Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Christmas and New Year Greetings to you!

Where did November Go - somehow I have missed a whole month and now Christmas Sales seemed to have started without me!  Well, I just have to make the most of December before being faced with 2015; I don't want to miss out on Christmas and the New Year celebrations, so...I must put my skates on to catch up...oh no!   I just remembered - I didn't really learn to skate properly, as I was constantly picking myself up every five minutes - so no skates, but here's your Christmas and New Year greetings from the Romseys.  We wish you a very Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.

Just to recap on how November was missed, my friend Genevieve and I went to Crete in Southern Greece for ten days at the end of October and were pampered in an all-inclusive friendly, family hotel 'JO-AN' on Rethymno beach.  Genevieve had always wanted to go there since she was young, many moons ago, and I was glad to have a little holiday as Roy and I didn't go on a trip for two years, both involved with catching up on our writing projects.

Crete is a most beautiful island with lots of history and museums, particularly about the amazing Minoan Civilisation of 16th - 17th century B.C.  Wow, the Museum of excavated treasures, featuring home interiors, pillars, porticos and art simply blew me off!  What a civilisation!  The Architecture!  Mathematical innovations! intricate pottery! Law, order, art, clothes, and ways of looking at style and at life itself! Everything was so modern-day!  Admittedly their slavery system disturbed us but they didn't treat their slaves in the harsh way that were practised around the world more recently.  There was not enough time to find out why this incredible civilisation disappeared as the museum closed before I finished exploring.   I must go back again to explore.

November did a vanishing trick on us as the diary was cramped with activities and I got back in the swing of things with painting for the Romsey Art exhibition, coffee mornings, eye tests and doctor's appointments punctuated by lunch with friends, family or neighbours, and sadly the funeral of a long-time friend Colin Courtice, who will also be missed by our Art Group.  Roy too was very involved with the Romsey Historical Society, researching, photographing every detail of the Romsey Abbey as well as attending their weekly meetings.

If you have been following my other blog you will have noticed my recent leaning towards the fourth political Party in Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) under the leadership of Nigel Farage, an MEP who has first-hand knowledge of how ineffective the European Union is in spite of EU Members paying all they could possibly afford for its upkeep, its voracious appetite for luxuries simply devours billions of pounds and Euros like manna from heaven.

As for the UK our National Debt has now escalated so high, that there is no sign of it abating despite so many austere measures to squeeze more money from the tax-payers and all Departments under the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition.   So I have joined UKIP, the only political Party now capable of turning this situation around.  Read my reasoning in my other blog and join me in voting for UKIP in the next General Election in May 2015.  And if you can help this Peoples' Party to develop into a forward-looking sophisticated machine to govern our diverse cultural country, then there will be a happier tomorrow for everyone in Great Britain.

In 1965 I arrived at fog enveloped Gravesend by the P&O Passenger liner, Orcades on 25th March to find a very different United Kingdom.  There had been much improvement in London, such as the cleaning up of smog covered buildings and refreshing old architecture in the City, but the economy was stable, albeit still suffering from the effect of WW2, and tax was reasonable for any working man or woman.  Yes, we had immigration, but it was a controlled system of allowing those able to fill jobs and vacancies for the smooth running of the country.  Each entry was perused and passport stamped with status (I was a British Subject being born in British India) or valid time for visit or holiday.

This was a complete change of location for me coming from India, but having already travelled to many places previously colonised by Great Britain, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, I was at home in cosmopolitan London, and within a week I was a Temp working for the Nursing Council in Portland Terrace, giving me a breathing space to acclimatize to the weather, grey drizzly smoggy, commuting by bus or underground and finding my way around the city.  Working condition was not dissimilar to my last job in Calcutta, working in an open-plan office for the Personnel Department of Bird and Co's Paper Manufacturing Section.

The first time I tried to find the Piccadilly Circus Underground, I stopped a tall gentlemen striding along with his rolled-up umbrella for the direction, to which he replied: "Walk this way for 5 minutes, turn right and walk 7 minutes and you will see the Eros statue above a fountain in the circle. You enter any one of four entrances to the Underground trains below ".  I did get the job I applied for above the salubrious Cafe Royal, the London hallmark of the Italian conglomerate Fortes Holding, headed by the mustachioed Charles Forte, whose hotelier business acumen was second to none at the time.  I worked above the beautiful Regent Street's bustling thoroughfare and was paid to have lunch at their signature restaurant, the White Bear Inn, right below Eros and the busy traffic whirling around it.

Time to celebrate the New Year's arrival in a few hours' time I shall continue with my astonishing first experience of London in my next episode. Enjoy your New Year' Day and have a healthy year ahead!

Thursday, 2 October 2014


It's been a long break from the last blog I posted in April.   In just a few months the weather has changed from soggy to brilliant sunshine, a veritable reward for our patience over the blustery wet Spring.  Flowers on the terrace had been more vivid and colourful and lasting much longer.
We were able to plan many outdoor activities with friends here and abroad, including our fabulous trip to Dubrovnik with Pam and John from Perth in Australia.
We managed to celebrate two birthdays on this trip, and also visited a couple of Croatia's neighbouring States, lapping up the sunshine and warm sea air of the Dalmatian Coast, that was part of Yugoslavia before its break-up into several independent States in 1990.
BBQ at Jenny & Keith's home

Back in England we attended BBQs and luncheons, entertained friends at home, held coffee mornings, and generally enjoyed a spell of warm, dry weather to catch up with hobbies and outdoor chores around the home that could not be done during the cold wet months.  I also enjoyed a visit to London to see Genevieve, Tom and Gordon, as well as attending the Society for All Artist's annual event entitled "It's All About Art", at the Design Centre in Islington.  More than ten artists demonstrated their techniques and skills throughout three days, with workshops for everyone to participate and try their hand at different media: oil, acrylic, pastel, using new products at the show.
Youzhi painted a cock and 4 geese

This time I was accompanied by Youzhi who took part in a few watercolour workshops and found the SAA lectures and demos interesting enough to become a member too.  It was good to see Youzhi happy and relax again.  Bringing up a child whilst working three days a week starting at 8 a.m. is not
easy. Her enthusiasm for watercolour painting looks promising for a future hobby, that can help to calm and de-stress the busiest mum.  I hope she will be able to find time to paint on her days off work.

Amelie in the pink with Dad & Mum
Last weekend we celebrated Amelie's second birthday with wonderful food and children's games in the garden. Everybody enjoyed a piece of birthday cake, baked and prettily decorated by Amelie's parents, Jerome and Youzhi. What a talented couple, cheerfully coping well with today's busy and demanding  life.

We loved picnics
Looking back on life in India in the 1950s, our colonial home had a decorative blue and white mosaic floor, which was washed everyday to keep the house cool.  Our Zamadar must have had a hard time navigating around dozens of dining chairs around a large teak table, an upright piano and stool, armchairs and settee, as well as various storage cupboards for LP records, music centre, books and many other pieces of furniture that obstructed his daily cleaning.

Outdoor activities
We did help with some housework, like laying the table for dinner and clearing it, and occasionally we learned to make Chinese meat dumplings at weekends; more often we made curried potato chops or chicken sandwiches for parties; Mum and the cook would produce huge platters of Chinese food for dinner and we served tea and meals to Mahjong-player friends, including our parents, who greatly enjoyed playing this game whenever they have the time.

Our daily routine was easy. Walking to school or college was taken for granted, and even attending two French evening classes a week was welcomed exercise. Having lots of energy when young, meant nothing was too much trouble: we helped our parents in the business whenever necessary, we studied and passed exams, we learned to sing popular English songs and nursery rhymes, organised home parties, went to cinemas, met friends, celebrated birthdays, New Year and Christmas and generally had a seamless childhood, enjoying family outings, community projects like honouring the dead and grave-cleaning, paying respect to ancestors and burning incense and joss-sticks in our Clan temple and at home, especially over the Chinese New Year Spring Festival.
May and Dennis cutting cake
Peachy was a bridesmaid

In 1957 big sister May got married to Dennis, and she didn't have to perform some of the traditional customs which our second sister Yolande did the previous year. For this beautiful wedding May wore a lovely lace dress, long gloves and a pretty tiara, cutting the tallest wedding cake I had ever seen.  Fifth sister Olive and Dennis' youngest sister Peachy were bridesmaids, and five-year old Katy was flower girl, and the whole ensemble was stunning.  It was indeed a modern wedding at that time, and most memorable even for the Chinese community in Calcutta.

Carolyn Mark Ian Clifford Gilbert
Soon our second sister Yolande gave birth to her first born, Gilbert, followed by his brother Mark, and by the time Katy was ten years old, our parents had five grandchildren including May's three, Clifford, Ian and Carolyn,   It was amazing to see how children grow and learn so quickly, absorbing everything they see, hear or encounter.  I was lucky to be free to help May look after Clifford and Ian when she gave birth to her daughter Carolyn. I really love children, and see how quickly and cleverly they imitate and copy their parents and everyone around them.

The next wedding in the family was in 1961, my eldest brother Yee Leong married Yvonne, who came from an even larger family than ours. I was thrilled to be bridesmaids with close-friend Victoria, and spent some exciting time designing and being fitted with our lovely raw-silk gowns.   Katy and her chum Susan (left), were flowergirls and Dad's godson Eric was pageboy, supported by two bestmen - No.6 brother Yee Sing and our good friend Peter T.C. Leong (far right), who also loved dancing and partying.  Like Vicky TC was in boarding school in the Himalayan resort of Darjeeling.

Close friends and family gather most weeks
Suddenly our Home began to feel much smaller, as most events and celebrations invariably became a house full of bustling chatter, laughter and children running around, with meals being served and the mums looking to feed their kids, who were still playing outside with their cousins: there was never a dull moment!

Graduation Spring 1962
After my B.A. graduation in Spring 1962, I worked for three years, first in Personnel (Human Resources) of the American-owned Union Carbide, then in the Administration department of  the British conglomerate,  Bird & Co. At the same time I went back to evening classes at the Suffee Commercial College, to improve shorthand speed to 120 words per minute and a remarkable 100 wpm in typing, plus all the commercial subjects they taught, including five papers towards the Incorporation of Company Secretary, with the intention of sitting the final paper in Mercantile Law when I got to the UK.  Somehow, that didn't happen as life in London, from the day I arrived on March 25th, 1965, was hectic beyond belief, exciting but full to the brim, leaving no time for further studies.

More about my emigration into the United Kingdom shortly.
Enjoy what's left of the summer.


Sunday, 30 March 2014


Global warming?  More like global flooding!

It felt like Great Britain was drowning under the weight of our precipitation, so sodden was the soil in fields and low-lying towns and villages, that nearly half of England was hampered by flood water for over three months.  Under European Union's directives, our Environment Agency had stopped dredging our rivers for over a decade, to protect wild life habitats.  Many home-owners were at their wit's end and under great stress, as they watched their property destroyed, business at a stand-still or farms inundated and cattle suffering or dying.

Most farms have lost their window for planting this year.
Unable to flow into the sea after each torrential rainfall, the stagnant water posed a real hazard to health and safety, as sewage bubble back up the lavatory and floated in flood water.  Each successive storm played havoc with our coastal region and countryside, wrecking railway lines, losing homes in landslides and business thrown into disarray, with income, profit and livelihood at a standstill, at a time when Britons are facing the worst stringent period since the end of WW2. This freak weather had persisted for too long, with a day or two of sunshine, followed by weeks of non-stop rainfall.
The first day of March showed promise of Spring, so daffodils and pansies made their hesitant appearance.  Even Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, made a spectacular display in the north of Britain, joined by a swamp of starlings flitting among the lights. Alas! within a week, the weather reverted to heavy rainfall, with strong, gale-force winds buffeting the colourful blooms, and continued the flooding.  We badly need a month of sunny weather to dry out our walls and fields to get us back to normal life again.

Thousands of homes are waiting to be repaired; millions of pounds will be claimed from insurance and local councils; compensation promised by the Prime Minister need speedy delivery to all those who have lost everything.  Still the flood water refused to recede, as the rivers are full to bursting their banks. The Met Office has confirmed this winter had been the wettest since at least 1766, and the fifth warmest year since 1910.

The UK pay huge subsidies into the EU budget each year.  Would the EU now consider paying compensation for so much damage and loss, sustained by farmers and home-owners, as a result of their recommendation?
And should our caring Government now desist in granting planning permission to developers for building more low-cost homes in such flood plains, to avoid causing devastation to future generation?

Back in India, where I was born in Calcutta, the Monsoon season with its heavy downpour, was dreaded every year, but rarely stopped us from venturing out to school, work or business. We might splash out on a taxi or a rickshaw, but were not deterred from our commitments.  In the nine years of attending Loreto Secondary Day School, run by Irish Nuns, I never had a day off due to the weather, but took a day off, if Chinese New Year fell on a school day.
Mother Frances Clare

Mother Raphael & Miss Gomez
I loved school and admired all the teachers and Nuns for their passion to make us all better students.  We had great respect for Mother Frances Clare, an excellent Principal, who made it possible for us girls to have an all-round education, with choices to expand our horizon, knowledge, and experience, which gave us tremendous courage and confidence to deal with all life's challenges.

We were good at sport
Of the seven subjects I passed with credit in the Senior Cambridge Overseas Examination, I liked English Language and English Literature more than the others. We were not offered French in school, but on arriving at Loreto College for the Intermediate, 'A' level equivalent, we were asked to sit in on various lectures, to assess the subjects we would like to read for our B.A. degree.  I fell in love with French when I sat in on Miss Lahiri's French Literature, as she read out, L'isolement, a poem written by Alphonse de Lamartine, and explained why it was written with such passion
Jean Olivia Duru Sati & Gunwanti
and pathos, that I felt I had to learn more.  I pursued French wholeheartedly, with two evening classes a week at the Alliance Francaise du Calcutta, and recited verb conjugation and pronunciation every spare moment.

Sopranos singing Funiculi Funicula...
My hard-work paid off and I was able to go forward with French for my BA degree.  I was reluctant to give up English Literature, so opted for a Degree in English, French and Education.  With Distinction in French, the Alliance Francaise urged me to go further with Post-Graduation in French, which I declined as I felt in 1962, that England and the whole world beckoned, and that I had a lot to do before I could travel.

Jean with baby sister Katy
Whilst growing up in a big family, ensconced in our new, spacious colonial home, we young ones felt pretty smart and learned quickly.  With so much going on in our sauce factory and Mum's arts and craft shop, we learnt to appreciate that time was money. We studied hard and helped in the business when required: bottling, labelling and delivery; and when goods arrived from Hong Kong, helped to unpack thousands of hand-crafted ornaments, artwork and china-ware, some so delicate they were wrapped in tissues with rolls of newspaper and straw, tightly wedged into crates to limit movement and breakages for the long sea voyage to India.

I loved the hustle and bustle, and admired my mum most for her tirelessness, working six days a week, 9 AM till 8 PM and still found time at the weekends to take us to the cinemas, for walks and picnics, lavish mahjong parties at home with lunch and dinner, and even remembered to celebrate our many birthdays.  In the mid 1950s, our house was ideal for hosting the occasional dance parties that went on till mid-night, and I was in my element, learning all the new dances that came our way, especially when our older sisters were courting, and went to many dances held in Calcutta.

Wedding on 7th January 1956
Just after my youngest sister Katy was three years old, our second sister, Yolande, got married to Bob Chiu. We were so excited!  Sister Olive and I were bridesmaids and Katy was flower girl.  We loved our pretty dresses, beautifully made, complemented with corsage and bouquets of flowers that decorated us and everything. In a daze, I remembered Yolande having to walk under our eldest sister, May's pants, who customarily would have married first.

Bob and Yolande
Yolande had to go through many Chinese wedding customs, recommended by numerous Chinese friends, some much older than our parents, one elderly lady even had tiny bound feet. There were lots of people at the reception, as Bob and Yolande had lots of friends and family and the day went really quickly.  This was the first wedding in the family and we all thoroughly enjoyed the occasion, and talked and re-lived the wedding for weeks afterwards.

More of our life in Colonial India in the next episode.  For now in England, we Spring forward an hour at midnight on Saturday, into summer time, which means one hour less sleep, and on Sunday 30th March, we celebrate Mother's Day, at our friends, Cindy and Andy's home.

I wish you all a very Happy Mother's Day and shall be in touch again in a few weeks, probably during the Easter Holidays.  

Saturday, 1 February 2014



Fireworks on the Thames
Fireworks around the world welcomed in 2014 with a panacea of beautiful design and vibrant colours, lighting up the world's skies with sparkles and brilliance.  We wish each of you good fortune and better health in the NEW YEAR.  May you all find prosperity, happiness and goodwill, wherever you live, whatever your work or occupation.

To all our family and friends, here and around the world, Roy and Jean wish you
Gong Xi Fa Cai - A very Happy and Productive Lunar Year of the HORSE.

May you find strength, energy and willpower, as symbolized by the year of the Horse, starting from Friday 31st January!

Jean and Roy at home remembering old friends

This is our first photograph taken at home this year, with the Tang Horse given to us ten years ago by Gerry Fok, before he passed away. Sadly, we attended his wife, Margaret's funeral on Wednesday, 15th January who, aged 92, had lived a very full and eventful life, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and lots of friends young and old.  We have many good memories of both of them, in the U.K., in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and India, their parents knew our grandparents long before we were born, and we grieve for them like family.

Growing up in India, we celebrated a variety of Hindu and Muslim festivals, as well as Christmas and the New Year.  We enjoyed unwrapping our man-made tree, that was stowed away for eleven months, and bringing it back to life each December, with baubles, tinsels and blinking lights.

Our shop, 'Golden Arts and Crafts', in Calcutta's shopping centre, was really busy for the Christmas trade, and so was nearby New Market, a huge building with shops selling practically everything from clothing to jewellery, flowers to stationery, books and magazines, haberdashery, sewing machines, fabrics for dress or home furnishing, lavishly tiered wedding cakes down to basic bread, biscuits and confectionery, dried fruits and nuts, spices and all ingredients of condiments.

There was a separate section for raw food, fresh vegetables and fruits, live poultry or butchered meats, with all kinds of noise and animal sounds that muffled any haggling or bargaining, a great place to lose oneself for few blissful hours. Frenzied shopping didn't just stop on Christmas or Boxing Day, but continued until New Year's Eve, slowing down at around 5 to 6 P.M. with last minute purchases being wrapped in haste, as shop assistants hurried home to prepare for the partying, to bring in the New Year.

Calcutta was indeed a good place parties, held in each other's homes.  It was a melting pot of ex-pat Brits, Chinese, Southeast Asians, Europeans, Australasians, Armenians, Anglo-Indians and also Hindus, Muslims, and many travellers, missionaries, stragglers from the wars and many stateless individuals, disillusioned with their own country of birth, like my father and many of his friends, who preferred to live in India.  Musical films, classical, folk and pop music were great levellers for such a mixed community, who enjoyed the hospitality of this cosmopolitan city, where theatres, dramas and all cultural activities abound, embraced and perpetuated by all who lived there.

Dance inspired by Lion statue
In 1940s and mid '50s there was quite a large contingent of overseas Chinese living in Calcutta, and Chinese New Year was celebrated with Cantonese and Peking Operas staged over three evenings, some of the face-painted imagery of warlords and angry gods haunted my dreams well into my teens.

I much preferred the Lion or Dragon Dance, whose drummers rehearsed every evening for several weeks before the three-day celebration. New Year's Day started early for them as they strenuously danced their way from one shop to another in Chinatown, their rhythmic drumbeat boomed into our hearts, as we excitedly skipped along with the crowd, straining to see the lion's head lowered to lick its tail, or suddenly be surprised by the head lifted high above you with eyes twinkling or glaring momentarily, whilst every intricate step is skillfully complemented by the tail-bearing dancer.

Our Chinese grocery shop heartily welcomed the Lion Dance every year, and in return for the good wishes bestowed on us, a red envelope of lucky money would be tied to the top of a pole on the first floor, for the Lion to reach up to harvest their reward, entertaining all young and old, whose smiles and claps of appreciation added to the joys of New Year.   As the dancers moved to depart, Uncle Poon would light firecrackers at the shop entrance to drive away evil, as the Lion danced around the fireworks, bowing their thanks and retreating their steps to a final fanfare of drums, on their way out to their next assignment.

Beside manufacturing soya and chili sauces, our staff would have spent many months, preparing air-dried specialty ducks and pork sausages for the holiday demands, stocking up on dried mushrooms and other ingredients required for Chinese food, ready for the busy Chinese restaurants and a large community celebrating the Lunar New Year.  On New Year's Eve everyone stopped work at 5 p m. to sit down for an early End-of-Year dinner, when my father would hand out red packets of bonus with good wishes of long life and prosperity, and a well-earned three days' rest.

Drum and cymbals played for lion dance

It was customary to spring-clean our homes, settle any outstanding debts and resolve any differences before sitting down with all family members for the lavish Year-End dinner.  On New Year day, we ate chai, a Buddhist vegetarian meal like those served in ancient monastery, minimising work for the kitchen.  Unlike Christmas, we didn't get presents, but each had new clothes, which we put on to visit the older generations, such as aunts, uncles and Khaimah, my brother's godmother, bearing fruit like oranges and confectionery to wish them good health and prosperity.  We were treated to special nine-layered cake and lotus-filled dumplings, and given Lixi, little red packets of 'good luck' money, which we looked forward to every year, to add to our little stash of savings, our only form of pocket money.

Lion Dance encountered in Malaysia
On the second day of New Year, newlyweds would visit their in-laws and extended families, exchanging fruits and confectionery, and giving red packets of 'Lucky' money to children and anyone else not yet married.  On the third day, friends and distant relatives would visit each other for friendship and goodwill. This is probably why, in China, millions of people travelled long distances to get home for the New Year, as many old Chinese customs survived even the Cultural Revolution, and the only restraint on family reunions would be due to economic situations, extreme poverty or an exceptional sense of duty to their jobs or responsibility.

During our years of travel, Roy and I had come across the Chinese Lion Dance in many countries, including Argentina, the colours, costumes and passion of each troupe had fascinated us, intriguing to find such culture had spread worldwide and the recognisable drum-beat so well practised and passed on to younger generations.  We love the Lion Dance footwork and always stop to watch it wherever we come across them.

Enjoy the New Year celebration!  I will be in touch again in a few weeks' time.

Friday, 3 January 2014


Happy New Year 2014

We wish you all Health, Wealth and Prosperity this YEAR, whatever your job, wherever you live, and however hard life had been for you in the past, let us all begin anew with hope for a bright future; success in new ventures and contentment in all our achievements, however big or small. 

This wonderful firework was planned with great precision
We wish our Government every success in all they do for us.
With fantastic vision and design

Carried out with panache and imagination

Friday, 29 November 2013


St. Jude's Day Storm was disruptive

As we put our clock back an hour for extra daylight in winter, urgent warnings were broadcasted of a severe storm approaching the UK, which put the whole country on full alert. When the storm arrived with hurricane-force winds, wreaking havoc on trees, cars and roofs, it caused widespread disruption to air, sea and road travel.  "St. Jude's Storm" peaked at 3A.M. on Monday, feast of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.  Black-out ensued for hundreds of families where power lines came down, buses, underground tubes and trains were cancelled until debris on railway lines could be removed.

Firemen assessed the damage
All emergency services were deployed, and insurers poised for serious damage to homes and business. Fortunately, timely Met. Office warnings to everyone to batten down the hatches and stay indoors, greatly helped to reduce damage and loss of lives, lessons learnt from the great storm of 1987.

A week after our storm, Cyclone Phailin swept through the Bay of Bengal, across the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, over 90 towns and 35,000 villages, with a turbulence spanning 1,000miles, and wind speed of 125mph.  9ft-high waves surging up the east coast, destroyed homes and slum dwellings in its path.  Again, timely warning from the Meteorological office persuaded many to leave the area before the cyclone arrived, saving hundreds of lives, unlike the super-cyclone of 1999 that ripped through Orissa, killed over 10,000 people, 400,000 farm animals, and displaced 1.5millions from the poorest regions of India.
Haiyan destroyed this child's home

Even more horrendous was Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines last week, narrowly missing its Capital of Manila, and totally destroying the whole town of Tacloban. This was the 28th typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, survivors were stunned and shocked, subdued by weariness and desperately in need of food and drinking water.

Millions homeless in Tacloban
The death toll rose to several thousands, many still not accounted for, and no news yet from some areas that took the brunt of this super typhoon.  Devoid of sanitation, food and drinking water, survivors would need immediate help to relocate to clean and safer regions, before any healthcare could be administered.

We are very fortunate in England to seldom see such typhoon, cyclone or tsunami of the magnitude that had destroyed so many beautiful places around the world, but we must not be complacent, storms are getting more frequent, and threatening our green and peaceful land, especially as global warming was already affecting every country on earth.  

Picnic at the Botanical Garden
In 1950s' India, I remember enjoying long, sunny days with bright, cloudless skies, especially in Calcutta and much of Southern India, but when the monsoon came, dark, ominous heaven would suddenly open wide its portal, with huge deluge of rain, thunder and lightning that cracked around us with frightening speed, often if you were out, you would find nowhere to hide and simply resigned yourself to getting soaked to the skin.

As a large family, we always seemed to be planning for weekend outings or swimming at the Ordinance Club, walks along the busy thoroughfare of Chowringhee, or taking a rest on the green grass at the Maidan. Sometimes we took a picnic to the Botanical Gardens, or visited the impressive marble edifice of Victoria Memorial, a veritable treat for most visitors to Calcutta.

At least once a month, my Mum would book tickets for a cinema in town, as she loved Hollywood musicals, films and drama.  Also there would be a birthday or two to celebrate most months, and without any excuse at all, we would have a party, or get together a few tables of Mahjong players on Sundays, when the girls would be called on to serve tea and sandwiches.  We always found something to do, or something to look forward to, at home or school.

Just after our youngest sister Katy was born, my father decided to find a larger home for us, and managed to find a lovely colonial house with thick walls that kept us cool, high ceiling in all five ensuite bedrooms on the ground floor, around the dining room and an enormous lounge-sitting room, that stretched across the whole width of the house.  An upright piano and two mahogany units filled with LPs of some of the best classical music that money could buy, were left to us by the previous owner, a widow who returned home to England.

The double gated entrance was flanked by a two-storey building with two maisonette flats on the right, and a small doorman's dwelling on the left, in which we housed our sweeper's family.  The front yard led to a few steps up to the main house foyer, a flight of stairs up to a three-bedroom flat with a terrace, which was rented out to an Anglo-Indian family.  As they were sitting tenants, we left that well alone. My father saw the potential of the back garden being used partly as a soya sauce factory, with space for all the vats and jars for fermentation of soya beans, along one side of the garden, leaving enough space for flowers and the guava trees.

Macbeth was performed in the garden
Reflecting back to that period, my father must have had notification of a wide Trunk Road being proposed, that would sweep through the so-called Chinatown area where we lived, because in under ten years our grocery shop premises would have been demolished to give way to that road.  My father wasted no time in getting our new house ready for occupation.

First he had a large shed constructed along the garden wall with its back entrance.  Next he designed a large furnace for the eight-foot diameter wok to cook ingredients for the soya sauces, with a smaller stove for making chili sauce.  An artesian well was drilled to the side of the house to get our own supply of water, a large amount needed for washing and bottling as well as for fermentation of the soya beans.

My father was quite an architect in the renovation of the main house, a new teak front door was flanked by two toughened glazed windows with strong iron bars, allowing for air flow in summer, plus another door similar in style, added to the front bedroom, both opening into the foyer, making the entrance quite stunning and modern.  The one thing that I did not agree with my father, was when he had two victorian free-standing bathtubs taken away from the two main bathrooms to install showers, which he said would use less water. I really fancied those bathtubs.
Family photograph taken on the patio

My father's most creative concept had to be the beautiful pink concrete patio, built along the whole width of the back of the house, with seating built around the raised outdoor sitting area, giving us so much pleasure for years afterwards, for parties, moon festivals and just generally keeping cool during the hot, humid season. From here, two steps down to the paved path led to the sauce factory, passing the garden on the right, behind which was the kitchen outhouse.

Whilst all this work was going on, my Mum and Dad, elder brother Yee Leong and myself moved into the house to deal with the interiors. I was in  my element, so happy to be in such a wonderful surrounding, with space I had never dreamed of in my fourteen years of life.  We chose colours for the rooms and doors to be painted by decorators; Mum and I measured for curtains, bought fabrics from various places in town; and on Sundays our Singer sewing machine would run up miles of fabric for so many windows!

Speak to you again soon in a few weeks.

Monday, 30 September 2013



I'm not out of the woods yet
The main problem with retirement is time that refused to stand still; each moment gone before you realised it.   Like a fallacy, you could never find time; Roy and I had thought that we would have plenty of time to do all the things we couldn't do when running our business. How wrong we were!  Time, which you had plenty when young, dissipates in retirement. 

In spite of my race against this volatile and invisible time, I am determined to pause a while to ponder on my Life's Journey, by stepping back in time to 1948 in India.  A country that had journeyed sedately through centuries of British East India Company and British Raj & Crown rule, to be suddenly granted her Independence in the aftermath of World War 2.  A war that so depleted Great Britain's resources and manpower, that to continue governing India, with its vast ethnic and economic problems, became untenable.  Independence was subsequently also granted to many other British colonies.

Leaders of the newly partitioned India and the newly created East and West Pakistan were thrown into chaos and disarray with the speed at which Britain granted their Independence. For a few years following 15th August 1947, there were uprisings, strikes, protest marches and religious killings that flummoxed the new leaders and hampered their organisation.  The changeover was not easy, nor was the enormous task of dealing with the mass movements of Hindus and Muslims across several borders after the Partition. 

Most daunting of all was taking over the reign of government for this vast sub-continent of many princely states and principalities, with as many varieties of culture and ethnic languages, that had challenged the British Empire for the hundreds of years of its colonisation.  Just finding a common language to replace English, to communicate with all the ethnic tribes and princely kingdoms, was difficult enough, let alone forming a Government for the administration of the whole of India.

Throughout this period of change, my father's focus was on finding our family members in China, and bringing them to India. He discovered that they had finally escape from the Japanese-held areas, but not yet within the enclave of the Chinese Communist regime, though every province in China was ready to embrace the promises made by Mao Tse Tung's communist party, that with equality, each citizen was entitled to be fed, clothed and nurtured. 
Yee Shong & Yee Chong, aged 6 & 4  

Towards the end of 1948, father's agent in Hong Kong managed to secure passage on a ship bound for India for our step-mother, three sisters and a brother.  For three months, my two younger brothers and I were mesmerised by the many changes to our small apartment above the grocery shop. Carpenters came and went, measured and quoted, and returned with timber and tools to build beds and partitions to fit the different areas to accommodate eleven.  
Older brother Yee Leong

My older brother seemed to understand the situation better, and helped our parents with the relocation of goods into the newly re-vamped warehouse in the backyard, to free up space directly above the shop, for a bedroom for four boys.  They then partitioned the long and narrow landing above the stairs to create a room 8 ft by 25 ft, for four girls, with an 8-foot square bed against the end wall to sleep three, and a single bed along one length of wall up to the doorway. Along the opposite wall, they constructed a wide wardrobe and a four-draw chest unit with a mirror above, ingeniously leaving just enough space for climbing in and out of bed. Cosy it certainly was.

Other alterations were carried out whilst we waited excitedly for the ship to arrive early in 1949.  As children we never questioned the whys and the wherefores of our enlarged family; we simply accepted that we have another brother, three sisters with another mum arriving from China to join us.  At age 12, 9, 6 and 4, my brothers and I were happy enough to simply welcome the extra company, and being Chinese, we were naturally gregarious.  
Big Sister May

Even so, it took a couple of months for us to settle into our new arrangements, especially hard for our siblings, not used to the ways of India, with so many ethnic languages, culture and customs as expressed by the colourful festivals, so different from the ones they knew. Suddenly, I found myself ranked seventh instead of second, and my oldest brother Yee Leong in fourth position, and to show respect for our elders, we addressed each other by their ranking.

Second sister Yolande
Our two oldest sisters were May, addressed as Big sister; Yolande, Second sister; a third child was a son who died at birth; my eldest brother Yee Leong ranked fourth; Olive, our fifth sister; Yee Sing from China was sixth brother; myself at seventh; my younger brothers, Yee Shong at eight; and last but not least, Yee Chong numbered nine.  Father was called Ah Pa,  Mama came next, being older than my mother, whom we called Ah Ma. 
Jean and Olive, 1950

Meanwhile  Ah Ma, was doing what she did best, organising to get us all into English-medium schools, but found that we had to attend a private school first, to get our English up to entry standard, particularly difficult for our older siblings from China.  Hopefully these new challenges helped them forget some of the terrible hardship they endured. 
Jean and Mum in Hong Kong 1957

Strange that our new-found sisters and brother didn't talk much about the dangerous time they had to face, even in all the years we grew up together.  We always enjoyed each other's company, and found a lot we had in common.  As a big family, we had a lot of fun.
Mama was ingenious

Only a few months ago, our Second sister Yolande, now nearly 81, decided to cast her mind back to recall for us, some details of Mama's ingenuity in planning their survival in China.  She stitched money and the Calcutta address in the hem of each child's clothing, in case they were separated or she got killed.  By being extremely polite when questioned by the Japanese, she showed them due respect and managed to keep the family out of harm's way. Others in the village were not so fortunate.

As they fled from their village, Mama made sure a bag of rice was tied to each child for their individual survival.  She was a calm and patient mother, teaching the children to be serene, abiding their time to make good their escape.  She was inspirational, and I loved her as much as my own mum.  In 1952, Mama gave birth to our youngest sister Katy, who was a delight for the whole family. A lovely baby whom everyone enjoyed coddling and I loved feeding her when she started to eat solid food, especially eggs. 

Katy was born 1952
At aged ten I left Chinese school and we all did an intensive course in English language before being registered into three different schools.  Fifth sister Olive and I went to Loreto Secondary school run by lovely Irish nuns.  For three years I struggled to make the grade, but it was much tougher for the older siblings, brought up speaking only Chinese.  However, I managed to learn many Nursery Rhymes in order to sing them to Katy, and years later, got her interested in songs and lyrics, as we listened to old favourites around a radio.  And when I was reading English for my B.A. I got everyone involved in a home production of the Shakespearean play of Macbeth, with Katy taking several roles 

I made great progress in English in year four, thanks to the fabulous teacher Miss Moony, who had the whole class on our feet round the classroom every day, each given a word to spell; if correct, you sat down, otherwise you went round again for another turn until you spelled your word correctly. Miss Moony was extremely good at teaching English grammar; her analysis and parsing lessons were superb; her style and method of teaching got me interested in learning other languages all my life, first French, then German whilst in India, and later Spanish at Salamanca and Central and South America.

I even got to grip with Hindi and some Bengali, obtaining nine Senior Cambridge 'O' level equivalent, by December 1958, to join Loreto College for the Intermediate, 'A' level, and the Calcutta University's Bachelor of Arts degree in English, French and Education in 1962.
Family Portrait in 1953 for Mama & Dad's 25th Anniversary

Once we were settled into our new school routine in 1952, my mother decided that she could bring in extra income by opening a shop in the town centre of Calcutta.  She found suitable premises on Lindsay Street, near the New Market, which she acquired along with three incumbent shoe-makers, who made bespoke hand-crafted shoes to order, a business she continued whilst fitting out the shop and waiting for the Chinese imports to arrive.  

Golden Arts and Crafts was established in 1953, and when the beautiful Chinese porcelain ware, silk and cork painting and ivory and soapstone carving arrived, the shop was the first of its kind in Calcutta, and the whole of India at that time.  I loved every item on display, and learned a lot about China's history through various items of import.  Every day after school from 3.30 pm I joined my mother until closing time at 8 pm, and my brother Yee Leong helped with book-keeping, and took up accountancy for his B.Sc. Degree.

My mother had one assistant, Molly, to help her in the shop, and as I helped with packing the purchases, I regretted the loss of every piece that was sold! Much of our sales were bound for the UK, as Chinese artefacts were also favoured by many Britons returning home from their postings in India, at Christmas and holidays. 

Be in touch again in a few weeks' time, to continue my Journey to England.