Story and Photos by Ken Warren (ISN)
August 14, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the 18 article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article Ken continues his stay in China while concentrating on his novel “Nora and the Golden Dragon”.
You will recall that Patrick, 16, had his own apartment in Peizheng. He was also at a university where the students were 18-25, and many of his friends were in their late 20’s. The unusual part of all of this is that he fitted in well with the Chinese students because socially they were at least five years behind western teenagers. The fact that Pat could drink alcohol (beer, wine, etc.) when he chose to mattered to neither Chinese authorities nor his parents. In fact he has been a non-drinker for the past several years. What must have been fun though was that so many Chinese girls 18-20 considered Pat at their level.
Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Life in Shanghai started out quite lonely. The university had a good number of foreign teachers of English (about 30) but there were no oldies like me. They were almost all in their twenties–probably their early twenties. I had a two bedroom apartment that I shared with James Blake, a young man from Chicago. Poor James, I remember his mother always worrying about him living in wild and dangerous Shanghai. There’s definitely something missing in the American psyche that makes them think that Shanghai is more dangerous than Chicago. They don’t even come close to comparing. Life in Shanghai is a breeze compared to the death count in Chicago.
Shanghai is big and beautiful. People in the know have said that all architecture students around the world should have to spend a two-three month term in Shanghai. The architecture there is phenomenal. In fact, throughout China architects top off buildings with the same care and creativity that gold medal chefs top off their prize desserts or other specialty plates. Throughout North America skyscrapers end at the top with a flat, boring finish. The Chinese, on the otherhand, create crowns, huge spires, large neon lights flashing, something to act as their signature that the project is complete.
So Shanghai is beautiful, but that isn’t enough for a lonely man. Remember, in Zhengzhou I had Amy and Kevin O’Neill for company and fun. In Shanghai I had four American boys, all aboujt 23; real good lads, but their interest was girls. I got so lonely, I incorporated these boys into my novel, pretending that we were all at Leo’s Bar in Zhengzhou. I almost killed my novel–THEN THE STRANGEST SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES BEGAN TO UNFOLD.
Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
First a foreign woman teacher left our university. That meant little to me, because I didn’t know her and I don’t remember why she left. What I do remember is that Kevin O’Neill called me at the university to say that his teaching assignment turned sour and he was on his way home. He had stopped in Shanghai to visit a girlfriend of his wife’s and he wondered if we could get together for a beer before he flies to Canada tomorrow.
“Hold everything, Kev,” says I. “I’m at a great university and we’ve just had a woman go back home to the States. Why don’t you call up our foreign affairs officer and take the job she has vacated?”
Kevin called up the FAO and was teaching at the university in two days. My loneliness started to evaporate. Then, more great news. Amy called us and wanted to come and stay with us for the week of the October holidays. What a great week that was…but wait, there’s more. Amy liked Shanghai so much that she talked her Zhengzhou employer into sending her to their Shanghai office. She came within a week and stayed in Shanghai the next five years==only leaving to get a masters degree in New York (University of Niagara) the past two years. SO THE THREE AMIGOS WERE TOGETHER AGAIN. Life in Shanghai became reminiscent of life in Zhengzhou when the three friends went many places together. Then even our good friend Lisa Li (Trudy) came to visit us from Guangzhou, making the circle complete.
Kevin, Amy, and Lisa Li are all in Shanghai and I’m no longer lonely – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
We are all waiting for Amy to finish her shopping – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Patrick had graduated from high school and he and two of his male friends who had also graduated decided to come to China with Denise and me to teach. The three boys had their ESL certificates and we all five had jobs for September in Huadu. Huadu has to be the only city in the world with over a million people in it but not to be found on any map in China. Anxious to get moving, Pat and I decided to get an early start by teaching in July and August in Yangshuo. We had visited Yangshuo before on a holiday and loved the place. We got teaching jobs at Xijie School on West Street. West Street is one of the most famous streets in China. In fact, The Little Planet book on China says that if you hang around West Street long enough you’ll meet everybody you ever knew in North America. While that is an exaggeration, it is meant to say there are millions of North American visitors to West Street, primarily because of the American-styled restaurants there.. Yangshuo is very close to Guilin and the whole area features the drago tooth mountain range.
Every city in China experiences ‘English Corner’ from the local schools. That’s where English teachers take students to parks or public places and discuss topics in English. Within minutes there are scores of people stopping to listen and making sure that their children pick up as many English words as possible. In Yangshuo, Xijie School had a better English Corner than anywhere else. Students were given notes and sent down West Street to talk to foreigners. The notes said “If you come to our school at 7 pm for English Corner, there is free beer all night. The school’s courtyard was loaded with many large 20-seat tables and more than 150 students and foreigners engaged in challenging English quizzes. Beer flowed; learning moreso.
By the end of August, Pat and I headed to Huadu where we would meet Denise and Pat’s friend Mitch. The third boy had chickened out, but Greg Goossen, another friend, later took his place. I felt really bad because I was going to have to tell the principal that I had secured a job in Nanjing for five times what Huadu was paying. I was happy I hadn’t signed anything yet. So, quite sadly, I left my wife, my son, and his friend in Huadu and journeyed to Nanjing to Grand Canadian Academy to teach the BC Dogwood curriculum, the same curriculum I had taught for many years in British Columbia.
Naturally, because I had written my novel about Nanking, I wanted to experience the city. Here is the original BCB:
BACK COVER BLURB FOR KENNY RUSS WARREN’S NOVEL: ‘NORA and the Golden Dragon’
A window poster during the cultural revolution-praising the medical fraternity. Note Mao and Dr. Bethune at the top – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
“NORA and The Golden Dragon”is a historical, adventure and romance novel that tells how the Chinese suffered a Holocaust at the hands of the Japanese from 1937-until American forces began winning control of the islands around the main island of Japan in late 1944.
The Chinese Holocaust was more severe even than the Jewish Holocaust, but is little known in the West. The main characters are two sisters in their late teens in Nanking when that Capital city of China is overtaken by the Japanese Army, and almost all of its citizens slaughtered. More than 40,000 of Nanking’s female civilians (aged 6-76) were gang-raped openly on the streets, day or night, by Japanese soldiers, then bayoneted – that is, except for the prettiest ones. Those young women and girls between 14 and 30 years were saved for sex slavery.
After being raped by three soldiers, one of the sisters (Meiling) escapes and joins NORA (Nanking’s Organized Resistance Army), while the elder sister (Elizabeth) becomes the willing concubine of the Japanese commandant.
Torn with rage and shame at her sister’s betrayal to China, and haunted by the slurs of her fellow resistance fighters, Meiling shoots Elizabeth in a risky, disobedient solo venture to the Japanese commandant’s headquarters. Grief-stricken over the painful screams of the sister she once adored, Meiling faces death by firing squad for her insubordination.
The story is being told by 88-year-old Meiling in 2007 to a nineteen year old Canadian male aspiring to be a journalist. Not confined to the Nanking area, the story travels around China where we meet a young Mao Zedong, Dr. Norman Bethune, American ‘Flying Tiger’ pilots, Chiang kai-shek, and Hideki Tojo, the Japanese Supreme Commander, later Japan’s War Minister and then, Prime Minister. The attack on Pearl Harbor was conceived by Tojo.
There are four men that Meiling loves during the course of the novel, but she shares her love with only one.
Who is Kenny Russ Warren? Before teaching high school English and history in British Columbia for 27 years, he was a news reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune and Victoria Daily Colonist professionally, and part time with the Vancouver Sun and Ottawa Journal, while attending university in those latter two cities.
After taking early retirement from teaching in Victoria, he spent the next seven years teaching English in a myriad of Chinese cities: Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Yangshuo, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Nanchang–each in a different province. China was the experience of a lifetime. Many of his ex-students are now in universities in Canada and the USA, and on Facebook with him.
I got a four-bedroom apartment in Nanjing because I knew my wife and the boys weren’t going to last long in Huadu alone. Sure enough, Denise came first, but she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to get back to Canada and our aweesome medical system. Then Pat, Mitch, and Greg all came and I had a bedroom for each of them. I had three different classes at GCA and three Canadian boys to interview. When I had Class A, I split it into three groups and had each group interview a different Canadian boy for half an hour and then switch to one of the others for half an hour. By the time we were finished over a two-day period every student in the three classes had interviewed all three Canadian boys. The results were both fun and funny.
The three boys played soccer almost every day but soon Greg’s money gave out and he returned to Canada. Mitch wasn’t very far behind him in getting back to Victoria. Pat lucked out and got a tutoring job in the evenings at GCA for failing students. He stuck it out to the end.
Together we were featured on a tv talk show with the host Keith Gallinelli and 60 Nanjing University students discussing how our Canadian Father/Son relationship differs from a Chin ese Father/Son relationship.
Keith Gallinelli host of his own tv show in Nanjing – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Kenny and son Pat the night they appeared on the Keith Gallinelli’s show – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
NEXT WEEK NANCHANG AND HOW TO MAKE SOME MONEY IN A SCRABBLE-LIKE CONTEST
“Nora and the Golden Dragon”
Novel Written by: Kenny Russ Warren – Featured on YouTube