My father worked on board ship as a compradore, or business
agent for English-speaking foreigners. He had eight children
in all; four were my half brothers and half sister of whom I met
only one, my father's eldest. I was about thirteen and she was in her
thirties when I visited with her and her husband, a Chinese who had
studied in San Francisco, returning to China with a huge 1907 edition
of Webster's International Dictionary, which he bequeathed to
me. But I am getting ahead of my story.
When this sister's mother, my father's first wife, died, he married
again. There were other children, including a half brother, my Fifth
Brother, who died in his adolescence near my cot when I was a baby.
My father always had a wife with him. Number One died. Then came
Number Two wife. She also died, from what I heard. Then another
one. Even without his wife's death, Father would get another one, a
practice that was not unusual during the Ch'ing Dynasty. And so my
mother was Number Four.
Mother lived in Shanghai; my father's house was in Macao. I don't
have any idea as to how my parents met but imagine that it was
through friends. As a traveling merchant, Father rode on a coastal
steamer from Macao to Hong Kong to Shanghai, and then from
Shanghai to Hong Kong, back to Macao.
My earliest childhood recollection is of being in my father's home
in Macao, where Sei-ga-jethat is, my Fourth Sister, who would later
be called Alicecared for me and my brother, Willie. Born on the
twenty-ninth day of the eleventh lunar month of the Year of the
Snakethat is, on January 11, 1918, on the solar calendarI was the
youngest of all the children. My Chinese name was Huang Hua Quan.
Huang would eventually become Wong, and my first name would be
George; Hua Quan, meaning Little Flower, was rarely used, for in my
early childhood my sister Alice called me Ah-Sai, or Little One.
Alice was eighteen years my senior. Rosie, known to me as
Lu-ga-je, or Sixth Sister, was about twelve years older than I. Shortly
after I was born, for reasons I can't explain, Mother returned to
Shanghai with Rosie. During those early years I met Rosie only once
in Macao when she came to visit for the Chinese New Year celebration;
it was the Year of the Rooster, and she arrived at the house in a
rickshaw, waving a toy rooster with shiny brown and black feathers
she had brought me as a gift. My brother, Willie, Chat-goh, or Elder
Seventh Brother, was three at the time of my birth.