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In Memory of My Beloved Wife Amy
Winter Volume: 2010 Issue: 17(4)
Yin-Tai Lung's book titled Big River and Great Seamentions the year 1949 as a time of major turmoil in Chinese history. It was a time when millions of people were killed and thousands of families disrupted or destroyed because of civil war. This was when Westerners learned about 'Red China.' It was also a pivotal year in the lives of twenty-two Chinese navel students sent by their government for four years of naval training. This was before they would be commissioned as Naval Officers. They boarded the British aircraft carrier H.M.S Ocean for sea training prior to submarine training. Then the tide of war turned against their government and their sea training terminated earlier than they or anyone expected.
JUST FIVE MINUTES: On January 13th 1950, their aircraft carrier arrived in Hong Kong at 4:00 am. The ship's commander and an official from the Hong Kong immigration office summoned these twenty-two to the officer's quarters. The commander announced: This ship has arrived in Hong Kong and the British government has officially announced recognition of Red China. However, you guys were sent by the Kuomingtang government so I now give you free choice to go back to mainland China or go to Taiwan. I give you five minutes to make your decision. Those who want to go back to China, stay on my left side, those for Taiwan, stay on my right. You are not allowed to remain in Hong Kong.
There were twelve who wanted to go back to China, ten wanted to go to Taiwan. Looking back on that moment, I realize I was among the fortunate ten. That same afternoon, we packed our belongings and transferred from the aircraft carrier to Sheng Ching, a steamboat that regularly sailed between Hong Kong and Taiwan. After landing in Taiwan, we were summoned by the Chinese Naval Commander, Admiral Kuei Yung Ching, to his Taipei office where he praised our decision and ordered us admitted to the Chinese naval academy in Tso Ying. There, we completed our education and became Taiwanese commissioned officers.
MEETING AMY: The Chinese naval academy was located a block away from the Kaohsiung oil refinery. That was where Amy Hsien-Mei Chung's father worked as head of accounting. I had a few high school friends living in the area and in my spare time, I would often visit them. They wanted me to teach them ballroom dancing because they knew I had attended a ballroom dancing school in England, and I agreed. There were ten men and only three young ladies in the ballroom dancing class. Two of the females were the refinery's elementary school teachers, the third was Amy Hsien-Mei Chung.
One day, the Chinese naval academy gave two free movie tickets to each cadet to see the movie, Gone with the Wind. It was playing at the Naval auditorium three miles away from the refinery. I went to the oil refinery looking for a friend to invite to the movie, but unfortunately, could not find anyone; they were not in their dormitories. I decided to look in the library, and there was Ms. Chung reading a magazine. I gathered courage and extended an invitation to her. Surprisingly, she agreed to accompany me to see this movie.
At that time, the most convenient mode of transportation was by bicycle. So I took her on the same bicycle I rode to the navel auditorium. After the movie, we had a cup of iced tea and enjoyed pleasant conversation in a café. Later, I took her back on that same bicycle.
After that day, we dated every Wednesday evening. Eventually, her mother found out and was most displeased. She was worried that my low income would not support a family, and that Amy would have to live a life more poor than the one she knew then. That was true as I was paid ten pounds and ten shillings a year, equivalent to forty-six American dollars. When I graduated in 1951, I was promoted to Ensign, a rank five times higher, but my pay then was sixty-six Taiwan dollars a month. That was worth about one and a half US dollars. Surely, this amount was not sufficient to support a wife and myself, let alone a family.
In 1952, I was fortunate enough to pass an examination and be selected for four-month's training at a United States naval base in Guam. After I completed it, I brought a case of nylon stockings and other expensive things, luxury items at that time in Taiwan, and I gave them to Amy. This surely pleased her mother. In 1953, Amy and I were married. The next year our son was born.
As a seaman, I was often away from home on board various naval vessels; I was a Chief Engineer. Amy continued working, and she took care of our home and our son, mostly by herself. I was on the Chunghai as Chief engineer when it was torpedoed by four Chinese PT boats. The stern of the ship was seriously damaged. My second officer and I were able to handle damage control; we saved the ship and all six hundred soldiers. This event was broadcasted on Taiwan radio stations. Our four-year-old son heard the news and cried and yelled, "What happened to my daddy?" We were lucky to survive that tragedy.
GIVING UP HER PENSION: In 1974, Amy's sister became an American Citizen and that meant her sisters and brother were permitted to immigrate to the United States under the Fifth Preference Act. I suggested we go so that our son could have better opportunities. Amy submitted her resignation, but her supervisor asked her to reconsider because she had worked there since 1949 and was entitled to a sizable pension. It was enough to buy a lovely house in a suburban area or a two bedroom apartment in Taipei. After many family discussions and deliberations, she kept to her decision and did resign. Yes, Amy was willing to sacrifice that sizable pension to give her son an opportunity for a better education.
It was not easy to be new immigrants reaching middle age. Therefore, while I remained in Taiwan to make money, mother and son adapted to their new life. By the time I arrived, she had a job as a bank teller and our son was admitted to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to major in Electrical Engineering. Later, by 1980, Amy and I were able to sponsor three nephews from Shanghai to come to the United States.
OUR RESTAURANT: We opened a Chinese restaurant and name it 'Mandarin Tang Chinese Restaurant' in Easton Pennsylvania. To promote business, we started a Chinese television cooking program called: Mandarin Chef. It became popular in the local community, and a year later was second only to sporting events on Channel 13. This cooking program in the Blue Ridge Mountains was shown three times a week in prime time, that is from seven to ten in the evening. The news media called our program: The Easton Pennsylvania Miracle. Guest chefs and Amy prepared and presented dozens upon dozens of recipes. The next issue of this magazine will have a selection of the recipes seen on that cable channel. For this issue, there is a picture of Amy doing one demonstration.
IN RETIREMENT: In 1990, Amy and I retired and transferred our restaurant shares to those three nephews. She became active in local community affairs, and she joined two choral groups. One was at the Chinese Methodist Church, the other at the Presbyterian Church. She also joined three community choral groups in lower Manhattan and Flushing, Queens.
In addition, Amy volunteered at the Henry Street Settlement as a social worker. There, she visited three families every day, five days a week. Amy took her elderly clients to hospitals, helped them with their paperwork, and took them to medical appointments. In 2004, Amy was honored and received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Occasionally, in addition to all of these things, Amy also helped me in promoting this very magazine.
AMY'S HEALTH DECLINES and six years ago, I realized something was seriously wrong with Amy. She was leaving food rotting in the refrigerator. She always was good handling household finances, but I was finding checks hidden in a desk dated a year earlier that were not yet deposited, nor were they cashed. She denied something was wrong, and at times she was very upset when I took her to a doctor.
Later, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Amy got easily confused and forgetful. She lost interest in singing and in playing the piano. She was reluctant to go outside the apartment, and she even stopped meeting friends for lunch. Amy used to keep a diary and write details of what happened during the day, what she did, who she talked to, and about what. Later, all she wrote was about the weather. I worried about her and eventually enrolled her in day care. I also made arrangements for a home attendant to care for her when I was not around. It was hard to see Amy, a strong-willed independent woman become a child.
AMY DIED on January 16; it was a Saturday. A few days earlier, our son came to Manhattan to pick us up to attend our granddaughter's piano recital. The next day, my daughter-in-law prepared a small family lunch as Amy and I were going to return to our apartment in Manhattan. When coming down the stairs, Amy lost her footing, slipped, and fell down the stairs. She was unconscious and we rushed her by ambulance to Hackensack Hospital. There she remained unconscious until she passed away early on the morning of January 19th. In truth, I hardly believe she is gone. I surely do miss my love of sixty years.