You know in China back then, most marriages were arranged marriages. So in my father’s case it was a little bit like that. There was this Chang family, and their oldest daughter was ready to be married. My father was given the opportunity to go and see for himself. He met the supposed match – but then he saw my mom. Your grandma was the second of the many girls. My father was attracted to my mom, who was not even the intent of that arranged marriage! But they ended up getting married, probably in 1938.
After they were married, my dad went to Southeast Asia for a job. He traveled to Malaysia to start as a high school teacher. It was supposedly a short-term arrangement – either my father would go there and take my mom with him, or maybe it wouldn’t work out and he would come back to China. And then World War II broke out. The Japanese put a lot of sea mines in the waterways, a blockade, so my parents were separated for a good five or six years because of that.
Your grandpa stayed in Malaysia for quite a few years. It was a very interesting time for him because grandpa was a very educated man – he looked like your classic intellect. He got your eyeglasses and he wore the western clothes. While he was in Malaysia, the local mistook him as Japanese. They thought he was an official in the Japanese occupation government. He told me that for a long while, the locals treated him with utmost respect and even gave him free meals at the restaurant. At some point in time they figured out he was just Chinese, and then all the discounts went away.
While my father was in Southeast Asia, my mom was living in the house with her mother-in-law, my father’s brothers, and their families. My mom was a grade school graduate – it was considered educated if you got elementary education – and so my grandma decided to send her to high school. Back then for a girl, especially a married woman, that was just really extraordinary. Most mother-in-laws work their daughter-in-laws as slaves.
As soon as the war was over, your grandpa took the first boat back to China. He was telling me how emotional he was when they landed in Guangdong: he was on his knees kissing the ground, you know, all of those emotions.
So the two of them started their family in China. My mom, with her couple years of high school education, returned to the village and became the village schoolteacher. She eventually became the elementary school principal in my home county. Grandpa became the high school principal in my hometown. Both of them continued to work as teachers and as school administrators throughout their lives.