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.
In December 1967, we were back in California on home leave from La Paz, Bolivia. We stayed with Ruth, Dick’s older sister and family. Ruth and I went shopping every week because I was busy buying shoes, clothes and other supplies to take to our new post, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. One of the most beautiful items I bought was a silver punch bowl, with 12 cups. I could imagine the delicious lunches I would prepare and serve my guests champagne punch, or use the bowl for “walnut tea”, one of the most famous Chinese deserts.
One morning while we were having breakfast the doorbell rang and there was a telegram for my husband, Richard. It was from Lyndon B. Johnson ordering him to Vietnam instead. Wives and children were not allowed to go. We could, however, choose to live in the United States, Hawaii, Bangkok, Manila or Taipei. I was devastated and could not imagine what I would do with my children for the next two years.
It was very exhausting watching the elections for so many months. I’m glad it’s finally over and even happier with the results.
My husband, Richard, was a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State for over twenty years, and we served in thirteen countries on five continents. We were always proud to represent America. Our job was to make friends with the local people and introduce them to all that was good about our democracy, our culture, and our people.
During the last eight years we seem to have lost our way. We were not that interested in talking to anyone, other than our friends and allies. We did very little to engage diplomatically with other countries. Our efforts were, for the most part, too little, too late, or nothing at all. We put into place a policy that said, in effect, “our way, or the highway.”
Finally the elections are over and Barack Obama is our president-elect. He will not be our president until January, but I am already excited for America. The very fact that we elected such an intelligent and thoughtful BLACK man has already improved our image in the world. Once again it makes me very proud to be an American. Now, we will use diplomacy first, rather than force, to settle our world problems. We will listen and respect what others have to say.
This article of mine was first published at JustOneOpinion.com on December 14th, 2008. Just One Opinion is a website that is edited and managed by my friend Richard Kelly and my webmaster, John Hoyle. Be sure to check it out.