My first time and only time back in China since leaving in 1947 was in November of 1985. almost three decades ago. As it was then, it is once again my father’s work that’s calling my children and me back to China.The first time, my mother informed me that the Chinese government was ready to return homes to rightful Overseas Chinese owners. My parents asked me to go to China to represent them and retrieve our homes in Nanjing and Guangzhou, both of which my father designed and built in the mid 30’s.
The Guangzhou home was returned to us and subsequently sold. To this day, we never got the Nanjing house back.
However, I did get to see it. (See the photos in Jenn’s last blog)
I went with my cousin, my mother’s brother’s eldest daughter. My mother had asked her to be the China liaison to help us with the transfer of the ownership papers. She was able to set up a meeting with the officials who also arranged for us to see the house.
Over the years, my mother told me we stayed there from time to time, but our permanent residence was in Shanghai. She described the home to me over the years, each time letting me know how talented and important my father was in China, with love and pride shining through her eyes in the telling.
It was modern, in an age when China was still hanging onto the traditional. Surrounded by a yellow concrete courtyard, there were three separate buildings- the main living quarters, the kitchen, and a round structure that contained an office downstairs, a ballroom on the second floor and a rooftop terrace. My father, she said, used the the most expensive materials – marble floors, tiled walls, and furniture he himself designed and built.
While we were cleaning and packing eggs on our chicken farm, she told me with a far away look, of all the times they entertained high officials, dancing the night away in her beautiful silk cheongsam (Chinese dress with mandarin collar), being the perfect hostess. She looked wistful, young again.
Even after hearing her stories, the house felt cold to me. I didn’t recognize anything, except that it was a beautiful place. So my first view of our Nanjing House, the main thing I did feel was pride in my father, perhaps for the first time. I tried to digest that he was as talented as my mother had always claimed he was.
But, I guess I had to see it for myself.
I wonder if I will feel differently next time I see it, now that I have learned more about his work.
I wonder if I will feel closer to him as I walk within the walls of something he built.
I hope so.
Gayook (Liou) Wong