Monday, July 18, 2011

The Shanghai Address, Part 1 of 3

Art's pencil sketch of some Navy friends.

The following is a speech that Art presented at a Southampton Methodist women’s club sometime during the second half of 1950.

Art with a monkey on his
shoulder that he cared for
while in Shanghai.  It was
a tradition on the ship for
the Quartermaster to take
care of the monkey.  Art
was not overly fond of his
temporary pet.
I was in Shanghai in December of 1945 and January of 1946, but I don’t think the Chinese I saw there would be typical of all the Chinese people.  At least, I hope not.  I was at the Naval Operating Base there and later on board a ship tied up along the riverfront down the river from the city proper.  Most of the people I saw were the ones who lived right on the river.  You’ve probably heard of the Shanghai waterfront where hundreds of thousands live on sampans all their lives.  The slips in the river were constantly surrounded by these people, begging or trying to sell us souvenirs.

There was one family that lived on their boat at the stern of the ship I was on.  For two weeks, they stayed there simply to pick up the garbage that was thrown out of the galley.  The cooks would lower the garbage can to them on a rope, and they would dump it into boxes or anything they had. There were two women, a girl, and a baby living on that boat.

Art's pencil sketch of
a beggar in Shanghai.
The people were so terribly poor they would pick up anything that floated in the river: paper, sticks, boards, anything at all.  And if it didn’t float, there were other boats that dragged the bottom with long rows of fish hooks tied to sticks to pick up scrap iron off the bottom.

While on this ship, an LST (Landing Ship, Tank), they had the hull chipped and painted, from bow to stern, by coolies.  In the states, it probably would have cost thousands to have civilians paint that ship.  There it cost about $20 and that included a contractor’s fee.

One day while the coolies were on board, we had some rice for chow that the ship had picked up in Shanghai.  It was so alive with worms you could hardly see the rice, but before anyone could throw their rice over the side the coolies took it and ate every bit of it.

In this country, it’s hard to realize how strong the caste system is in China and other countries.  At N.O.B., the Naval Operating Base, they had hundreds of them working, young boys and old men worked side by side with no thought other than that they would always be coolies, as their fathers had been and their children would be;  all they ask is enough to eat to stay alive.  They were laying a cement floor on the second floor of a big warehouse converted into our barracks.  All day long they trudged up and down the stairs with half of a 50-gallon drum slung between them filled with cement.  The stairs in all the warehouses were built with steps only two or three inches high so coolies could carry heavy loads up and down them.

To be continued...

This may be the LST mentioned in the speech.

(Tomorrow – part two of Art's speech on Shanghai.)

© 2011 Lee Price

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