See her life as a celebration, a hundred years. She saw her children grow up and was around to see her great-grandchildren. She always said to appreciate life.
Back in 2007, I had to complete a history assignment to interview a person, who had gone through WWII. Mama had been living with us and so I got to interview her. I am posting it here now as is from when I was in grade 10.
I will miss her so much.
Chan Char Hing (Born 1912)
Witness to War
Life is a gift.
My name is Cristal Sung and I am a 15 year old girl. I am attending Canadian International School of Hong Kong. I speak English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. My favorite subject in school is Drama and my hobbies consist of graphic design and cooking. I live in Pokfulam, Hong Kong with my parents and grandmother. I was born in Hong Kong and have been living in Hong Kong my entire life. My relationship with the interviewee is explained in the paragraph that follows.
My interviewee is my grandmother from my father’s side. She had recently shattered her elbow and was in the Tuen Muen hospital for a while. She has been living with my family since then. On April 14, 2007, we were sitting in my family’s dining room after supper, which is part of the living room with rosewood, oval shaped, dining table. My family is there helping with the interview and my dad is the translator. I’ve known the interviewee since I was little and I was worried that I would not understand her. Her Cantonese is mixed with Chiu Chow, which is a very different dialect from Cantonese. I was not sure if I was going to be able to do the transcribing because I do not understand Chiu Chow.
** Please note that ages of the people are based on the Chinese age system. In some sections there is an overlap of Chiu Chow and the corresponding English translation.
Steve Sung: Ask.
Cristal Sung: Where were you living during World War 2?.
Steve: (In Chiu Chow) Ask you questions, Where you living in the Second World War?
Chan Char Hing: Asking Me? Oh, I don’t remember.
Steve: You staying in Vietnam, right?
CCH: Yes, I was staying in Vietnam, Second World War I was staying in Vietnam.
Steve: In… Vietnam
Lily: How long did she live in Vietnam?
CCH: In Vietnam. The Japanese Soldier came in that night with a lot of guns and my mother told my husband to stay away and let her stand in front of the Japanese.
Steve: How long were you staying in Vietnam?
CCH: We were staying in Vietnam for 20 years.
Steve: 20 years.
Lily: From what year?
CCH: 20 years.
Steve: From San Tou to China?
CCH: From San Tou to China my oldest son was 9 years-old, and my daughter, no. 3 was 3 years old.
Steve: My big brother was 9 years old…
CCH: no. 3 was only 3 years old.
Steve: My brother was 9… means that was 69 years ago.
CCH: He’s now 78.
Steve: 69 years old… i mean… 69 years ago.
CCH: Ah. No. 3 was 3, she was the youngest.
CCH: (Your father) was born there. When (your father) was 4 he went back to his home village, when we went No. 9 was only 6 years old, your dad was 4 years old. Went into China and the people there said two foreigners coming in and they go to line up to buy the black olives and they go “oh you’re foreigners” and we say “no we’re Chinese”.
CCH: People kept saying come look at the foreigners from outside. They look so cute and they kept teasing the two kids and the older brother kept saying he’s Chinese Chinese, always like to fight. Laughs. Hai…
Steve: 1932. She went to Vietnam in 1932, so during the second World War, she was in Vietnam.
CCH: Stayed in China for over a month before I come back to Hong Kong.
Lily: 1938. 1938. 1938, they were there. 1938, that they went to Vietnam
Steve: 70 years ago.
CCH: Your Father was the 12th kid. 12. I had 12 births. He is the youngest of the 12.
Cristal: How old was she?
Steve: How old were you at the time?
CCH: I went to Vietnam in 1938, I was 28 years old, And then 29 I had my fourth child.
Lily: So she went with all the kids?
Lily: How many did she have?
Steve: 1, 2, 3
Steve: Next year no. 4 was born. What year was that?
CCH: The oldest was 9, the youngest was 3, the middle was 7…
Cristal: Who was she living with?
Steve: The whole family.
Lily: Where was she living?
Steve: You were living in Da Nang, right?
Steve: Da Nang. Always been Da Nang.
CCH: Your grandpa went to Vietnam when he was 23 and then went back to the village and then went to Vietnam.
Steve: Your grandpa was 23, when he went to Vietnam.
CCH: That’s right.
Steve: Then 28 went back to the village and then back to Vietnam. 23, 1911, so it’s 1935. 1933.
CCH: Your grandfather (a merchant) was making 12 silver coins a month to feed the whole family.
Cristal: Talking about trade?
Steve: No. The amount of money that your grandpa was making. 12 dollars a month. 12 silver coins to feed the whole family.
Cristal: What was her occupation?
Steve:She was a housewife.
CCH: One barrel of rice was a dollar-sixty.
Lily: When did the Japanese invade Vietnam?
Steve: Vietnam? Would be 1940… What did the Japanese go to Vietnam?
Lily: When did the people start coming in?
CCH: I don’t remember when the Japanese went to Vietnam. No. 6 was just born when Japanese went to Vietnam, 63 years ago.
Lily: When did they start coming in?
Steve: No. 6 was…
CCH: she’s 63.
Steve: No. 6 is 63, so 1944. The Japanese went in there.
Lily: So the Japanese actually came in?
Lily: How did they come in?
Steve: Invaded Vietnam!
Lily: How about her, when did she first see the Japanese?
Steve: They go bang on the door.
Lily: She see them land on the beach?
Steve: No. They actually come to the house with a gun and everything.
Lily: How did they land?
Steve: Don’t know. The whole area was invaded.
CCH: A Japanese plane came down and landed.
Lily: So they actually knocked on the door?
Cristal: Bang on the door. Invasion.
Lily: They knock on the door and then what?
Steve: They wanna buy rice. They come to the house. My dad was a rice merchant, the guy come to bang on the door.
Lily: They actually bought it from them?
Cristal: Presume the question, difficult to find food?
Lily: They had a base there?
Steve: Occupation. Territorial. They control the whole country.
CCH: The Japanese went there and they want money and want monk beans, they want rice and after that they come and get it and didn’t arrest your grandpa.
Steve: They took the money and then they took the rice.
Lily: They took it. They didn’t buy it. They basically left them alone except for that right?
CCH: They arrest everyone else except your grandpa. They arrest all the uncles, they arrest a lot of people in Da Nang and we supplied them with food, so they let us go.
Steve: The rest of them got arrested.
Steve: Did you have any food?
CCH: There was lots of food.
Steve: So Vietnam had a lot of food?
Steve: Lots of food.
Steve: Vietnam had a lot of food.
Lily: No shortage of food?
Steve: No shortage of food.
Cristal: They had everything.
Steve: Vietnam grows everything.
Lily: The Japanese didn’t really destroy anything in Vietnam.
Steve: They catch the people. Arrest.
CCH: Your father and one of his friends go to the market and buy stuff before the air raid sirens comes in the people sell it really really cheap. Vietnam had lots of things, food, vegetables, chickens, and pigs, so they could buy all that stuff in the market. Vietnam got lots of food, beef too.
Steve: There is lot of food in Vietnam. Vegetables everything and animals, like pigs and cows, so they got a lot of food. So before the air raid comes on, my dad went to go to buy all the food from the market because they all want to get rid of it, so the house.
Cristal: Stock up.
Steve: Stock up the food in the house.
Lily: Lots of air-raids?
Steve: Yea. They come in. They go to every house and bang on the door.
Cristal: Did it affect her lifestyle at the time?
CCH: We supply them with lots of beans, rice, and sugar. They want all those.
Steve: They get three things from my dad: rice, beans, and sugar.
CCH: They get three things: Monk beans, sugar, and rice.The 3 things, most essential.
Steve: Monk beans. Most important thing.
CCH: They actually bought it and said thanks! Haha. Very Important.
Steve: They buy the food from my dad and say thank you.
Lily: They actually bought it?
Steve: Yea. They actually bought it.
Steve: They know my dad has the supply, so they buy them from my dad.
CCH: They buy red beans and monk beans.
Steve: Monk beans and red beans. Typical Japanese.
Steve: The guy want to pay
Lily: How about going around and stuff. The kids still go to and everything?
CCH: When the Japanese first got there, everybody locked their doors really scared and they go to bang on everybody’s house and after they come to pick up food. They don’t come after us, they go after everybody else. Everybody else’s house, they bang on everybody’s house. If the people don’t give them food then they just bang the door. We provide them with the supplies and they don’t come and bother us. Every time the siren comes on, they go into the air raid shelter. Whole families go in there, whole bunch of people. They were many many kids back then.
Steve: Did the kids go to school?
Lily: Like what changes?
Steve: No school?
CCH: No more.
Steve: No school. Nothing and they run around arresting people. Some people hid in the house.
CCH: When the Japanese came there was no school, no activities. There was people that speaks Japanese, so they talk to the Japanese and the Japanese want to open up schools, but in they end they didn’t do it. Nobody dared to go to school.
Steve: The Japanese want to open their school at the end they didn’t open. All the schools were not open, but the Japanese wanted to open a school, themselves, but didn’t do it.
Cristal: For them?
Steve: A Japanese school.
Lily: They have curfews or anything?
Steve: Was there curfews?
Lily: What kind of curfew?
Steve: Sundown curfew.
CCH: Curfew. Nobody on the streets. In the dark, everybody closed. Everybody so scared, they catch people, even women.
Steve: arresting people, arresting women.
Lily: Arresting women for being outside?
Steve: No. Chase women to be the uh…
Lily: They deny that, you know.
Steve: Yea. Said it on the TV.
Lily: So a lot of women were taken away?
Steve: Yea. She knows. Hide away.
Lily: So she didn’t go out at all?
Steve: Hiding. She was pregnant.
CCH: There was no food in China.
Steve: China was even worse, they had no food. China had no food at all. Vietnam had a lot of food because they were pretty naturally rich country. So they didn’t suffer from the food much.
Steve: In the village, they lost everything.
Steve: Anymore questions?
Cristal: A lot. Any particular happy memory?
Steve: Any particular happy memory?
Steve: During the war in Vietnam was there any happy memories?
CCH: No. Scared. No such thing as happy memories.
Lily: No happy memories?
Steve: No, she was always scared.
Cristal: Any particular sad memory?
Steve: Particular sad memory? Very sad in Vietnam, always getting caught or arrested. Scared. Always scared.
CCH: Yeah! (Translated below)
Steve: They’re holding the samurai swords. Chopping people and everything.
CCH: (Translated below)
Steve: And then the Japanese lost the war, all their army. All the other armies come in and the people were really happy. The Americans and all the armies come in.
Lily: When was that?
Steve: 1945. End of war.
Cristal: Remember seeing soldiers during the war? What countries are they from? Japanese, American
Steve: Americans, Chinese
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Did you see the Kuomintang soldiers?
CCH: Yea. The Kuomintang soldiers from Yun Nan were drug addicts, Opium. Woahhh…
Steve: The Kuomintang army, they come from Yun Nan, they’re all drug addicts. They’re opium soldiers. They call them the two gun soldiers.
CCH: 2 guns.
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Bullet gun and smoking gun.
Lily: She saw that then?
Steve: (in English) Opium and women.
Steve: And they really hate them.
CCH: Yea. They cheat people.
Steve: The Vietnamese really hate them, they hate the Chinese.
Lily: The Japanese were fairly mild.
Steve: Fairly mild, except, you know, soldiers right?
Lily: What about the Americans?
Steve: The Americans only came in very late, afterwards. They were allies. And also the Kuomintang came in and demand a lot of things from my mom, my parents. Money, food, everything. (in Chiu Chow) Did the Kuomintang demand a lot of things?
Lily: That was after 1945, wasn’t it?
CCH: They were really greedy, they want everything.
Steve: They were really greedy, they want everything.
CCH: They took a lot of stuff from your father.
Steve: (in English) They took a lot of stuff from my father.
Lily: Did she see any battles or violence? Chopping of people?
Steve: Killed them, shoot them.
CCH: The Vietnamese said that the Japanese soldiers are bad. The Chinese soldiers’ image was even worse.
Steve: (translated the above)
CCH: They stole money. They love to steal. Money, money, money……
The soldiers come to the house all the time…too many, always come in to ask for money.
Lily: Any specific cases of violence?
Steve: Well the soldiers come to our house…
Lily: Any specific ones where a guy came into the house?
Steve: All the time, she said. Too many. Always come in to ask for money.
CCH: The Chinese women all dressed up really nicely, really beautifully, and came to welcome the Chinese army. Turned out they’re all drug addicts. The people were all very disappointed with them because they were all opium soldiers.
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Where was my older brother?
CCH: He was in Vietnam, he was a guerrilla who went up to the mountains to fight the KMT.
Cristal: Tell any story from the time period.
Steve: (in English) What story?
Cristal and Lily: Any story.
Cristal: She has a lot of them.
Steve: A lot of them.
Lily: The airplane one.
Steve: The air raid, all the soldiers, the people running into the air shelters and she was pregnant back then, can’t hear it. She can’t hide anymore, saw the plane coming. The plane landed, turned around, lifted off.
CCH: When we first went to Vietnam it was a French colony, in 1938. We see the French army fight the Japanese, there was no Vietnamese army.
Steve: (in English) French colony.
Lily: But they were pretty peaceful though, probably.
Steve: The French? Didn’t do anything.
CCH: Yes, yes yes.
Lily: So they didn’t bother defending the colony, they just left?
Steve: No, they lost.
Cristal: They lost already, they already surrendered! In France. (laughs)
Lily: So nobody defending the country then.
Steve: Basically the Japanese walked all over them. Japan, the only country they didn’t go to at the time was Thailand because it’s a Buddhist country. They left them alone, they didn’t dare. And all the French occupied the area, so after the Second World War, when the Japanese surrendered, the first one that went in was the Chinese army from Yun Nan and then after that they gave it back to the French. They give the territory back to the French, and then Vietnamese, the Communists, ended up fighting the French. So in ’54 when they went through, they kicked out the French. And then the Americans stepped in.
Lily: So then the Americans weren’t there in 40 something.
Steve: Well, they were Allied, but they didn’t have a strong presence.
Cristal: They came at the end.
Steve: Then after ’54, they talked about cutting the country into two. North and South. That’s how the DMZ formed, so South Vietnam and North Vietnam.
Steve: Before the Japanese came in, my dad’s business was really big. They ran ships, airplanes and trains, a lot of them. That’s why they have a lot of supply to the Japanese, try to get the supply to come in.
Lily: He’s like an export-
Steve: No, he’s a big business trader. Big trader. A lot of rice, he traded it. Rice, beans, sugar, all the essentials.
Steve: They need any food, they just went to the warehouse.
CCH: They just went to the warehouse (laughs) my younger brother is now eighty seven, eighty eight, living in the US. During the war, my brother went into the warehouse and pick up all the food, all the rice and everything.
Steve: Your brother?
CCH: My younger brother.
Steve: (in English) He’s now eighty eight, living in the US now.
CCH: We left Vietnam. One family, we left.
Steve: In 1975, left Vietnam. He took the whole family.
CCH: Living in Texas, Houston now.
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Texas.
Steve: (in English) Living in Houston right now.
Cristal: Is there anything you’d like to tell the younger generation?
Cristal: She already told the story didn’t she?
Steve: Yeah she had a story already.
Cristal: The airplane story. The one –
Steve: Yeah the one the plane landed turned around.
Cristal: – the huge yard and then the plane landed.
Steve: The plane landed in the backyard. Saw all the women and the old ladies turned around and bye bye, get out.
Cristal: The other one is, is there anything you’d like to tell the younger generation, and the other one is there anything we haven’t talked about?
CCH: They had so much food back then, people came to our house and ate what they can.
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Are they living with us?
CCH: No, they had all their own place to live but they came to our house for food.
Steve: Did all the workers live in the same house?
Steve: What was the demographic of the staff?
CCH: Core staff are Chinese, except for the chef and the local helpers. Most people when they started to work there were single, then they married the local Vietnamese.
Steve: (in Chiu Chow) Is there anything you’d like to tell the younger generation?
CCH: (laughs) War is very scary. When the army comes, everything closes. There was a bomb shelter inside the house, so we hid inside the house. (describes shelter)
Steve: (in English) Ten, twenty people at any one time.
CCH: Every night, nine to ten at night, the planes came and started dropping bombs. There was one child upstairs by himself, they didn’t know who left the kid up there. They were so worried, but they couldn’t go up until the air raids were over.
Steve: All the staff hid in the bomb shelter during the air raids. Around lunch they’d come and bomb, so they had to hide.
CCH: Around lunch or dinner. We could see the bombs dropping onto the train yards.
Steve: (simultaneously translating) Because that was a supply line. She could see all the machine guns shooting down from the planes. They then ate earlier then hid in the shelter for the whole month. Midnight bomb, lunch bomb, like a clockwork every time.
CCH: My friend’s daughter in law and the maid and the son were sitting in the house when a bomb came down-
Steve: (in English) Talking about the neighbour. The bomb came down, the mother didn’t make it.
CCH: The maid was dead too. The son died too. His two kids survived, they were so scared. It was lucky we had a shelter.
Steve: They bombed the city. Where the house was, they had a lot of trees. Good thing there was a lot of trees so they hid the house. In the afternoon there were no air raids, so they went to the market to shop (laughs) to buy chicken. Life still goes on. They seen a lot of death, people dead, people get shot, chopped, killed. They were very lucky to be alive. They see a lot of people die.
CCH: Appreciate life, appreciate living. I’m happy to be alive.
C. The Reflections
It was a rather interesting interview. I was never really close to my grandmother, but now that I hear what she lived through. Her life was very interesting, not always in a good way, but she was really lucky to live through all that she faced. The interview part was done quite quickly and she had a lot of stories to tell, but the most difficult part was the transcribing, as everyone was talking at the same time. It was also in another language I don’t understand. I knew that she was in Vietnam during World War II and I knew that she was married with kids at that time. It was only during this interview project that I went into more depth than the stories that my father used to tell me.
The most interesting part in the interview I found was how even though Vietnam was being bombed in the morning and at night. Between those times people went to the market to buy food, which was open during the war. I found that rather interesting because places like China had no food during the war, but Vietnam had a lot and people were still in business during Japanese occupation.
I found it surprising that the Vietnamese hated the Chinese army, even though they were there to save them from the Japanese. Also, when supplying the armies, the Japanese army would pay for their supplies, demanding a discount, but the Chinese army would just take it. I thought the invaders would take from them, but it was the rescuing army that did.
Listen to the Interview: