My Mother

My Mother

Except for a short period in her childhood, I believe that mother hadn't led a happy life. I was then curious about myself that in all these years, I had never asked,   

       'Mother, are you happy?'

       I was sorry for not having given enough care for my mother.

In the early 1980's, I was studying in the United States and had written quite a lot of letters to her. And she did the same thing. In 1982, I returned to Hong Kong and had lived with her for 10 years. Then I immigrated to the US with my wife Eleina in the summer of 1992. Mother died at the end of that year and didn't get to read the last letter I sent her. Mother was borne the fifteenth and smallest child into a rich family. She was therefore cosseted by my grandparents. But the good time was short. Power struggles to control the family fortune and the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) changed everything, depriving her of all happiness she would have for her passionate and tolerant character. After the death of mother's dear parents, the big and traditional family rapidly shattered. At fifteen, she was forced to leave and make a living alone in the open world. Fortunately, after a while, she met with her fourteenth sister and they together went to Hong Kong to start a new life. They had another married sister living in the island. She was then enrolled in a Buddhist charity school (Tung Lin Kok Yuen or Dong Lian Jue Yuan 東蓮覺院) and continued her learning. Several years later, she left the school and was able to find a job in a department store. In the meantime, Japan had raised the curtain on its invasion into China and the situation was very unstable. Eventually the war had spread to Hong Kong and the colony fell into the hands of the Japanese military. My fourteenth aunt immediately fled to Macau, the Portugese colony neighboring Hong Kong to the west. The Japanese did not occupy Macau in the war because it was insignificant in almost every respect at the time.

[Note that Hong Kong fell on Christmas day 1941. Portugal, like Sweden and other countries at the time, declared neutrality and therefore remained unmolested by Germany, Italy, and Japan. Places like Macau became enclaves of espionage and intelligence activities. Later in 1943, Portugal let Allies use its air and naval bases but Japan was already too occupied in other war zones to bother with Macau.]

Being helpless in a chaotic world, my mother took another route to escape from the Japanese occupation. A little earlier, my mother lost her married sister to a lethal disease. She was then led by her newly widowed brother-in-law to flee to a place still in Chinese hands in the mainland. His eldest son who left for the mainland even earlier would wait for them there.

This route was later proven difficult and dangerous. City by city, Chinese territories were lost to the Japanese military and my mother had to abscond without a break. Bandits were all around. Survival was harsh even for a man in those days but my mother was just a young and fragile female. She had no choice but to follow her brother-in-law. During that war, life could only be counted from moment to moment and humanity was greatly trampled on. The Japanese invasion had caused millions of deaths in China, among uncountable tragedies of immeasurable scale worldwide..

Japan finally surrendered in August 1945. My mother followed her brother-in-law to go to Macau, and then back to Hong Kong. The place was no longer the same to her, with all her friends either dead or gone missing. She was wretched and alone. She thought she was no longer young and likely had no confidence for a good future. After all she decided to marry her brother-in-law, who was much older. She either had a kind of sentiment for him or was thankful for having been saved by him from the wrath of war. The brother-in-law was my father. Together, my parents had three sons and I was the youngest kid. My elder brother lives in Texas now. Only recently, I have learnt that there was another elder brother but he passed away at birth. My father had two sons and one daughter with his first wife. My sister died when she was only sixteen. The younger son remained in China after the war but then found that he could no longer leave after the Communists took control in 1949 The eldest son was an honor and outstanding student, and awarded a scholarship to study in the once renowned Ling Nan University (嶺南大學). When the war broke out, he was brave enough to go out into the streets to protest and campaign to boycott Japanese products in Hong Kong. When the Japanese army entered the city, he was told that he was blacklisted and would soon be arrested. He had a narrow escape into the heartland of south China. Years later he was to become a Christian minister with the Anglican Church (聖公會) in Hong Kong. He later immigrated to Australia and died there in around 1972.

The following depicts several dangerous situations my mother had faced in the war

Narrow escape from a bridge

The Japanese military launched the Pacific War in 1941 (almost four years after the start of the Second World War and the Sino-Japanese War) and battlefields expanded to cover almost the whole of the Asia Pacific. In December that year, the Japanese army directly attacked Hong Kong and soon took over the British Colony. The Japanese military government ruled the city with an iron hand and life became miserable. Many residents then started to flee to the Chinese mainland looking for safer places still in Chinese hands.

[Note that the Japanese permitted mass outflow of the local population at the beginning for fear of a food shortage and there were indeed widespread starvation and possibly cannibalism in the following years.]

My father's eldest son was an anti-Japanese activist. Just before the invasion, someone told him that his name was on a black list and traitors who welcomed the Japanese occupation would soon come after him. He left the colony for the inland right after the Hong Kong Governor surrendered. He did make a narrow escape. My father was packing up to leave too. At that critical moment, his first wife got a deadly disease and he had to delay the absconding. She died within a month or so but there was no time for my father to grieve. His son was now safe in Lien Xian (連縣) and asked him to go there. Then my father decided to join an absconding convoy and took with him the second son and my mother.

This was a very dangerous journey. Everybody had to walk on foot and stayed in the wild without any camping gear. It was exhausting but it was much better than the horrible acts bandits and Japanese did to people. My father was once interrogated by a Japanese soldier at a checkpoint and almost beaten to death. Fortunately, a translator working for the Japanese, who was a fellow clansman, came to the help. Those people working for the Japanese were often called traitors but this time such a 'traitor' saved my father. My father also knew woodworks. He had inserted hidden layers in the portable cabinet that the family carried and therefore avoided multiple counts of robbery.  My father was in a convoy led by Mr. Po Leung and headed to the north. One day, the convoy arrived at a riverbank and was about to prepare to cross the bridge. At that moment, there was a rumble coming from the distant horizon. Everyone turned nervous and uneasy. The rumble turned louder and louder and the crowd started to jumble and fear spread. People could now see a black dot in the far away sky but getting closer and bigger quickly. Suddenly someone shouted loudly and desperately, ‘Planes, Japanese planes. Run, run for your lives.’ People were like having been touched by the same curse and started running in all directions. But, because the bridge was so close, many just did not give it any thought and ran towards the bridge. Some hastened to hide beneath the bridge thinking they had found shelter there. My father was heading towards the bridge too, but suddenly there was a blink of inspiration in his mind. He was pretty much sure that the plane was coming to bomb the bridge. There was no time for him to explain. Without hesitation, he picked up the hands of his son and his sister-in-law and turned them back towards the woods in the distance. At the same time he bawled warnings to others. Then, the plane was very close and the deafening engine noise was over the place. Very quickly, the shooting from its machine gun followed. People shrilled and howled and the place turned into hell. Cries from sufferers of open wounds and pain were unimaginable. The family of three used all their strength to run towards the woods and could hear several big explosions behind them. The faces of many were not to be seen again.

Blind in a falling city

My mother arrived at the suburban of Ping Shek (坪石). After a short while, she started to feel something wrong with her eyes. Lacking medical treatment and medicine, her condition turned worse quickly. At the same time, the Japanese military was pushing forward for the City of Ping Shek. With her eyesight deteriorating day by day, mother's feeling was exactly like an ant on a hot pan. Finally, she had no option, but to try some native herbs. Those herbal prescription was used externally on the eye and quickly made my mother almost blind. While everyone was packing up again to flee to farther heartland, mother understood that she was really a burden to her brother-in-law's family. It was no longer her only misery.

       One day, someone told mother that there was a very famous Indian eye doctor in the city. His medical expertise was well known and he was passionate to every patient and made no difference to rich and poor. But the informer was just worried whether this good doctor had already left the city to get away from the coming Japanese. Mother's eye was not seeing anything and felt more painful day by day. She was determined to go to the city to gamble for her luck. Almost everyone of the convoy rejected her idea for many reasons. The most critical one was that the approach of the Japanese military was very inminent and the city government would retreat without making a fight. Then, the good doctor could have fled away by now. Lastly, if the doctor was there, he just would not be so legendart to cure her severe condition in several days. To my mother, all these arguments were not valid, the only concern was whether someone could bring her to the city becasue she was blind. Finally, there was a guy who would take mother to the city while he was fleeing to another place, but he plainly said he wouldn't wait for a moment and bring her back.

       Mother just took the offer without hesitation. Befroe she left, she said to her brother-in-law that she would come back to look for them if everything was fine. In case that they did not see her come back or at any moment the Japanese came, no one should hesitate to wait.

       After a hard and risky trip, Mother finally arrived in the city and the helping guy was good to find a lodge for her. It was fortunate that the city was peaceful than what the rumors had depicted. They also found the doctor, who was really packing up everything to be ready to leave the city any moment. The good doctor was graceful enough to examine her eyes carefully and he made two injections into her eyes. He told my mother that if the medicine could releave her the pain by next morning, he knew he was on the right track and he would be able to heal her ailment. Otherwise, she would have no hope at all. Mother turned back to the lodge and all she could do was to make wishes to the supreme Budda. After midnight, she really had less pain in both eyes.

       Next mroning, the Indian doctor again examined her eyes and congrulated for the positive response, but he said that it would not be easy to heal in several days. He was only able to treat her as far as the city could be safe. Everything had to be in God's hands.  A few days later, it was certain that the Japanese military was closing by and the doctor had to leave. He was kind enough to give Mother several bottles of eye drops to continue the treatment. He said she would get back a major portion of her vision if no complication would happen. At that moment, she could already see a sketch of the environment and find a way back to the rural area where her convoy had stayed, but everyone had left......

My mother

Blind in a falling city

Narrow escape from a bridge