Links and Acknowledgements

I started the blog to sharjack buffye my history with my son, Jack Pestaner, and I dedicate this work to him, with lots of love.  Jack with his dog, Buffy.

Jack also dragged me into the 21st century with his patient coaching in the technical details of blogging. Elsa Fraysse also earns my thanks as another patient computer coach.

As soon as I began writing, inspired by the Phyllis Shute photo albums and notes sent to me by her younger son, Trevor  (whose name I changed in the blog for privacy reasons) I needed to do additional research.  I started to google, and acquired a few very important  correspondents.greg_book

Greg Leck is the author of Captives of Empire: the Japanese Internment of Allied Civilians in China, published in 2006.  This is an exhaustive history of the period, and a beautiful book full of photos, documents and even the names of the internees, including my relatives.  Greg provided me with a photo of the Imperial Seal, a copy of which he has framed in his home today.

tales bookGraham Earnshaw is a publisher of quality books on China; more information at  Graham encouraged me to continue my blog and provided me with some good photos.

Patrick Cranley is an American expert in the architecture, history and urban development of Shanghai.  He was an organizer of the 2015 Shanghai Art Deco World Congress, as well as a creator of Historic Shanghai, an excellent site with tours, lectures and book promotions about Shanghai.  Patrick lives in Shanghai, and when I first contacted him for help with my blog, it turned out that he lives in a building right behind one of my homes on the former Rue Boissezon!  Patrick has sent me photos of  my old homes, both on that road, but sadly diminished.

Who would have guessed that in my search for Shanghai Millionaire material, I’d run into Kent McKeever (via Google), the director of the law library at Columbia University! Kent generously opened up his collection for me to have a good look and a go down memory lane.  Kent’s office was full of books and papers about old Shanghai, including a 1940 phone book, with listings of my various family members.

I realize now that there many people all over the world to whom Shanghai in the 30’s and 40’s is still very much alive.  Their interest is helping preserve some of the beautiful architecture of that period.  A brilliant book on that subject is A Last Look: Western Architecture in Old Shanghai,  by Tess Johnston, photos by Deke Erh.

So to all who subscribed to thank you for your staying power through so many posts.  If you loved that period, check out some of the references I listed above.  Be sure to contact Patrick Cranley if you decide to visit Shanghai, as he will have many adventures to propose and even take you on.


THE END by Phyllis

Granny is the one I remember with the most lovelittle pic. She was Chinese, born in  the 1860’s. Her father was supposedly an intellectual who refused to have her feet bound. This practice was not officially abolished till 1911 or 1912, and we had a favorite Amah with bound feet in our household through the 40’s.

So Granny grew to adulthood with no marriage prospects. She trained as a midwife, and worked as one all her life, called on day or night to deliver babies. People didn’t have much money, so they often paid her in eggs, a chicken, or a slab of meat. Grandpa, who we suspect was English, as his name was Maitland, was a shadowy figure. He was very old and practically blind when I knew him. He had been a telegrapher, sending out messages in Morse code for the Northern Telegraph Company. We don’t know how he met Granny, but they got married and had eight children, from 1885 all the way to 1910. The Maitland children were all very good looking, and definitely upwardly mobile Eurasians. Someone else will tell their fascinating history; we’ll just stick to Granny and Mary, our mother, the oldest Maitland child, who died in childbirth in her late 30’s.

After mother’s sudden death, our father decamped on a boat to Harbin without notice. Granny stepped in, and became our informal mother figure, a job officially taken on by my sixteen year old sister, Daisy.  While Daisy worked as a secretary, Granny tried to spoil us, cooking fantastic meals which I remember eating to this day.  By then, grandpa had passed…that wizened figure curled up in one of our unforgiving wooden chairs, poring over a book, his nose an inch away from the text. One day, he was gone. Granny, though, was full of energy. She was tall, with big feet. We would later tease our niece, Joan, that her great grandma had bequeathed those feet to her!

So, this was the end of the Szechuan road house that grandpa had purchased many years ago for his growing family.  We gave up all our perks, squeezed ourselves into smaller quarters. Thanks to Daisy’s hambury schoolefforts, we all got into good schools when we were old enough, and miraculously, got into the Embankment building after her marriage to Hans Klyhn.

Our life was never a step by step progress. We seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis, but our city was awash in opportunities. So while we had a serious setback after mother died, it did not take very long for us to make our way back.  I believe it was Daisy, who was able to seize every chance to move forward. It’s hard to imagine today the power and connections a secretary had back then. Daisy was the anchor for some really crazy entrepreneurs, who were gunrunning along the Yangtse River, supplying revolutionary activity of every sort, or moving tons of drugs, and probably human cargo. Impeccably dressed from head to toe, with her steno notebook in hand and typewriter by her side, Daisy was the indispensible normal face of her employer.  At home, she suffered from migraine headaches and agonizing menstrual cramps, but nothing stopped her from pushing her brothers and sisters forward.

I am always grateful I had the privilege of taking care of her when she was dying. Finally, she lay there in the hospice, in a Canadian town, a cigarette clutched in her gnarled hand to the very last. What a struggle her life had been from the beginning to the end!


The Thomas Hanbury School we girls attended.  There was also a Thomas Hanbury school attended by the boys.





My Childhood by Phyllis

Our family home from the late 19th century was at 234 North Szechuan Road.  It was the first house in the alley.  You entered the front door on the wall of the row of houses, and stepped into a flag stone courtyard. Our water supply was a cold water tap on the right hand corner; all our household water was drawn from this tap. The ground floor was the kitchen and the servants’ quarters.table_and_chairs Up a flight was the middle floor, mainly consisting of a large living room. Hard backed wood chairs were ranged against the wall on either side of the room, with an end table by each chair. At the back was a large wood chesterfield, with a porcelain pillow for reclining.  Not a cushion in sight! No place to lounge or to slouch!

Next to it was a dining room with a large round table and more hard backed chairs. At least there was a pot bellied stove in one corner, but it didn’t do much, as drafts blew through the whole house through gaping windows and doorways. You bundled up in winter, and sweated through the muggy summer. Central heating, air conditioning, double glazing, even doors that closed were unheard of.

The top floor and attic contained our many bedrooms, and above, there was a flat topped roof garden, or sai pang, where the servants hung our laundry out to dry. There would often be a relative staying in one of the bedrooms, often we didn’t realize they were around until they joined us at mealtimes.

My mother had a houseful of servants; each one of us had a young companion, an Ah Mei. The source of these servants was a seemingly constant supply of unwanted girl babies. They were given away, sold, or discarded and left to die in the street. Mother took in many of these children, fed and nurtured them and kept them in the house as Ah Mei’s and eventually as full fledged help, or Amahs. They were taught household skills by the older servants, and mother eventually got husbands for some of them. Later they would come and visit her, bringing their children to show her. Mother got a great deal of satisfaction from this, as well as a fund of home help. My girlhood friend Nell recalled “your living room was always a scene of chaos. Kids would be running around, servants of every age were doing some job or other or chasing the children, and your mother in the middle, looking calm and happy, drinking tea. I always felt that anything could happen!”

My parents had a shop directly across from our home, selling yard goods, perfumes and toiletries, mostly imported from Russia. Other items were obtained “on the side” by my mother, who would go to the wharf with a couple of bodyguards when a large ship came in. She would pack the pockets of her special shabby padded Chinese gown with different denominations of cash, and would troll the docks for sailors who had valuables to sell. There were stories of shipwrecks, kidnappings and general thievery, but no specifics. Mother would come back and produce interesting goods, even expensive jewelry, at times, and there would always be well dressed customers coming around the shop at odd hours to check out this merchandise. I vaguely recall a story of a vanished diamond that eventually turned up in a trouser cuff, apparently dropped by accident. Mother guarded the door and no one could leave till the diamond was recovered. True? Or did I imagine it?

Apart from the bodyguards, who were always needed, as all transactions were in cash, there were several salesmen; it was a very prosperous business. The shop was open in design; you just walked in off the street. The merchandise was displayed in several plate glass cabinets.phylyoung

There were no automobiles in our day. There was a good tram service and plentiful rickshaws. My parents owned a carriage and a horse, with a mafoo, or driver on hand to take us wherever we wanted to go. All six children would pile in for a ride to the country with a picnic. These events were never planned; they just seemed to happen in that crowded life we led.

Typical chair/table arrangements at the time

Phyllis; at the photography studio


This collage, made for me by my artist friend, Joan Hall, pulls together a big part of my ghosts

On the right and left, are my Eurasian grandparents, James and Mary, in Chinese dress. Grandfather, again, this time in Western clothes re-appears after a disappearance of many years after Mary’s death. He looks subdued, as he should have, after abandoning his family for years, and then re-appearing, broke. But because of his innate good nature and willingness to do whatever odd job came up, he managed to re-insert himself into the family, living with various sons and daughters, and making himself useful, with few demands. He was a tall, handsome man, with good posture and good social skills.GRANDPAWHITESUIT He wasn’t bright, but made up for it with his good looks, amenable nature and his smooth foxtrot on the dance floor. I loved grandpa, as did every kid he met. He was always ready to play games with us, and tell goofy jokes.

There’s my mother, her hair in a stylish updo , looking out with her no nonsense gaze. Then, there’s my father, characteristically with his arms around me.

He would say to me, so often “Don’t worry. Dad won’t let anything bad happen to you,” or variants on that theme. He meant it, and on our last day in Hongkong, as he stood on a swaying pontoon, feeling seasick, watching me embark castleville lions gateon a ship to California, he stuffed an envelope into my hand. $500 US dollars back in 1953 represented a big part of his meager savings. My mother, whose strong stomach would carry her through many more travels through her life, stood by grimly. As always, she was disappointed in me. I had failed typing, shorthand, sewing and knitting training, all of which might have helped me get a job to help the family out. At seventeen, I had no interest in spending any more time with my warring parents. Earning my living with a proper job was way in my future. I was off to the College of Notre Dame in San Mateo, California, on a partial scholarship. I had to perform some menial work, in return, with my laughable skills. The story of my induction into the real world is not part of this narrative, except that I need to acknowledge, after all these years, the kindly souls who imagined I could do well at a lunch counter, or later as an au pair. The latter work was in exchange for a lovely attic room, when I escaped ungratefully from the suburban College to the wide open world of the University of California at Berkeley. My housekeeping was abysmal, but my hosts were a charming, academic couple, who took a while to wake up to their messy home. This could have been because they spent their evenings at home drinking one martini after the next before slowly making their way to bed. They eventually hired a maid and gently phased me out after a year.

I return to the collage. Yes, there I am, hugged by my Dad, feeling so very protected. Dad, as always, is impeccably dressed. I would squat in the kitchen and watch Xiao Liu polishing Dad’s two tone shoes to perfection. When he was done, I’d snatch them and dash upstairs to Dad’s bedroom. I’d slide open the well oiled doors to Dad’s wall to wall closet. There were shelves for everything. Dozens of pairs of shoes, each ensconced in its shoe tree, suits for every occasion, tie racks, handkerchief slots, socks divided by color, and shirts and more shirts, underwear, and a very special rack on the top for his hats. I always looked for the Borsalino hat I had saved up for with the money Dad used to slip me. When I had accumulated enough, I enlisted Uncle Sam to get Dad’s measurements and to take me to the shop. There I gave my wadded up stash to the amused salesman, and left with a magnificent hat box containing (I believed) a magnificent hat. Dad certainly wore it, and always told whoever was present that it had been my gift. There it was, on the shelf, fitted over its hat shape.dadhongkong There were accessory drawers, too, for cufflinks, tie clips, watches, and elastics Dad would wear around his upper arms to prevent his shirt cuffs from protruding too far out of his jacket sleeves.   I’d slide open the closet doors and gaze in awe at this presentation of hanging suits, coats and shirts, and shelves and drawers of every size.  Dad was a dandy, and his glossy black, slicked back hair with its side part seemed to stay with him most of his life. My mother, though, was sloppy. My own nature has often been a clash between sloppiness and  tidiness. The latter has won out now that I live in a tiny New York studio apartment.   When my mother got ready for a party, she would carefully apply her make up and fix her hair, often with a hairdresser on hand; wrap a cheesecloth over her face and hair, and then slip on her dress. The wrap prevented any makeup smear or hairdo disruption. Again, dressing up was a process, taking time. Occasionally I was allowed to watch, and perhaps pass a hairpin or so. But while she looked elegant as she left her room, her dressing table was a mess of  makeup, perfumes and various brushes and sponges. Rejected dresses and shoes were scattered all over the room. Amah and a helper would go in after mother left and spend the evening tidying up.

Finally, there is the Joan of today, in a yoga posture, a yoga instructor in New York City. Behind me, the ghosts of my past. The grandparents on either end need their story told, so I’ll hand that over to their daughter, Phyllis.

collage by Joan Hall

grandpa back home

the Castleville, decommissioned, years after I sailed on it

Dad in Hongkong

The Diaspora: Part 2


The Diaspora Part 2

The only casualty was Ruby, the most beautiful and glamorous of the Harvey sisters. Ruby had had many lovers, a full length leopard fur coatrubyfur  and a wardrobe of party dresses. I remember her looking fabulous in that boxy coat at a time when fur was in style. She dressed beautifully, and always had a handsome boyfriend. But eventually she and an American army lieutenant fell in love. The war forced them to part in 1941,ruby_leopard and she was at the dock in her leopard coat to kiss him goodbye as he went off to battle. He returned, as promised, as soon as the War ended. They had a passionate reunion, but he then confessed that he could not marry a Eurasian girl, or he would be expelled from the army.  In fact, he admitted that he had become engaged to a girl in the US. Soon after, Ruby contracted spinal meningitis and died in the hospital a few weeks later. She was twenty nine. “She turned her face to the wall,” My mother said, in tears, “she did not want to live as a cripple. She did not want to live without the man she loved.” ruby 2Her lover returned to the US with an armload of photos, or memories; of himself and Ruby at parties, at the beach, horseback riding, hiking, travelling to Tsingtao, always hugging and kissing each other, always inseparable.  The U.S. military had zero tolerance for mixed marriages.  Many intelligent, well educated and beautiful Eurasian girls were abandoned by their gallant boyfriends in uniform.

Phyl and her English husband took off for Australia, but all Jack found there was menial work and lodging in a hostel. “We didn’t feel welcome; there was no place for us to grow.”australia They then shifted to England and also had a hard time, in a country that was taking many years to recover economically from the war. Jack decided to try Canada, and sent for his family, which by then included another son, as soon as he found work in Guelph. They finally ended their circuitous journey there, and the farm they acquired is still in the family today. Jack was a strong, hardworking, hard drinking English country boy from Lancashire. He had been a head jail warden in Shanghai, and had executed a few criminals with one shot to the head “we had to save on ammunition.” In Canada, in addition to his job, he hunted moose and volunteered to train teenagers in survival skills. I remember visiting the farm, and being taken to the basement, to view in the gigantic freezer, Jack’s meat storage. “I got six hundred pounds of meat from that one moose,” he proclaimed. He shot deer in season, aged, prepped and stored the meat. One son, John, also had a farm, where he and his wife bred chickens, and had a yearly gathering of friends and family who formed an assembly line to slaughter, de-feather and cut up a couple of dozen birds. Everyone went home with the best tasting chicken imaginable. Phyl, Jack’s wife and John’s mother, who we may recall having a manicure while snoozing in bed back in Shanghai days, had her part in this bucolic scenario. She became a champion maker of pot stickers. If there ever had been a contest, she would have won it hands down. She would start with huge amounts of dough, pork, shrimps, mushrooms and so forth, and rapidly turn them into rows and rows of dumplings, a shot of whisky by her side. There was a system where these were stacked and also stored in the giant freezer. Jack installed a generator down there to avert a possible power outage.

One of the brothers, Sam, had a good job with a British firm, and settled in Hongkong with his wife in a smart flat in the Peak neighborhood provided by his English employers. After he retired, his company tried to wrestle his apartment away from him, but Sam, always the smartest boy in his class, managed to hang on till the end. “But we couldn’t help being robbed by the locals,” he laughed, “the bars over our windows didn’t stop them.” There was no air conditioning, so windows were kept open in hot weather. Felons would creep up to an open window armed with a long pole ending in a hook.   They managed amazing feats,  extracting valuables deep in rooms, through the narrowest bars, with their rudimentary tools. “They could open drawers with their hooks, and empty out the contents. We could never figure out how!”

My father ended up in Hongkong, as well, and acquired a new family, consisting of a well off Chinese widow and her teenaged children. He never revealed this to me or my mother, who kept waiting for him to join her after she left Hongkong for England and later for the US. One day, after I was notified that my Dad had died, I got a long letter from a girl with a Chinese name. She outlined a story where my father had befriended her widowed mother and her two brothers and herself. He lived with them and had become their beloved second father. He saw them all through school and university. She wrote “he always spoke about you as the most wonderful girl in the world. You were the person he loved most of all. He kept your photo on his bureau. I would look at it and think how beautiful you are, Joan!”  This was the first I ever heard of Dad’s second family.  In letters, he had implied that he lived alone in a small flat…that was why whenever I threatened to visit him in Hongkong, he explained regretfully that he couldn’t host me.dadandjack This letter knocked me flat. I couldn’t even bring myself to reply. I was angry at first, but over the years I have come to terms with this man, who really did love me in his own way, from a distance. I’m glad he spent his later life with an appreciative family. The only thing he and my mother ended up having in common was arthritis, quite severe in her case. At the age of seventy, I suddenly developed very painful, creaky knees, and realized this was their gift to me.

The youngest brother, Ed, met an American nurse in Shanghai. He and Ellen married, went to California, had four children, and spent the rest of their lives in a sprawling house in a typical American suburb there.

I peregrinated from China to the US, acquiring US citizenship through marriage, then lived in California, New York, Honolulu, Paris and Bristol, England before definitively settling in New York City. I finally feel I am in right place for a wandering soul to settle down.

Ruby in her coat; on the dock in 1941; with her boyfriend

Jack, Phyl and John in Australia

Dad in his 70’s with Jack Shute, in Hongkong


War Ends: the Diaspora Part 1


The War seemed to end suddenly. The Japanese vanished from the camps overnight, and the dazed internees straggled out to salvage their pre war homes which had been stripped and vandalized by the occupiers. American tanks full of cheerful soldiers rolled through the city, and people lined the streets, greeting them joyfully. It was a moment full of hope, a brief period after one occupation and before another. The Communists were already heading for Shanghai, but at that moment, few grasped what the future had in store for them. The Americans rained down K rations full of Hershey bars, chewing gum and cigarettes on the happy spectators. The GI’s hauled kids up onto their shoulders, and jumped down to the street and shook hands with and were hugged by grateful people.

Not long after, the motley Eurasian nation began to realize it had to make some definite moves. The Leitao family and their friends moved to Macao, some to Portuguese colonies in Africa. Anglo Indians made their way to England. The extended Klyhn family received notice from Denmark that they were no longer Danish citizens. Always quick on their feet, they began their moves in different directions.

Lawrence and his family were sponsored by his British citizen brother in law, Robert, to emigrate to England. I missed my cousin, Freddie, who had shot up in height like I did. We didn’t do fist bumps in Shanghai back then, but whenever we met, we grabbed each other by the shoulders and did a hopping dance of recognition. We were watched by his brother, who could be counted on to intone “Good things come in small packages.” Larry was short and stolid like most of the other Klyhns.

Peter and his family were sponsored by an Australian cousin, Eddie, and moved to Adelaide. They had lived in a five storey house in Shanghai, and Peter had turned the top floor into an aviary for his finches.   How could anyone forget trudging all the way up the narrow stairs, arriving at an ordinary looking door, going in, closing it tightly, and opening another door, and suddenly finding oneself in a magical kingdombird drawings. The whole floor was one brilliantly sunny room with windows all around. Hundreds of tiny, beautiful birds flew all over the place, singing, chirping and perching at food stations. They bathed themselves in suspended water bowls and flapped their wings gleefully afterwards, scattering motes of water which were caught like diamonds in the sunlight.   They would get  into scuffles with one another, and sometimes landed on your head or shoulders, if you stood still. Uncle Peter loved showing off his birds, especially to children. He had another surprise that got us all laughing and screaming hysterically; he would get up close to you and snap out his rack of false teeth.

Harry, as reported by my cousin Ron “was the most Chinese looking of the lot. He became a Communist and went off to Moscow, reason unknown.” This Harry married, changed his name to Li, moved to London with his wife and three children, and became a successful lecturer on Chinese customs and literature. The story of this ex Klyhn and his family is a mystery to me.

My father, Hans, decided to stay on in Shanghai, and offer his services as an experienced businessman to the new regime. Eurasians were NOT welcomed by the new regime. Dad would be expelled and joanmacaoour property confiscated. My mother anticipated this, reverted to her original British nationality, included me, and took off for Hongkong, literally on the last Pan Am plane. We stayed at first for a year with friends in their decaying colonial  mansion in Macao.   All we had was a suitcase each. The seats had been taken out of the plane, and the passengers huddled on the floor, crowded shoulder to shoulder, holding onto their meager belongings.

The Harveys had all been interned as British subjects. They were in poor health at first and almost destitute and disoriented. In later years, their British citizenship would also be rescinded, but by then, they had managed to hopscotch their way to new countries and new homes.

photo from Field Guide to Birds of N. America, National Geographic

photo of Joan at 16, in the house on the rua de Boa Vista, Macao




The Angry Woman, Part 2

The family was well off during my childhood. My father was successful, and my mother soon gave up her secretarial jobs. At home, she carried around a thick notebook, and any servant making purchases for the house was examined and cross examined, with weekly prices compared and noted down, stern accusations and frequent firings. Hong was recalcitrant, of course. My father would always make up the difference later with Hong, and sometimes with other servants. This was another aspect of the battle between my parents. My mother accused everyone doing paid work for us of padding their bills, taking cumshaw, or rake offs.   Dad was always in the background, playing the good guy. He always had a full billfold, and dispensed money freely. “They have their hands held out; they ask for loans which they never repay.  Hans, they see you coming!” my mother would say, “Wait till you’re down and out. They won’t even know you then.” She was right about that.

“Your mother used to pinch your nose all the time when you were a baby,” Phyl said, “she thought your nose was…” diasporaWhat? Too flat, too long, too wide? I never knew exactly. I was another disappointment. My cousin Sylvia was her perfect little girl. I was way too big. My feet were compared to sampans. “You have to stop growing!” my mother exclaimed. But I kept on until I reached the unheard of height of five foot ten inches by the time I was thirteen.

Yet, my mother was a highly intelligent woman, and so excellent in the jobs she held before I was born, that her employers rewarded her to excess. A Swiss businessman had her report to different hotel rooms daily, where her typewriter was set up for her by his personal bodyguard. “I put my head down and worked hour after hour on strictly confidential material. More than once, we had to make a hasty exit by the back stairs.” Finally, the businessman decamped, disappeared. “He handed me a suitcase before he got on the boat. ‘Di’ he said ‘I can never thank you enough for covering my back time after time.’ The case was full of US dollars. That money got Hans started with the paper box company.”

Another job was as secretary to the CEO of a top American cosmetics company. Here, her job among other responsibilities included buying expensive gifts for wife and mistress. “I was always smartly dressed as I visited expensive jewelry shops guarded by armed Russians. After a while, they knew me, and winked as I went in with my bag full of cash. I got to select this for the wife and that for the girlfriend, peeled off thousands of dollars and made sure there were no mix ups. My boss trusted me to choose whatever I thought was the best, and I must say, I never made a mistake!” My mother was so appreciated, that when this employer returned home before the Occupation, also leaving largess to her, he said, on parting “If you decide to come to Los Angeles, you will make top dollar working for me!” In fact, she did many years later, worked for him for quite some time.

But she was never happy. Nothing was ever right…from the very start. Divorce was not an option back then, but my father managed to slide away from her. She left Hongkong for England, and he was meant to follow, but he kept putting it off, and never rejoined her.oslo  I had left for the U.S. for college not long before, and never lived with her again, either.   My mother wandered, from England, where the climate affected her arthritis, to Los Angeles, where she worked till she retired. She then moved to Guelph, in Canada, where her sister Phyl had settled with family. Phyl was twelve years younger than Di. She told me “I don’t know what would have happened to us kids when our Dad left Shanghai, if your mother hadn’t taken us on. She gave up everything to take care of us. We weren’t grateful then. We didn’t understand where all the money and servants and the house and shop went. Di used to work till the evening, and then come home with a splitting headache, yell at us, and go to bed until she had to get up the next morning to return to work. And she was just a kid herself!” Phyl was the only person who deeply cared for my mother, and actually took care of her until she died. I saw my mother rarely, and when I did, it was always a disappointment to both of us.

She visited me for a week during the years I lived and worked in Paris. She was in her seventies by then, suffering from severe arthritis, and diminished physically and emotionally. I invited her to a Chinese restaurant my friends and I frequented, and things looked promising as a dozen of us sat around a large round table and ordered various dishes. My mother signaled to the waiter with a clawlike hand and said, in Cantonese “bring us a big bowl of boiling water and a towel!” He did so promptly, and my mother took all our bowls and chopsticks and rinsed them, and dried them. The first dishes appeared. My mother signaled the waiter again. She was suddenly her old imperious self. “What is this?” she exclaimed. He tried to explain, but she waved it away. “This is not what we ordered. Take it away. Bring us…” she then continued at length. I sat there, mortified. My French friends were amused. Sending food back to the kitchen was a perfectly acceptable game to them. We finally got what my mother ordered. It was very good, of course. I never wanted to return to that restaurant again, but had to go there for a birthday dinner a few months later. As we sat down, the chef appeared at my side. “How is your mother? When is she coming? What a wonderful lady! We are waiting for her.”

She was dying when I saw her last. She lay in her hospital bed, a tiny, wizened woman. All her anger seemed drained out of her, and she murmured “How are you, dear?” She did not resist when I leaned over and gave her a hug. “You look very lovely, dear,” she said, for the first time in her life.

Harvey family at Christmas at Embankment building.  Joan and Sylvia in front

photo of Joan at 17, leaving Hongkong on a tramp steamer for San Pedro, California




The Angry Woman Part 1, Joan’s story

My mother was an angry woman all her life. She was the first born child of Mary and James Harvey.grandma_in_jacket grandpa_young Mary could not have another child for eight years. It was a son, finally, but my mother bore the brunt of her rage for those eight years of frustrated waiting. Daisy (a sweet name for a despised child) was forced to wear boy’s clothing. Mary was more Chinese than Western, so she subjected Daisy to various spells and curses. She dragged my mother to the temple, burning countless joss sticks. “She begged the gods to take me in exchange for a boy…I was right there, next to her. She dragged me to the altar!” Daisy’s life was offered up once more, when her baby brother was accidentally dropped and injured.

My mother insisted I chew several quarter sized calcium tablets every day when I was a child. “When I was five years old, Amah found me under my bed, eating the plaster off the wall. I was seriously lacking in calcium. And that’s NOT happening to you!” She told me her beautiful mother had the servants keep her homely child out of her sight. “I spent most of my time in school. Western school daytime, and Chinese school until evening. My Chinese writing wasn’t good enough for her, so she set a heavy book on my arm. I had to hold the arm up parallel to the page and keep writing.” At eight, my mother had a nervous breakdown and was no longer able to attend Chinese school. She made up for it by excelling in typing and stenography, not realizing that her future would be to support the family with these skills.

“I met your Dad at a dance,” she told me years later, when I was a teenager.momanddad “He married me because he was sorry for me. He was really attracted to one of the Leitao girls.”

I couldn’t dispute this at the time, because for as long as I could remember, my parents had a relationship of bitter arguments and long silences punctuated by fancy social occasions. They were miserable together at home, but were animated and beautifully dressed at their many parties at the Club, at home, or at friends’ houses. After a party at home, my mother would grumble “did you see Harold filling his cigarette case in the living room, as usual?” My dad, who had been the life of the party, was deflated afterwards and just shrugged. He would disappear into his rooms. Doors closed.

Managing five young siblings who had suddenly been deprived of both parents by death and by abandonment,  was a tough call for my mother. She felt her brothers and sisters did not appreciate her efforts; in fact, they all remember her extreme strictness. “I was so afraid they’d end up on the street, in bad company, out late! I had to lay down the law!”

dadmegranpaBy the time I was born, my mother had been through a few breakdowns, and was absent for the first six months of my life. I had a buxom wet nurse, Mei Lee, who lingered in the family for several years. My mother eventually fired her, suspecting my father of liking her too much. Old baby photos show my mother holding me, but I have little recollection of physical contact with her. My father was always good for a hug when he was around and my grandpa loved playing with us children.


photo of Mary, on the left, with a cousin

photo of James, on the right

photo of my father and mother on their wedding day

photo of grandpa, me and Dad in the garden of 131 Boissezon

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

In 1947, the Royal Danish Consulate General issued the following notification to each member of the Klyhn family in Shanghai, about 14 of us all together.danish letter In an instant, the six foot four inch Danish father and grandfather, originally from Schleswig Holstein, faded into irrelevance, and we became stateless. What had happened? I try to trace this back, and this is from my cousin, Ron, now settled in Vancouver, Canada. “My grandfather, mother’s Dad, left Schleswig Holstein at the time that local residents had to register whether they wanted to be German or Danish. He was on the Trans Siberian Railway on his way to Vladivostok, so he knew nothing of this requirement. This caused the Klyhn family to become stateless”.   No one could question Lauritz Klyhn as to how and why he happened to be on his way to Vladivostok, as he died suddenly in his forties while on the job at the lighthouse, granpaheadstoneand was buried in Amoy, leaving 5 children under the age of 10 and an illiterate Chinese wife, who, however, he had married legally.

Next, I turn to James Harvey, my other grandfather. He was married to Mary, who managed their dry goods store on Szechwan Road. They had seven children, but Mary died of septicemia while giving birth to their last child, who died at the same time. James didn’t even stay for the funeral, but packed up and immediately got onto a ship for Harbin.grampa_in_fur He vanished for nearly ten years. The house, the shop, the horse and carriage and its mafoo driver, the box at the Chinese Opera, also all vanished shortly. My mother took a job as a stenographer at the age of sixteen, and with the help of her Chinese grandmother, took over and managed the little family. So, a sixteen year old girl and her granny pulled the little family together. Ed, the youngest, who was only two when his Dad decamped, always resented my mother’s strict regime…”All I got was a plate of leftover carrots or beets for supper if I came home late from school. And she was a slugger, too!” Di worked hard, and granny cooked and cleaned. Di had had a harsh and loveless childhood herself. All she knew was the self discipline learned from writing Chinese characters with a heavy weight on her arm. The family was another burden she had to bear, and loving did not play a part in it. So, under her care, another lot of penniless Eurasians got a good charity education from Christian missionaries and gradually rejoined the middle class.

After about ten years, JaGRANDPAANDMEmes Harvey resurfaced, broke, but ready to rejoin his family. Why exactly did he have to leave, what exactly did he do all those years away; he never said…he seemed diminished, chastened on his return. He hung around, making himself useful in the households of his various children, and beloved by their children. James was a tall, handsome man, but not clever. He got along with children, as he was like a child himself.

Danish notification

photo of Lauritz Klyhn’s gravestone in Amoy,  collection of Graham Earnshaw

photo sent by James to family, from Harbin

grandpa James with Joan in the garden of 36 Boissezon

Internment, by Phyllis

Jack and I, and our 5 year old son, John, were tagged and housed together in a cubicle room at Yu Yuen camp. We shared our hut with the Currie family. The Japanese found radio 1out that John Currie was an amateur radio enthusiast and ordered him to repair their radio sets; all of ours had been confiscated, of course. While John was repairing their equipment, he gradually stole enough parts to build a short wave receiver. A Chinese memradio 2ber of the Shanghai constabulary smuggled in the valve for the set, and a wire curtain rod was used as an aerial. The wheels were milk can tops. John was able to build the radio set into a small framework, which when closed would appear to be a child’s toy truck. My son and the Currie daughter played with the truck on the porch of our hut, right in front of the Japanese guards. In the evening, we posted the kids outside the hut to watch for approaching guards. Meanwhile, I kept the set inside and took down, in shorthand, the 6 pm news from General MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia. I’d transcribe them into longhand and circulate the bulletins among the internees. The Japanese were suspicious, of course, and constantly searched, inspected and counted everyone. They would turn all lights off for days, leaving us in total darkness. Was I afraid for myself and my family? Sure, I was petrified as I watched my boy walking around with his truck. Butboy and radio we did what we did to survive with dignity. We organized schools, sick bays, sanitation and entertainment. We even had a piano until one night a Japanese guard interrupted our concert by unsheathing his sword and slicing through the piano chords. But we kept on with our music; someone had a harmonica!

We were obsessed with food, or rather, the lack of it. The Red Cross sent us packages, but we rarely got them. When there was a measles epidemic at the camp, the Japanese commandant issued each child one egg. Some weevilly rice appeared now and then, and we knew we had to consume the bugs for protein. Any valuables we had, we traded with Chinese outside the camp, which was only sealed against our escape. Items could be passed back and forth, including parcels from friends and relatives on the outside. My sister, Di, could always be counted on for unusual concoctions; she had the best of intentions. We soaked and ground up soybeans and corn used for animal feed; we could buy sacks of these cheaply. The soybeans we turned into milk, high in protein, and the corn into a mush, not worth recollecting .

The human body can stand an awful lot, we learned that.  I don’t think anything else that could happen to me now would bother me because we hit rock bottom then. When you are cold, hungry, and in the dark, not much else could happen to frighten you.

We heard later that my brother, Ed, only seventeen when he went into a different camp, in Pootung, had kitchen detail and was put in charge of keeping the fire going for cooking. Ed was always ready for fun and high jinks, and secretly paid the coal guy to smuggle a bottle of cognac in the coal. Probably not that often! We also heard, sadly, that the Japanese closed down the popular Canidrome, and slaughtered the greyhounds for food. Ed managed to get some of that meat for his group.  Tough and stringy as it was, he claimed it tasted a lot better than the rats he used to trap. Crisp fried cockroaches were a tasty snack, rich in protein.

We all suffered from malnutrition when we got out of camp.kration The American forces showered us with K rations, which included  milk powder, canned butter, processed cheese, Spam and Hershey bars, and best of all, cigarettes, which we hadn’t seen in years. We gorged ourselves at first and got quite sick until we learned to pace ourselves.

Our prewar servants, Hern Ling, our son’s baby nurse, and her husband Bing Sung, previously our handyman, who later became a construction foreman, met us at the gate of the internment camp as soon as it opened. They immediately took care of us. They cleaned our filthy, emptied out apartment, washed our clothes, cooked our food, did our shopping, etc. We were a pathetic, sickly family at first.

They were at the wharf to see us off when we left Shanghai soon after for Sydney, Australia on the AMS Reaper.  This began our circuitous journey through  three continents.  We were all in tears.  We had no money to give Hern Ling and Bing Sung, as we only had twenty five dollars to our name.  We never saw them again.

photos by AP of the radio, taken after the war

photo of John with the radio

a sample  K ration