Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fate Really Changes You

Retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor Nancy Ma and Internist Peter Lee retired from their posts and--against all odds-- began the foundation WuWei Harmony . Nancy Ma was born in Shanghai during the 1940s. Her father worked as Asian General Manager for Colgate-Palmolive, a wonderful position...until the Communists took over in 1949.  He fled first to Hong Kong, a British territory back then. The rest of the family , however, could not get exit visas. (See post one.) After seven years of waiting, they finally managed to get to Hong Kong. (See post two.) 
Husband Peter fled from China for different reasons. His parents were part of the Nationalist Army that fought against the Japanese from 1937-45 and then the Communists from 1945-49. (See post three.) While Peter was safe from Communism, he realized upon college graduation that there weren't many job opportunities. Fortunately, he got a scholarship at the University of Texas. (See post four.) Meanwhile, Nancy struggled in Hong Kong. Her mother enrolled her in a Cantonese/English high school, two languages Nancy did not understand. Nancy only lasted three days. (See post five.)

Hong Kong Baptist University,
established in 1953 as Hong Kong College with support of
American Baptists.

Instead Nancy's mother put her in Hong Kong Baptist College. After a year, through Nancy's Baptist preacher grandfather’s connection, she was given a full scholarship to study at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.  Her mother scrounged together enough money to buy her a one-way ticket on a steamship to San Francisco.   Nancy remembered three things--being seasick for nineteen days, seeing a black man for the first time, and not knowing a word of English.  She couldn’t even understand polite inquiries like, “Have you seen the campus?”
“They thought I was a very quiet, reserved girl,” said Nancy.
“Far from it,” Peter interjected.
“Not knowing that I love talking.” She laughed. “But I just couldn’t talk cause I didn’t know the language.”
Nancy had three American roommates. “They taught me English, corrected my pronunciation. And six months later, I was pretty fluent.”
Still, Nancy remembers being very homesick.
“I had no way to get back,” she said. “When I landed here, in my pocket there was $26, and that was all. It was a good thing….otherwise I would have just gone home.”
“In a way, I should thank Mao Tse Tung," she said. "He forced me out. Sometimes fate really changes you.”

(To be continued. Next: Searching for a Job in the Yellow Pages.)

Monday, February 19, 2018

UCSF Professor Never Finished High School

Retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor Nancy Ma and Internist Peter Lee retired from their posts and--against all odds-- began the foundation WuWei Harmony . Nancy Ma was born in Shanghai during the 1940s. Her father worked as Asian General Manager for Colgate-Palmolive, a wonderful position...until the Communists took over in 1949.  He fled first to Hong Kong, a British territory back then. The rest of the family , however, could not get exit visas. (See post one.) After seven years of waiting, they finally managed to get to Hong Kong. (See post two.) 
Husband Peter fled from China for different reasons. His parents were part of the Nationalist Army that fought against the Japanese from 1937-45 and then the Communists from 1945-49. (See post three.) While Peter was safe from Communism, he realized upon college graduation that there weren't many job opportunities. Fortunately, he got a scholarship at the University of Texas. (See post four.) 


Meanwhile, when Nancy and the rest of her family got to Hong Kong, Nancy's mother enrolled her in the local high school.
“They were speaking only Cantonese or English,” said Nancy.  “Neither language I understood."
(She spoke Shanghai dialect and Mandarin.)
"I went there three days, and I came home and cried and said, ‘I don’t want to go to school.’" 
Nancy's mother relented.
Thus, Nancy--a future UCSF Professor of Pharmacology-- never finished high school. 

(To be continued. Next: How Fate Really Changes You.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chinese "Outsiders" in Taiwan

Retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor Nancy Ma and Internist Peter Lee retired from their posts and--against all odds-- began the foundation WuWei Harmony . Nancy Ma was born in Shanghai during the 1940s. Her father worked as Asian General Manager for Colgate-Palmolive, a wonderful position...until the Communists took over in 1949.  He fled first to Hong Kong, a British territory back then. The rest of the family , however, could not get exit visas. (See post one.) After seven years of waiting, they finally managed to get to Hong Kong. (See post two.) 
Husband Peter fled from China for different reasons. His parents were part of the Nationalist Army that fought against the Japanese from 1937-45 and then the Communists from 1945-49. (See post three.) 

When Peter got to Taiwan, he went through high school, then college, then the mandatory two-year army service required of all men. But, after that, he said that “especially for mainlanders” the only path was to leave Taiwan for other countries.

“The local Taiwanese want to keep their own people working there. There was not much of work that was available for us as outsiders.”  

He was given a scholarship to attend the University of Texas.

(To be continued. Next: UCSF Professor Never Finished High School.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Very Few Good Things To Say About Mao

Retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor Nancy Ma and Internist Peter Lee retired from their posts and--against all odds --began the foundation WuWei Harmony . Nancy Ma was born in Shanghai during the 1940s. Her father worked as Asian General Manager for Colgate-Palmolive, a wonderful position...until the Communists took over in 1949.  He fled first to Hong Kong, a British territory back then. The rest of the family , however, could not get exit visas. (See post one.) After seven years of waiting, they finally managed to get to Hong Kong. (see post two.) 

Nancy's husband Peter, who she met many years later, was also pushed out of China...under quite different circumstances. His parents were in the Nationalist Army, also known as the Kuomingtang.
Chiang Kai Chek addresses Nationalist Army
“Kuomingtang was first fighting the Japanese,” said Peter. “Then the Communists, then ended up in Taiwan. So I was a lucky one. I didn’t end up suffering under the Communists.”

Still, neither Peter nor Nancy had fond memories of old China. 

"It was just not anything where a human being could live,” said Nancy. “Mao Tse Tung—I’m still trying to think of things he might have done good for China. I have very little good things to say about him.”

“He united China and made it so China stood up (against the western powers),” added Peter. “But his internal policy towards the Chinese people is nothing to speak of."

(To be continued. Next: Chinese Considered Outsiders in Taiwan.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

You're Not Even a Person in 50's Communist China

Retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor and Philanthropist Nancy Ma was born in Shanghai during the 1940s. Her father worked as Asian General Manager for Colgate-Palmolive, a wonderful position...until the Communists took over in 1949.  He fled first to Hong Kong, a British territory back then. The rest of the family could not get exit visas. (See post one.)

To be from a wealthy background in the Communist China of the '50s was a miserable existence. 
"You’re not even a person," said Nancy. "You’re being treated—my family at that time was treated very badly.” 
For seven years Nancy and her family muddled through each miserable day. Then, finally, they got a break.
“There was a movement about Mao Tse Tung—one of those great leaps forward," said Nancy. "They let loose of the (exit) visas for two weeks. Just two weeks. I was able to get out.”

(To be continued. Next: Very Few Good Things to Say About Mao)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Retired UCSF Professor Labeled "Bad" Teen

Last month I attended a meeting of the 1990 Institute, an organization aimed at fostering understanding between the U.S. and China.  As soon as I walked into the room, a woman approached, smiling. “Don’t I know you?” 
Nancy Ma, a retired UCSF Pharmacology Professor, had short salt-and-pepper hair and the face of a kind aunty. While I didn’t really remember our initial meeting, I was glad to see her again.
A week later, I sat down to talk with Nancy and her equally-enthusiastic-but-more reserved husband Peter Lee. Both of them are originally from Shanghai. Both of them were pushed out of China under totally opposite circumstances. Both of them –although they swore that they would never go back—have developed a foundation (Wuwei Harmony) to help educate the young in some of China’s poorest provinces.
Nancy Ma and Peter Yee (far left in white coat/grey jacket)
with some of students they've helped in Yilong Province.

Nancy was born in 1940, right in the middle of  WWII. Her father worked as Asia’s General Manager for Palmolive/Colgate, a wonderful position to be in….well, until the war ended and the Communists began their takeover.
“We were considered to be a bad background, including me,” Nancy said. ”A teenager! We have less chance to continue education. Even if you grow up, you have less chance to get a job. You already have a label on you.  So we wanted to leave.”
In 1949, Nancy’s father fled first to the then-British territory of Hong Kong, assuming his family would follow.
“We never got exit visas. The Communists—they just wouldn’t let anyone leave.”

(To be continued.  Next: You're Not Even a Person in Communist China.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Light Years Beyond '73

In 1973, newly-hired Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Davyd Booth was called to sub for an ill colleague on a tour to China. This was not just any tour. It was the first ever American symphony tour in Communist China.
China, which had been closed off to the world since 1949, was not a very known entity—“like going to Mars,” Davyd said.(See post one.)
Life in China was vastly different than anything they’d ever known. (See post two.)
The Philadelphia Orchestra landed in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution. (See post three.)
The Orchestra carefully navigated potential pitfalls, but were stumped when Madame Mao asked the impossible. Would they play Beethoven's Sixth rather than symphony they had practiced and brought music for: the Fifth. (See post four.) The orchestra had not brought along musical scores other than that which they intended to play, and China officially did not have classical music. However, after a thorough search some scores materialized, and the orchestra gave a favorable performance. (See post five.)
They were surprised by the audience’s reaction, which seemed strained. (see post six.)
Despite the tepid response, that 1973 Tour left a strong impression. Artists like Tan Dun credit his change in life direction to the moment he heard the concert broadcast in the fields where he toiled (see post seven.)
The ’73 tour created a volcanic eruption of classical music (See post eight.) Since that ’73 tour, Davyd and the orchestra have returned eleven times. Each time they are welcomed, and that first tour is remembered and celebrated. (See post nine.)


More than that though, a strong bond between China and the U.S. has formed.
“There’s a back-and-forth thing," said Davyd. "It’s not just 100% that the Philadelphia Orchestra goes to China…We’ve developed very close working relationships. We sometimes work with the Chinese orchestra as we play together. We do workshops. We do instructional things. It is light years beyond just the relationship of going there and playing concerts.
Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts Performs in Philadelphia, 2017.
"The Chinese are part of us, "said Davyd. "And the Philadelphia Orchestra is part of them. It’s an incredibly important relationship.”

With gratitude this concludes my interview with Philadelphia Orchestra Violinist Davyd Booth.