Ming-Lee, Roger, Christmas Publicity
. . . . .
Months were flying by and still no word, not one single letter, came from Ming-Lee. I was contemplating trying to get TDY and go down to Shanghai to find her, until I went to see Roger one evening. “I told you,” he said, “she’s in school.”
“Why can’t she come to Tsingtao?” I demanded. “There are schools here.”
“You have to understand that she doesn’t want to go back to taxi dancing,” Roger said. “She’s been studying in Shanghai and she wants to continue. She has support from her friends.”
Then he said something that made me shutter. “The civil war is going to come to an end, and the new government will bring about changes,” he said. He didn’t call Mao’s army communists, nor did he call them balu as the people did; he called them “the new government.” He continued: “One of the changes will be to close down all the brothels and dance halls. Prostitution will be outlawed. Service girls, prostitutes, taxi dancers, they will all be sent to camps, to be re-educated. You wouldn’t want that to happen to Ming-lee would you?”
“Ming-Lee is not a prostitute,” I protested.
“And who’s going to believe that?”
“I don’t care who believes it or who doesn’t. I do and that’s all that counts.”
Li-Yian had gone to visit her mother. Roger suggested that we go to a teahouse where we could talk. “You will be leaving one day, and what about Ming -Lee?” he asked when the tea came.
“I’ll be back,” I replied.
“Perhaps, but not as a China Marine. You are the last of the China Marines. You will be no more than a memory in the minds of the Chinese people.”
“So you are against Marines in China,” I said.
“No, you are missing the point. It’s not Marines,” he replied, “it’s all foreigners, all those who want to take over and dominate China.”
As Roger sat there talking, I couldn’t help wondering if he believed in what he was telling me, that he was an idealist? I knew his heart was with the Chinese people, but was this the Machiavellian case of the ends justifying the means?
“Tell me, you do believe you are our liberators,” he began. “You believe you freed China of the imperialist Japanese, right?”
“Right,” I replied, careful not to fall into a trap. “For what purpose?” he asked
“To help the Chinese,” I answered
“Do you remember me taking Ming-Lee to meet with you at Long Beach?”
“Yes, you were a great help, and I appreciate it. I couldn’t have gone out with Ming-Lee without your help,” I replied. No sooner had I said it, than I knew I had taken the bait. I had fallen into his trap.
“That’s correct, but think of this,” he said. “I’m Chinese, and this is my country. I take Ming-Lee, a Chinese woman, out to a beach in China, and there are US military guards there at the entrance, and a sign that reads No Unescorted Visitors Allowed. What it really means is-No Chinese Allowed. It’s no different than a sign on the Bund in Shanghai that says-No Dog and Chinese Allowed.”
“You sound like my professor in Peking,” I said, hoping to change the subject and avoid an argument. “You talk just like him. What happened to that phony accent you had when we first met?”
“If I bad talked like a professor, you Marines would have avoided me,” he said. “But don’t change the subject. It’s not only Long Beach where you guys hang out, but most of the beaches are closed to Chinese. We Chinese can’t go on our own beaches.”
“We needed some privacy, that’s all,” I explained.
“Privacy, at what cost?” he fired back. “At the cost of the Chinese. You preach righteousness but you are no different than all the other imperial foreign powers that preyed on China. “You come not to liberate but for your own interests. I hate to keep mentioning the Opium Wars, but think about them, think what the British did. What an easy way to conquer a country. Feed them drugs. No guns. No armies. No fighting. Only drugs, that’s what happened, and then it was so simple. All the European powers march in and chop up China into what they call Treaty Ports. The British, the French, the Germans.”
“Come on, Roger. That’s history.”
“In your mind it’s only history. What would you think if drugs were introduced into your country the same way? How simple it would be for a foreign power to conquer mighty America!”
“Let’s be reasonable,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll be reasonable. You think it’s nothing for the US to march into Tsingtao and commandeer every important building in town. You don’t pitch tents or move into the warehouses on the docks. You take over every major building, places like the university. You throw out of the windows desks and lab equipment, and all the thousands of books written in Chinese because no one can read them. But worst of all, you throw out the students. You take away their place to study. You make their schools your quarters, not for a few months, but for years now.”
“Roger, you speak with such know-it-all authority,” I said, “well tell me, what if you are wrong?”
“Wrong about what?” he asked.
“Wrong about this new government you are talking about?” I asked.
“Maybe it won’t be the best,” he admitted, “but it will be better than what we have now.”
After an hour or two with Roger I felt I had been run over by that two-ton Japanese tank Stevenson and I had found in the hills on Guam, and almost gotten blown up in. I went back to the quarters to talk to Stevenson but he was out with Judy. I wanted to talk to someone, and I then thought about Mrs. Djung. I hadn’t seen her in a long time and I wanted to tell her I knew who Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre were now. I wanted her daughters to be there, and maybe Dr. Fenn too. I would tell them that I not only knew about Kierkegaard, but about Hegel and Kant as well. We could discus Descartes and his cognito, ergo, sum theory. We could talk about Chinese history, and I would ask them if they thought James Hilton got his theme for Lost Horizon from T’ao Yuan-Ming’s Peach Blossom Spring. “You know, I might go and look for Peach Blossom Spring,” I would say. “It’s possible that it does exist, you know. Professor Heng at the University of Peking thinks it does. We talked about it. You know him, don’t you?” And then I would tell them about Dr. Franz Weidenreich and ask if they knew about his research on the Peking Man. I might even tell them I thought they were wrong about Lin Yutang. I read nearly everything he wrote, and I might even quote a passage of his from the Wisdom of Laotse. I was trying to recall the lines when I went to the office the next morning to get a pass to Sick Bay. But I did not go to the Sick Bay. Instead I had Sammy drive me out to Mrs. Djung’s place. I could have driven myself but I thought it might be nice to talk to Sammy about all the pressing things on my mind, but it was a bad choice. He had met a bargirl from Ciro’s and had fallen in love with her. Instead I had to hear all about her, and what a great girl she was.
I was shocked when I reached Mrs. Djung’s house. The lovely garden that she had been so proud of, had gone to weed. The house and grounds that once looked so neat and trim had peeling paint and were unkept. No one had even bothered to sweep up the leaves. This was not at all like Mrs. Djung. I knocked on the door once, then twice, and must have waited a full five minutes before deciding to leave. I turned to go when the door partly opened. It was the amah Bee Ling. She said her madam was not at home and then pleaded that I leave. She did not explain.
I waited several days and decided I would try again to see Mrs. Djung. I was curious. Stevenson went with me this time. It took a lot of courage to walk up the steps to her house, not knowing what to expect, with each of us pushing the other ahead. When we did reach the top of the steps, we were too late, far too late. The doors and windows were boarded up. Mrs. Djung and her two daughters no longer lived at the grand house on Lai Yang Road.
Christmas was coming and everyone was looking forward to the holidays. I was hoping that Ming-Lee might come up from Shanghai but according to Roger there wasn’t much of a chance. She was deeply involved in her studies.
We were lacking a Christmas tree, and the only place to find a proper tree was in the Low Shan Mountains to the north of the city. At better times we had made hikes into the mountains. There was still a Christian monastery for orphan kids further back in the hills, but since then the communists had taken over much of the territory. Nevertheless, we needed a tree. Terry took it upon himself to organize a party to find the biggest and best Christmas tree in north China. I don’t know how he finagled it, but he did. I had the duty and couldn’t join them, but he and the others set out early one freezing winter morning just as dawn was breaking over the city. Anyone seeing them might have thought they were going to war. They weren’t taking any chances. Armed with M1s and carbines, they boarded two ten-wheelers and took with them for support a 75mm-pack howitzer and a couple of 50 cal. machine guns. They also had standing by, and on call, a Sherman tank. “In case the friggin’ commies attack us,” Terry said. For the sake of a Christmas tree, we could have started a major war with the communists and changed the course of history, but fortunately they didn’t, as fate would have it. But they did come back with a grand Christmas tree. It made a splendid show in our compound at the Shantung University.
We had a new commanding officer fresh from Nav Pers at the Pentagon, and he decided, after seeing all the street urchins around town, that the Marines should have a Christmas party for the “lost children of Tsingtao.” The old man had Motor Pool send out trucks on Christmas morning and round up all the kids they could find on the streets of Tsingtao. He called in the press and had news photographers on hand.
The kids would have a grand feast in the mess hall, everything that American kids got at Christmas-roasted turkey, chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes, green peas, pumpkin pie and ice cream. He bad presents flown out from the States. Jigsaw puzzles with beautiful paintings of mountains and lakes and farm yards with fat milk cows grazing. There were coloring books and crayons, pencil boxes with half a dozen pencils in each box and all kinds of weird looking paper hats, and whistles that when you blew them, long streamers of colored paper appeared. Since I spoke Chinese, I was called upon to act as master of ceremonies. Chinese children in better, more affluent families, do have a Santa Claus, of sorts, which they call Lao Kungkung. But I doubted that the kids that Motor Pool rounded up in the streets of Tsingtao ever bad beard of Lao Kungkung. To complicate matters, the CO wanted me to give a little pep talk to the kids. “Tell them about Santa Claus,” he said. “You know, that be rides on a sleigh in heaven, drawn by reindeers, and that he comes down through the chimney, and gives presents to all the good boys and girls. Ask them if they have been good little kids.”
I needed Little Lew to help me, but as soon as he heard what we had planned, he hid out somewhere and we couldn’t find him. I thought it was rather odd behavior. I imagined that he would have felt pretty proud about the party, a hero to all the kids, but he reacted very strangely when I first mentioned it to him. Like most kids his age, maybe he was getting a bit spoiled.
The chief cook was to be Santa Claus. He was a huge grumpy first sergeant who must have weighed 330 pounds. He had a permanent scowl on his face and they say he had never smiled a day, not even once, in his entire life. Even staff officers were afraid to cross him. And now the new CO told him he would make a good Santa Claus. Strangely enough, be accepted.
The mess ball was decorated with all kinds of Christmas cheer, even stuff left over from Halloween. Actually, anyone who didn’t know Christmas and Halloween, might have found it a bit spooky, and that’s exactly how the orphans felt when they arrived. Motor Pool had rounded up more than a hundred orphans, or what they thought to be orphans, cleaned them up the best they could in the parking lot, and marched them into the mess hall. They entered, to the loud cheer of “Merry Christmas” by a dozen Marines dressed like Santa’s helpers they were terrified.
I don’t know what went through their little heads. Maybe they thought they were going to be beaten, or sold, or that some other horrible nightmare would befall them. I tried to calm them down and give them my little speech, but I could see I would make it much worse to tell them about a bearded old man named Santa Claus. Besides there was too much chaos and pandemonium for anyone to do any talking. And the cook didn’t help matters when he charged into the mess hall shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” He would have frightened anyone. He wore his long-john underwear, which he had died red, and had on his feet a heavy, size fourteen, pair of Army boots that telephone repairmen use. For a beard, he had wrapped the kitchen mop around his face. The kids screamed with terror when they saw him, and knocked things off the tables as they scrambled to hide underneath. It took a great deal of cajoling and coaxing to get them to be seated again, but only after the mess sergeant got out of the mess hall. It was probably the happiest, and what he considered the most successful, day in all his life.
There were no chopsticks, and Chinese kids don’t know how to use knives and forks. Then there was no rice. What is a meal in China without rice? As for the mashed potatoes, who could explain they were to be eaten, not to be thrown at the kid next to you. The hot cocoa was too hot and the ice cream too cold, so they mixed them together, and made a mess. They jumped when the kid next to them blew on a whistle and a piece of paper flew out at them. Jigsaw puzzles were a complete mystery. They had pencils, but no paper to write on, so they wrote on the tables and each other. When the meal was over and the presents opened, drivers from Motor Pool ushered them back outside into the cold and deposited them once again on the streets where they found them. The photographers got some very fine pictures that appeared in Stars & Stripes, photos showing happy kids with turkey and mashed potatoes.
There was a dance that night at the gym, and all the Marines took their dates. I went back to my room and read Toynbee’s Study of History, but I didn’t get much from my reading. I kept wondering what Ming-Lee was doing in Shanghai. I also wondered if Roger was right. Was the Eighth Route Army really coming?