Roger’s Secret Identity
. . . . .
Next came the task of finding Roger. In spite of having been kept constantly busy since I arrived from Peking, I still bad time to think about Ming-Lee. I missed her terribly. I saw her face before me at every tum. I didn’t want to go to the Prime Club anymore, so I had Stevenson and Chandler ask around about her when they went to the club, but the answers were always the same. No one knew where Ming-Lee was, except to say she was in Shanghai. Roger would know.
I located Roger’s letter in my seabag, next to some hand-knitted doilies Mrs. Djung had given me for my mother. I never sent them. I had found some silver Chinese waterpipes I was sure my mother would like more and sent those home instead. It was disappointing; my mother wrote back and said she would rather have had the doilies. I decided to save them and give them to her on my return home, whenever that would be. I was hoping she didn’t throw out the waterpipes.
There was an address on the envelope but it was an old letter and I doubted that Roger lived there at the same place anymore, but I had to take the chance. I had no other lead. The address was that of a small hotel right in the center of town.
The hotel wasn’t hard to find. It was a dreadful rundown place, the kind you only see in Chinatown, and after seeing it there was no wonder Roger never wanted me to meet him there. He was probably too embarrassed. I really didn’t care. What were friends for if you had to worry where they lived?
There was no room number on the envelope but it didn’t matter. When I showed the envelope to the desk clerk, he told me without hesitation Roger’s room number-349 on the third floor. There was no lift. I walked up to the third floor, found room 349 and knocked. I can’t remember when I had been so excited.
I could hear voices inside, and there followed a long moment of silence. Presently the door opened, just a crack, and I could see a woman’s face peering out. That old renegade, I thought. He has a girl in his room. It was a moment of enlightenment. All the time I had known Roger, he had been a woman chaser but he never seemed to end up with one. There was always the question in the back of my mind, could he be gay? Some Marines thought that he was. They were wrong. He had a woman in his room. Hallelujah. She wasn’t bad looking either, from what I could see of her. “You there, Roger,” I called. “Is my friend Roger in there?”
The woman turned to talk to someone, and now being impatient and excited, I pushed the door partly open and yelled, “Hey, Roger, it’s me! Your old buddy, remember?”
There was no immediate response, but I could hear shuffling going on inside. I didn’t give it much thought. They were probably tidying up the room. The door then opened and there stood Roger. I was prepared to throw my arms around him in a big hug, but he merely held out his hand for me to shake. “You are back in Tsingtao,” he said, without his usual enthusiasm. This was not the same Roger I knew.
“You gonna ask me in?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Yes, come in,” he replied.
It was a small room, rather dimly lighted. There was a large unmade bed, and tables on both sides. The only other furniture was a clothes closet that occupied a large portion of the room. There was a long awkward moment of silence as we stood looking at one another; the woman stood behind Roger slightly to one side. She was painfully shy and obviously wondered who was this American in uniform. He saw me looking at her. “This is my wife, Li-Yuan,” he said.
“Your wife,” I said with excitement. “You got married.” “Actually, we’ve been married.”
“Been married,” I repeated.
I suddenly felt like a stranger. This wasn’t the same fun-loving man I knew before. I was at a complete loss for words. I mumbled something. “I’m trying to find Ming-Lee,” I said.
Roger was uncomfortable, and a bit edgy. Something was wrong and be kept moving back, bumping into Li-Yuan. He turned his head slightly, and then I saw it. In a pile on the floor was a uniform. It was still on a banger and had fallen from the door where it obviously had been hanging. Roger saw me looking at it, and at first tried to kick it back out of sight, and then as though giving up a fight, he picked it up and held it there for me to see. It was a white navy uniform, a Chinese officer’s uniform. I was not familiar with the epaulets, what rank it was, but I did know the red star. It was a Chinese Communist uniform. My heart sank.
“You, you’re in the navy,” I said. He nodded. “You’re in the Red Navy.” He didn’t answer. He just nodded again. “What are you, a spy?”
“A spy! What do you mean?” he snapped.
“Just what I said, a spy!” I replied. “You’ve been spying on us. All this time you’ve been spying on us.”
“Spying on you. You have to be kidding! What military secrets do you have? What do you know that we don’t?” His tone of voice was completely different than what I knew. He was now speaking in a very proper English and not in slang. He continued, “I was interested in you Marines, yes, interested in you as Americans.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“What, and then what would you have done? Me, an officer. I could never have gotten to know you men.”
“You are a traitor,” I said. “You are an enemy.”
“A traitor, an enemy? You can’t be serious, or else you’re very naive. Your country didn’t even know which side it wanted to support. Think about it. The Balu were your friends just as much as the Kuomintang was. Communists risked their lives time and again to rescue American flyers from the Japanese; crews of B-29’s bailing out on their return from bombing Japan had been smuggled to safety by villagers who are now held to be enemies.”
“But that’s different now.”
“Different, what makes it so different? You Americans couldn’t make up your minds who you would support. Even your ambassador, Mr. Hurey, he resigned his post after issuing a statement to the President and the Department of State that America was no longer the judge in the dispute; we are in a civil war. You are Marines supporting Chiang K’ai-shek, at a great price.”
My head was spinning. Maybe he was right, but I was wrong listening to him. I walked out of classrooms at the university when there was talk like this. I started to leave but Roger pointed to the edge of the bed and asked me to sit and stay awhile.
“I came here to ask about Ming-Lee,” I said and sat down
“I didn’t come prying in your business.”
“I know you’re not. But don’t think I am not in hell. I am thinking not of myself but of China. We have suffered. We have suffered from the opium wars when European powers stuffed opium down our throats and took over and divided China into their own spheres of influence. We suffered from the Japanese. The soldiers of Nippon during their occupation of Manchuria inflicted every criminal act known to man on Chinese civilians. Indiscriminate killings, beheadings, bayoneting of live victims and the vicious raping of tens of thousands of women and young girls, were the order of the day. Living with this constant terror and barbarity the civilian population could offer but little opposition. We are in a civil war and again we fear, we fear China will be split. Nothing can be worse, to split a country. It’s best to have total victory of the Kuomintang with Chiang K’ai-shek as supreme master, even with American surplus war equipment and aid.”
“But you are against the Kuomintang or you won’t have that uniform in your closet.”
“There are many such uniforms in closets in Tsingtao. No, my friend, this is not what China wants but what your army generals would want. You see all around you China as it is today-people, old people, kids, freezing to death in the streets, armies bought by foreign aid, young girls sold into sex slavery, justice where a man’s hands are cut off for stealing rice, or his head cut off because he preaches against the system. Unless there is change, these evils will not only continue but will grow worse. The cleansing of China must be complete; we must get right down to the roots.”
Every last Marine in Tsingtao agreed to this, that something had to be done, but not one of us had a solution. It’s so easy to criticize. “And what do you offer?” I asked.
“It’s not what I offer. Your country preaches democracy as the solution, but your western form of democracy in Asia cannot work. Warlords rule China. What do you think Chiang K’ai-shek is? He’s a warlord masquerading as a leader of democracy. But believe me, the beliefs and hopes of all Asians are changing. New ideas are creeping into the peasant’s village, and there are those who are telling him there is another system, a system by which not only the white masters but all the masters will be wiped out and the land will be divided, a system in which village elders no longer rule, of which their religion is no longer valid, but they are told the peasants can decide their own fate. They will tell them their religion is wrong and they no longer have to support archaic monastic systems. The peasant will believe that this new system is best and offers the most liberty which gives him the quickest solution to the troubles of his daily life. He will vote for it, and he will be willing to fight for it, and to die for it. This is what you are up against. Nothing can tum the tide.”
“I have to go,” I said and stood up.
“Please, be my friend,” Roger said. I started for the door without giving him an answer. He put a hand on my shoulder. “I will tell Ming-Lee you asked about her.”
I wheeled around to face him. “You know where she is then?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, I know,” he replied. “I have friends in Shanghai and they know where she is staying.” He could see the expression on my face change. “No, she is not involved in this struggle. She is there because Tsingtao has too many bad memories for her. She feels she was deceived by you.”
“No, no, you don’t understand either,” I said and sat down again on the bed. I explained to Roger exactly what had transpired in Peking. I asked that he understand and I confessed to him that I was in love with Ming-Lee and would do everything to get her back.
“Call me in a couple days,” he said. “I will have some word from Shanghai.” I promised that I would call.
Roger’s message kept pounding through my head on my way back to my quarters. My rickshaw driver was waiting but I dismissed him and walked. It was a long distance but it gave me time to think. Was I dealing with a force that was beyond my comprehension, a force beyond my grasp? There was this business about Chiang K’ai-shek being a warlord, and all the West being deceived by him. No one liked to think of him as a warlord. Warlord was a dirty name; the warlord era began after the Revolution of 1912 when China was up for grabs.
Warlords maintained they must unify the country, and each one uttered he was the one to do it. I remember Su Fung and Mae Chu at the university saying that with the rise of warlords no longer did common people feel that men of humble origin and little education could not rise on the basis of daring, ability and force of personality. “Military rank depended on the successful raising, training and leading of troops, rather than on high birth or classical education,” they said. The business of warlords was our constant subject of discussion at the university. The prototype of the “bad” warlord, they insisted, was General Chang Tsung-ch’ang, military governor of Shantung from 1925 to 1928. Chang’s father was a barber, his mother an exorcist. He was said to have “the physique of an elephant, the brain of a pig, and the temperament of a tiger.” He may have been a villain but I did have an admiration for him. He was known as the “dog-meat general” because of his culinary preferences, and he was also famous for his “virtual zoological garden” of wives of all nationalities. My favorite writer Lin Yutang described him as a lover of women. He would see foreign consuls with a Russian girl sitting on his knee. If he held orgies, he didn’t try to conceal them from his friends and foes. He was called a san pu-chih warlord, the “three don’t knows.” He didn’t know how much money he had, how many troops he had, or how many women he had in his harem.”
In contrast to Chang, there were warlords of polish and morality, and the students were certain to remind me about them. They told how General Yin Ch’ang-heng of Szechwan surprised the American ambassador in 1914 by his knowledge of the arts and the masters of the Renaissance. The warlord of Nanking, Li Shun, earned great prestige by his selfless labor as a mediator between rival Peking and Canton governments from 1917 to 1920.
Whether or not they were bad or good warlords, they were powerful enough in their own spheres to ignore social conventions and indulge personal whims. Chang Tsolin, the ruler of Manchuria, raised his fifth concubine to the status of first wife, and Chang K’ai-shek was not much different. He elevated his wife to such a lofty position that she was able to go to the American Congress and woo both houses to give more money to China, a China ruled by her husband’s regime.
I thought about warlords, about Roger and his wife, and about all Chiang’s problems. I thought about them all on my way back to the university, but most of all I thought about Ming-Lee. I really missed her. When would I ever see her again?