Thursday, July 16, 2009

Growing up in Tientsin - the Ford of Heaven

There are not many "Foreign Devils" left who grew up in 1920s and 1930s Tientsin (now spelled Tianjin) when at one time there must have been several thousand of us whose parents hailed from Britain, America, Russia, France, Germany, Italy - you name it.

Remarkably, we shared an affinity that was the envy of the troubled outside world. We played out our rivalries in games. One year it was the German Eight who took top honours at the regatta on the Hai Ho, next the British, then the Russian. In basketball it was the 15th Infantry Regiment over the Trumpeldors, in soccer the Italian Marines over Tientsin Association Football Club. In baseball the Americans were hard put by a mixed bag of Limeys, Portuguese, Tartars, Greeks.

Never mind our diverse backgrounds, we were equally at home on a rip-roaring Fourth of July, Quatorze Juillet, Queen Victoria's Birthday. And on any day of the week we'd be side by side at the street stalls relishing the irresistible piroshky, jian bing quozi, tang d'er.

On the surface we were pretty staid judging by the well attended churches, synagogues, social clubs. Can any of us forget the spine-tingling choir at the Orthodox church on Easter Morning? Yet not far down the road at Little Club the all black band gave out their explosive red-hot jazz.

Came 1949 that unique world was gone forever, the Old China Hands scattered to the four corners. Fortunately, some wrote about their upbringing. I especially like Dicky Dyott's An Edge in Wordways and Vera Soblin's Please Don't Walk On My Grave (Part 2). But as always the case, others so heavily fictionalized their memoirs that it is difficult to distinguish between truth and fairy tale.

So much of my brother Brian Power's book about his upbringing in Tientsin the Ford of Heaven was fairy tale that I felt obliged to write a commentary replacing his fantasies with fact. You will see this if you go to my June 27 2009 posting and click on the line in the text "Brian's Real Upbringing in the Ford of Heaven" and when the page opens, look down the right hand side to the foot and click again on where it says "Read in classic mode".

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tientsin, Ford of Heaven, the hometown of George and Philo Cox.

Perhaps a little more should be said about George Cox, the Weihsien prison camp tinsmith, who figured in the closing paragraph of my June 30 posting.

He was the ever popular George Edward Cox, born and raised in Tientsin, graduate of St Louis College, secretary at Credit Foncier de l'Extreme Orient, and serving with the Tientsin Volunteer Defence Corps at the time of Pearl Harbor.

He would be the first to acknowledge that he was outshone by his wife, Philomena Splingaerd who was granddaughter of Paul Splingaerd the most highly honoured foreigner in China during the Ching Dynasty, a Belgian raised to the ninth level of Mandarin as decreed by the Imperial Court. And recognized no less by his native country, he was knighted by His Majesty King Leopold II. (See The Belgian Mandarin, Paul Splingaerd, by Anne Splingaerd Megowan, herself a direct descendant, at )

After the war, George and Philomena and son Kenneth and daughter Angela (born in Weihsien camp where my mother was appointed her godmother) settled in Vancouver, BC, Canada. In 1966, George entertained two well-known Weihsien ex-internees, Rev Father Raymond de Jaegher and Dr Guy Chan.

In the upper left photo, George is on the left, Fr de Jaegher in the centre, and Dr Chan on the right.

All through internment, Fr de Jaegher maintained contact with Chinese villagers and through them the guerilla forces operating in the vicinity. And it was also he who masterminded the escape of Tipton and Hummel in 1944. Following liberation, he authored the rare work on the Red take-over in China, The Enemy Within.

Dr Guy H Chan, a Canadian, was a highly regarded medical doctor in the camp. Imprisoned with him were his wife, May, a nurse, and their two sons, Guy and Eugene. Guy the younger, who also went into medicine, became Dr Guy Hugh Chan, opthalmologist in Philadelphia, PA.

The photo on the upper right was taken on the happy occasion when one of Philomena Cox's bosom friends from Tientsin, Grace Lambert, paid her a vist. Grace was on an extended holiday staying with her son Desmond and family in West Vancouver. From the left in the photo are Mrs Borioni (a close Tientsin friend of both Philo and Grace), Grace, Philo, and Desmond with his sons Jeremy and Timothy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ford of Heaven residents in Japanese prison camp

After Pearl Harbor, I was separated from Tai-tai (our mother), Tony and Betty. They were put in Weihsien camp in Shantung Province. I was down in Shanghai in Pootung camp, then moved to Lunghwa (of Empire of the Sun fame). In January 1944 the Japanese moved me up north to Weihsien.

As I proceeded through the camp's main gate, my heart leapt to my throat. There in a cluster of internees stood Tai-tai. A shabby smock hung from her shoulders. Her dark auburn hair, now streaked with gray, was tied in a bun. Her cheekbones protruded, but her eyes shone with the fierce look of determination I knew so well.

As I was led to the guardhouse to be searched, she shouted out: "You're all skin and bones. Never mind, we'll fatten you up."

On my second day in Weihsien, I discovered that Tai-tai had no bucket. Because all our drinking water, toilet water, laundry water had to be pumped up by hand, a bucket was an inmate's most prized possession. For two years, Tai-tai had managed with an enamel wash basin, but managed to carry water in it from the pump to her hut without spilling too much.

In my job as a stoker in Tientsin Kitchen which catered to 900 inmates from that city, I started at 3:00 am to get the fires going in the huge cauldrons so that the gruel would be cooked in time for breakfast. The cooks came on at 6:00 am. Alone in the kitchen I stared at the row of shining buckets all there for the taking. To me it was perks, fair and square. At 5:00 am I deposited a bucket outside her hut.

As luck would have it, the bucket sprang a leak and Tai-tai took it to the camp tinsmith, George Cox, for repair. George, who happened to spot "TK" tooled into its base, mentioned that to that fine TGS Science master Mr Foxlee in the hearing of Peter Lawless, Chief of Police in Tientsin's British Concession, now head of Camp Discipline.

When word spread through the camp that an investigation was under way for the theft of the bucket, Tai-tai crashed into the Discipline office and delivered such a tongue lashing to the poor beleaguered police chief, who knew very well from old of her fiery spirit and sagacity as a fighter that he thought twice about laying charges.

George, an old family friend, was so dismayed by the trouble he caused, presented Tai-tai with a shiny new bucket with her name tooled into the base.

The drawing above, by Jeremy Power of North Vancouver BC, shows Tientsin internees lining up for breakfast.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brian Power's real upbringing in Tientsin aka the Ford of Heaven

Regarding books about Tientsin, otherwise known as the Ford of Heaven, I should have included a commentary on my brother Brian's real upbringing in China. You will find this by clicking on Brian's Real Upbringing in the Ford of Heaven. And when the page opens, look down the right hand side to the foot of the page and click again where it says "Read in Classic mode".

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Books on Tientsin - the Ford of Heaven

As can be expected, there is no shortage of books written about Tientsin during the 85 year period of the foreign concessions that existed there.

One book stands out above all as being the definitive work on the subject. It is O. Rasmussen's Tientsin - An Illustrated Outline of History, published in 1925.

Long out of print, it is very hard to come by, but there are copies in libraries. I saw one at the City of London Library and another at the Seattle Public Library.

Here are some little known titles with fine and accurate descriptions of Tientsin of the period.

Please Don't Walk On My Grave, Part 2, by Vera Skoblin.
An Edge In Wordways, by Richard Dyott.
Grace in China, by Eleanor Cooper and William Liu.
Passport For China, by Alexander Burgess.
Shanhaikwan, by Iolanda Gironi Morante.
Avshalomov's Winding Way, by Jacob and Aaron Avshalomov.
Honourable Stomach Is Empty, by Tom Henling Wade.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Upbringing in China's Ford of Heaven

What was it like for a foreign child to grow up during the 1920s and 30s in China's ancient Ming city of Tientsin (now spelled Tianjin) which, never mind the English spelling, was always known to the Chinese as the Ford of Heaven?

The objective of this Blog is to invite Old China Hands or their descendants or anyone interested in the foreign presence in China before WWII to exchange views or experiences and to see historical photographs and other memorabilia.