Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Leaving my homeland

on February 26, 2015

Jordan, mapSometime early in 1972, Papa told us he had been given the order to transfer abroad again, this time to Jordan. Jordan wasn’t totally unknown to us. We passed through it back in 1964 on our way from Ankara to Jeddah. So Mama started packing once again. And Papa made the decision to leave Saadia and me here in Taiwan.

Papa valued education above all. We had loved the two years of reunion with Papa, Mama and my little siblings, and my heart froze when he mentioned splitting the family up yet again. His reasoning: we were doing well by then in Bei Yi Nu, the top girls high school in Taiwan. Saadia had already made it to first place in her class and I was somewhere close, in the top ten (sixth by December, my diary did not state my rank in the subsequent months). We were on our way to the best university upon graduation. On the other hand, he assumed Jordan was like Saudi Arabia, with miserable prospects for girls’ education. So, the choice was made.

Mama talked to a cousin of hers, who accepted to have the two of us live in. My heart felt bitter-sweet. So my great progress in Chinese led me to be separated again from my family? We visited the cousin’s apartment. It felt dreary and grey and drab and cold to me. But Papa’s decisions were always law. So I never even tried protesting the decree.

In April, our ambassador to Jordan passed away suddenly, so the vice military attache came back to Taiwan, to accompany his remains home. Papa met with him and the two had a lively discussion about Jordan. Papa came home, and brightly announced that Saadia and I could come along after all! He had found out that the education scene in Jordan was not at all like that in Jeddah. Apart from the government schools, there were excellent English medium private Christian schools that prepared students for the British university entrance exams! Now, if the reader remembers, my father had himself graduated from some fine private Catholic high schools in China. Private Christian schools were the cream of schools in China in his days; their students usually came from the best families and their graduates would become the future leaders of the country.  Melody, ad

Thus, we notified our classmates and teachers of our imminent departure, and despite a twinge of regret at missing out on the marching drill team,  happily got ready to embark again on a new adventure! I tried to imagine what an English school would be like. My only references were movies like “Melody” (starring my favorite child actor Mark Lester, and with sound tracks by the Bee Gees). As a side note, I just found out from Wikipedia that the movie was a disappointing flop in the USA and Britain, while a great box office success in Japan and Latin America. Well, I can add that it definitely was a smash hit in Taiwan! I bought the sound track record and memorized every song. All the girls loved the movie and Mark Lester! Its title in Chinese was Liang Xiao Wu Cai, meaning Two Naive Innocent Children, meaning naive in the sense of love.

Well, to return to my topic, I was imagining then that my future English school would be something like those old wood paneled walls and somber corridors. That my future instructors  would be like the strict, poker faced teachers in Melody. My readers, you will have to be a little bit patient to find out whether I was right.

fiddler on the roof, ad

In the meantime, we had to face a different dilemma. Papa had already purchased airline tickets for the whole family minus the two of us, and it was too late to get us on the same flight. So it was that everyone left for Hong Kong one week before Saadia and I. We stayed with my godfather Wang Sir and his young wife Ah Giao in the meantime. We dragged her to the cinema to watch Fiddler on the Roof.  Knowing full well that Ah Giao did not understand English, nor did she read Mandarin Chinese very well, I kept a running commentary of on-the-spot translation mixed with explanation of the plot, totally out of guilt. When Tevye stood finally, miserable, alone in his field, his youngest daughter leaving him behind, I was stifling my sobs, and struggling not to let Ah Giao see me cry. Finally, I stole a glance at her, and found her happily snoring away in her seat, head fallen on one side. Ah! I thought, all my beautiful translations lost to posterity…



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