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Strange Lands And People

By Martha Nemes Fried


Americans who worked for China Relief Mission were on the guest list of the American embassy. I frequently attended these functions without Mort as many of the cocktail parties and receptions for visiting dignitaries were held during the week. I never felt lonely. There were always friends among the guests at these parties and the young diplomatic staff members considered it their duty to pay attention to unescorted women. Ambassador Leighton Stuart, a teetotaler, was a most considerate man; he held an Old-fashioned in his hand lest he cause a single drinking guest discomfort.

The Officers Club was a meeting place for employees in the American embassy and members of all foreign legations. It was also the popular watering hole for American journalists who worked for the wire services, newspapers and news magazines. Mort and Hank Lieberman of the New York Times became good friends and Hank asked Mort to accompany him to the front several times. These trips were always potentially dangerous, but both men considered taking serious chances with their lives as part of their professions. They were nearly killed on their last trip together when they were unexpectedly caught in a crossfire. They hit the ground, covered their heads and breathed a great sigh of relief when the shooting stopped.

They went to Shu Chou once for two or three days with Hank's Chinese assistant. Mort told me of one lunch they ate in a village restaurant, which had a spittoon on the floor next to their table. One after another, the Chinese customers went up to the spittoon and unburdened themselves of excess mucous after they finished eating. Hank endured this in silence for about fifteen minutes, then asked Mort to get the owner to remove the spittoon while they were eating. The owner complied. A minute or so after the offensive spittoon was removed, a customer walked to the exact spot where it had been before, and relieved himself of a large glob of mucous on the floor. The rest of the customers followed suit. Mort and I were very amused by this event. Perhaps for the first time in his life as a journalist, Hank encountered a situation in which the behavior of those he was going to write about was mandated by a more powerful ancient culture.

We dined and danced at the club on Friday or Saturday evening unless we had another social engagement. The members of the dance band were mostly German refugees. They played American standards and an occasional French chanson that had gained popularity in America. The club also had a tennis court and a swimming pool. As soon as the weather turned warm we spent part of each weekend lolling around the pool and playing tennis early in the morning, before the sun rose too high.

We celebrated our third wedding anniversary in June with sixteen friends at the club. I knew Eileen's birthday was also in June and ordered a special cake for her. We had cocktails and hors-d'ouvres in the lounge, then a seven-course dinner on the patio. I chose shish-kebob for the main course. Six waiters gave a spectacular performance by marching to our table with the cubes of meat skewered on flaming swords to enthusiastic applause. Eileen burst into tears when she saw that of the two cakes placed on the table, one was decorated for her. We toasted her and all the guests toasted us with champagne until the early morning hours.

At the beginning of July, we decided to take a three-week holiday in Beijing. Mort took a vacation from fieldwork and I from my job with China Relief Mission. We looked forward to seeing Jim Lanigan and Jackie Brown who worked in the Beijing branch office of China Relief Mission. We took the sleeper to Shanghai arriving the day before our plane was to take off and stayed in the Park Hotel overnight.

The start of our trip was less than auspicious. We went to the airport at six in the morning to board our plane for Beijing. We were not allowed to get on because we did not have a visa to travel from Shanghai to Beijing. Several other Americans were turned away for the same reason. The new ruling, we were told, went into effect that morning. We were stunned. The notion of requiring a visa to travel from Shanghai to Beijing was tantamount to needing a visa to go from Detroit to Chicago. It was outrageous, but we had to accept the sudden arbitrary decisions of the government of our host country. We returned to the hotel and called our friend Steve Klein at the embassy in Nanking. Steve said he had not yet been notified of the new ruling and promised to look into it. He cautioned us not to surrender our passports and promised to call us back within the hour. We waited for his call for two hours, then returned to the police station to apply for a visa. We filled out several forms and were asked for our passports in the special office handling visa applications. The official gave us the hard steady gaze of one who knows he has the upper hand in a situation. We had no choice but to comply. He put our passports into a drawer in his desk and told us to return at four in the afternoon.

It was eleven in the morning, the temperature was rising and we began to write worst-case scenarios. The wait was going to be tense and we would only have worn grooves in the parquet floor of our hotel room in our anxious state had we stayed there. We went to a movie instead, even though we were puritanical enough to believe that going to a movie house in the morning was morally reprehensible. The film was over before one o'clock. We had lunch at the YMCA coffee shop, freshened up in our hotel room and went to see another movie. It was only three-thirty when the film was over. We returned to the police station by pedicab and waited on a hard wooden bench for a half hour before we were shown into the same office promptly at four. The same official took our passports out of the same drawer and after we paid the necessary fees he stamped and returned them to us. We ate a hearty dinner in the hotel dining room, had a good night's sleep and took off for Beijing early the following morning.

China Relief Mission had rented the former Netherlands embassy on Legation Street in Beijing for visiting firemen; Jackie Brown filled it with locally made furniture. The compound had a beautifully landscaped garden. We ate a hearty breakfast of juice and bacon and eggs with fresh rolls each morning on the spacious screened in porch furnished with a large table, comfortable chairs and a sideboard. We had the entire place to ourselves with five servants to cater to our needs. On most days we were invited out to lunch and we dined out nearly every evening, either in a restaurant or in the home of a friend.

On my very first day in Beijing I went to Charlotte Horstman's shop in the Wagon-Lit Hotel to pick up dance records Clark Gibson had ordered. Charlotte, the daughter of one Chinese and one European parent, was an intelligent, petite, attractive and charming woman. Her surname was acquired by a marriage that had been dissolved by the time we met her. She had designed and made all the jewelry in the shop and also had a large collection of cloisonne and oxblood vases, carved jade and carved rose quartz figurines, boxes and inlaid screens in addition to 78 RPM dance records. Charlotte gave me the records Clark had ordered. Her wrists were as slim as mine, which was fortunate for me because she always made her new designs in her own size. I bought several original bracelets from her as well as other pieces of jewelry she designed especially for me. Many years later friends told me she became an internationally famous designer in Hong Kong. I expressed a desire to see her during one of my visits in that splendid city. I had heard she used her considerable talents to design not only jewelry, but fabrics and furniture as well. My friends cautioned me that I could no longer afford her prices. I was happy for her success, she certainly deserved it, but I still regret I did not go to have a talk with her about old times.

Mort went to the university by bus one day to meet Fei Hsiao-tung, China's greatest anthropologist, whose book, Peasant Life in China, was a groundbreaking work. No longer conscious of his Anhwei dialect after ten months of residence in the province, Mort asked the bus conductor how much the fare was. The driver got quite excited; he told Mort that he was also from Anhwei province and happy to see and speak with another native son in Beijing.

Jim Lanigan had a good voice and sang some wonderful Irish airs and tunes Chevalier sang in the movies. By the lights of decorum Chinese custom demanded, the three of us behaved like carefree teenagers. We rented two pedicabs whenever we went out together. Jim always insisted that his driver sit in the passenger seat while he got on the bicycle and pedaled. We careened through the streets and broad avenues of Beijing, Jim in excellent voice singing Mimi or Louise or Isn't it Romantic loud enough for our delight and every resident's entertainment. We went to an Italian restaurant one evening where we were served chicken cacciatore and paid sixty cents a bottle for champagne made by Chinese monks. Jim took us to a Chinese restaurant where we had unforgettable Beijing duck flavored with a special sauce and scallions, enfolded in thin pancakes called Peking Doilies.

Beijing was a rectangular walled city, twenty-four miles in circumference, composed of two main parts; the Inner City in the North, and the Outer, or Chinese City in the South. The Inner City enclosed the Forbidden City, which was surrounded by pink brick walls. The area accommodated a group of yellow-roofed palace buildings situated on terraced courtyards with long flights of marble steps leading to their entrances. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was in the center of the Forbidden City.

We had dreamed about seeing all of this for so many years, we pinched ourselves hardly believing we were actually there. We walked around the better part of a day and marveled at the splendors of an ancient empire. Mort took pictures of everything. The Chinese call movies electric shadows and believe that if someone takes a photograph of them their souls are "stolen" by the camera. Most of the places we visited were almost completely deserted; besides, we only took pictures of places and of each other in those sacred surroundings.

In addition to well planned wide streets maintained in good condition, there were narrow side streets in Beijing, called hutungs. We visited the Temple of Heaven in the Chinese City, which was surrounded by a three and a half mile wall. The temple had a circular marble terrace near the southern entrance called the Altar of Heaven and was ninety feet in diameter at the top and two-hundred and ten feet at the base. We were awed by the exquisite workmanship on the marble columns crafted by master carvers. The main temple remained an overpowering symbol of the Buddhist religion, and a constant reminder of the prayers spoken within its walls by emperors and high ranking officials over the millennia.

The Summer Palace was eight miles to the Northwest of Beijing. It was originally built by Emperor Ch'ien Lung and destroyed by British and French troops in 1860. It was rebuilt in celebration of the Empress Dowager's sixtieth birthday in 1889 at the cost of twenty-four million taels of silver. This money was originally earmarked to build a Chinese navy. The Marble Boat, a boatlike house on Kunming Lake, was one of the most famous structures at the Summer Palace. The Marble Boat was called "Tz'u Hsi's Folly" by the Chinese. Tz'u Hsi started out as a concubine and ended up as a powerful empress while she was still young enough to enjoy it, an impressive example of rapid upward mobility in 19th Century China. These consecrated ancient places were all in a terrible state of disrepair when we saw them, although the power of their historic significance and charm were not at all diminished by many years of neglect.

Although Jim warned me it was a tourist trap, I bought some things at the Marco Polo shop. Jim also urged us to look around at the open air thieves' market. I can still see in my mind's eye the missy box I did not buy because Mort and Jim thought it was too bulky to take back to Nanking on the plane. It was not a fancy box, quite a simple one in fact, but it had belonged to a real woman who used it every day of her life. It was a piece of history that connected me to that woman and after fifty-six years I still regret I let them talk me out of purchasing it. Years later, when I read Proust, I felt an immediate connection to his grandmother whom he painted with love, humor, and brilliant strokes of his pen. I never expected to find a soul-sister in Swann's Way, but there she was, cherishing and buying old objects that had been used by others long before her time.

As I meandered alone on cobblestoned hutungs so narrow my fingertips touched both walls with my extended arms, I had a powerful sense of being in touch with six-thousand years of history. Three days after the massacre I described in the first chapter, Jackie organized a picnic on Coal Hill, which was a high, man-made artificial mound directly north of the Forbidden City. Jackie's live-in lover, Jim Thorpe, came along as well as Jim Lanigan and his girlfriend. The Communists were quite close and Jackie warned us not to stray from the safe place where she had spread the blankets. Her cook southern-fried a few chickens and filled the hamper with old fashioned American picnic fare. Jim sang, teased his girlfriend and Jackie told stories. The day before we left Jackie gave a dinner party for us. I still have a photograph of the two of us sitting by the lily pond of her garden. I shall always recollect those occasions as islands of peace in the midst of the revolution that raged around us.

Jackie's story was not an unusual one for a foreign woman in China. She met Thorpe, a writer of art history books, while she was visiting Japan after the war. She fell in love with him and asked her husband, a professor at Yale, for a divorce. She and Thorpe were engaged to be married. She moved to Beijing because he was convinced he had to live there to write a book about the Forbidden City. She worked to support him. Thorpe's name came up in a conversation sixteen years later at a dinner party in Hong Kong. One of the guests related that he left Jackie as soon as he sold his book to a publisher in New York and married a wealthy woman. Jackie remarried the professor who was still in love with her.

I bought an oxblood vase and an opium lamp in addition to the jewelry and inlaid boxes I had purchased from Charlotte Horstman, but my most cherished acquisition was a stone rubbing taken off the side of a temple. Jim Lanigan gave it to me when he took me to lunch the day Mort went to visit Professor Fei. We had it framed when we returned to New York. It enhanced a wall of the dining room of our house for many years and it now hangs on the wall of the dining room in my apartment.

We returned to Nanking in high spirits and a valise filled with presents for our friends. We spent most of our time at the pool where we could cool off and enjoy lunch on the terrace with friends. There were birthday parties, brunches, lunches and dinners to attend and more dinner parties on Lotus Lake, one given by John Kassebaum for staff and friends when his wife finally arrived.

Frank Davis was slated to travel to Formosa in August to study sugar production and the system of irrigation by reservoirs that provided water for the sugar cane fields; he asked Mort to accompany him. The invitation was extended to me and I looked forward to the trip until I realized that I had used up all my vacation time on our holiday in Beijing. I did quite well on my own until a lonely weekend in August when everybody in the hostel took off for Shanghai. Mort wrote wonderful letters to me every day, but Si Levinson and Steve Klein knew his correspondence was not a substitute for his presence and twice took me to see American movies on the small army base while he was gone.

Here are excerpts from some of Mort's missives.

Shin Chu Monday, August 16, 1948

Dearest Kedves:

Yesterday we visited 2 beautiful reservoirs which furnish the water for irrigating the sugar fields. The places were very lovely -- quite like New Hampshire around the north part of Lake Winnepesaki (?) though the shrubbery & trees here are subtropical -- very much like Hawaii. We are living in a hostel which is half Japanese and half Sino-Western. No one is allowed to wear shoes in the house; you take them off at the door & put on straw slippers. As a result the floors are as clean as dinner plates. The food is strictly Chinese, very good (say I) we are treated to crab, octopus, sharks' fins, shrimp, eel, etc. as well as chicken, duck & turkey. Taiwan has excellent fruit of course & after every meal we have pineapple, watermelon, & "dragons eyes," a lichee-like fruit. The hostel is in Shin Chu, a small town, even smaller than Ch'u Hsien. But here there is electricity, ice & paved streets. The town is immeasurably cleaner than anything I've seen in China Proper & poverty like that you see every day in Nanking is rare. We have not been approached by a single beggar & you don't see the children with big empty bellies. From Shin Chu to all parts of the plantation runs a little private railroad, much smaller than regular railroads. Today we rode around almost the whole system & saw pretty well what the area looks like. Since I am more than half child I got a great thrill out of the little Railway & hope to ride it again. I hope that everything is alright and I am looking forward to coming home -- though the trip is as interesting as I hoped. I miss you very badly. Frank sends his regards.

Here is an excerpt from a letter dated August 23, 1948 and mailed from Hsi Chou.

. . . the countryside is completely new & different & the people have many new and exciting customs. Of course in 2 weeks I won't find out very much about Taiwan but what I am getting makes the trip decidedly worth while. Right now outside my window in Hsi Chou there are jasmine bushes, banana trees & assorted trees with yellow flowers & green melons. Tomorrow it's back to Hsin Yug and thence around the Southern tip of the island.

Miss you worse and worse,
P. S. This is the last time we're apart.

Two journalists who worked for the wire services dropped in on me occasionally at cocktail time. They asked me detailed questions about Mort's work with a seemingly casual demeanor while they drank my martinis. I was puzzled by their visits and questions at first, but I realized after a while that they were not quite certain Mort was really an anthropologist. Their bewilderment was partly due to the fact that cultural anthropology was still a fairly young academic discipline at the time; even well educated people were not familiar with it. Some people who had heard of physical anthropology offered their heads for measurement in jest. As far as the journalists understood, his presence in Ch'u Hsien had a simpler, although somewhat more sinister explanation. Although this did not occur to us at the time, they were convinced Mort worked for American intelligence and expected to pick up a story along with a couple of martinis. All I had to offer were some insights into Chinese rituals and kinship patterns I learned by reading Mort's field notes each weekend. I could not help them in their search for a journalistic coup. We found their supposition ridiculous at the time and chuckled over it heartily. Many years later, after the Communists were in power on the Mainland and the Nationalists turned Taiwan into a police state, we looked back on our youthful insouciance and realized how naive we had been.

In the early Autumn of 1948 there was a severe flour shortage in Nanking. I have never been able to eat eggs without toast and undoubtedly grumbled to someone about the absence of it. I found a neatly wrapped parcel Han had put on the table in my room when I returned from an errand during that week. It was from Harold Milks, one of the wire service men, with a note that read, "Cast your martinis upon the waters . . ." Harold always had class.

Even though we spent the weekends together, a letter from Mort always brightened my day. Here is an excerpt from one.

I'm moving tonight. Bien is putting me into a room in the new house. It isn't quite finished but he thinks it's better than my present accommodations. It's new and clean, has a table for me to work on and, believe it or not, a sofa! He was as tickled as a kid with a new toy when he showed me the place and before we went over there we had breakfast in a restaurant with a couple of his cronies. We had duck gizzards and duck livers, roast pork with fried vegetables, pork dumplings, vegetable dumplings and candy filled dumplings, and to finish it off, a gigantic bowl apiece of noodles with water buffalo meat. These people know good breakfast food. When I first came up to Ch'u Hsien I would have killed myself eating the meal but today it hit the spot and I ate as much as anybody.

The missionaries had me to dinner last night and I brought them a PM that my old Uncle Al from the army sent me. Well the missionaries are a real PM crowd. They asked me for an opinion on the French situation and I almost choked. But I got them interested in a thumbnail biography of Andre Malraux (of whom they had never heard) and disaster was averted. Semi-Stalinist missionaries could move me to write the comedy of our generation.

On most evenings during the week the residents congregated in the hostel dining room. Some played mahjongg, others played gin rummy. We drank Tsing-tao beer if there was nothing better available. Sometimes one of the men managed to get a case of bourbon or gin through a friend in the American Army Officers' Club and generously invited all of us to crowd into one room for a spontaneous cocktail party.

I spent exactly one day in Ch'u Hsien, a county seat and market town with a population of 40,000 where Mort got his feet wet as a fieldworker in the early autumn of 1947. I traveled on a bright sunny day with Red Mitchell, another friend who worked for FAO. I met Mort's generous host Mr. Bien along with his wife and children. We exchanged a few words with Mort's help. He had brought his field assistant, Chang Chen-ya, to visit in Nanking shortly after I arrived and I was glad to see him again. I also met the Logans, the lovely young Baptist missionary couple Mort had befriended. The miscarriage was a faint memory by the time they paid us a visit in New York with their baby four years later.

The resident Catholic priest was away on vacation at the time. I always gave Mort a bottle of Courvoisier or brandy to take back to Ch'u Hsien each time he came to Shanghai during the autumn and winter. He first called at the house of his Baptist missionary friends on a bitterly cold night in December bearing the bottle to thaw out their bodies and spirits. They thanked him, but could not take advantage of his offering; their religion forbade the ingestion of alcohol. Mort considered drinking alone depressing and took off for the Catholic Father's house where he was greeted with open arms and two glasses. The two men became drinking buddies.

We spent nearly the whole day of my visit walking around the town and in the surrounding countryside. I was glad I had the foresight to wear sturdy, sensible walking shoes. There was a beautiful pagoda right outside Ch'u Hsien, quite famous in Anhwei province and Mitchell photographed it. A local artist painted a watercolor of it for Mort as a going away present in late October 1948. I had it framed and hung it on the wall of Mort's study. After he passed away I gave it to our daughter, Nancy Eileen Foster, who followed in her father's footsteps and became an anthropologist. The watercolor is now hanging in the home she shares with her husband and two sons.

Steve Klein, the Third Secretary of the Embassy, was a bachelor in love with a young woman whose father was an unyielding Catholic. He would not permit his daughter to marry Steve unless he converted to Catholicism. This was against Steve's ethical standards and kept the two from marrying. When Steve was notified that the American Vice Consul from Formosa was coming on an official visit to Nanking, he planned a dinner party at the club in his honor. Not having a wife of his own, Steve obtained Mort's permission for me to act as his hostess as soon as he had formally extended the invitation to the consul and his wife. I sat at the head of the table in my best black evening dress and alternated my attention between the grandson of Sun Yat-sen on my left and the Vice Consul on my right. Sun was a very interesting young man, a graduate of the University of California and a Member of Parliament. I remember thinking as he talked about himself while we danced several fox-trots, "Someday I'm going to tell my children and grandchildren about this."

Eileen, who had accepted an excellent job at the FAO, told me at dinner one evening that one of the unmarried women in her office was having an affair with Nathan Wharton. It was shocking to have my illusions shattered about a man I respected and a marriage I had considered ideal. Eileen was not an idle gossip; whatever she said was true. The woman in question rented a house alone and made no effort to conceal the liaison. She was proud of her relationship with an intelligent, witty and attractive man like Nathan.

Eileen reported two weeks later that Agnes was involved with a married man, one of the executives of the American relief mission in Shanghai. I watched Agnes's face and demeanor carefully next time we had lunch together. She was frank about her gloom-and-doom outlook and told me her American doctor advised her to pamper herself and savor the richer cultural and gustatory delights of Shanghai. She started to spend two or three days each week in Shanghai at the beginning of September. It never occurred to me that one of the entertainments would be a revenge affair. Perhaps it wasn't. Perhaps Agnes really liked the man and in her vulnerable state she mistook like for love. I thought of our marriage and was glad that I had decided to move to Nanking. But we were only married three years. Were we headed for trouble in twelve or thirteen years? I decided to stop speculating about the future and continued to enjoy life as it was unfolding.

Frank Davis introduced us to his wife who traveled to China to join him after his return from Formosa. She was a large woman whose wrinkled face and darkly circled eyes bore the marks of great psychic pain. We took them out to dinner once. Mrs. Davis drank far too much and broke down midway through the evening, crying over the loss of their two sons in the Second World War. Frank told her to shush with some irritation. He was three sheets to the wind himself and carried a white napkin on his arm like a waiter when he took me on the floor of the club to dance. We understood their pain and felt very sorry for them, but we were too young to handle the excessive public display of their grief. It was a long, difficult and embarrassing evening; we both collapsed at midnight in the privacy of our room.

When young people in the sixties said, "Never trust anyone over thirty," it reminded me of the relationships I had with the adolescent children of some of the staff members and executives at FAO. I was only twenty-five by the end of our stay and they trusted me. They dropped in on me at teatime for a chat, often bringing me fresh flowers. The wife of an FAO executive asked me to have a talk with her teenage daughter about sex; she was frigid and uncomfortable discussing it. She knew from conversations we previously had that I spoke about the subject with ease. Looking back on this only three years later I considered it my spring training for my roles of mother and academic wife who had to pour out equal amounts of nurturing, tea and sympathy.

Another dependent I acquired was Jack Metzger, a young man from the south, whose father was thought to be a member of the Klan. His mother was a weepy, browbeaten wife and an ineffectual parent. Everyone felt sorry for Jack, a sensitive boy who found life with father more than he could bear. He sought me out and asked me to take him to the tailor to help him select a color and style for his first tuxedo. He talked incessantly and I listened. He looked upon me as his best friend. By the end of the summer, after they emptied the pool, Jack made his way to the club in a staff car. He took off his clothes and tried to dive in. Fortunately he was seen by groundskeepers who rescued him, helped him dress and brought him back to the hostel. An American doctor was called in; he prescribed heavy sedation. Jack slept through an entire week.

Two weeks after the doctor considered Jack cured, he came to the club alone. Before anyone else had a chance to get on the dance floor he started to give a solo performance. We were frozen at the sight of this poor, lonely boy disintegrating in front of our eyes. A week after this incident, a week during which Jack was again treated with barbiturates by the same doctor who had previously considered him cured, he was sent to a mental institution in the United States accompanied on the plane by a nurse. We subsequently discovered that he had already spent several periods in the same sanatorium from the time he turned thirteen.

Autumn was a particularly beautiful season in Nanking and lasted quite long. We went on picnics in the hills at the foot of the Purple Mountains. I usually made a pitcherful of martinis as my contribution to the general merriment and carried the precious liquid in a thermos to keep it cold. We had the hostel restaurant prepare a picnic basket for us. Sometimes we lucked out and one of the couples who lived in a house brought a hamper along filled with roast chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad and pickles.

Our preoccupation with parties, clothes, drinking, dining, dancing and other people's liaisons described throughout these chapters on China must strike the reader as terribly shallow and trivial. None of it manifested a superficial streak in our characters nor did it express indifference to the avarice and depravity of the rich and the painfully difficult lives of the poor. Quite the contrary was true. We revealed our serious concerns and deep feelings in private conversations with good friends like the Whartons, Eileen, Harvey Levine, Bill Cummings, Si Levinson, Steve Klein and Gerard Fresnay. We all agreed that things were bad enough when we arrived; everything got worse and the country was close to total breakdown by summer. We knew that Chiang Kai-shek's generals were selling arms to the communists to further fill their personal coffers before they escaped to Formosa. We understood that we could do nothing to alter the situation. We felt acute frustration in our collective impotence and were all desperate for surcease from the painful realities of the people around us.

The Communists were in the hills near the tomb of Sun Yat-sen by late October. Mort wrapped things up in Ch'u Hsien and moved into the hostel with me in Nanking. We all witnessed the first of many food riots shortly after he arrived. When anger binds people in a common cause, they turn into a mob; the sight is very frightening. Nathan Wharton, who went to Shanghai for a few days, was stuck on the train for nearly a whole day while Nationalist soldiers and communist guerrillas had a skirmish near the rails. He told us that he had been very shaken by the experience and was eager to get out of China.

I had made plans with a travel agency to return home on a Swedish freighter by way of the Panama Canal and packed accordingly. Late at night when we were about to fall asleep I could hear sniper shots from the direction of Dr. Sun's mausoleum. Mort tried to convince me that the noises I heard were those of a proud father shooting off a round of firecrackers to celebrate the birth of a son. I knew what I heard, but I was too sleepy to argue with him.

Toward the end of the first week of November we were advised to leave Nanking. My first impulse was to rush to Fu-tse-miao and buy everything that struck my fancy. Mort assured me that we would be back in a year or so when the political situation calmed down. We were young enough to be optimistic, even if there was not a shred of evidence to support our hopes. I packed up all our clothing and prepared to take what turned out to be the last train from Nanking. We went to the club one last time, danced after dinner and said a tearful good bye to the musicians; we feared for their safety under a Communist regime.

Si Levinson drove us to the railroad station. I shared a compartment with Eileen and three FAO wives. We checked into the Cathay Hotel the next morning. Mort came down the following day with our steamer trunks on an American naval destroyer. The American government extended safe passage to several hundred foreigners regardless of nationality. The sailors and officers handed out oranges and chocolates to the children, Mort reported.

We checked with the travel agent only to be told that the Swedish freighter had canceled the voyage. We had no time to waste. Mort tried to get us tickets on Northwest Airlines, but they claimed they were solidly booked. We moved into Cathay Mansions, somewhat less expensive than the Cathay Hotel, while we continued to try to get a flight out of Shanghai. Bill Cummings came to our rescue. He got us two seats on a Northwest flight as United Nations employees. We were to leave the day before Thanksgiving. Inflation was so severe that the new currency, Chinese Yuan, printed to prevent it, took a dive. I remember that a single pat of butter was 3,500 Chinese Yuans at the Cathay Mansions, about one American dollar.

We had to accomplish a lot in very little time. We went to the warehouse where our trunks were stored to be shipped on the ill-fated freighter on a rainy November afternoon. We completely rearranged our belongings in the mud filled courtyard, careful to avoid the surrounding puddles of water. We had to take quite a few things out of the steamer trunks and transfer them to our on-board luggage.

The Moodys, who were invited to Madame Sun Yat-sen's birthday ball, had extra tickets and asked us to go with them. The big bash was our last hurrah. I suggested they come to our room and invited other friends for martinis before the ball. The ball did not turn out well. They served badly cooked Western food that upset my stomach and the dance music was flat. It was a poorly organized fund-raiser, not the last one I would have to attend.

Eileen and I met at the Metropole lounge for a last drink alone before parting. We had become used to talking things over, sharing confidences and always being there for each other. The prospective separation was quite a wrench. We talked about the experiences we had shared with a forced gaiety. She was off to Bangkok, the unknown, with Bill Cummings, Harvey, Gerard, the Whartons, who had come to their senses by then, the Millers and the rest of the FAO personnel. We were returning to our home, family and friends. We were full of hope, excited by what lay ahead of us and convinced that we would all see each other again soon.

Mort and I had to rise at four in the morning to check in at the airport. I went to the breakfast counter for a cup of coffee before we boarded the plane. Mort, who had checked in the luggage, approached me with a sick look on his face. Due to the extra linens we had to carry there was an additional freight charge of four-hundred dollars. I took out our checkbook and calmly wrote a check. It was a very large sum of money for us at the time, but we had no other option.

Northwest Airlines flew the Polar route. We were in transit for forty-nine hours. There were six-hour stretches when we were ten thousand feet above frozen tundra. It was eighty below outside the plane. The thought occurred to me that if the plane developed engine trouble we would not be able to bail out because we would risk becoming instant frozen food. I decided to put that nasty idea out of my head and had a relaxed flight after that. We had two turkey dinners on the way and were greeted by our families with something they were convinced we had not eaten in eighteen months; a turkey dinner.

Nancy, our first child, was given Eileen as her middle name. Eileen Wallis was living in Bangkok when she was born. I cabled her with the happy news. She wrote me a long letter expressing her amazement, joy and delight; she never expected me to keep my promise. The next time Harvey Levine came to New York he delivered Eileen's gift to her godchild and the news that Eileen had returned to Howard in London. He was the love of her life, a man she met after she separated from her husband. She left him behind when she sailed from London to Hong Kong where her brother had a business. Although she dated many men in Nanking and even thought she was in love once or twice, we were not overly surprised that Howard was the one she ultimately married.

The stay in China was a liberating experience for Mort. He needed distance from his widowed mother, to whom he wrote exquisite letters on a regular basis during his entire stay. He also needed space from the rest of his extended family, whose members thought they knew what was best for him and never hesitated to express their views. Mort was doing the work he loved far from interference by well meaning relatives.

I was asked many questions about China after the forty-nine hour trip we had just completed. I was too disoriented to respond. It took some time for me to fully understand the entire experience and know that I had lived with greater intensity than ever before in my life and had been completely in the moment at the moment of each experience.

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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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