug. 10 Went to Raymond Lui's Music Studio. Vivien and I started Hawaiian guitar lessons and Peter and Paul (Editor: Su Wu and Lei Liu) signed up for ukulele lessons. Sept. 9 Vivien and I started school in French Convent in Causeway Bay which we had attended before we went to
S'pore. Sept. 27 Left H.K. for Shanghai on the SS. Boissevain, a Dutch vessel. I carried Winnie on board. Oct. 3 Took the 12:45 train to Suzhou. Arrived at our home, 34 (Editor: should be 30) Pan Men DongDaJie 盤門東大街. Oct. 4 We went to Laura Haygood School - 景海女校 (Editor: Su Wu and Lei Liu attend its affiliated elementary school). Nov. 10 We went away (left Suzhou) today. (We took the) Shanghai at 10:15 (train) and arrived at 3am. in the morning. Nov. 16 We went aboard the SS Wingsang (bound) for HongKong via Formosa. Nov. 20 We arrived in HongKong."
Second stay in Lay Kwan Dou, Hong Kong, August 4-September 27, 1948¶
[Speak, Memory. Ahtong, August 5, 2020] (On August 10 we went to music lessons for) the first time. I just learnt the lines. Peter and Paul (Editor: Su Wu and Lei Liu) got the ukulele at $38 each. We learnt strings and scale some notes. We continued to go every Tues., Thurs., and Saturday in August. Our last class was Saturday Sept. 2. My (diary) entry reads: "...We went for our guitar lessons and Li Kwan our dog came with us and went right out to the bus stop but when we got on the bus Li Kwan chased after it. When we went home we asked our servant Ah Keen where he was and she said he did not come back. She found him at a friend's house at the bus stop. Viv and I learnt the song 'Juanita'..." Schools were closed in August so Mummy wanted us to have music lessons. Never an idle moment.
[Letter, SW to LL, May 19, 2006, continued] In the photo below our boy-scout hats were obviously a couple of sizes too large; presumably they didn't make them any smaller. The only thing I retained from our few lessons was how to strum the 3 basic chords in the key of G on a ukulele. Now I find that those are the same chords as the G (tonic), C (sub dominant) and D7th (dominant 7th) on the guitar, albeit a little more fingering is required due to two additional strings on the guitar.
Figure 7. On steps leading to a building complex where the music teacher lived, 1946. From right: Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Credit, Su Wu
On the veranda at Li Kuan Road, Mag 5, and with Winnie¶
Notice the barbed wire strung on top of the wrought-iron fence on the street-facing side of the veranda. Apparently, HK was not much of a theft-free society. The ribbon on Nancy's hair is pretty. Didi is not in the picture because she is still back in Singapore at her boarding schoolwere probably at school.
Figure 8. Magnificent Five on the veranda of our residence on Li Kuan Road, HK. From right: Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤; front row from left Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬 Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止. Credit, Su Wu
Figure 9. M6 with young Winnie, time and place same as in Figure 8. Back row from left: Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤; front row from left Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Credit, Su Wu
Third stay in Hong Kong, November 20, 1948-July 10, 1951¶
In Hong Kong after the fall of 1948, the three small ones attended Kowloon Tong Elementary 九龍塘小學校, which was a short walk from our rented house on Norfolk. I still remember our class mentor 'Ng low-see' (吳老師 in Cantonese; teacher Ng) through grades 3-5; she was also our Chinese teacher. At the beginning of our first exposure to Tang poetry, she stressed (in Cantonese) 'sook-dook tong-see sam-bak-sow, butt wooey ngum see ya wooey tow' (熟读唐诗三百首，不会吟时也会偷; "After reading the The Hundred Tang Poems repeatedly, one is at least able to plagerize, if not write poetry"), I owe a debt of gratitude to Ng low-see, who inspired me in years to come. I was to hear the same quote of Ng low-see some 35 years later in BJ; that is another story.
In retrospect, copying from the classics was not considered plagiarism. Anyway, our incredible heritage of Chinese poetry is theft-proof, it is practically impossible to cut-and-paste one's way to fame and glory- it would be much too obvious that not even an idiot would attempt such a fool's errand.
Mag 6 together again at Norfolk Road, Kowloon Tong 九龍塘羅福道¶
Feifei and Tongtong attended St. Mary's in Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙嘴. In the summer of 1949 Didi finished her schooling in Singapore and joined us in Hong Kong, and the Mag 6 were together again.
In the photo below, Ms. Luo, on Ah-Tong's left, is Da-ge's aunt from his mother's side. Da-ge was living with Father in TW. Not many months after this photo was taken, we joined Father in TW.
Figure 10. Magnificent Six together again. In the garden, 8 Norfolk Road, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, sometime after summer, 1949. Back row from left: Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, auntie Luo; front row from left Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止. Credit, Su Wu
Responding to your last letter, just because you never exhibit large-amplitude mood swings is not an indication that you lack talent. I hope you believe me when I tell you that you are very talented besides being very diligent. For as long as I can remember, I wished I had some of your smarts and discipline.
Just take more care of your health, don't take peripheral things 身外物 seriously; take it easy and exercise more patience with others of less mental fortitude, and rest your body and mind more often than you usually do.
Best wishes, hi to Lynn‡ and the xiao3-tong2 (小童, the little kids†),
‡ LL's then wife, 王百齡. †The three children of LL: 世加 Ceaga, 世民 Simon, 三三 Sansan.
Figure 11. Magnificent Six with Mother, 8 Norfolk Road, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, 1951, shortly before the family left Hong Kong for the last time and headed for Taiwan. Back row from left: Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, auntie Luo; front row from left, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Mother, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃.
|Letter, LL to SW, May 21, 2006
The photos and accompanying text in your letter are most enjoyable. My life has been enriched immeasurably by your recent letters. Using words such as "magnificent" to describe the pictures is entirely appropriate. Many thanks and keep them coming!
Yesterday I wrote a letter to DD apologizing my bad behavior. She wrote back and forgave me. A piece of good news - got a Cc: from Ceaga this morning telling DD that a website for her translation of Nineteen Lectures on Chinese Philosophy, by Mou Zong-san (中國哲學十九講 (英譯本), 牟宗三著, 李珠麗譯) was launched: http://www.nineteenlectures.org/ (Note by LL, now at https://www.nineteenlects.org/)
So all is well. The matter has moved forward a big step, and it is a big day for DD.
Taiwan, then the diaspora, July 1951-September 1964¶
[Speak, Memory Didi, Feifei, Ahtong, Su Wu, Lei Liu, and Zhizhi, July 29-30, 2020] In the summer of 1951 the family moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan to join Father, who had been working with Nationalist government since late 1948. There, for the first time, the three elder sisters attended Chinese schools, the Second Girl's High School (二女中, now 中山女中) in Taipei for Feifei and Tongtong, and National Taiwan University (台灣大學) for Didi.
Figure 12. On an excursion to Keelung, on board a Customs' vessel, summer 1955. Fei-fei had left in the previous year for college in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Soon, Didi and Ah-Tong would leave for America. From left, Liu Yu 劉渝§, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Luke Chen 陳英祿‡, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Julie/DD 滴滴. Luke had returned from Korea; a friend of his at the Custom's took the picture.
The family lived in three places: 14 Lane 23
YongKangJie 永康街, Taipei, 1951-1959 for nine years; ZhuLinLu 竹林路, ZhongHe 中和鄉, Taipei County 台北縣 (now YongHe District 永和區, New Taipei City 新北市),
1959-60 for about one year; and 3 Lane 10, XinSheng South Road 新生南路,
Taipei, across the road from NTU, 1960-62 for about a year and a half.
Figure 13. Last photo of Set B before the diaspora, taken at our last residence in Taiwan, 3 Lane 10, Section 3, Xinsheng S. Rd. 新生南路, 1961-62. From left, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬.
During their years in Taiwan, the siblings each grew from a child or teenager into young adulthood. In 1954 Feifei graduated from SGHS and left for the United States; In 1955 Tongtong graduated from SGHS and left for the United States; in December 1955 Didi, after graduating from NTU, left for the United States; in 1958 Father lost his government job (this is another story) and left for Vietnam, from which he later migrated to the United States; in November 1962 Mother and Zhizhi, who was attending second year at the National Cheng Chih University (政治大學) at the time, sailed for the United States; in February 1963 and September 1964, Pengpeng and Pupu, after graduating from NTU and completing one year's military service, left for Germany and Canada, respectively.
After the fall of 1954 the Mag 6 never all lived under the same roof again.
§Ah-tong's classmate at Taipei's 2nd Girl's School 二女中 and also our neighbor when the family lived in Taipei at 14 Lane 23, YongKangJie永康街. ‡A longtime family friend and important and much loved benefactor who then worked at the Customs.
|Letter, Ahtong to LL, August 11, 2020
YongKangJie has special memories for me. This is what I wrote in my memoir for the Belles of St. Mary's book.
"Looking back, the four years I spent in Taiwan were the happiest of my young life. My family was together. Each of my siblings and I were scholastically on track in our schools. And much to the satisfaction of my parents, we were finally immersed in our native culture."
I arrived in Taiwan on July 12, 1951, and left in Oct. 1955. Dad accompanied me by train to Kaohsiung to embark on the SS Chungking Victory found for the U.S.
So the four years and three months at YongKangJie was the longest and happiest period for me.
Baobao and Mummy¶
Figure 14. Left, drawing by Baobao, "Mummy staring at me", 7 February, 1948; by then Baobao was already seriously ill, and Mother was looking after - staring at - her day and night. Right, "Gone but not forgotten". Credit, Dora Lee Kuo.
[Notes. Atong and Leiliu, July 30, 2020] Baobao was precocious, she started writing poetry and stories and drawing at a young age. She was a
natural leader; whenever mother was not at home, all the younger siblings happily accepted her as their surrogate mother. Baobao died on April 16, 1948. She was buried in the Christian part of the Bidadari Cemetery, Singapore. Her grave had a "broken column" motif. Ahtong visited Baoboa's grave in 1979 and again in 1997, and Lei Liu, in 1990. They had the grave cleaned up each time, but the efforts were feeble battles against the relentless onslaughts of nature. By the time of Lei Liu's second visited in 2010 all the known graves had been exhumed to make way for a park and an estate by 2006. The fact that Baobao was buried halfway around the world was deeply painful to Mummy, and contributed to her wish to have a sea burial. The tragedy of losing their firstborn at such a tender age, just when she was beginning to blossom, devastated my parents, in particular Mummy, who never overcame this loss to the day she passed away in 2001. After Singapore, Mummy moved residence many times, over continents, and she always kept in her bedroom a photo of Baobao, with the same inscription carved on Baobao's gravestone: "Gone but not forgotten".
Figure 15. Memorial to Helen on the 72rd anniversary of her passing on the 16th of April, 1948, by Su Wu.
[Notes. Lei Liu, August 13, 2020] In diaspora, in their new adopted countries, the siblings furthered their education, had careers, built and raised families, and led eventful and meaningful lives. They visited each other from time to time, and more often, mostly not together, visited Father and Mother, who had an apartment on Bayard Street, New York City, up to the mid 1980s, then a house in Walnut Creek, California. After Father passed away in 1990, Mother moved to an apartment for seniors in Walnut Creek, then to an apartment for seniors in Manhattan Beach in 1994. Mother passed away shortly after she returned to Taiwan to live with Lei Liu in 2001.
Figure 16. A reunion at the residence of Jennifer (Dora's daughter) and John Baxter, Pasadena CA, August 5, 2017. From left, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Julie/DD 滴滴, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲. Nancy/Zhizhi 止止 was traveling.
Didi lives in South Lyon, Michigan; she (with her late husband Ta-Hsien Wei 魏達賢) has three children, Maria Lulu Chaun-Xin 魯魯 傳馨, Wafa Huahua Chuan-Fen 華華 傳芬, and Max Chuan-Jing 傳經, and five grandchildren. Feifei lives in Chigago; she (with her late husband Ronald Shao-Nan Lee 李紹南) has one child, Michael Po-Liang 伯良, and two grandchildren. Tongtong and her husband Frank Fa-Kun Kuo 郭法琨 live in Portola Valley, California; they have two children, Jennifer Chi-Yu 其玉 and Douglas Chi-Ying 其英, and one grandchild. Su Wu and his wife Robin (罗宾 nee Haft) live in Southern California. Lei Liu lives in Taoyuan, Taiwan; he (with his late wife Marian Li-Ching Tsai 蔡麗卿) has three children, Ceaga Shi-Jia 世加, Simon Shi-Min 世民, and Sansan 三三, and two grandchildren. Zhizhi and her husband Yu-Yun Lee 李友筠 live in San Luis Obispo; they have two children, Ann An-An 安安 and Ty Tai-He 太和, and five grandchildren.
Figure 17. A Zoom meeting on August 12 (USA)/13 (Taiwan), 2020. Counterclockwise from topleft, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬, Julie/DD 滴滴, Nancy/Zhizhi 止止, Lei Liu/Pupu 勃勃.
Copyright ©Su Wu 2006, Lei Liu 2020, Dora Kuo 2020