• 13th April 2015
  • Evelyn Ch'ien
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My father’s ancestors were in the business of beer and pigs, these industries go together (the pigs eat the hops). My father had an international business and we did import export with dried seafood (dried scallop, cuttlefish, sha mi蝦米, dried octopus).

I don’t know if my father had special insight, but during Japanese occupation in the second world war he sent me to培正(in Mandarin, Pei Zheng; Cantonese Romanization: Pui Ching (Positive Training)) in Shaoguan 韶關city, in China, inland. I happened to be the preferred son in my family. I liked to sing and perform and would do that in front of my parents’ friends. My mother also indulged me. (His wife points out that he was fed by parents and servants hands until he was 7 or 8). My mother was smart and had taught herself to read and write but was uneducated. I think she may have been smarter than my father. Anyway the school was Pei Zheng United – in other words for girls and boys. The other Pei Zheng schools were in Hong Kong and Canton, places under the Japanese occupation, but Chaoguan was not. We learned the usual things including Chinese classics. We always had enough food, not like the occupied cities. The Japanese had occupied Beijing, Shanghai and Canton and they wanted all the cities on the coast. The students from PZ united were the best. The teachers had to move a lot from place to place to get away from the Japanese.

Years later, I had two jobs after I graduated, on from 8am-5pm, the other from 7pm-11pm. I wrote captions for Leave it to Beaver, Gunsmoke, and I had a special style resembling Tang poetry with 4 characters (zi字) + 4 characters (zi) for my captions, which were limited to eight characters. I was known for this style in my captions. I also worked also for a maobi 毛筆(Chinese calligraphy brush) seller who used to sell maobis (Chinese calligraphy brushes) on the streets. This maobi seller used to carry rickshaws and met my father who helped him by saying he should open a store and helping him build one. He eventually became very successful (his wife injects, “it was like Ticonderoga for pencils”) and when my family business went downhill this man gave me a job to sort of pay back my father. I consider him one of two of the people who were teachers or mentors in my life. He trusted me completely and allowed me to do whatever I wanted, and always prepared for any failure I might have so that he never cared about outcomes. He didn’t micromanage but let me figure out ways to do things, and because I could speak English I did some international work for him.

Going to Peizheng (培正)(was one of the greatest things that could happen to me because I realized that there was a whole other world outside that of my family. While inland at Peizheng I had to stay with other families as all the students had fled from somewhere else. I learned how to make and sell dan bing on the streets with a street seller. Initially I wanted to go to Lingnan to study languages but my father did not understand this so I applied to Dongwu and another place for medical school and I was actually accepted. I was very happy about this because my father had gotten the county commissioner from Guangzhou to write a recommendation for me, and that was really hard to do, but I didn’t even use this letter. It would have been influential but I decided to apply without it. Finally I decided not to go because our family business was declining and I wanted to help my family. But our family business eventually failed because we didn’t have the knowledge to keep it going. We started some international trade with Indonesia and opened restaurants but Hong Kong became very divided. It was strongly divided between the colonialists and the people who wanted to remain Chinese. My family was the latter. We lost a lot of money but we still helped relatives even very extended ones. There were some people who came who we didn’t really recognize but said they were relatives. I am not sure we should have continued helping everyone because we didn’t have much, but we did.

The other person who was a mentor was my voice teacher, Alessandro Gualdi. He later got an honorary medal From Italy for his contributions to China. He taught me about opera and how to sing.

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