My twin sister, Lu, and I were thirteen years old when we left behind everybody we loved and everything we owned in Beijing, China. At 4 AM one cold November morning, we were awakened by my father, my mother, and the Mother Superior from the French School, “Sacre Coeur,” which we attended. We were each handed a small suitcase with some clothing, but no money or any identity documents. When the small plane took us away, I could see my parents and Mother Superior standing on the ground, waving goodbye to us. I can see that image just as clearly today as I did then.
We were sent to Nanking and then on to southern Taiwan to live with my sister Amy. The next three years were so traumatic and so sad, that I cannot remember the place we lived in, the bed I slept on, or what I ate. I do remember that we were given private lessons in English, French and Chinese. It was tough and we missed our friends from the French School. Our parents had gone into hiding and none of us knew where they were.
When I was sixteen, I read in the daily paper that the French Embassy was looking for a French speaking social secretary. It was on a Thursday that I rode the train from Kaoshiung to Taipei. I took a pedicab and went to the Embassy. The Ambassador hired me and told me I would be picked up by a chauffeur on Monday to start work. He would be paying me in U.S dollars. It was so much money that I was totally speechless. I was going to be FILTHY RICH! After I left the Embassy, I realized that I had no place to live and almost no money. Once again I bought a newspaper and saw an advertisement that read, “Mrs. Wong, wife of a member of the Legislative Yuan, is looking for an English teacher for six hours a week and will provide room and board.” I took a pedicab to her house to see if I could land that job too. She hired me and I moved in that night. How lucky I was! My life has been a series of fortunate occurrences that always seemed to pop up when I needed them most.
I loved my job in the Embassy. I felt so sophisticated that I started smoking French Gauloise cigarettes and drank champagne with the staff every afternoon at the end of the workday. The Ambassador trusted me and I was allowed to carry the diplomatic pouch to Hong Kong every month. I took advantage of these trips to have tailors make me Chinese “chongshan” dresses in satin, brocade and Chinese silk, and for shoemakers to hand-craft matching shoes.
Julian Freychet, my thrifty French co-worker, suggested that he put away 60% of my salary in the safe for future needs. He said I was spending every dollar I earned on more beautiful outfits than I could possibly use in Taiwan. He was right, of course, and I am forever grateful that he taught me to be less wasteful and to save something for the future.
During this time, I met an American named Jack McKeehan, who took Mandarin Chinese classes from me. I became totally infatuated with him and he with me. He worked for “Western Enterprises,” which was a front for the CIA. Soon he was able to speak basic Chinese and even to write. He told me that when his time ended in Taiwan, he would marry me and take me to Knoxville, Tennessee. I did not know quite where that was, only that it was in America. I was so excited because I had always wanted to go to America, which is called “Mei Gwo” in Chinese, which means “beautiful country.”
On my birthday, he gave me a record player with 12 albums of country and western music. I loved it so much, and still remember some of my favorites. Songs like, “Seven Lonely Nights,” “Send Me the Pillow That You Sleep On,” “If You Loved Me Half as Much as I Loved You,” and especially, “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The last song is still my favorite and always will be.
After I had worked six or seven months with the Embassy and felt very secure in my job, I decided to go back south to pick up my few belongings. On our return to Taipei the small plane in which I was a passenger crashed on takeoff and all four of us on board were injured. I remember seeing a gaping hole on my left leg and my back was so painful that I couldn’t move.
Taiwan was quite primitive at the time and nobody knew what to do with us. We each lay on a bed in a big cold room, where we were given minimal first aid. I decided to try to reach Jack by phone to tell him what had happened to me and to ask him to contact my twin sister, Lu. She was working as an airline stewardess and was hard to locate. When Jack answered the phone he said, “Don’t let anyone touch you, I will take care of you!”
That evening Jack marched into the room, pushing aside anyone who was in his way. He was wearing fatigues, combat boots, and a cocky cap. He was so handsome he literally took my breath away! He said, “Come on, let’s go. I have a stretcher waiting and we will fly back to Taipei where Dr. Marino will take care of you.”
The next morning I was in the McKay hospital. Dr. Marino took an X Ray and found that I had six cracked vertebrae. He placed my head on one table, my legs on another, and started to wrap my body with thin gauze. When that was done, the gauze was covered with wet plaster of paris. It took three days for the plaster to fully dry. I was wearing a body cast from my neck to my hips and it weighed over 40 pounds! Consequently, I could wear only large mens’ shirts over elastic pants. I never looked in the mirror because I knew how grotesque my body must have looked.
I continued to work with the French Embassy and Jack continued to take care of me. He never left my side unless he was out in the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. He was not embarrassed to take me out to restaurants and movies, and he had his cook prepare special foods and drinks to keep me healthy. I loved him so much that I gave up all my friends to be with him. I did not even spend time with my twin sister!
Six months later, Dr. Marino told me he was ready to take off my cast. He told me that my back had healed perfectly and I was as good as new.
I started wearing my lovely Chinese dresses and shoes, felt beautiful and confident, and was my happy self again. Jack, however, changed his attitude towards me. He was extremely jealous and frequently accused me of flirting with other men. His behavior became so extreme that I became afraid and knew his behavior was not normal. However, I was so in love with him that I was willing to accept his abuse and his false accusations. I spent every minute with him when I was not working and he was my only friend. Still, I worried about his attitude and after several months I began to have doubts about marrying him.
On July 14, Bastille Day, the French Embassy was having a big celebration. Men were asked to wear tuxedos or dress uniforms, and ladies dressed in evening clothes. I told Jack he could probably pick me up around 9 PM. However, at nine the party was still in full swing so I called and told him to pick me up later. He became furious and banged down the phone. About fifteen minutes later, he charged into the party, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and tennis shoes. He grabbed me by the arm and said, “Let’s go!” I was so embarrassed that I nearly cried. I told him to leave because I was expected to stay until the party was over.
That night I told him I could not marry him. I knew I would be losing the man I loved and the best friend I ever had. I would also lose my chance of seeing America. But I was afraid of how he would act towards me after we got married when I would be all alone with him in a strange country. My decision took him by surprise, but after a prolonged discussion he finally agreed. We kept on seeing each other, but on a different basis and quite soon it was time for him to return to the United States.
At that time I was also taking Spanish lessons. I thought that since I already spoke French and English, Spanish would be easy. Jack had always taken me to the Spanish Embassy for the lessons and picked me up when they were over. Even though I was not going to marry him, he still did not want me to take a pedicab alone, so he introduced me to a friend of his who was also interested in learning Spanish. He introduced me to this quiet, handsome man named Richard Newman, who, of course, has been my husband now for what seems to be a million years.
Jack was leaving the next morning around six a.m. I told him that I could not bear to go to the airport to see him off, so we said goodbye the night before. During the time that I was going out with Jack, I would often say to him how I wished there was an armed forces radio station in Taipei. To listen to good American music, we had to tune in to the Philippines and the reception was very bad. I woke up around three a.m. still wet with tears, when I heard some loud banging on top of my room; Jack was installing an antenna so that I could get better reception from the Philippines. My heart was broken and I knew I had lost a man who truly loved me.
About twenty years later, when we were on home leave, I told Dick I would give Jack a call. He was a lawyer living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He told me that he was divorced, but his son was living with him.
When Jack was in Taiwan, he did magic shows for charity, and I would often be up on the stage as his assistant, wearing a short, shiny outfit. I asked him if he still practiced magic and if he still remembered how to speak and read Chinese. He told me that he was too busy to practice magic, and that he had forgotten his Chinese. He said, however, that he sometimes carried a Chinese newspaper around to impress people. He also told me that he was bald, because a few days before at a charity function one hundred dollars was offered to any man who volunteered to have his hair shaved off. I thought that was very cool and impressive. He asked me if Dick and I could visit him, but I declined. That was the last I heard from Jack.
Dick and I became very good friends. He picked me up twice a week for Spanish classes and we went out on dates. I also invited him to be my escort anytime there was a reception at the French Embassy. Dick told me something I did not know. He said that my twin sister, Lu, and I were famous in the American community. They knew we spoke many languages, that one was an airline stewardess and one worked for the French Embassy. I was surprised to learn that.
Dick was completely different from Jack, he wanted me to have friends and enjoyed meeting them and he never doubted anything I said or did. I did not feel tense or worried about his reactions and every time I was with him it was relaxing and fun.
Dick had only a few months left in Taiwan, but he promised that he would come back and marry me. Even though I was only seventeen years old, I was also very realistic. I thought that once he returned to America and started dating beautiful American girls he would forget all about me. I read many American magazines and I was always amazed at how beautiful, blond, and blue-eyed the girls were. I was sad to see him go, but we promised that we would keep writing to each other. He never forgot his promise and the letters kept coming.
Several months after Dick left, an older man came to the French Embassy looking for me. He told me that he had worked under my father for many years and that he had been nominated by the Taiwan government to go to Athens, Greece, as the Chinese ambassador. He needed a social secretary who could speak French and English. He offered me the job and would give me a week to think about it. I was jumping up and down for joy and said “Yes” immediately.
At last I would travel, not as an ordinary citizen, but as a diplomat. I would see Europe and visit all the wonderful countries I studied about. I would climb the Acropolis, visit the Roman Empire, explore the medieval castles in Spain, and finally on to France, land of my dreams. I would find the perfect spot by the Mediterranean sea, speak French while eating baguettes, brie cheese, and truffles, all washed down by good French wine. I was intoxicated with excitement!
The next month, I kept the tailors and shoe makers busy making me beautiful Chinese outfits. Julian Freychet gave me all the money he had saved for me and I was amazed at how much it was. Everything was going my way.
I lived in the Chinese Embassy in Greece. I had my own little maid and Embassy servants served our meals in silver domed trays. I went to diplomatic parties and photographers followed me everywhere; I don’t think they had ever seen a young Chinese girl before. Miranda, the daughter of our landlord, invited me to go to a movie with her three days after I arrived in Athens. I wore a Chinese dress with slits up the thighs and caused a huge commotion. Four Greek soldiers followed us to the movies and then back to the Embassy. They handed me a note that read, “Young lady from the East, we hope you will call us sometime.” They had all written down their names and telephone numbers. I still have that little piece of paper. What a sweet memory!
Dick and I kept up our correspondence and he wanted to come to Greece to visit me. I kept making excuses. I was too afraid to make a commitment. I felt he wanted to get married, but I was having too much fun in this wonderful country. Greek man looked like gods, they were so handsome. I was loving the attention and enjoying the diplomatic parties. The Ambassador did not allow me to go out on my own, but there were many diplomatic parties to attend. He also promised to send me to Paris after I had completed two years with him.
Dick, however, persisted for over a year. Finally, he said he had enough money saved up and he was coming to visit me. He told me in his letter that I needed to make a decision, to say “yes” or “no” to marrying him. He said he needed to know so that he could move on with his life.
I went to the Ambassador to tell him that I had a friend coming to visit. He asked, “What is his name?”. I replied, “Richard Newman,” and the Ambassador said “What kind of a Chinese name is that?”
I made my decision in a very childish way. I thought to myself, if he looks handsome when he comes off the plane I will say “Yes.”
We were married in the Chinese Embassy and the Ambassador gave me away. I wore a red Chinese dress for good luck. Even though I had only known Dick for four or five months, in my gut I knew he was a good man and would be a good husband. Once again, my instincts were correct, and we have been happily married ever since. We have two wonderful children and two grandchildren. We lived in thirteen countries on five continents.
I am so blessed because I feel like a citizen of the world. I enjoy all peoples and all cultures. Lucky me! I have based my life on the “Yin Yang” philosophy, “Balance” and “Opposites”, and I also know that “Happiness” is not given, it must be earned.