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Strange Lands And People

By Martha Nemes Fried

The week I started to work for China Relief Mission, Gilpatric was in London for a conference. His chief Chinese aide sent a bulletproof limousine to pick me up each morning and chauffeur me home each afternoon. I was assigned the mahogany paneled suite of a former president of the bank. It was furnished with a coffee table and two arm chairs with thick, loose cushions. There was no office furniture; a resourceful office boy found a card table and put the only available typewriter on it. I stacked all the cushions on the seat of one chair, put the typewriter cover on the floor, open side up, to serve as my trash basket, climbed on my perch and typed the agreement between the United States and the Republic of China.

The contract stipulated that the United States would send flour and rice to China, staples that were in turn to be sold under a strict rationing program in five major cities. The proceeds were to be spent on social projects that would benefit the Chinese people. A few months after Mort moved to Ch'u Hsien he reported the only benefits that reached the poor residents of the town were the empty burlap bags that had contained the rice and flour.

Ten days after I started work, other employees began to appear. Jean Stokes, the wife of an English businessman who had been interned by the Japanese during the war, was hired to be our bookkeeper. She told us stories about the American journalist and writer, Emily Hahn, whom she had met in the internment camp. Ms. Hahn was there with her daughter by Major Boxer, a married man. Hahn's former lover had been a Chinese doctor with whom she shared an apartment in the French concession. As if that had not been sufficiently scandalous in the eyes of Mrs. Stokes and the rest of the English colonists, she had the temerity to sit on the balcony in a silk kimono smoking cigars. People like Emily Hahn are bound to go to heaven because they spend their time on earth providing vicarious pleasure for those with humdrum lives.

Jim Moody, our deputy director hired a secretary, Mattie Taylor, who had been an aide to a senator in Washington. Jackie Brown, an attractive brown-eyed blonde, also joined our group. She stayed in the Shanghai office for only a short time before she was granted a transfer to the Beijing branch office. Eleanor Woods came to our office in November to work as an executive assistant. She was a plain looking but pleasant woman, the widow of a CNAC pilot, Harlow Woods, whose plane had crashed in the spring. Although the plane he flew had been recovered, his body was never found despite extensive efforts by search parties. Eleanor, who had two young boys, was still very upset over her loss. She invited me to her house for dinner more than once and we became friends.

I was fairly certain by the end of September that Mort had made a good adjustment in Ch'u Hsien. He was the quintessential New Yorker and going from New York City to a Chinese village that had no electricity, running water or toilets was difficult enough. They served him local food, which was totally unlike the Cantonese food he had eaten and loved in New York's best Chinese restaurants. A letter from him revealed his true feelings about the beginning of his research project in the field, an experience familiar to every young anthropologist.

October 2, 1947
Ch'u Hsien

Dear Kedves Beloved:

I wrote to Eric and Kay and among other things told them I'd been blue. Now I can tell you - though I've probably mentioned it before. My adjustment to the village was not made during that first visit. Indeed when I went to you I was practically running to you. I hated Ch'u Hsien and I didn't want to come back. But just as once I hated Shanghai, so now my period of adjustment is virtually over. That is why I wanted to stay until October 16 and not run back on the first of the month. Had I done so I would have lost my great chance to mold into this way of life.

But as I said, that is now behind me. I am adjusted. I eat three meals a day and hunger for those meals. I go to the "toilet" as easily and naturally as in Shanghai (but I can't read a book suspended in midair as I am!) In all ways I am now doing fine.

Oh! It's so wonderful. Remember those winter nights at the beginning of the year, and even last year, when we first saw that I might come out here. How we worried about what you would do. And now you are in Shanghai - just as if everything had been arranged for us.

I love you,

He wrote in a different mood a month later.

I have told you that three times a week I spend the morning at the cattle station exchanging lessons with the veterinary. In addition to lessons I get two glasses of hot pure milk and cookies which taste fine (Though up until last Tuesday I had a violent aversion to hot milk, but aversions are too much of a luxury for me here). It also gives me a good cut of vitamins D and B1 which are always valuable.

It turned cold, as I told you, and the night I mentioned I went up to my bed to find my corner of the shack insulated with burlap bags and my sleeping bag wrapped in a large quilt. And touching detail, my sleeping bag was turned about so that my head might not be in the draft. The question is, do you think I am "en rapport?"

By this time, the Shanghai office had grown further. Luther Jones, who had worked in China during the Second World War for American Intelligence, and Sylvia Ludlum, a social work administrator, joined as top-level executives along with Mark Gibson, who had previously worked for a United Nations relief organization. They were interesting, literate people and we all became good friends.

We were paid in local currency and the presence of an American employee was required when the chauffeur drove to the bank for the monthly payroll. Each time I went I was awed by the mountains of paper money in the basement vault of the bank. At the beginning we went by car and carried the payroll in a valise. After inflation had gone through the roof, the paper notes were packed in crates, that were transported to the office by truck.

During early February 1948, just before I received the green light for a transfer to our Nanking office, Mort was in Shanghai for a few days. Eleanor invited us to go for a ride in the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. Luther Jones was driving the car. We enjoyed the ride even though there was a light drizzle and the ground in the suburbs of Shanghai was soggy. Eleanor suddenly confided that her husband had kept a collection of guns she wanted to be rid of. Luther drove to a remote spot where the rain had been especially heavy the night before and took a canvas bag with him when he got out of the car. One by one, he threw the five guns in five different mud puddles. There was complete silence in the car after he took the wheel again and drove to another part of the area before returning home. Mort and I speculated about the guns when we were alone and tried to make a connection between Harlow's disappearance and his gun collection. We wrote quite a few scenarios, but they were just that. We amused ourselves with wild suppositions, none of which we could ever prove.

Another letter from Mort revealed the heretofore hidden part of Mr. Bien's agenda. Mort found out that his training in anthropology did not prepare him for fulfilling unexpected requests from his host, but he prevailed nevertheless.

Ch'u Hsien
October 12, 1947

My Darling Kedves,

I was in Nanking from 7 PM Friday to 11 AM today (Sun). I was there to make sure that I would get on the sleeper Thursday night and to transact a little business. Being an anthropologist is not merely a question of being a scientist. You have to be a jack of all trades. I went to Nanking to get extra kerosene for Mr. Bien. And this when China has a tremendous fuel deficit.

This is what happened. The manager of the Nanking Standard Oil setup is a Yankee named Shaw. Bien has for a long time cherished the idea that if an American asked Shaw for more kerosene . . . he would get it. Anyway, he presented me with that little bombshell. "Won't you please march up to the head of Standard Oil in Nanking [whom you don't know from a hole in the wall) and ask him to give you a few extra drums of oil because you say so!" Brother, I felt as if someone had chalked an "X" right under the spot on which I was standing. But I said "yes" though not at all with the conviction "yes" has when it's in type.

Afterall, if I could get Bien a couple of extra barrels, even one, my face would skyrocket. And if I could get him several I would own the blasted town. But if I got none . . . I didn't think about that. Well, . . . . I got 15 drums, 20% over his quota!

Will be in for masquerade quite joyfully. I think this coup is just what I needed, (it) establishes a direct connection between me and Bien's leading source of income.

I think that keeping the beard will be a stroke of pure genius. I have at least two prize-winning ideas that depend on my beard.

I love you,

Mort had much hair on his face, arms, chest and legs, a constant source of amazement to the residents of Ch'u Hsien. Children regularly plucked hairs from his arms and chest for fun in warm weather. He did not like this game, but allowed it to continue for fear that if he didn't, his rapport with the people of the town, which required constant nurturing, would diminish. The relationship between the anthropologist and the people whose customs and general way of life he has to study is a very delicate one. It is primarily based on mutual trust. This takes quite a while to establish and Mort was not in a position to take any chances on losing what he was still carefully building. But I want him to speak for himself. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote me a week later.

With each day my understanding of Ch'u Hsien and the Chinese language grows. My method of doing an ethnological study might be a bit unusual but I have tremendous faith and conviction in myself on this point. . . . . each day I am drawn more into a complete working day. Though my notes remain exceptionally scanty still the totality of information in my head grows. In a few months I shall have proceeded to the stage of writing and then what shall come out is not a helter-skelter collection of notes but a rough draft of "Ch'u Hsien" to which facts and new insights can be added without scar.

I am not interested in the note that says "Nov. 9th Today I saw a funeral, there were ________mourners and_____pall bearers, etc., etc." I am not a traveler of the 18th or 19th century out to collect a lot of local color for the edification of readers of highbrowed dime novels. I am a scientist after the dynamics of culture change and I only accept type phenomena or report exceptions because they have significant bearing on a total structure. . . . . I think I can return with a picture of Ch'u Hsien that is more than a snapshot but a chunk of data linking studies of small rural units with the great entrepots that are the standard bearers of our time.

I must have confidence or my scheme will tumble for I am in actuality, considering the methods of the more conservative anthropologists, trying to construct a house at a single blow. My foundation will be these months of almost passive observation of the totality that is Ch'u Hsien and if I have observed well my foundation will be strong.

Jim and Jane Moody frequently invited the Shanghai office staff to their house on Tifeng Road. They lived in a cozy, casually organized house with their two sons and some servants. They were generous not only with their food and liquor but with their friendship as well. Jane, who worked for the International Refugee Organization, used to meet me for lunch. The Moodys gave a dinner party for Mort when he came to Shanghai from Ch'u Hsien two months after I started work at China Relief Mission. They had a large collection of 78 RPM records with irresistible old favorites such as "Ain't She Sweet" and "I Take My Sugar to Tea," to which we merrily danced the night away. They attracted interesting young people like magnets. We got to know their friends from the American Friends Service Committee, Tod Laurie, Tony Meager and Alan MacBain among them, each young man idealistic and amusing.

Don Gilpatric invited the entire office staff to brunch in the elegantly appointed mansion he rented in Hungchao to house his new bride, a very young, very attractive English blonde. The place was about a twenty-five minute ride from the center of Shanghai. The day was pleasant enough for all of us to sit on the terrace. One of the typists from the office whispered in my ear after she returned from the second floor powder room. She said there was nobody else upstairs and she felt free to walk around to see how the privileged lived. She reported the master bedroom had a closet that ran the entire length of one wall and the windows looked over the gardens that had just begun to bloom.

"I counted his suits," she said. "He has seventy-five of them." I told her money and social position never brought anybody happiness.

As soon as I was comfortably settled at work I turned my attention to mastering the language. One of my Chinese colleagues at the office recommended a tutor, a Mr. Wu, who came to the apartment two afternoons a week. He said I had to have a Chinese name and asked me if my husband had one. I replied he was given the surname "Fu" by one of his language instructors at Harvard. My teacher named me Fu Li-da. Chinese was my fifth language. My native tongue was Hungarian and I studied German and French in lycee in Budapest. After my mother and I arrived in the United States I committed all my youthful energies to mastering English. I was sixteen years old and like most adolescents, I did not want to be different from my peers. I was determined to learn to speak English without an accent and succeeded within three years with the help of a friend who was a professional coach.

I encountered an unusual linguistic problem in China. In addition to the two major dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese, there were hundreds of local dialects. Shanghai's was one of the most difficult to learn. Mr. Wu urged me to concentrate on Mandarin; he assured me that all educated Chinese could speak it. July was appalled by my desire to learn Shanghai dialect. "It's coolie language! I would never speak it!" Mort pointed out that bankers and scholars spoke it after I relayed the opinions of Mr. Wu and July.

Mort visited me once a month while I lived in Shanghai. We missed each other very much, but my job with China Relief Mission tied me to Shanghai for the first seven months of our stay. The Social Science Research Council gave Mort a research grant of $2,325 dollars. It was barely enough to pay for his transportation across the Pacific and cover the hotel bills and train fares while he was looking for a suitable location to do his fieldwork. I had to earn the rest. His trip from Ch'u Hsien to Shanghai was a lengthy and difficult one; it took a day and a half each way. The easiest part of the journey was the night train from Nanking to Shanghai. He had to ride on a local train to Nanking, but before that he had to take a ferry across the Yangtze River, a favorite hunting ground of pickpockets. The ferry was usually overcrowded. During one trip Mort was nearly pushed into the Yangtze River by the other passengers and hung onto the railing with both hands to keep from falling. A young man approached him and with a broad smile on his face he calmly took all the cash out of Mort's pockets.

I moved out of Mrs. Hauptmann's apartment when I discovered that I had been systematically duped for two months. There were charges for food I had never been served and many other personal items allegedly purchased for me that had never crossed my line of vision. I had foolishly trusted Mrs. Hauptmann and kept my money in an envelope in my lingerie drawer. Some of it was missing. We had a very unpleasant confrontation, which included the following exchange as the movers were putting my things in the van:

Mrs. H.: {haughtily} You must realize we are not of the same race.

Mort: Aren't you Caucasian?

Mrs. H.: [Gasped and stayed in her room until we departed.]

I luckily found a fine bed-sitting room and bath with use of the dining room and the services of the houseboy at 30 Rue Voyron, not far from Rue Joffre. My new landlady was Kate Shekury, a lovely unmarried woman in her early forties. She had a younger brother who had a good position in a bank and a greedy wife. Kate asked me to join them when they came to dinner. She always used her finest silver, table linens and china. Mrs. Shekury never failed to comment that according to custom, the eldest son received the fine household goods when the parents died. Kate handled her blatantly acquisitive comments in the best possible way; she ignored them.

The houseboy was a treasure. He brought me a pot of tea on a tray at seven each morning. He cleaned my room and bath, did the marketing, cooked, made my bed each day and turned the covers down at night. He made certain my laundry was done, had the cobbler repair my shoes and took my winter clothes to the dry cleaners whenever necessary. He turned the hot water heater on at six in the morning and again at four in the afternoon and lit the fire in the stove in my room shortly after three to make it cozy and warm by the time I came home from the office. The apartment building was quite modern, complete with central heating. It was built only a few years before the war. The Japanese had taken all the radiators away during the occupation to use the metal for armaments.

If I had a sudden impulse to entertain friends I called Boy from the office and asked him to prepare dinner for six or eight, and specified the menu from first course to dessert. He never let me down. I felt very uncomfortable calling a man of fifty, six years my mother's senior, Boy and tried many times to find out his surname. He was very proud of his position and repeatedly insisted I call him Boy.

On the rare occasions of Mort's visits Boy always served him first. I explained to him that in the West a woman was served first. Boy persisted in the view that my husband, by virtue of being the head of the household, (Translation: by virtue of the fact that he wore trousers.) had to be served first and to fail to do so would have been an unforgivable offense on his part. This was the only disagreement we ever had. I kept running into these philosophical differences, not only with the Chinese, but with many other people I've known. I always thought a marriage was a partnership and the automatic presumption that a man is the head of the household has never been acceptable to me.

We gave one formal dinner party during one of Mort's visits to Shanghai. Boy and I planned the menu. One of the dishes he prepared particularly well was pheasant in cream; it was to be the centerpiece of the repast. I asked him to make my favorite dessert, a steamed chestnut pudding with Creme Anglaise for dessert. Boy's son, dressed in a stiffly starched white uniform, served dinner. Boy was intensely proud of his handsome progeny whose appearance and services we praised highly. Our guests oohed and aahed over the food; we, in turn, showered Boy with encomiums for his preparation of the elegant dinner.

Kate Shekury could tell fortunes with cards and told mine once a week. This was a wonderfully silly distraction from the ache caused by Mort's absence. Kate had very fine sensibilities and a flawless sense of timing. As much as we enjoyed each other's company she never intruded on my privacy when she perceived, perhaps by a tired expression on my face when I came home from work, that I needed to be alone. She became my friend and adviser and I not only lived in her apartment for the rest of my time in Shanghai, but stayed there at her invitation each time I returned for a visit from Nanking.

Boy prepared a roast chicken for my dinner one evening, but before he had the chance to serve it I received a spur of the moment invitation from one of the CNAC pilots to meet Bill Odom, who was flying around the world as a publicity stunt to advertise the first ball-point pen. He was in Shanghai for only two days. I went to the kitchen to inquire if the chicken would keep another day. It smelled heavenly and I asked Boy if I could taste it. He put a piece on a plate for me. I picked it up with my fingers and audibly sighed with pleasure as I ate it. Kate told me the following day that I had made Boy deliriously happy. He boasted to everybody in the building, "Missy come kitchenside to eat my chicken."

There were no portable hair dryers in 1947. My hair was very thick and long. Even though I squeezed as much of the water out of it with a towel as I could, it was still damp the following morning. This was never a problem when the weather was warm but quite uncomfortable in the winter. I was also prone to head colds at the time and decided to try the Chinese barbershop just a block away from the apartment building. I walked in at five-thirty one afternoon and told them in my best Pidgin that I would be back for a shampoo in one hour. About thirty employees gathered around me and smiled. It was clear they had not understood a word I said. Resorting to charades, I rubbed my hair with my hands and in my newly mastered Mandarin I said, "Liu tien pan chung hui lai." The response was a swift, enthusiastic and unanimous, "Ha, Ha."

When I returned, clutching my own shampoo, they took my coat, offered me a chair and, surrounded by fascinated onlookers, the number one barber started to shampoo my hair. I told them I did not know Shanghai dialect and conversed as much as I could in Mandarin. Not one of the employees in the shop could speak Pidgin. Four or five people assisted each move of the barber who worked on my hair; the rest just leaned on their brooms and stared. I was quite pleased when my hair was done and added twenty-six thousand dollars to the charge of forty-four thousand to include tips. They politely said it was too much, but I knew they were delighted with the unexpected bonus. The entire sum was the equivalent of two American dollars. I subsequently found an excellent white-Russian beauty parlor located in Broadway Mansions near the Bund. From then on I had my hair done and my nails manicured once a week. Women develop a close relationship with those who cater to their bodily needs and I learned a good deal about the people who worked there. All the men were in basic training in preparation for the war of Jewish liberation from the British in Palestine. They had escaped from Communist tyranny in the Soviet Union and wanted to live in a place where they would enjoy the same freedoms their American clientele did when at home in the land of milk and honey.

Feasting is an important part of Chinese rituals but a casual dinner can give the ethnologist insight into the culture as well. Here is an excerpt from one of Mort's letters dated November 8, 1947.

We had a feast last night. Bien entertained about twelve local bankers and this was what we ate in the order of serving. Cold duck, preserved eggs, fried fish, cold duck gizzards, skate and octopus bisque, fried duck livers, egg custard, fried duck, mixed vegetables and fish, curried crabs, Mandarin fish in sugar sauce, candied rice, boiled chicken in soup, candied pork fat, rice, crab and pork rolls, boiled vegetables, sliced fresh pears and fresh bananas. Also being eaten during the meal were peanuts and watermelon seeds as well as a great quantity of Chinese wine. I drank rum, hurt nobody's feelings and saved a great deal of face as well as my stomach.

A meal like that sounds wonderful on paper and I enjoyed it. But my enjoyment of it was as something exotic as a spectacle. I was hungry when we finished and I disliked most of the courses.

Jim Lanigan, a former classmate of Mort at Harvard, walked into my office one chilly late November afternoon in 1947. He had hopped a freighter to Shanghai and was looking for a job. He was staying in the compound of a Catholic monastery with an eleven o'clock curfew. Jagged glass on top of the high stone wall prevented climbing over it after hours. The priests were generous. If I recall correctly, Jim only paid a minimal sum for his food and shelter. He was Catholic to his bone marrow, but at the age of twenty-four he resented rigid rules and hoped to relocate into private quarters. I promised him I would do my best to help him.

Keeping in mind that Jim was most eager to live in Beijing, I talked about him with Mark Gibson. He suggested I put Jim's resume on his desk. Mark had just hired a new secretary who had her own inscrutable goals. Every morning I placed Jim's resume on top of a pile of applications on Mark's desk and at the end of each work day I found it at the bottom. This went on for three or four days before I realized direct action was called for. I took Jim's file from the bottom of the pile in the evening and nearly pinned Mark to the wall the next morning. I insisted he read it on the spot. He was quite irritated at first, but after reading the resume, which documented Jim's credentials as a fluent speaker and reader of Mandarin, he was pleased with my persistence and hired Jim immediately.

No more than a week after Jim was on board in the Shanghai office, the entire staff received an invitation to a reception in honor of the newly appointed Consul General. I suggested to Jim, whose knowledge of sartorial etiquette was limited, to have his best suit cleaned for the occasion. He looked neat when he arrived. I did not notice the cleaning tag hanging from the back of his jacket until he went to fetch us drinks. I discreetly whispered to advise him to dispose of the tag without being noticed. He laughed, then removed the tag in the presence of the assembled company. That was Mrs. Lanigan's rebellious little boy all right. His disregard for social conventions was one of his charms.

Here is a more cheerful excerpt from Mort's next letter a few days later.

Today I had a pretty fair day (I have quite a bit of tongue in my cheek at this understatement) since I spent almost all of it walking thru the countryside with a student who speaks excellent English. We were accompanied by a geomancer and were looking for a suitable place to plant the remains of the student's grandpapa. On top of observing the technique of grave seeking and geomancy I had a session of at least four hours with the student and learned enough to write a small book!

I received a letter from Mort in December, one that presented the meticulous care he gave to building constructive relationships with the people of the village.

Today I was taken to an "unemployed" graduate of a Chinese university with a degree in biology and physiology. He gave me the dope on the number of acres of farmland in Ch'u Hsien, number of owners, amount of taxes, etc., all right from the local govt's books. I thought I'd have to wait months before going after this information and here it falls into my lap. Now we're going over the crops of Ch'u Hsien and their seasons.

In exchange I exercise the man's English which is a pleasure. I hope your week has brightened up half as much as mine did today when I talked to this fellow. My other appointment was no less fascinating. I had a session with a man who talked with me in busted English and mangled Chinese -- Greek drama and English poetry. When he left I found out that he lost a chance at a brilliant career -- he is an opium addict. He is valuable to me as a type -- the "idle rich" in all its beauty and viciousness. A lovely person and an interesting man. I will visit his house in a day or two, as soon as I have the time.

The China Relief Mission office was moved to a modern, centrally heated building at 1320 Beijing Road West in January 1948 in another part of Shanghai. All of us liked the terrazzo floors in the building. I was particularly pleased with the move because the new office was much closer to my residence and just a hop and a skip from the United States Commissioned Officer's Mess where we could easily have a hot lunch every day for about sixty-five cents. The number of chauffeured staff cars was increased. I was picked up by one every morning and brought home to Rue Voyron, Boy, Kate Shekury and strong hot tea at the end of each working day.

A group of us also went to the club for dinner and dancing some evenings. It was the only American club that had no restrictions on Chinese guests; we could enjoy the amenities there without the burden of a guilty conscience. It only had electric fans in the summer, but relaxing there while sipping a gimlet after a long day was wonderful.

Here is a short excerpt from one of Mort's letters in January.

Today I got my miann pawtz, the padded gown, and the thing is warm as toast. When I walked out of the store with it on I really stopped traffic. Everybody and his brother knows the American, at least by sight, and everybody was surprised, astonished and amazed to see my usually khaki-clad figure emerge in a bright blue gown. I believe now that my personality structure is rather strong for otherwise I could not have traversed the laughing street, laughing myself as much as any of them. . . . a couple of days and they'll be used to it.

Mort told me about the following incident when he next came to visit. After six months in Ch'u Hsien, by the time he had become fluent in Anhwei dialect, he went out to the fields where he saw a farmer working. He engaged the man in conversation in the appropriate dialect. They spoke of many things for more than an hour. At the end of the conversation the farmer said, "Isn't it amazing. You are from very far away, speaking the language of your country, and we have no trouble understanding each other."

The Metropole Hotel in Shanghai was famous for its restaurants. Many executives who worked nearby occasionally met for lunch in the grill, which boasted the finest green turtle soup in the Far East. I took Kate Shekury to lunch there during one of my visits to Shanghai after we had spent the morning at a Catholic convent buying hand embroidered Irish table linens. The Catholic church imported linens from Ireland, taught Chinese women, quite often those who had been driven to prostitution by their deplorable circumstances, how to embroider and sold the napery at reasonable prices, paying the women a fair wage.

There were several exclusive clubs in Shanghai. The French Club, the most elegant of the lot, had been the scene of many debutante parties and wedding receptions. Kate Shekury told me that people loved dancing at the French Club because the parquet floors were built on springs. The club lost its appeal to most of the colonists when it passed a policy of admitting Chinese members. It seemed that everybody in Shanghai wanted to be a member of two clubs in the postwar period. The American Club, located downtown, was mainly used for business breakfasts and lunches. One could also see women from the posh suburban estates who dropped in for lunch with friends on the days they came into town to shop for clothes, have their hair done and their nails manicured.

Then there was the Columbia Country Club, also American and exclusive. Members were not allowed to bring Chinese guests, but one or two executives at China Relief Mission did without adverse consequences to their position in the organization or in society. The country club was quite a distance from downtown Shanghai. It had outdoor and indoor restaurants, an orchestra that played American dance music, spacious, perfectly manicured grounds, well tended tennis courts, a golf course and a swimming pool with diving boards. Eleanor Woods signed up as a member; there was no other place for her sons to cool off in the summer and enjoy the companionship of other boys their age. Mort and I decided that we would not become members of a club that excluded citizens of its host country. Eleanor invited us to join her on a Sunday in late August when we were both in Shanghai. We were extremely uncomfortable in an exclusive sea of white colonists, left early and agreed never to return.

Mort and I often dined out when he came to Shanghai for a visit. We went to the Fiacre on Rue Joffre for Viennese food, and frequently had our dinner at Chez Louis. They were famous for their clams baked in a garlic-butter sauce and we always started our dinner with that. The White Horse Inn on Ward Road opposite the jail had a small orchestra that played Viennese tunes, light dinner music and current American dance music. Mort was convinced the musicians were former members of the faculties of the Universities of Berlin and Vienna. This made him very uncomfortable at times, but we kept returning for the excellent food.

Mort continued to be a faithful correspondent to my mother and her new husband. I did not keep a diary and asked my mother to save all our letters; I am grateful she did.

Ch'u Hsien
February 14, 1948

Dear Mother and Morris: First a very, very happy birthday to Mother. Finding it difficult to time my letters to arrive on or near birthdays, I now write them on birthdays with the fond hope that you will know that I am thinking of you on the happy day.

Now, a Happy New Year to you both. Happy Chinese New Year, I should say. For that is just what we are celebrating this week. And what a week of celebration it has been. Starting on the night of February 9th with a great feast of such marvelous and incredible foods as sea-urchins, tree lichens and delectable Japanese squid, we advanced into Tuesday, the 10th, the true New Year's Eve. That night we could not sleep, and, in fact, until a few hours ago, I could not use the typewriter, for no work is to be done during the five day festival.

That Tuesday night, after a riotous day of feasting and playing we greeted the New Year. After midnight my host appeared in the ancestral shrine bearing a great platter on which rested the severed head of a great, fat pig, flanked with a foot and the tail of the pig, a live and gasping fish, and rich vegetables wrapped in brilliant red paper, an offering to the high god, the august dispenser of wealth and wisdom. A great string of giant firecrackers was set off in the hallway before the shrine and a tremendous din arose with fugitive sparks leaping high into the starlit blueblack air of the unroofed court.

No devil would be half so courageous as to come near this family for at least a year. And then a servant brought a grass mat and the master of the house performed his deep obeisances to the great god and then he went to the court where stand the cooking stoves and there with due explosions of fireworks he worshiped the kitchen god who sat smugly on his little red paper mat, before him offerings of candy and sweet water to make him unable to say other than sweet things of the family when he ascends to heaven to make his annual report. And then the master went about the house bowing and worshiping the sundry divines who bring great prosperity and shelter a dwelling in comfort and happiness. When he had done, all the relatives and then all the clerks of the store and the lowliest pot-boy and servant made his worship of the god. All dressed in their finest but not touching the majesty of their master whose great girth was swaddled in a fine robe of deep blue silk.

We ate a breakfast after 1 AM and then, since sleep was forbidden for that night, the people fell to play and gambled until the sun rose, splendid in the East. The Master won and won again. No one could match his luck, his skill. When he had raked in all from his wealthy relatives and friends, he split his fortune of the table into equal piles and gave it out to his retainers. It amounted to $200,000 a man and the total was in many millions.

The next day, and the next, and next no work was done. So lavish were the feasts that only two meals a day were the order and one felt pressed to oblige at both. Rice wine and sweet liquor of kaoliang flowed abundantly and none who would drink tasted rice until their thirsts were quenched. In the streets the vendors sang their songs and sold their wares, toys and games and gambling devices, candy and fireworks and good things to eat. Now it is at a close, everyday crowds are out in the fairy land but in the hearts of the people is a great gladness, in but a year it will return again.

All my love,

During the periods when Mort was in the field I went to restaurants with friends. Sometimes a group of us from the office went out together, other times I went along with July Woo and her friends. One of the most unforgettable dinners was in a Japanese restaurant, an entirely new experience for me. We had to remove our shoes and put on straw slippers before we entered. There were seven or eight of us in the party and we were given a private room. A charcoal brazier occupied the center of the room and cushions were scattered on the floor around it. Each of us sat on a cushion. The raw ingredients, meat, fish and vegetables, were artistically arranged on a huge tray and brought in. The cook's movements were quick and graceful. I watched it all with fascination.

They brought rice wine, a beverage my companions liked. I found it bitter, but I drank some not to offend my new friends. The music came wafting into our room as we ate and the men in the party asked the women to dance. I had never danced barefoot before, certainly not with a partner. We moved slowly to the strains of Japanese jazz, the lyrics sung by a Japanese chanteuse. The food, the wine the unusual music and dancing without shoes all combined to engender a feeling of having been bewitched and transported to an eerie region far beyond planet earth.

The day after the party July prepared my favorite Chinese dish, chicken with chestnuts. It was a lazy Sunday and we were casually dressed. I caught a red sheen in her hair in the bright light of a lamp and asked her if there had been intermarriage in her family. She told me her mother was Portuguese; she died when July was a little girl. She had pictures of her and showed them to me. In one photograph she was dressed in a 1920s silk dress, silk stockings and high heel shoes, and wore a pert cloche on her head. She had been very beautiful.

I looked at July and saw her eyes fill with tears. I told her my father died when I was twelve and understood how painful it was to lose a parent at a tender age. We were two women born halfway around the world from each other who had similar experiences as children and felt the same emotions. Those inscrutable Chinese? Whenever friends and acquaintances asked me about people in faraway places I always told them what experience had taught me. We loved our parents, our children and our husbands; we had the same hopes, the same joys and the same sorrows. Our only difference was in the manner we used to celebrate major events in our lives and the different ways we expressed our feelings.

The Moodys paid us visits whenever they were in New York after they returned from China. They settled in Athens for a good many years and invited us to stay with them for two weeks in their home in a suburb of the city when we went to Taiwan with Nancy and Steven in 1963.

Tony Meager lived in New York for several years in the nineteen-fifties with his lovely wife. They were frequent dinner guests in our home. Tony subsequently became head of UNICEF in Bangkok and we had a good visit with him, his wife and two children when we stayed there for a few days in 1963. Tony also came to visit us in Taipei, Taiwan in 1964. Alan MacBain became head of UNICEF in Seoul and we had dinner together when Mort and I spent a week in Korea some years later. He had become an old married man and a father by then.

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Martha Nemes Fried has published two hardcover books; each came out in paperback. Nineteen of her stories have been published in the following magazines: Ceteris Paribus, Eclectica, Savoy Fiction, Megaera, Dynamic Patterns, Zinos, News of the Brave New World and C/Oasis. She was born in Budapest, Hungary and came to the United States when she was a child.

Contact Martha Nemes Fried at mfried13@rochester.rr.com

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