In this memoir, a young Chinese boy in exile faces a difficult adolescence in Hong Kong and Malaysia.
In the spring of 1949, as the Communists under Mao Zedong were consolidating their victory over Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang government for control over China, the Hung family made the difficult decision to leave the country and live in exile in Hong Kong. The father had worked for the Kuomintang and feared reprisal from the Communists. Along with Mother and Father Hung and their five children was their youngest child, Yum Tuen (later James). However, life in Hong Kong and, subsequently, in Malaysia was much different than the prosperous existence they had known in China. Short on money and unable to find employment, the family crumbled. Constantly stalked by hunger and living in grinding poverty, they bounced from one wretched dwelling to another, as the depressed father and overwhelmed mother ceded control of the family to a psychotic “Big Sister,” who thought nothing of fighting her siblings with a razor blade concealed in her fist. Things eventually improved, however, and the book ends with the author as a young man—now a doctor—going to school in Hawaii; a second book detailing the author’s later life is planned. Though a bit long, Hung’s book is a harrowing example of a historically familiar event: people on the losing side of war being forced to leave behind their lives for an uncertain existence elsewhere. The author draws a vivid picture of how miserable life often was, sparing no one from scrutiny, especially his parents, who can’t seem to understand the concept of saving for a rainy day despite how often it storms. Fortunately, Hung’s memoir isn’t just a list of events. In despair, he frequently questions the role of God, essentially asking the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? There’s also humor, as in the title, which amusingly refers to the author’s attempts to learn English.
An intensely reflective tale of a family uprooted by war, cast adrift onto a sea of uncertainty.