The Digital Adventures

Take China-CH8A

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Chapter 8a

As we remember things in life, our minds also tend to forget them. This has to be an inborn mechanism that keeps us from going insane. Cpl. Marsden said in a few years we would forget many of the horrors we witnessed on Okinawa, but we said we would always remember them. How could I ever forget when Terry and I were pinned down in a foxhole on the southern end of the island. It was raining and we lay in a foot of mud. Suddenly there came a banzai charge. We could hear them yelling above the splattering of the rain. Terry poked his head up, grabbed his M-1, took aim and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened! His Ml misfired. It was the mud. He called for my rifle and I handed it to him; it too misfired. I thought we were doomed, and then I saw Terry leap from our foxhole. He grabbed his entrenching tool, and began swinging it like a baseball bat. He knocked over a soldier with one blow, but he didn’t stop. Like a mad man, he hammered down on the man with crushing blows, until he beat him to death. It was bizarre, like a Class B movie. I could see him silhouetted against the night’s sky, rain falling all about, flares going off all around, the sound of rifles firing. He fell back into the foxhole, shaking like a dog after it had been given a bath. When the rain stopped and the banzai charge was over, we climbed out of our foxhole, and there in the ditch was not a Japanese solider but a young boy, perhaps eleven or twelve. He was stone dead.

Now, only a few months later in Tsingtao, I hardly remembered the incident. One does forget, and I would probably have forgotten it altogether hadn’t it been for Terry bringing it up one night when several of us were drinking beer at the EM Club in town. I never thought the nightmare would have haunted Terry but it had. There were other such memories that slowly began to fade, and in years to come they would be gone. Still, there were some images, memories of Tsingtao mostly, that I was sure we could never forget. Whittington spoke of one image he will remember always. It was early morning at the Strand.

“Our squad bay was in the front room on the third floor”, he said. “Because it was the only tall building around, you could see for great distances. There was a public park about 400 yards away, and the ocean was beyond that. One cold, frosty morning, I had grabbed a can of pineapple juice from the windowsill-one from the batch the guys had swiped from a warehouse at the docks while on guard duty-and went out on the verandah. I spotted some elderly Chinese men, in fedora hats and dark overcoats, practicing Chinese exercises. The trees in the park were stark and bare. As the men exhaled their breath came out white and hovered in the still air. They moved in slow motion, with deliberate animation. I was transfixed by the subtle beauty of it all. While I was watching, a “honey-cart” that had just visited our outdoor head went by. That beautiful image of those men in the park, as fine as a painting by a great master, vanished, and was replaced by the one of the honey cart. Both images will always be there.”

Mrs. Djung and her daughters Mae and Rose had their friends for dinner at least once a week, but I was not invited to dine with them a second time. Sometimes I would help the servants in the kitchen prepare djow-dzes, cutting the dough in squares and getting myself covered in flour, while Mrs. Djung did the supervising. We would practice speaking Chinese and it was fun, but when the guests were about to arrive she would usher me out of the house and send me back to the base. I really wanted to be a part of the family but try as I did I was not accepted. I felt I had green hair and three eyes and was an alien out of Flash Gordon. Nevertheless, I still strived for their approval. I made the mistake, however, of asking Mae one time if she wanted to come to a movie on the base. There was a good John Wayne movie playing that everyone was talking about. She was polite and said she didn’t care for John Wayne and suggested instead I take a girl from one of the bars that I frequented. It was difficult for me to explain that some of the girls were really quite nice. They didn’t go around sleeping with every GI that came along. In fact, some girls didn’t sleep with the Americans at all. They worked hard supporting their families-mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, and the grandparents-and a few were even putting themselves through school. That’s what the girls told us and there was no reason not to believe them. I spoke to empty ears at the Djung house.

I often spoke to Mrs. Djung about my friend Stevenson. “He’s really a smart guy,” I said. “He has a year of college, and when his China tour is up, he’s going to finish college and then get a commission. He wants to be a Marine officer.” It was true, Stevenson did plan to go back to college, and secretly he wanted to get a commission, but he couldn’t go around the squad bay bragging to everyone that he was going to be an officer one day. He did mention it once and the guys laughed him out of the room. “You an officer, ha, ha, ha, you gotta be kidding!” We all knew Marine officers were special stuff, the stuff that you are born with. You just didn’t decide out of the blue you wanted to be one.

“He sounds like a very nice boy,” Mrs. Djung said. I had her where I wanted her. Now all I had to do was appeal to her emotions.

“He is very nice,” I said. “He’s very interested in my Chinese lessons. He studies too, on his own. He always asks me about you. He misses home a lot.”

“Well, then you must bring your friend one day. He can come for dinner.”

“I will tell him,” I said.

When I did tell Stevenson he was delighted. I told Mrs. Djung and she set the dinner date for the coming Friday night. The spit shine on Stevenson’s shoes never looked brighter, nor the crease on his trousers sharper. He wore his barracks hat, refusing to loan it to me, and bought Mrs. Djung a box of chocolates at the PX. I had class with Mrs. Djung that day until five, but she had given me written assignments to prepare while she and her daughters labored in the kitchen with the cooks. I told her that Stevenson liked djow-dzes and they made a platter of them a mountain high. Once when I peeked into the kitchen to ask her a question about my lesson, I saw tons of food. This was certainly going to be a big banquet. I was hoping Dr. Fenn would be one of the guests. I’d like to pit him against Stevenson. Five o’clock came and no sooner had I closed my book than the doorbell rang. It was Stevenson, right on time.

I was truly impressed with Stevenson. He was the perfect gentleman, gracious in every way. And he completely baffled me, or was he masquerading? No, I was seeing a side of him I never knew. Like a boxer who had been preparing himself for a long time, he entered the ring. “I saw a copy of Lin Yutang in a bookstore in town,” he said before dinner when we were seated in the study. “Do you agree with his philosophy?”

He threw the first punch but Rose countered quickly. “If you are talking about bis From Pagan to Christian, we can hardly agree,” she spoke up, “We are Buddhists in this family.” “Oh, I am not questioning his beliefs or disbeliefs,” Stevenson said, getting himself into a corner and I wondered how he was going to get out of it. “When we came to China

I thought I might find the answer.” He was sparring now and it was working.

“And what is that?” Rose asked, ready for the next jab. “How Dr. Lin viewed the West,” he said avoiding a clinch.

“Western culture sees nature in the terms of control and exploitation. But for the Chinese, it is the source of all harmony and balance. Isn’t that what you call the yin and the yang.”

Bravo! Stevenson had won the first round. He had the Djungs waiting for his next move.

“So few of you foreigners understand yin and yang,” Mrs. Djung said.

At that moment, Bea Ling, the amah, announced that dinner was ready. The others hadn’t arrived. I thought perhaps they must have already been seated and were waiting in the dining room but when we entered the room the table was set for five. There were no others coming. Mrs. Djung was keeping us isolated from her friends. I was terribly disappointed but not for long. The food was served, and it was good. Course after course arrived, and the djow-dzes came in two heaping platters. We did our best but couldn’t finish them.

After dinner the conversation resumed. Perhaps it was best that no other guests were invited. Rose and Stevenson were back in the ring. Stevenson didn’t see it coming but she was about to land the finishing blow when she asked him about his studying Chinese.

“Yes,” he said, “I wish I had time to study like Stephens here, but I have to work in the office late in the day.” “But then, how do you learn Chinese?” she asked.

“From my Chinese friends,” he said. “They teach me.” Without hesitation, and with great pride, he began speaking Chinese, the colloquial Chinese he learned from the street and from the taxi dancers in town. It was his destruction. Mrs. Djung choked, as if something had lodged in her throat and she lost her capacity to breathe. Rose, who was sitting next to her, slapped her on the back and handed her a napkin. Mae turned crimson red, and for a moment I thought she might become ill too. It didn’t help when I chuckled, for poor Stevenson had no idea what he was saying. Some Chinese curse words when translated into English are mere names of animals, but when spoken in Chinese in certain phrases they can be very foul in meaning. I was still laughing when we got back to the Strand. What came as a complete surprise was that Mrs. Djung invited Stevenson for dinner again. No one could deny, he was gracious, schooled in every charm, and he was thoughtful too, especially when he went bearing gifts from the PX. He was invited back again and again.

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