Leaving China

My grandparents were both born in China – only five days apart. They met for the first time when they were one year old and later became friends, fiancés and a couple for life. When my grandparents were 14 years old, they had to leave China due to the turmoil at the time. My grandmother left on a banana boat from Shanghai and could never fully enjoy bananas again.

My grandfather first went to Japan, but finally had to leave for Sweden via the Transibirian Railway. He was accompanied by his older brother Morris and a younger friend – Sven.

I made a small film with old photos, showing a tiny part of the journey from China. When the train stopped in Irkutsk, my grandfather and Sven ran down to the water – trying to dip their hands into the Baikal lake… they almost didn’t make it back. When the train whistle blew, they were still running to get there on time. Finally they made it, but history sure could have taken another turn…

Today, I could not imagine sending my teenager on a trip like that. Times have changed…

Click here for video: https://vimeo.com/405965664

My grandfather Rudolf as a child in China.

My grandfather Rudolf, waiting for the train.
Morris, Rudolf and little Sven off on a great adventure.

21 comments

  1. Great adventures, for sure! Do you think your grandparents wished they could go back and see the places where they lived as children? I’d like to visit the places where I grew up, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make the effort, even though they’re here in the USA.

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    • I think they were pretty much done with China after having come back. Both their fathers died out there as well as some siblings. They had been through so much. And their mothers both came home as retired missionaries and needed lots of help. So they mostly travelled in Sweden when they were on holiday. Today, most of the old missionary stations are gone, and the graves as well. Otherwise that would have been interesting to see some day.
      Did you grow up in many different places in the States? It’s such a big country, I can imagine it’s not all that easy to get around to going back everywhere…😊

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      • I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and later in Virginia. When we lived in Chicago, we had a summer cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin, which I loved. About 15 years ago I drove through Wisconsin and tried to find the cabin, but I didn’t try very hard and didn’t succeed. I figured I’d have another chance to do it later. Now, all those places seem like they’re a long way away. 🙄

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  2. I once knocked on the door of my childhood home on an island outside of Stockholm. My memory of the house was that it was huge and the land around it neverending. I was let in, and realised the house was very small and the woods behind it were no more than of regular “garden size.” I had an idea at some point of buying it back, but after that visit, it wasn’t interesting anymore…

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    • Yes, I think that’s one of the downsides of going back to a place we knew as a child. The place may be disappointing, or may have been altered beyond recognition by later owners. I worried about that with the camp in Wisconsin. I remember it from childhood as a rustic place on a lake, surrounded by unspoiled forest. Maybe it’s still that way, but what if it isn’t? How would that make me feel? Also, if our memories of a place are connected to people we knew there, and those people are gone, would the place feel the same? I suspect your grandparents didn’t feel much of a connection to China beyond the people they knew there.

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      • That’s right! The people are essential to how we feel about different locations. And the loss of people connected to a certain place surely affects how we percieve it when we return. Perhaps it’s sometimes better leaving the memories unspoiled and not returning to those places. When time passes, things change and returning might not be the solace one is expecting. And yes, I think China was very different when my grandparents lived there – almost nothing would have stayed the same had they returned as adults…

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      • When I first moved back to New England in 2001, I wanted to check out the camp my father built for us on Paul Stream in Vermont. I was shocked to find that the forest had reclaimed the land, and all of our landmarks were gone. When we finally found the spot where the camp had been, it had been torn down. There were a couple of slivers of wood with the yellow paint my father had used, so I knew it was the right spot. Even the outhouse was gone and the outhouse hole. I was heartbroken, and I cried all the way home.

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      • That is quite amazing – that you found the spot! I can imagine it was a sad experience to see it gone like that. It’s like the places and things we leave behind in this world won’t last through time, and the marks we make will be erased. It says something about us humans as a whole. But the camp and your father still live in your memories – and passing these memories on, makes them last longer. I find solace in that at least, one has the power to keep loved ones close that way.

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      • That’s very sad, Liz. When I was nine or ten, my dad added a deck to the camp in Wisconsin. I was too young to do much except get in the way, but I watched him build it. There was a tree in front of the cabin, so he built the deck around the tree, rather than cut it down. I thought that was great.

        When going back to look for the camp as an adult, my biggest concern was that the deck might have been replaced and the tree cut down. Maybe it was just as well that I didn’t find it.

        Liked by 1 person

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