Hong Kong’s Pearl Harbor. In 1941, six hours after “Pearl Harbor” in Hawaii, the Imperial Japanese Military began aerial bombing of the then British colony of Hong Kong. I was barely one year old at the time. One of the key invasion battles was at the famous Repulse Bay, a normally gorgeous spot where years later my wife, Esther, and I actually honeymooned for a few days.
Boys from DBS, my later high school, volunteered to fight, and many died, but the battle was soon lost and the Imperial Japanese Army swept over Hong Kong.
As a newly graduated surgeon, at times Dad was allowed to visit prisoners of war at their camp in Stanley. It was later reported that he had helped smuggle medicines and supplies to the prisoners, obviously a deathly hazardous effort!
The reputation of the Imperial Japanese Army was atrocious everywhere they touched, so in 1942, after my mother was slapped in public by a Japanese soldier for not being deferential enough, Dad decided it was too dangerous to stay. We escaped, Dad, Mom and toddler me, to the relative safety of our ancestral Hakka mountain village of Wujingfu, in Southern China.
The Malaya-Thailand guerrilla war zone. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, the Imperial Japanese Army was causing havoc in Malaya, plus making periodic incursions into neighboring Southern Thailand. Esther, also then a toddler in Haadyai, South Thailand, clearly remembered the horror from aerial bombing alerts and the sheer terror of running to rural bomb shelters for protection. She was often frozen from fear, and couldn’t run. She would scream out for help, so family members grabbed her and carried her the rest of the way. Those scary memories affected her in nightmares for years to come.
Refugees pour across the border. After World War II ended, in 1945 my father brought our little family back to Hong Kong. But only a few years later, especially around 1949, refugees began to pour over the mountains and seas from inland into Hong Kong. Civil War was ending and a new government had taken charge. And in the transition, I heard as a child all kinds of frightening rumors and reports of public executions and humiliations, particularly of the “dizhu”, the land-owning class. Many of our relatives “owned land” and so were instantly in danger.
Seaborne escapes. After several failed attempts, my first cousin, FH, escaped by hiding in the bottom of a junk boat, floating for four nights and four days in the baking sun of the South China Seas. Exhausted, sick, vomiting and starving, he finally reached Hong Kong and safety.
Two other cousins prepared themselves through intensive swim training. They left in the dead of night, swimming and hanging on to rubber tires, then floating for many scary days, avoiding patrol gunboats, to reach safety in Hong Kong. For me, childhood memories in Hong Kong were not that peaceful!
Border town woes. For Esther, growing up in a small town in Thailand, life after the War became a lot more peaceful on the surface. But dark clouds were gathering, since just across the border in Malaya, the then British government was battling an insurgency, and battles often spilled over into Thailand. And, a few years later, extremist Islamists initiated frightening “executions” of schoolteachers, considered “atheists” (often Buddhists). Assassins would drive by in motorcycles and gun down teachers literally before their pupils’ eyes.
Southside Chicago violence. In our twenties, we flew to the USA for residency training in Chicago. My wife and I were instantly and starkly reminded that the Chicago Mafia was very much in control. See Welcome to America in reggietales.org.
Crime and murders predominated in the south end of the city, and we lived close by, at the 29th Street south of downtown Chicago. Even the 22nd Street Chinatown area was often under threat.
One of our friends in the Chinatown church showed up at church one day with a vivid story. A gang of young Black thugs had surrounded him, but he had beaten them off using a belt with a metal buckle, demonstrating his black belt Chinese kung fu. Frankly, it sounded a bit exaggerated, but it was probably not too far from the truth!
Someone is watching. As we “grew up”, it was sobering to realize we had skirted through many deadly dangers with our lives intact! There must be someone looking over us, we often concluded. But there was more to come.
Demonstrations and turmoil. On April 19, 1989, at the end of the first medical mission that I led to Asia, we were leaving through Hong Kong to return home to Cincinnati. But numerous demonstrations had begun up-country, ultimately followed by guns and tanks, which instantly, though temporarily, threw off any plans for future medical mission team visits.
Political military coups were actually happening all over the world during this period, and it was difficult to avoid them.
The Philippines had its good share of those. I was invited to give medical lectures in Manila in November 1955. A few months before it was time for my lectures, a political coup occurred. I decided to keep my promise to speak. However, no other invited speakers from USA showed up.
My intuitive response regarding the coup was, it was over, and a few months after the coup was probably quite safe to go, since everything was still on high alert and everyone was careful!
My Manila hosts for the meetings were impressed and grateful for my showing up on schedule. They specially showed me around Manila and proudly showed me the walls with many fresh bullet holes. I guess that’s a way of confirming the important news of the day!
Missile targets. I’ve been to Israel three times as visiting professor. Israel has had recurrent wars with Palestinian extremist groups, which might include missiles from Palestinian sites fired into Israel. So it’s difficult to find a time completely without problem. However during one intermission between fightings, I had accepted an invitation to speak.
It was quite obvious that security was very tight as I arrived at the airport, which was packed with AK-47-carrying soldiers walking casually around. And it seemed that on all city rooftops there were security people with machine guns silhouetted against the sunny skies. In a strange sort of way, I felt extra safe since there was plenty of security.
We were often reminded that Israeli planes were the safest in the world, with no hijacking incidents! Compared to many infamous hijackings in the region. Israeli planes always had a security agent fully armed on board. Reassuring, I suppose.
Safety precautions. Nevertheless, to be totally safe, on trips to Palestinian territories, I left a note in the hotel desk drawer. It indicated the name of the very friendly Arab taxi driver and phone number, just in case my wife and I did not return from the trip, for whatever reason. It’s still good to be careful. We did return safely every evening, including an exciting day in Palestinian Hebron visiting the exquisitely historical, high security Abraham’s tomb. That itself was worth the many AK-47 security hassles.
Flying without engines. South America was always full of unexpected excitement. I was in Caracas, Venezuela before the relatively recent governmental collapse and chaos. It was a beautiful place with impressively warm people.
I was even warmly invited on a private two-seater plane to fly over the beautifully tall and heavily forested mountains, a truly exhilarating experience. My amateur pilot friend, whose day job was to save babies, made my exhilaration jarring when he cut off his engine, and proudly demonstrated a death- defying landing without it. I’m not sure I needed that kind of excitement!
Dynamic breakfast sticker tags. The rampant inflations going on in Argentina and Brazil were quite unnerving. Especially going for breakfast every morning and seeing prices that had gone up overnight again, and again. Restaurant owners put micro-size price stickers on each menu item, so that prices could be updated daily. “Real time”, every day, truly updated! Plus inevitably there were inflation driven deadly riots which broke out throughout the countries.
Boys from Brazil. Plus the gangs that tormented Brazil then were indeed intimidating. The hotel staff refused to even let us walk on any of their lovely beaches alone, claiming it was not safe to even stand just outside the hotel on the pavement. They regaled us with stories of tourists who ignored their advice and came back without wallets, rings or shoes! I’m sure their stories were real. More or less.
One truly unnerving backstory is of the young husband of my first cousin, who accompanied his Asian business boss to Brazil. He was found murdered, lying in a ditch, together with his boss. An internationally sensational news story at the time, but without accountability and justice. Ever.
Midwest small-town break-in. One might think that Cincinnati, Ohio is a quiet and safe little midwest town, but we once had an alarming burglar visit to our mother’s home next door to us. My mom and dad had moved to Cincinnati after decades in Asia. My dad then passed on, so our college-age daughter moved in to live with my mom, partly to be a protective presence.
One day, a burglar broke through my mom’s back door, but I guess my hard-of-hearing mother didn’t hear him. In perfect timing, our daughter also arrived home.
As she stepped into the entrance foyer, she saw the broken-in back door, and instantly realized what was happening. She screamed, grabbed her frail small grandmother and dragged her out to the car. She raced her car down the steep driveway, and up the driveway to our home. The burglar escaped, without much to show for it except for a broken door! And thank God no one was hurt.
Self-inflicted crash? And of course I had my sort of funny accident, when I crashed myself into a rock-like telephone pole. I survived with airbag chemicals sprayed all over my face and neck. I could very well have died, which would have been pretty stupid, a self-inflicted death on a telephone pole in suburban Cincinnati, instead of death in war or something more meaningful.
I remember the story of world-renowned Lawrence of Arabia, who had numerous dramatic death-defying experiences while serving heroically in the Middle East. He came home to England, but died very shortly thereafter on a small English country road, when his motorcycle slipped off the road and crashed. A practically self-inflicted death. Ironic indeed.
No longer small, frontier town of Seattle. In my childhood, we heard of Seattle as a small, practically frontier town. No longer.
We currently live in the Eastside of Greater Seattle, considered a reasonably safe area. But soon after we arrived, we discovered there were quite a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood.
In fact, we had the fascination of watching a video monitor escapade, in which we followed a young white couple after they broke the door of our condo’s 20-car garage. They then broke into our assigned personal storage space, and we watched them merrily walk off with one of our suitcases (actually one suitcase inside another). Maybe it seemed heavy (and suspiciously valuable) to them, but it was otherwise quite empty. (Sorry).
In a more sophisticated, expensive area nearby, an Asian family friend was bound, gagged and robbed at gunpoint. The family became so frightened and upset that they moved out of the area totally.
And recently, the city of Seattle, 20 minutes west of us by freeway across Lake Washington, came into national, even international news. An Anarchist-Antifa group had created their own little “country”, a violent semi-autonomous area, which they called, charmingly at first,“CHAZ” (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone). They had their own gun-toting leadership, and barricades to wall off their area, while wanting no walls for all of America!
A shocking total of 50 homicides occurred in Seattle during riot-driven 2020, unbelievable for some people who had deliberately moved from Asia to their expected beautiful and cinematic (remember Sleepless) Seattle.
Messed-up world. The world today seems always so messed up and unsafe, no matter where and when. Asia, South America, USA, it’s like a pattern. However, I’m still quite “cheerily minded”, since I closely follow the Good Word, which reminds us we should always “be of good cheer”, even in the middle of tribulation (1). A profoundly deep, reassuring thought. Somewhere, somehow, Heaven knows best.
I’m not even going to tell you about the time when our young family was in a car driven by a young lady, who shot the car out of the expressway and landed us in a 6-feet deep ditch, somehow facing the opposite 180° direction with everyone totally safe and unscratched; nor when our young college son was hit by a car on campus and sent flying in the air with only a few scratches on his body; or our young adult daughter who went skydiving and only told us after the fact; or when I was quite senior and slipped on ice, landing instantly flat on my back, actually on my magic red bag with not a single concussion or fracture; nor when my wife slipped going down the beautifully carpeted stairs of our friend’s home and landed on her back with only a single rib fracture and zero other fractures or head injury. The only thing I can conclude is our guardian angels have been working overtime, and we should always “Count your blessings, name them one by one”, from a very famous song.
Reference (1) John 16:33
参考 (1) 约翰书 16：33