Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Aunt Lily

on November 1, 2013

There was then in Paris a young man by the name of Chang, Lung. He had just completed his PhD through all kinds of trials and tribulations.

China had been increasingly sending more and more students out to various Western countries on scholarships since the early 1900’s. Lung was one of these. He had been awarded a scholarship to Switzerland and had been doing quite well when suddenly, in 1949, the Nationalist government lost the war and had to retreat to Taiwan. All government funds evaporated and all scholarship students were left stranded in foreign countries.

Lung decided to continue with his studies one way or another. He scrimped and saved and did odd jobs. He scavenged trash cans for newspapers and magazines and resold them at street markets. Eventually, over ten years later, he earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees. He now spoke and wrote fluently in French, English and German, as well as in his native Mandarin Chinese. He came to the Chinese embassy in Paris, in search of a job.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs normally holds Higher Exams, through which it selects its employees. But this was a different case. Lung had already proven his prowess in foreign languages and had sparkling qualifications. He was directly hired, without having to take the exam. Everyone at the embassy welcomed him warmly. “Now,” said well-meaning colleagues, “we need a Shuang Xi Lin Men (double happiness alights at the door)!”  or, good news come in two. Meaning, why don’t you get married. Immediately, all the ladies turned into matchmakers and looked for suitable candidates.  Mrs. Kung asked my mother, “Don’t you have three sisters?” Indeed, Mama was the eldest of eight, three younger sisters followed by four brothers. Aunt Lily was only a year younger than her. However, whereas Mama left school after Junior High to help contribute to the family finances, Aunt Lily was more ambitious. She took the national exams for high school entrance and managed to enter the Taichung First Girls School, the best girls high school in that city. Upon graduation, she tried the national university entrance exams, but failed. Given her brains and hard work, I wonder that she did not get into any college at all. In those days, there wasn’t really any gender equity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some quota for female applicants.

Aunt Lily was quite pretty, and dressed well. After Mama showed him some pictures and bragged about her sister, Lung started writing to her.  Aunt Lily asked Mama how old Lung was. Mama said, “oh, round about Teh Lin’s age…” Papa was ten years older than Mama, yet they got along fine. So Aunt Lily finally agreed to accept the one-way ticket and flew to Paris. Once here, she found he was actually 18 years older than herself, but hey, too late. Plane tickets cost a lot back then. Still, he was a great catch, and the wedding took place in the embassy.

Saadia and I were the flower girls and the twins Antonio and Roberto were the flower boys. We carried  bouquets and held her train, and walked with her while the embassy ladies showered us with confetti –actually colored paper that the adults punched out with hole punchers.

Aunt Lily had an interesting make-up that day. Well, the excuse is that those years were the golden age of Hollywood, and the screen idols of the day were Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale. So Mrs. Kung painted tons of brown foundation topped with thick and long black eyebrows, with rather skin toned lips. Aunt Lily did not like the result but there wasn’t time nor resources for a new make up, so her forced smile made its way to posterity in a Sophia Loren look.

Thus it was that in 1961, my little brother Abdul Karim was born in July, and my little cousin Therese in September.

Back row from left: Aunt Lily, unnamed, unnamed, Mama, Mrs. Kung, unnamed, Mrs. Wu. Front row from left: Saadia, me, one of the twins, my baby brother, the other twin, Amy Wu, Franklin Wu, George Wu.

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