I was with a tour group on a visit to the Western Rim, Hualapai Indian Reservation, Grand Canyon, Nevada, USA. All of them were from mainland China, except me. The day before, we were traveling on a coach bus outbound from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the Neon City of glittering lights, Casinos, the Entertainment Capital of the World where most of the world’s famous artists perform live on stage, circus, comedy and adult shows.
The tour guide began the ritual of introducing the various tourist attractions and shows to see in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon to the audience in the bus.
Firstly, the tour guide had a selective product listing, granted that we were only in Las Vegas for 3 Days / 2 Nights. Recommendations given for those products endorsed by the tour guide were all the marketing hype of ‘must-see’, ‘your money’s worth”, “awesome, terrific and exhilarating’, “don’t miss out” and so on and so forth.
Finally, the tour guide began the systematic product assassination of a key tourist spot of the Grand Canyon West – the SkyWalk.
The tour guide bellowed with enthusiasm, holding onto the big swinging mike and gesticulating with the other arm, “You come to Las Vegas, you must see the Jubilee Show at Bally’s Casino, with bare breasted showgirls and showboys dancing and kicking on stage through a 90 minute extravaganza. This is the best of the show in Las Vegas. This is only for adults.”
The tour guide continued, “Those with children can go for the circus show at …….” I didn’t hear the rest, as I have already counted myself in. This was the only show the tour guide recommended and no others. I smiled inwardly. I have been to Las Vegas a couple of times in the past and there were a variety of ‘other’ shows.
“Ticket will be at $98 per pax and we will take you right to the doorstep of Bally and will transport you back to your hotel at Stratosphere Casino after the show.”
All ‘adults’ signed up. Those family with children signed up for the circus show. Looked like a breeze when it came to shaking loose the wallet of foreign tourists, then again, the tour operator was a Chinese and when it came to making money they were savvy businessman.
Next on the agenda was the trip to the Grand Canyon, the morning after. Erh, I didn’t mean a night of excessive binge on the casino’s tables or other mid-night amorous activities. It was a day trip to the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the following morning. When we reached Las Vegas at around 6 o’clock pm that evening, the tour guide announced on the mike, “Wakey! Wakey! People, Good morning.” Some were still in slumbers after traveling almost a full day across desert land. “In Las Vegas, we wake up in the night and sleep in the day.” That was worth a chuckle for most first timers to Las Vegas. Luckily, the tour guide did not mention anything on the habit of a vampire.
“We have the Southern Rim and the Western Rim for you to choose from.” The tour guide said.
“Southern Rim will take 5 and half hours to reach from Las Vegas. We only have half hour for you to do your photos.” The tour guide paused for a while to let that sink in, then the tour guide continued, “Entrance is free.” Short but not so sweet.
“Western Rim is fabulous with many interesting activities.” The tour guide said.
“You will have a panoramic view at the top of the Grand Canyon from the Western Rim. You will visit the Red Indian reservation where you can see their way of life. Then there is a helicopter ride which will descend 4,000 over feet to the floor level of the Colorado River. Then you will ride the small rapids along the river on a barge boat and take the helicopter back again. You will be given a free lunch, on the fare of the Hualapai Tribe.
“The entrance fees for each pax is only $98. The helicopter and boat ride will cost $205.” The tour guide exhorted. “Furthermore, the bus trip only takes one and half hours to reach and that means you will have a lot of time shooting photos before we go back to Las Vegas.”
Wow! The tour guide was a powerful orator. If the tour guide was standing for election on a ticket for a political senate post, we all would vote for the tour guide even when the tour guide said, “Look at my lips, no taxes.”
In for a penny, in for a pound. All of us signed up for the Western Rim. Those whose preference was the Southern Rim which we indicated on a form back in Los Angeles changed their mind and opted for the Western Rim. All of us signed up for the helicopter ride too, and those with small children whose height barred them from going onto a helicopter stayed back.
Last on the list was the Skywalk. The tour guide gave some brief information on the Skyway. It was a U-shaped cantilevered glass jutting past the rim of the Grand Canyon. While on the glass, one can see the bottom ravine of the Grand Canyon.
Less enthusiastic as before the tour guide said, “You have to pay $35 for entrance. The walk is only from here to the end of the bus, a very short distance.” The tour guide pointed to where he/she was standing to the tail end of the bus, which was probably around 25 feet. “It’s not worth your money.”
“You have to take out your shoes and put on soft padded shoes. No handphones and cameras are allowed. The proprietor is afraid that you may drop your mobile onto the glass and damage it.” The tour guide said with a slight frown.
“There are professional photographers who will take pictures of you on the Skywalk. Each pix cost $30. For 4 pix you have to pay $100. Well, I think that is a bit expensive for digital print-outs.” The tour guide wrenched the knife deeper into our minds.
So they say, three strikes and you are as good as dead.
None of us signed up. There was no questions asked. Most of us thought that this was outrageous ripping off on a tourist for a mousy walk. The tour operator did not use any glamorous language on this ‘famous’ site at all.
I made a mental calculation. If the proprietor of Skywalk would share some of his bounty, say, he received $30 per pax, he would have $1,500 for our tour bus of 50. And that was only for one coach bus. In a day, there were many coach buses arriving and there were no extremities in weather condition in this part of the Grand Canyon, so he could operate hindrance free for 365 days in a year, plus one day for every fourth year.
Hey, proprietor, you forget the gatekeepers. These are the invisible guards at the gateless gate that may open the floodgates and let money rain down on you OR they would block access if there was nothing in it for the tour operator.
Perhaps you have listened too much to those fancy pancy desk-bound marketing consultants who recommended spending big bucks on flyers, banners, posters, inviting celebrities for a walk, on air and on all internet media and above-the-line marketing that they forget one basic rule, the consumers at the gate. Perhaps these consultants have never been to the site or take a coach bus to hear out the tour operators, preferring the cool air-condition in their cosy office and a latte coffee on their table.
Barring handphones and cameras on the bridge was pretty dumb. How often would a person drop his/her mobile or camera accidentally? Most, who carried some big-ass semi-pro cameras have them strung over their necks. And to say the impact of a handphone which weighed slightly more than a pound hitting the glass panels would damage it conjured an image that the bridge was not safe. At least that was what the tour operator told us.
To cap it all, charging $100 for 4 pix was too much. This was no scam, but the amount charged was outrageous and so steep that most tourists thought that this proprietor was a greedy capitalist, at least to those mainland Chinese who may still nurture some communal and socialist ideals.
Hey Proprietor, you missed the forest for the trees, or you missed the trees for the forest, whichever way, you are missing a mighty lot of dollar income. Allowing tourists to use their handphones will give you very wide publicity and a wide audience. Most of them will upload their images or videos taken at the bridge instantly on their Facebook, Instagram, qq or other popular social media for their friends to see or ‘envy’ that they were at the Grand Canyon. When they do this, your Skywalk will be on the list of ‘must-do’ when these friends visit the Western Rim.
Think about it, Proprietor.
Anyway, the Jubilee Show was fabulous. The Western Rim Grand Canyon and the helicopter ride were really money’s worth. The Skywalk, I am not too sure as I didn’t sign up because the tour operator said ‘no good’.
I was in San Francisco last week. Such a lovely place and the weather was excellent for photography.
One can see Alcatraz, The Rock on a clear day from Pier 39, the Fisherman’s Wharf.
And the song of the mid 60s, San Francisco by Scott Mackenzie is one of the best loved and enduring songs of all times.
So I got a little poetic and penned a few lines.
A table spread for one With clam chowder on the sourdough bun I am a solo traveler eating my fare A moment’s solitude without a worry nor care
The olden wharf overlooking San Franciso Bay Where Italian fishermen drank hard with gay Chinamen coolies would squat and thread their queues And dreamt of far away Cathay in different hues.
The song of bygone era of hippies, if you are going to San Francisco Within some older folks the flame of the flower children still glows Such a strange vibration, people in motion It still reverberates throughtout the land and ocean.
On a clear day from Pier 39 one can see the far away bridge That spans the sky line like a red ribbon on the horizon’s ridge The sea lions nestle for space on the wooden docks A lone sea gull perches on a railing squawks.
Through foggy nights and sunny days The undulating roads as traffic moves through the maze Today I am to say adieu to this lovely place I finish my lunch and say once more my praise and grace
Further to this post, Three Suckers Are Born Every Second, the girl and the two boys were exuberant about their winnings, three big stuffed toys and an assortment of smaller toys, because they saw the opportunity that there were a lot of uncollected winning tokens in the children’s gaming machine. All they did were to push the button and out came a bunch of winning tokens.
We were onto the third night in Las Vegas. Calvin buggered me to go to The Excalibur Casino Hotel again, probably at the insistence of William.
“Hey Pop, we want to go to The Excalibur again.” He said.
“We have been there on the first night, why do you fellows want to go again?” I asked.
“We want to have another roll. We want one more of that big stuff toy.” Calvin said. He was almost pleading, subtly shifting his eyes onto William and of course I didn’t miss it.
“We already have 3 biggies and an assortment of smaller ones. I don’t know whether we can check in all that” I said. “Why do you want another biggie?”
“William saw a little girl at our hotel lobby and she was pointing to the Goofy I was holding. We wanted to do some charity and give the girl a gift. We saw her a couple of times and she was just having a lollipop stick, no toys,” Calvin replied. “So we want to win another one and give her a present.”
“Charity is something which you already have and you treasure it and you give it away to the less fortunate. It is not giving away something which you do not want or giving away something which is not yours yet and is dependent on a game of chance.” I said. That was a mouthful but I knew that these kids absorbed what I said like a sponge soaking up water.
I laughed inwardly at the naivety of their innocence and it was a good opportunity to dispel some of their myths about charity. A lot of people were dreaming of doing charity big-time contingent upon winning the Mega Jackpot. This never happened in real life.
Anyway, off we went to The Excalibur again. This time My Excellency and I wanted in on the action too.
We went into the main entrance of the Children’s Entertainment Center in full swing.
Two ladies in red with collars up to their necks and attired to the hilt immediately came up and greeted us. They were prim and proper, more like teachers in a high school. They were unlike those leggy Bunny Girls in the main casino area, wearing bunny brownish head gears with two pointy ears, vivid war paint on their faces and skimpily dressed-to-kill. The job of these Bunny Girls were to dish out drinks (on the house, of course) to players on the gaming tables, entice them to stay longer and to have a few more rolls, collect some tips and tuck them onto their highly visible cleft of their mighty bosoms.
This was glittering Las Vegas, remember, the Sin City and the Neon capital of the world where it never slept.
In a corner two Men in Black suddenly appeared. They wore dark reflective sun glasses as if there were suffering from photophobia, stood akimbo with straight faces, legs astride, unmoving and staring ahead and occasionally twitched their lips menacingly. They were more like statues on display, mean, lean and hard men ready to break a leg or two to anyone who was going to crap the casino.
This was too pat, too close for comfort, I thought. We were being watched.
I whispered to Calvin, “Hey boy, are you a lefty or righty?”
“I didn’t cheat, Pop,” Calvin replied curtly. Meantime, my eldest girl and the younger boy were puzzled and could not understand what we were talking about. Later Calvin would explain to them. Calvin was always the patient one.
I had already ‘invested’ another $30 with the three kids for tonight’s action. As we moved around there was not even one ticker coupon jutting out from any lips of the games machine. However, the girl and boys still fed some quarters in, just to maintain our stance or our innocence.
Good fellows, they knew it was very hard to win and they pulled back.
“Pop, let’s do a tactical retreat and re-group.” Calvin said. Wow, using some military jargon as I taught him. So the things I told him were never in vain, it went into both ears and were retained onto some grey or white matters in between. What about the wisdom from My Excellency to the three kids, probably it never goes into their ears, or it just went through their ear canals from one end and exit from the other end. Really, I didn’t know and it was better not to ask.
We left the Children’s Entertainment Center empty-handed, no biggie stuff toys and not even a kitchen magnetic sticker. We bought some drinks and sat on a bench outside the Excalibur. The air was still hot and sultry, Las Vegas being a desert in the middle of nowhere.
We were not disappointed with the turn of events. In fact, we were pretty much jolly and joked about the whole episode. Calvin started to narrate what had transpired between the two of us.
I was an avid reader. Whenever I came across items which were of interest I would tell Calvin. My favorites were his favorites too, like WWII, ‘Nam War or some adventure stories. It was a book I read by Nicholas Pileggi entitled ‘Casino’ in the era during the 60s and early 70s when Las Vegas was ruled by the Mafia Mob.
At one time a card cheat was caught at a table when he was winning big. A waitress spilled some hot coffee onto his shirt accidentally and the card cheat was quickly hustled away to a room behind the gaming tables. He was then strapped onto a metal table amidst his screaming and struggling to free himself from the two muscled men. One of the men clamped his burly hand over his mouth and the card cheat shut up. The pit boss walked in, probably he was also the enforcer.
“You bastard! Are you a lefty or righty?” the pit boss shouted at the card cheat.
“Righty” the card cheat was trembling and it took some time for him to answer.
The two muscled men forced open his mouth and gagged him with a dirty oil cloth. The pit boss took a hammer from a metal tool box, placed the hand of the card cheat onto a side iron table top and whacked hard. Blow by blow, he whacked and whacked until the right hand of the card cheat turned into a pulp of bloody tissues and small whitish bones, blood slowly dripping on the floor.
“Now you are a lefty!” the pit boss shouted. “Get the f*** outta here and don’t I see you no more!”
The two muscled men released the harness and the card cheat stumbled down. Groaning and taking short breadths, he covered his bloodied hand with a handkerchief and scampered out.
“If you ever come here again I gonna cut your balls off and hang ‘em on me Christmas tree!” The pit boss said vehemently and with a last sadistic gesture he hit the card cheat hard on his kidney with the hammer he was still holding. The card cheat made haste and quickly limped out.
That was the time when the Mob ruled Las Vegas, where cash of bill notes and coins were not counted but weighed in huge weighing machines simply because the volume was so huge. Turf wars between rivaling fractions of the Mafia for control saw many died by the guns or knives, knocked over by cars, crippled or just disappeared into the desert.
Well, something like that with some melodramatic spices, salt and pepper sprinkled generously. But Calvin always loved this story.
And the kids laughed and laughed. Good vacation when everyone would laugh and laugh.
Next Post: Charity is giving away something which you treasured.
The Shwedagon Pagoda (Golden Pagoda) lies in the heart of the city of Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma) and dominates the skyline. With four relics of Buddha enshrined within, this is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese.
If you are in Yangon you should visit this pagoda at least twice in a day, one in the morning and one in the night time. Both times you will be enraptured by its splendor and grandeur.
In the Northwest corner there hang a bronze bell, of immense proportion and weight and craved with intricate Burmese scriptures. They said that if you tap the bell three times with a four-foot wooden beam your prayers will be answered, if your prayers are sincere, your wish hurts nobody and that your wish must be ethically and morally virtuous. So don’t ever think that by doing a Knock-Three-Times on the sacred Bell (and not on the ceiling, a song popularized by Tony Orlando back in the early 70s) your girl friend or boy friend will come running into your waiting arms or that you don’t have to work and money will just rain down on your lap.
It just don’t work that way.
So when Calvin travels with me to Yangon, we will be at this Northwest corner giving it a go and hoping that our prayers will be answered and answered soon enough. I don’t know about the dear son of mine, perhaps his prayers are already answered but I am still day-dreaming about my wish in spite that I have done a Knock-Three-Times on the great Bell for the umpteen times.
There is a legend behind this great Bell. And as legends go, there are always a lot of variations, some myths and mysteries magnified, some romances and heavenly stories added, some said that it weighed 50 tons and some said it weighed 100 over tons, through the years as it gets narrated.
One version goes like this, and I pronounce myself guilty that I am adding some lore to the legend.
The might of the British Empire spread throughout the East in the early 19th century when the sun was at its zenith for the Queen. They had annexed Greater Burma and they occupied Shwedagon Pagoda, stomping the holy ground with their boots on, which the Burmese treated it as sacrilege, as no footwear was allowed in the holy compound. They saw the Bell hanging there and thought that on Her Majesty Service this one could be melted down and turned into ammunition. So they stripped off the Bell unceremoniously, transported it down river by small skiffs tied together, to a waiting mother ship berthing out at sea.
But Providence had it that before it could be off-loaded to the Schooner battle ship a great gale force developed and the skiffs sank, together with the great Bell. For a long time the Royal British Navy tried to rig it up from a depth of more than 200 ft deep but to no avail. The Bell was just too heavy. Sediments were settling on the Bell day by day as it dug deeper into the sea bed.
The Burmese were very hurt when the British took away their Wishing Bell. So senior monks and abbots conferred and they came out with a plan to retrieve the Wishing Bell. They approached the Brigadier of the Garrison Force in Rangoon to let them have the Bell and restored it to its rightful place if they could salvage it.
One could only imagine that the Brigadier barked like a mad dog with rabies raging in its head when he was being confronted.
“Well, well, you stupid pygmies Burmese want to pull the Bell from the bottom of the sea.” The Brigadier ranted, raved and foamed white on the reddish lips of his mouth, his strictly manicured mustache twitching on his upper lip as he spoke. Beneath his damp sweaty right armpit, he held a wooden baton truncheon as if he wanted to hit hard on whoever happened to be nearby to vent his anger.
“Keep it if you dig it out, and now be lost with you stupid lot and don’t bother me again.” The Brigadier continued to bellow.
The monks then ordered the gathering of a large stock of small sticks of bamboo poles, cutting each of the bamboo stick off above the notch so that the little air that trapped inside would be buoyant. Then, they gathered a group of pearl divers, whose lungs were so well developed as the gills of a fish that they could stay underwater for prolonged period.
Some pearl divers knew the exact location of the Bell in the uncertain sea. Pieces of bamboo were tied round the Bell and as the Bell tilted, these bamboo poles were inserted into the Bell.
In less than a month, the Bell was floating freely on the open sea.
The Might of the Goliath British Empire was just being humbled by little David, whom the British described them as stupid pygmies Burmese.
If you are in Yangon, pay a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda and don’t miss the Wishing Bell. You might be lucky.
My mother is now 85. Her ambulatory movement is still good though weak, albeit walking around very slowly with the aid of a quad base walking stick as she is suffering from acute osteoporosis, causing a few of her thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in the spinal cord to fuse. She takes her daily medication dutifully and often has to take a large dose of pain killer to numb the pain.
I bath her 3 or 4 times a week when she washes her hair, holding onto the shower while she sits on an acrylic chair, and scrubs herself clean. Her skin is still pearly, satin smooth and without any black botches or liver-spots but her spinal cord is hunched forward, her lumbar and mid-thoracic region twisted and crooked. A slip and a small fall will be fatal, given her fragile state of the bones structure.
Her mind is razor sharp and her memory is phenomenal. I often seek her counsel in almost all matters of the home and business and I can pour forth my grievances, my troubles, my unhappiness and my hardship to a pair of ears that hears every word I say and perhaps she also hears every word that I don’t want to say, for she listens attentively with her mind and her heart.
And she speaks to me with the language of a loving and compassionate heart that knows no barriers.
Someone might say that I have no right to burden her with my worldly troubles and it is better that I keep my own counsel when occasionally I am lost and I can’t see no further than I spit, (so to speak) but I can never hide my agitation and the cyclonic turbulence of my mind at such times of unrest because she can see me right through and through. So I unburden myself onto her dainty shoulders, no holds bar, and with no make-up stories. I am seeking her wise counsel and I am not trying to transfer my pain onto her.
She can take up a heavy emotional load, does not indulge in self-pity, does not blame the troubles onto others, does not fret and most times she offers practical, sound and wise counsels to my weary heart. She tells me time and time again that I have no power to change others, changes must come from within and happiness is within me and must not be dependent on others. She reads the Chinese language paper daily and she often saves a number of good articles on philosophy, living, Buddhism, health and articles of interest for me to digest.
I also share with her my triumphs, my happiness, my aspirations, my dreams and my innermost thoughts and we celebrate, we laugh and we reminisce on the halcyon days of past when we were poor as a church mouse but we were really very happy and joyful being together in a family of five, with my father and my two siblings.
I have video-taped a number of our conversations where she taught me classical proverbs and poems and told me anecdotes and all those strange tales of Liao Zhai and other fairy tales of Chinese deities, semi-gods and ancestor worship and religious matters, and related to me her stories of her past in China. Now she has given me a gem of an idea, an interesting story line and a plot to write something on Old China. Hmm, I am still working on it.
It was her fore-thought and decisive manner in an event that happened in China before I was born that made me awe-struck and it was a story that must be told.
(Read past posts on My Father And Mother and My Mother In Her Teens)
My mother was born in 1929 in the small district of Ta Nam in the outskirts of Guangzhou. From young, she was educated by her father, who was a successful sea-faring merchant and she attended school, which was rare in traditional China.
When she was 18 years of age she was betrothed in a blind marriage to a handsome man who lived in a nearby village which distance was about a day’s walk or about half a day away by bicycle. Her elder brother was the one who brokered the marriage and what he saw in my father he liked. He was 6 years her senior, a learned scholar and whose family owned vast tracts of farmland in Nam Hai, in the outskirts of Guangzhou. At that time her prospective father-in-law was a prosperous merchant in the faraway land called Nanyang (present day Malaysia) while my father tended to his farmland in Nam Hai. This was a marriage on the same status station, both were the minor scions of reputable and well-to-do families.
By that time China was in the throes of a raging and debilitating civil war between Generalissimo Chiang Kai Sek under the KuoMinTang Party and the Communist Party of China under Chairman Mao Zedong after Japan surrendered in 1945, when the two parties forged an uneasy alliance to fight the Japanese Army earlier on. The CPC won and on 1st October 1949 proclaimed the formation of the People’s Republic of China. The purges of landowners, powerful Mandarins, wealthy business men, Nationalists, remnant members of the past Qing dynasty, past corrupt officials and all those allegedly aligned to the KMT were just beginning as Chairman Mao attributed every evil and failures that beset the vast continent of China to the bourgeoisie, the corrupt US imperialist aiding the KMT and capitalist owners who exploited the peasants. City by city, village by village the Red Army began their ruthless purge.
At that time my mother gave birth to a son, my elder brother. Famine was everywhere in China, even to land owners like my grandfather. My brother soon died during one winter month due to lack of medical attention and the scarcity of food. My elder sister was born the following year.
One evening my mother’s elder brother came with an urgent message. He had risen to the rank of a senior officer in the Air Force of the CPC and was privy to inside information on the troop movement of the Red Army.
“You have to leave for Guangzhou City tonight, Younger Brother.” He said, addressing the urgency of the situation to my father and mother. “The Army will be here within the next two days and your name is on their black list.”
He was taking an inordinate risk by giving such information. He and his family would be summarily executed had he being informed on by any CPC agents or former KMT informers who snitched on whoever would give them a ticket to survive. It was all for the love of his younger sister, my mother.
“I have obtained all valid travel documents at great risk by pulling rank. The Head of Village has reluctantly signed your exit travel pass.” He said.
“You are to leave alone.” He continued. “Tonight before 9pm wait at the small pier. A boat will take you down to Guangzhou city where you will be met by your brother-in-law, Siang Pui. You may have to stay with him for days before you can get to Hong Kong as travel is very restrictive. There are too many refugees and there is only a small daily quota on those leaving. From Hong Kong you take a steamer to Nanyang.” Siang Pui was the husband of my father’s elder sister.
“What about my wife and my daughter and my step mother?” My father asked feebly, face ashen and shaken by the abrupt news of having to depart immediately. His hands were trembling as he spoke.
“They can wait. The Communists are not so brutal and heartless as painted by those imperialists KMT. But you may not survive their purge or the deathly work on their commune farms.” He stood erect for a moment, waiting for the import of the situation to sink in.
My mother, being the stronger one, made an immediate decision. She was always the wiser one and she grasped the dire situation they were in. She saw the bigger picture and her husband, whose hands had never touched the till of a plough driving a buffalo in the field or whose legs ever stepped onto a stationary bicycle paddling and diverting irrigation water from a river to the rice field, would not even survive a day under the Communist.
“Go and don’t look back. Don’t make enquiries and don’t mention any names. When you arrive at Nanyang safely then only you write, but not before.” she said to her husband. “I pack some left over dumplings for you.
“Thank you, Elder Brother, you must leave now,” addressing her brother and latching her hands onto the forearm of her brother steadily. They were family, just a word of appreciation and that was enough. The fanfare of kowtows, elaborate show of appreciation and flowery adulations were not in their books when dealing with close family members.
My father took the wicker luggage bag with few belongings which my mother had packed for him. He left without glancing back. His wife was always the pillar of his strength and he always listened to her dutifully. My mother just shut the wooden door and hugged my sister, who was only a few months old. She did not cry nor lament her predicament but my step-grandmother cried softly. In all my years with my mother I have seen her cried not more than the five fingers on my right hand. Such was her tower of strength in her character and personality make-up.
Early the next morning there was a loud banging on the wooden door. My mother opened the door calmly and standing behind the threshold of the wooden frame was the Village Headman with his three officials. They just barged in and looked around. The Village Headman demanded the withdrawal of the Exit Travel Pass which he had issued two days ago and he wanted my father to report at his official residence immediately.
“My husband has left for Hong Kong on the same day that the pass was issued, My Honorific Sir,” My mother bowed and said softly without a hint of fear nor anxiety. Had she fumbled and said that her husband was in Guangzhou then the cadres would have made an immediate snoop and arrested my father.
The Village Headman grunted. He was in his mid-fifties and he had to save himself. He had issued a number of Exit Travel Passes previously and he hoped that this one would get buried among the paperwork.
They left without making further demands.
My father stayed in Guangzhou for weeks before he was allowed to leave for Hong Kong. When he arrived in Hong Kong he registered as a student at one of the missionary schools, awaiting the availability of a steamer ship to Nanyang. He refrained from making enquiries, he did not write any letters and all he knew was to pray to his ancestors, tracing back to more than 21 generations, for the safe deliverance of his wife, his daughter, his step mother and himself.
For the next one and a half years my mother suffered terribly under the communists. There was the back breaking farm labor for 14 hours a day and at night she had to endure the endless torture of re-education where she must stay alert. Her daughter was taken care of by my step grandmother, who had dainty bounded feet, and could not work the fields.
Land owners were paraded in the Community Hall daily to be judged by the peasants. If there was even one verdict from a peasant the Red Army would investigate thoroughly. Bourgeoisie land owners and exploitative employers were executed by a firing squad on a fixed day of the week to be witnessed by the whole village. If a person from the silent audience was caught with his/her eyes shut, he or she would be severely punished. It was a traumatic experience for my mother to see these executions. She told me that after awhile she was inured to all these deaths and thought about surviving another day. She related that all her thoughts were on her daughter, she wanted to see the little baby at the end of the day and the little baby was what kept her going.
However, my mother commented that these Red Army soldiers were fair in their trials of the land owners and were not given in easily to corruption. They would not listen solely to some disgruntled peasants who would like to gain favors with them by disparaging the land owners unjustly. The Red Army always gave the land owners the opportunity of a fair hearing. Once a land owner offered them some wines and some jade artifacts which he had hoarded away, as an inducement to treat his family better. He was executed the next day.
Soon the Red Army began the detailed examination into the affairs of my father and grandfather. My mother stood trial in place of my father. She was shouted at harshly, harangued, threatened and accused of some imaginary crimes against the proletariat, called various names and addressed my father as a KMT sympathizer and denounced my father as an imperialist spy that sucked the blood of the peasants. The times of her trial were varied and on various trials she had to sit in a chair to await the tribunal for hours. Sometimes they never turn up and she went home, fearing another day of interrogation.
A clear picture began to emerge after many trials. It was not one that the Red Army heard so commonly in other farm land. My father and grandfather were charitable persons and whatever the harvests that year, good or bad, there were always be something left to the peasants. They allowed each peasant a little plot of land for their own keepsake so that they could plant some supplementary crops and raised some pigs on their own for their family. None of the peasants in our village had anything adverse to report to the Red Army.
My mother had the presence of mind to keep all letters sent to my father from my grandfather from Nanyang detailing all monies remitted to their village and how these monies were been utilized to build irrigation canals, to buy seedlings and to build houses for the villagers. The Red Army was not that fanatical as to see every evil in every land owner. China required overseas remittance from overseas Chinese in order to finance the rebuilding of their country.
She articulated her case well and she showed them all correspondences of letters sent to her by her husband. Probably, the Red Cadres were astonished that such a village woman could speak so fluently and calmly and presented evidences so meticulously. She was not an imperialist spy nor her husband a blood-sucking land owner. In one session she had the guts to request that she would like her family including her step-mother-in-law to be reunited with her husband. What if she left for China and the remittances stopped coming in, a Red Cadre asked.
“China is my home, my country and we were born and raised here. We will come back one day. My husband will continue to remit money as our village needs finances to rebuild.” She said with conviction. She was careful not to denounce the old imperialist China, the corruption of the KMT and the exploitative manner of many land owners. A fanatical Red Cadre may denounce, rave and rant on the old corrupt system but they may not take kindly to persons, who were never in the army, to indulge in practices where it meant to put them on a pedestal and worship them, hoping to buy favors and survive a purge.
A year later, the Red Army of her district issued a military exit pass to allow her and my sister to leave for Hong Kong.
That was only the first huddle. She had to get to the port of Guangzhou and obtained clearance from the local commander before she could get into Hong Kong. Guangzhou was a distance of about 4 hours of brisk walk. Guangzhou was by now teeming with refugees, vagabonds, rift raft, the ubiquitous Red Army flooding the streets flushing out KMT remnants, counter-revolutionaries who fought against communism, persons with hidden wealth who dressed poorly with torn and forlorn clothes and the locals of Guangzhou who had stayed there for centuries.
By this time the Red Army was lenient toward my mother and did not demand the full load of her farm labor work for the day. Three times a week the Red Army allowed her and my sister to walk to Guangzhou. No public transport was available and the erratic train service was only reserved for the Red Army. If she was turned back in Guangzhou she had to return to Nam Hai on the same night and try again another time. Her pass did not allow her to stay in the city.
For one long year, my mother walked with my daughter slung on her back, leaving Nam Hai in the morning, arriving at the port of Guangzhou in mid afternoon and waiting in line on the long queue at the Immigration Exit point. When the quota to leave China was exceeded my mother and my sister were turned back. She had to trudge back to Nam Hai at night to report herself at the community hall the next morning. We still had relatives in Guangzhou, but my mother would not take the chance by staying overnight. If the Red Army found out, her pass might be revoked.
She carried with her an optimism of hope every time she walked to Guangzhou from Nam Hai and when she was turned back she did not entertain the idea of giving up. She just had to try again and again for the future of her daughter.
Walking back to Nam Hai at night was a nightmare. There was no street light, the gravel road was uneven and when it rained she was drenched to her skin. My mother was careful to keep my sister warm lest she fell sick. My sister was exceptional, probably driven by some instinct, she cried little and huddled closely on the back of my mother.
My mother said that she developed a strange uncanny sense of direction and courage to face the dark road in front of her, especially on a moonless night. She discarded all frightful stories in her mind that she heard when she was young, of jumping vampires out to draw blood or of ghost that led people astray and wanted a sacrificial victim so as to re-incarnate. She did not even day dreamed that she would meet a kindly fairy to ease her way. She did not even pray silently to any deities or recite any mantras. She was just practical and focused and she knew that she had to depend on herself.
She carried a cane to ward off wild animals and barking dogs. She used to be afraid of snakes and learned that if she came across one she would just stand still and prayed that the little baby did not cry to provoke the snake. She kept a look-out for robbers who might way-laid her. But the gravel path she travelled was safe. With the Red Army everywhere no one dared to rob or plunder. She did not talk to any strangers, she did not ask for direction for a short cut and neither did she stop to take a breather. She kept walking back to the dim lights of Nam Hai and would try another day.
By Providence, one evening at the Immigration Exit counter all those who queue were turned back. She was not even the next in line. Then she caught a glimpse of the area local commander by his military stature and his uniform. He was accompanied by a few soldiers carrying some old rifles. She approached him and was stopped short by the soldiers who shouted at her. The local commander waved a hand to silence the soldiers and gave my mother a long hard look. Most people would give military commanders and accompanying soldiers a wide berth as if they were guilty of some crimes. And this woman carrying a baby on her back had the temerity to approach him.
She bowed a little but did not prostrate on the ground to plead her case. She knew the communist mind, these were the proletarians, they did not belong to the upper Mandarin class where subjects often had to prostrate themselves to make obeisance to their master. Even Mao Zedong ate his frugal meal and chain-smoked his rolled cigarettes with the peasants under a tree shade, where he propounded his ideals of communism and the evils of a bourgeoisie and imperialist society.
My mother did not quaver but stood deferentially and explained that she had been trying for the past year to get to Hong Kong. She held the military pass she was issued with both hands. Then she bowed her head slightly and stood in silence. The baby behind her back became slightly restless and was waking up.
The commander stared at her for some moments. He barked an order to one of his adjutant, “Let her go on board.” Stately, the commander walked away.
My mother uttered a ‘Thank you’ in Cantonese, quite unbelievable in her reversed fortune.
The adjutant took my mother and sister to a closed counter, placed an official red chop on her pass and they took the night steamer to Hong Kong
Arriving at the port in Hong Kong in mid-night was quite an unnerving experience. Though my mother had travelled the length of the Greater Pearl River by following her sea-faring father, she was a total stranger here.
She kept her wits.
The rough and tumble port of Hong Kong was a bee-hive of activities throughout the whole night. People were milling around, trishaws, coolies and hawkers were bumping into each other and there were people sleeping on walk ways. A few strangers approached my mother and volunteered to take her to her hotel. She bore a letter from my father’s sister who resided in Hong Kong telling her to wait at a certain hotel. She refused to talk to any strangers and she looked for a suitable spot amongst the sea of humunity besides a building to spend the night. It was dangerous to be on a lonely spot.
It was very cold as the Northern Wind blew in from GaungTong, the southern most province of China. Mother and daughter huddled closely together to savor their first night in Hong Kong.
She was a light sleeper and was alert all the time. Occasionally she slumbered off only to wake up suddenly staring at the shimmering harbor. She had come this far and would not let her guard down. It was a relief when day broke.
She had memorized the route to the hotel, refusing to take any trishaws though she had enough fare for that. When she reached the hotel she mentioned my father’s sister name and the proprietor immediately recognized that this was the woman and the baby that my father’s sister was waiting for. He addressed her by her full name and my mother knew then that she was in safe hands.
The proprietor engaged her in a light conversation. He gave her a flask of hot water and some buns. My mother was starving. The baby was asleep now as if she also knew that she was now safe. The proprietor told my mother that her auntie, that was her husband’s sister, had come here often and enquired. Her visits were now less frequent but she still dropped by occasionally.
“Did anybody approach you when you landed in Hong Kong?” the proprietor asked, more out of concern than curiosity.
“Yes, they volunteer to take me to a hotel if I named it.” My mother said.
“You are lucky that you did not heed them. Most of them are con men and would take your pass, either to exhort you for huge sum of money or to sell your Pass Exit. I am glad that you are safe now. I get you a room.” He said with a smile and kept nodding his head to acknowledge that this was a woman with street sense.
Two days later, my father’s sister came and took them to stay with them. A month passed before my mother and sister were booked on a junk steamer on their onward journey to Nanyang.
They landed in Singapura in the month of May 1954 where they were finally united with my father.
The above events were narrated by my mother to me without fanfare, without the self aggrandizement of how hazardous her journey to Nanyang was, nor how brave or smart she was. There is never any necessity to make some tall tales between mother and son to soothe her ego.
My step grandmother eventually came over to Nanyang a year later.
My parents are now living with my sister and all her family members are very devoted to them. My father is 91, prostrated on the bed for almost 5 years caused by a stroke but his senses are still good.
Our family was on vacation at Las Vegas for a couple of days back in the mid-90s.
Much as Las Vegas is the so-called Sin City or City of Dreams, where gambling and gaming are the main business, there are numerous entertainment centers for children. Pop and Mum can try their luck at the tables or feed the One-arm Bandit, hoping to strike the same symbol three or five in a row, while children can have fun with video games and other carnival games of chance, where the casino pay you in tokens, exchangeable for toys, when you win.
We stayed at the Mirage Casino Hotel where at night the volcano sited outside the main lobby would start to erupt every hour. On the first night we took the mini-rail from Bally and went to The Excalibur Casino Hotel, a place where I would not like to miss as King Arthur was my favorite hero.
At the Children’s Entertainment Center, William, my youngest son spotted a 5 foot stuff toy dolphin and he wanted it. That cost US$250 if you purchased it outright, but if you could win enough tokens at the electronic ‘Table Games’ or at some carnival games, you exchanged the tokens for your toy.
The kids tried their hands at various games but all they got were some miserable magnetic kitchen stick-on Las Vegas souvenirs. The eldest daughter was determined to get that toy for William so she paid a dollar for three tries to scale a gradual sloping suspended ladder, aiming to touch the board at the end of the wall, which was not that far away. She couldn’t even get a quarter way when she fell on the cushion cover. The slack ladder would twist and turn when she got onto it.
Three strikes and she was out. Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.
They tried to ‘hook a fish’ or threw 3 ping-pongs onto a bath tub with floating dish and if the ball landed onto a colored dish, you got first prize. Hard luck, even when the ping-pong hit smack onto a colored dish, it bounced out.
Ha Ha, I couldn’t help telling them that a casino always maintained odds against players.
So William asked his brother, Calvin, to shake some money from Dad’s pocket so that he could have his favorite toy. William was always the brain while Calvin was always the brawn and the doer.
They got it wrong. Probably if they asked My Excellency nicely she would have paid for it, but me, that was 250 bucks! Two and one half of Benjamin Franklin bill!
But we were on vacation, so it was unkind to turn that kiddo down as he seldom asked for anything in his 9 years of life.
I bundled them together and said, “Now you kids listen good. Two hundred fifty is a lot of money. But I am going to give you a chance. All of you will have a pool of Thirty dollars and you look for something easy to score. If you can’t make it, then it’s too bad.” I almost giggled out loud as I knew that they didn’t stand a snow ball of a chance. But they must be given a trial.
“You got two hours and you fellows come to look for us at some coffee joints when you are done.” I flashed a V-sign with my two fingers emphatically.
So off they went.
An hour later, the three of them found us. My eyes nearly popped out as each of them was carrying a big stuff toy each. A Bugs-Bunny, a Goofy and a Dolphin, all 5 foot length and all three of them had a big flashy smile on their face.
“What did you do? Hustle the attendant lady?” I asked. I too was quite excited to know how they did it, cheating was not on my mind at all. I knew them well.
My eldest daughter said, “Dad, There’s a sucker born every minute.”
“Quote unquote.” I remarked. They were puzzled, I continued, “That means you are quoting from someone.” The kids often picked up my colloquial English or proverbs easily while they could not remember the history lessons they had to memorize by rote.
“No! Pop” Calvin interjected, “Three suckers are born every second.” Now this one was surely from him.
William, who was always reticent, hugged his Dolphin closed to his chest and was as pleased as Punch.
So they related their encounter.
“William spotted the opportunity. He saw some tokens sticking out of an Electronic Gaming machine and he pressed the button.” Calvin was already jumping around, “Out comes a bunch.”
Calvin continued, “So we went round each of the games tables. We hang around each machine, put a quarter in to play when we saw a small ticker head stuck out and presto!” He raised his arms as if to receive some kind of a benediction, “Some machine spit a lot. We did it slow and easy so as not to be spotted by those attendant men in black and ladies in red.”
And the three kiddos high-fived each other and did a small jig. They may be more sober, prim and proper back home but in the Good Old US of A, outward expression of elation was allowed.
“Now we don’t call them suckers,” I said. It was time to drill into them the proper usage of sayings and quotations. “Those who left the tokens behind are just not alert. A sucker is one who has been duped.”
“We still have twenty bucks, Dad.” My daughter said. “So we ain’t no suckers!” Now where did she learn to speak like this, the English that they learned in school was the Queen’s English, as spoken by Professor Henry Higgins from England.
Thus, we walked triumphantly to MGM Hotel, took the mono-rail back to Bally and had a hearty supper of McDonald buggers.