It was unofficial Civil War and Sion-Japanese War time in China, and the Chinese immigration officer was very surprised. Why was this American born Chinese, “ABC” young woman, in her twenties, coming to China? She did not look adventurous at all, and she did not speak any Chinese. So, he asked her, in English, “why are you here?” To which she replied, “I guess I’m here to seek my fame and fortune!”
当时的中国正处于长期的战乱（有内战也有中日之战）之中，在见到我母亲时，中国的移民官非常惊讶：为什么这个在美国出生的二十多岁的“中国人”，ABC（American Born Chinese） 美国出生的女子，这时来到中国?她看起来一点也不象爱冒险的人，还不会说中文。于是，他用英语问她:“你为什么来这里?”她回答说:“我想我来这里是为寻找我的名望和财富吧。”
I would not have believed this conversation, except I heard mother actually describe it to a friend. Normally, she didn’t talk about her past to us children, and certainly never acted ambitious to “seek fame and fortune.” A timid woman, who however, amazingly, traveled alone to China, during a turbulent time in history. Throughout her schooling in Seattle, at Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, she was always considered very shy, so this decision was, I’m sure, shocking to most people.
When she was growing up in Seattle, it was thought that there were only about 10 Chinese families in the town, so she grew up basically as an American. She never learned Chinese, except for some conversational pidgin Swatow, since her parents spoke the Swatow language (a Southeast China coastal language) at home. Her father had been invited, or “called,” by the first Chinese church in Seattle, USA (Chinese Baptist Church), to migrate from their hometown of Swatow, or Shantou, to be one of their first pastors.
Now this English speaking “ABC” girl was in China. Ostensibly she was joining her older sister, Florence, in Yunnan province, in western China. Florence was a University of Michigan medical graduate and had gone to serve in China as medical missionary. Unfortunately, after mom’s arrival in Yunnan, her inability to learn Chinese frustrated her, and soon she retreated to Hong Kong, then a British colony, where English was much more prevalent.
In Hong Kong, she worked with an English newspaper company, and taught English in an English middle school (King’s College). She also met my father, providentially, at Queen Mary Hospital where dad was a young surgeon. See Reggietales.org “If It Were Not for My Hemorrhoids.” She had a small circle of American expatriate friends, ABC women who had apparently really come to Asia to “seek fame and fortune!” I never got to know this group too well, but I imagine they also had many culture shock stories in adapting to life in Asia.
在香港，她在一家英文报纸工作，并在一所英文中学(英王学院)教英文。天意使然，她在玛丽医院邂逅了我的父亲。当时，父亲是一名年轻的外科医生（请参见Reggietales.org的“如果不是我的痔疮”）。她有一个美国侨民朋友的小圈子，这些同样是 ABC（美国出生的） 的女性显然是真正来亚洲“追求名望和财富!”。我对这个群体并没有太多了解，但我想她们在适应亚洲生活时也同样会有很多文化冲突的故事。
Of course, since I had an American born mother who spoke English at home, I had a distinct language advantage when I went to British schools for primary and secondary education. This did not endear me to my classmates. Some of them remember to this day, when the teacher would correct their English by referring them to “listen to how Reginald says this sentence!” One good way to “not make friends and influence people.” Having an English literature major background, mother was quite a stickler for proper English and its pronunciation, and likely as a consequence, I’ve always done fairly well with the language.
当然，由于我母亲在美国出生，在家里说英语，所以我在英国学校上小学和中学时就有了明显的语言优势。这并没有使我受到同学们的喜爱。他们中的一些人至今还记得，老师在纠正他们的英语时，会对他们说:“听听Reginald( 我的英文名字) 是怎么说这句话的!”。这样就让当时的我走到《如何交友及影响他人》一书的反面，给一些同学留下一个不太好的印象。因为英文文学的专业背景，所以我妈妈非常坚持正确的英语和发音，可能正因如此，我的英语一直都还不错。
Mother liked to scoff at British English differences from American English. She poked fun at British pronunciation of schedule as shedule, wondering why they did not pronounce school as shool. And she joked about tomahto instead of tomayto, colour instead of color. To me it was all in good fun, and helped me to understand the complexities and illogic of language. Of course, my British or British trained teachers scoffed even more about “uncouth Americanisms.” There were also lots of rather snide remarks about America in general by the teachers, which made me cringe inside, as if mom and her heritage were being attacked. No matter what their ethnicities, the “cultural motherland” of the teachers seemed to be the British Isles, and they were obviously trying to “convert” the school-kids also!
In retrospect, even as I was growing up in Asia, I was very grateful to mother for gently brainwashing me about everything American. In particular, she brought me every week to the US Information Service, USIS, which had lots of great books about America, especially for children. I read all about the great heroes of American history and culture, including often their faith and relationship to God, at a time when this was not censored, or considered “politically incorrect.” American government and secular censorship of God in history and literature only occurred later, and I was fortunately spared their revisionist philosophy. Even the USIS global program unfortunately was abolished in 1999, removing even this outpost for more traditional American values.
So, I grew up with a conservative view of American history and literature from my mother’s subtle influences, which nurtured in me a great respect and admiration for America, very different from what we often hear today in rather liberal modern America. Cowboy and war stories and movies then were framed with a strong moral basis of right and wrong, instilling in me a strong sense of morality and virtue even from the general culture. I vividly remember that even with severe violence in any story, the virtues of kindness and reason would ultimately win. I sensed instinctively that the stories often had a strong basic biblical framework, again quite different from today.
My mother was a librarian for part of her life, and she really tried to protect books. She did not allow me to underline any books even though they were mine! Even my Bible. After many protests, she finally let me do it, and thereafter I furiously underlined the Bible, my books, newspapers, magazines, just everything! And to this day, I cannot borrow a library book, because my instincts are instantly to underline it (horrors!). However, for my own books, which are many, I have great “skills” in underlining and highlighting, in many colors, with many annotations, so that any book I am reading soon is filled with special contributions! Unfortunately they are not necessarily neat, since I might be writing at different angles, including from bed. But, when you get my old books you get me also!
My strange (to me) mother didn’t like to talk, aggravated later probably by hearing problems, and she loved to sit in a corner and read, and read. I barely heard a word from her all day long. But when she wrote, she composed very elegant letters, and if you just read her letters, she was really very charming, quite different from meeting and talking in person! So later on in life, when we were separated by oceans, her correspondence was really kind of fun. Ironically, I then had a lot more conversations with her than in the past. Fortunately, I have kept her letters, which are quite delightful, like a record of history. I guess her style of communication was through letters, and not oral conversations! Maybe my own love of writing comes unconsciously from her?
Another influence that probably unconsciously came into my life was mom’s clipping of newspapers. She did that as part of work in the Hong Kong newspaper company, during the Sino-Japanese War, which generated lots of war news to clip. “Cut and paste” in its original form. She resumed that practice when she moved from Hong Kong to join us in Cincinnati in her old age. It was great for my busy medical life, to get regular clippings of interesting articles from her, without my having to read the entire newspaper.
Further, I started the habit myself of clipping or tearing articles from magazines, and “filing them” usually inside my favorite books, pasting them into scrap books, or later scanning them into emails. And if you have my old books, you might also have these clips inserted inside. A bonus from my mother.
In mother’s old age, her hearing became really impaired, but she was still reading well, so we came up with a great idea to write to her on a writing tablet or a daily diary notebook. The best part is that now I have some record of what we wrote to her every day. Funny how we learn to communicate in different ways at different life stages.
My wife Esther was really anxious to make sure mother knew the Lord personally before she passed on, since she was rather quiet and private about that. So, one day when mom’s health was failing, Esther wrote on a paper notebook pad about confirming her faith, and was really happy to see mom affirm that, especially as she passed on not long afterwards. In her own special way of communication.
Many people are surprised when they hear that I am quietly writing and writing, and that I don’t seem to mind not being super-energetic and world traveling, as I appeared to be doing before this. Actually, I’m really a quiet person at heart, and I would rather spend all day reading if I could. This new phase of life is actually a reversion to my original me! A version probably of my enigmatic mother, you could even say. I tend to dream that, in heaven I will have plenty of time to read and write extensively, quietly, by a brook under a tree, and please don’t bother me.