Three sisters in Shanghai: is one my mom?

13 09 2010

Shanghai, June 9, 1935: Maybe my mother, Aunty Inez, and Aunty Yun

Hello Family (Mom’s side),

While reorganizing and recycling things from the studio, I came across this photo. The handwritten caption reads, “The 3 sisters — who is the tallest? My pumps didn’t help to make me the tallest. Ha! Ha! June 9, 1935.”

Beloved Aunty Yun is at the far right, Aunty Inez is in the middle, and at first glance I identified the sister on the left as my mother, age 18. But looking again, is it she? Maybe, maybe not.

In the 1930s after my grandfather Chong How Kong died, my grandmother Siu Chin and many of her 14 children and their young families went to China from Hawaii, mostly as tourists. Some taught at the university level or worked. With my Uncle Fan’s and Aunty Yun’s tuition and room & board support, my mother went to the University of Shanghai to study music, English, and education.

They were all there until World War II broke out in China, and they made their way back to the Islands. Otherwise they may have stayed in China, and probably I would not be here. Mom continued her college education at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, returning to Honolulu to teach and direct music when she finished.

My mother was a member of the Mid-Pacific Institute Class of ’34. According to J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard’s writing, our family genealogist, she traveled alone to Shanghai in September 1935. If she is in the photo, then one of the dates is wrong.

I emailed the photo to Cousin Millie, asking what she thought: Fo-Tsin (my mother) or Lois (Millie’s mother)? For Lois was in Shanghai too. Of course neither I nor Millie was born yet. I just haven’t seen a picture of my mom that full of face, but perhaps at 18 she was heavier than I’m used to seeing her in other photos. I usually recognize her high angular cheek bones. Photographers loved using her as a model.

While waiting for Millie’s opinion, I went through mom’s letters, photos, and other papers I still can’t throw away, even though I have no real heirs to save them for. I guess I’ve saved them for me, for a day like today.

I found one of her report cards from the University of Shanghai dated February 19, 1935. Another records that she entered the U. of Shanghai in Spring 1935.

I also found a letter she wrote to Aunty Nyuk in California, dated January 12, 1934, from Peiping [now Beijing]. Aunty Nyuk kept all of the correspondence, and after she died, the letters found their way to me. With all of my 14 aunties and uncles and their spouses now passed, it’s like piecing together a puzzle to get a fuller picture.

Some things are nice to keep. Unless Cousin Millie thinks that’s Lois on the left, I’ll gladly say, that’s my mom and my aunties!

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke

Epilogue: Millie says not her mom.

Flowing like water

28 08 2009

I visited the People’s Republic of China twice, once in 1978 with my father on a special cultural tour from Honolulu, and again in 2005 with my Sunset foodie friend on, what else?, a custom eating tour! Like all first-time visitors to China, we were impressed by the modes of transportation, the humongous population, and the bad traffic in the cities.

In 1978 the people traveled by one-speed bicycle, I recall. Valerie of our group arranged to meet relatives of friends outside the Friendship Store where only tourists were allowed to shop, and where the goods were of export quality. They gave her some money, she went inside, and in a few minutes she emerged wheeling a brand new bicycle. The family was overjoyed and so grateful. It was like getting a new car, I guess, or, perhaps greater, getting one’s first car. At that time, even if I knew how to ride a bike, I don’t think I would have, for fear of getting smooshed or yelled at in Chinese in the peloton. Except unlike a peloton, the Chinese didn’t seem quite as orderly, so how would I merge into the traffic in the first place? Let’s just say all those bicycles were awe inspiring.

In 2005, things had changed, of course. Capitalism and automobiles had arrived. Not as many bicycles—although still enough for darling husband’s jaw to drop. Like describing the ocean surf, I informed, “You should have been here when”— and where were all the people? Answer: In their cars! We were chauffeured by bus with a good view of the traffic below, and all we could think of was, yikes! so many first-time drivers! Some of our travel mates/side-seat drivers actually closed their eyes. In China, it seemed, there was no regard for lines or arrows on the street. No one really stopped or reduced speed. My heart skipped a beat when the tourist bicycle rickshaw we were in crossed in front of a bus.

China traffic

All types of transportation are mixed up together: cars, trucks, bicycles, taxis, carts, motorbikes, three-wheel minis, rickshaws, pedestrians, you-name-it. The amazing thing is, we never witnessed a crack-up. Traffic there is like water. It just flows. How do they do it?

A better question is, why? I think it has to do with the practice of qigong. Masters of the art taught just a few others in ancient China, passing it down from generation to generation, but back then qigong was somewhat of a mystery.  Since the mid 1950s qigong and tai chi forms have been practiced widely by the Chinese. The Communist government endorsed it for health and healing. In 1978 I watched young and old alike in parks of the places we visited as they engaged in the slow moves of this exercise. Their hands, arms, legs, feet, and entire bodies moved gracefully and at a steady tempo, one movement flowing into the next as they replenished stale energy with fresh energy.

I started practicing tai chi and qigong (“chi” or “qi” are the same words meaning life force energy) with the WCC Tai Chi Class only a few years ago. It’s the same energy as the “ki” in Reiki that I do for others and myself. My understanding expanded when I read about qigong in a book my cousin gifted me. There is a way to heal, harmonize, and balance one’s mind, body, spirit, and emotions. There is a way to remove blockages and have your energy flow like water for your highest good. The technique is available to anyone. Anyone can learn to do it, provided they have an open mind and are willing to receive. As a Reiki Master and practitioner, I can show you how. ~ Rebekah

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

For more on Reiki, click on Reiki Healing by Oelen on the menu bar. From now through November, we are open for Reiki Fridays.

Suggested reading: Orr, Katherine. Beautiful Heart, Beautiful Spirit Shing-Ling-Mei Wudang Qigong. Kaneohe: DragonGate Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-0-9765178-0-1

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