I know a Chinese woman who grew up in the back country in China, working hard in the fields, deprived of all the accoutrements of a normal life while growing up. Yet she shook off the communist suppressions of thought and self-determination and managed to get herself to the United States.
She learned English and speaks it fluently with no accent. Even more astonishing, she is a teacher using that language. There is a toughness to her, a strength that lies hidden behind her amiable manner, and one can only imagine what it took for her to escape on her own from her native land.
We had lunch together yesterday, and she laughed at my feeble jokes as hostess of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch, annual holiday luncheon. She was curious of my own origins as well, and wanted to know more about Eurasians in China. Well, that is a pretty wide and deep subject and I could give her only a sketch of Shanghai’s golden days as the Pearl of the Orient, how Europeans — businessmen, adventurers, refugees from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and from Hitler — flocked there. Foreign corporations were entrenched in Shanghai. My sister Maria worked for Caltex.
Much like India, I told my friend, except that India’s foreign culture (mainly British — and oh! the florid novels written on that era!) became stultified with their independence in 1949. What a long, long, history everywhere in the Far East. I suggested she read my novels, beginning with The Year of the Rat, if she wanted to learn more about how it was to grow up Eurasian in China.