Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Refugee from, what was once, Red China

As I think I might have mentioned before I am occasionally going to do a biographical sketch on past friends and acquaintances.  I do not want the people who influenced my life in either pleasant or negative ways to ever be forgotten.  At least by me.  The names will be changed to protect relationships.
There was a girl I knew who had escaped from Communist China named Ellen Chen.  She was part Japanese but spoke only Chinese and English.  As I remember she was from the mainland and her Chinese father and Japanese mother had escaped thru Taiwan with her and her brother David shortly after WWII.  She was only a few years older than I; and I was born in 1943.  For a number of years we were close friends.  We both worked at KLM, at the time, in Manhattan.  We lost touch after my husband and I left and moved to Long Island.  We became close because we were both interested in the lifestyles of the other and there was some kind of instantaneous attraction to one another.  Ellen was pregnant and I was invited to her baby shower at an apartment in Chinatown, NYC.  Her mom and the other ladies were very sweet and gracious but spoke almost no English.  Ellen didn't really have many friends her own age and none of them were at the family shower.  Ellen was crippled.  She had one leg bent and slightly shorter than the other and walked with quite a limp but didn't require a cane or other assistance.  I never asked what had happened and she never mentioned it.  Her husband had meet me at the subway when I arrived and walked me back to the subway when I left.  They were very concerned that I might get lost and not find someone to guide me who spoke English.
  Ellen"s husband, his name escapes me now, was cold and terse but very polite.  I thought he hated me but I most likely misread his reserve.  I remember the apartment I was at was functional and modern with almost no nick knacks or objects lying around and the food was conventional snacks and a shower cake  with a stork and baby on the front.  I guess I had expected something exotic with crickets in bamboo cages, and floor seating on mats.  I really knew nothing of Chinese culture at the time so drew on impressions from movies like "Sayonara", which was Hollywood Japanese.  Ellen and I gabbed together through the shower and the other ladies smiled and exclaimed softly when the presents were opened.  Everyone was a little off balance but a good time was had by all.
 Later Ellen had the most adorable little girl baby I thought I had ever seen.  Again, I do not remember the child's name.  I visited Ellen's apartment several more times after she had the baby. She and her husband had moved to a third floor walk-up apartment on 83rd street in upper Manhattan.  This was more like a place I had pictured in my minds eye.  The tiny kitchen was filled with Asian cooking vessels.  Ellen and her husband were vegetarian long before I became one and I remember she made a wonderful stir fried rice dish one of the times I visited her.  She never came back to work after she had her baby.  She also never came to my apartment because I lived in Queens and she was nervous about traveling out of her comfort zone of Manhattan.
As I mentioned we eventually lost touch but she was a dear friend and we had that sort of magical relationship that sometimes arises despite cultural and other lifestyle differences.