...And that's for being such nice, helpful little boys." The elderly
dowager's stern features softened somewhat as she patted Li Ywan-Ai, whose name meant Short Round One, and his elder brother
Li Ywan-Chu -- Agreeable Round One -- on the head. The Englishwoman rummaged in her purse, then handed each of them a copper.
"T'ank you ma'am," they chorused,
showing off their increasing knowledge of English. Their eyes met and they grinned at each other. This foreigner must be new
to Shanghai. She'd paid them far more than the usual for the job they'd done. Chu nudged Ai and they both bowed, then scurried
away from the large walled house on the Bund.
"Have enough yet?" Chu
asked, switching back to the boys native Shanghai dialect. Go down that way," Ai gestured towards a quiet side street. "We'll
count it and make sure."
The Sikh policemen directing traffic at the intersection glared at them as they dashed
through the crowds of pedestrians filling the streets, ducking past coolies wrapped in newspapers and rags to keep out the
bitter cold, past elderly Chinese women tottering along on bound feet, past the ever present beggars in the doorways of buildings. An
empty doorway near the corner was a convenient place for them to stop while Ywan-Ai emptied his pockets and counted up their
booty. Although at 10 years by Chinese reckoning Chu was the elder, he was quite content to let his 7 year old brother be
the boss. Besides, doing odd jobs for the foreigners of the International Settlement had originally been Ywan-Ai's idea.
were hard in 1932 Shanghai, but the Great Depression was only partly responsible. Since the death of Sun Yat-Sen in 1925,
years of civil war had weakened China, decimating the farmlands and leading to ever more frequent famines. Both the Kuomintang
and the individual warlords were recruiting forcibly throughout the country, making the situation even worse. Ywan-Ai and
Chu's older brothers had been among the young men from the countryside, often no more than boys, who disappeared in the night
and were never heard from again. The family, now unable to farm their land, had refugeed to the relative safety of the city,
to the already overcrowded slum of Chapei. Here, with a large population vying through connections and bribery for even the
poorest paying jobs, laizzez-faire was the rule of the day for the European factory owners. What did it matter that
working conditions killed or maimed many of the workers? There were many more eager and willing to take their places.
Even the children worked long hours at menial jobs to earn their keep.
This was the life Ywan-Ai and Chu would have had
to look forward to, if not
for a chance encounter with some Europeans. They'd discovered that an engaging manner and quick wits, coupled with a knowledge
of English could earn them as much from the foreigners as a grown man earned for a full day's work.
"And that makes fifty." Ywan-Ai counted out the coins in his pocket,
then grinned back at Chu. "More than a day's wages in the cotton factories, for just a morning's work. Our parents will be
pleased. Couple more like this, we'll have time to sneak into the Tai-Phung before we go home!"
Chu nodded in agreement, plodding after his more agile little brother.
"I want to go to Wing-On first. Look at baseball things again."
"Sure, Buddha." Chu's size and good humour were responsible for the
nickname, and for Ywan-Ai's willingness to oblige him. Chu was so agreeable, so willing to go along with his brother's schemes,
that Ywan-Ai thought it a small thing to give in to his adored brother's wishes. The boys fought, scrapped and disagreed on
a regular basis, but they were not only brothers, they were best friends.
Chu and Ai skipped along the wide tree lined boulevard, past the different
foreign embassies, oblivious to the machinations of international politics taking place within on this cold, bleak winter
"Ball games'll be starting soon. Think Lefty Grove'll do it again?"
"Remember what that Yank in the Settlement said. Murderer's Row'll beat
those guys easy.
"No, they won't!" Chu corrected confidently.
will. The Yankees are the best! I wish we could see them play!"
lucky to see part of that game in the Public Gardens last year. Wish we hadn't had to run before they finished."
"I dunno why they got
so mad at our being in their park. We live here too."
"Foreigners are just like that. They're greedy. That's why Mr. Chou says they're uncivilized animals. You just can't figure
Ywan-Ai looked back impatiently at the dawdling Chu. "Come on! We're almost there!" He pointed at the large, imposing turrets of the Wing-On
department store, visible even above other large buildings of the business district.
Chu, ever the soul of rectitude, dug in his pocket for the ten
cents needed for admission. Ywan-Ai, however, had something else in mind. He leaned casually against the wall, tossing a coin up and down
in classic George Raft fashion as he gauged his chances of sneaking in past the turnstyle and the doorman.
Chu glanced behind him, noticed the junior gangster, and, drawing on his authority as elder brother, forbade him to
try it. Ywan-Ai turned an injured and disappointed face to his older brother, but Chu remained unmoved, emphasizing the point
by shaking his head. The gangster slowly disappeared, to be replaced by a chasened young boy. Though he'd never have admitted
it openly, he'd have done anything for his one remaining brother.
Models of honesty and innocence, the boys paid and raced up the wide staircase toward the toy department. They looked
longingly at baseballs, bats and caps, toy sixshooters "like Tom Mix's" and stared in awe at the display of a working electric
At the approach of a salesperson or floorwalker, finely dressed in Western fashion, they melted away, only to reappear
a little later in a different part of the department. The train, however, was an unbeatable attraction. Eyes rounded with
astonishment followed the path it made around the table, noting the tiny houses and trees surrounding the track, the real
smoke coming from the engine and what they presumed was a name, painted in unintelligible English characters along its side.
The boys kept returning to it.
"And what is it you boys wish to purchase?" One of the head floorwalkers
put a not-so friendly restraining hand on each boy's shoulder. They jumped and looked up at the man. He was tall for
a Chinese, of indeterminate age, with straight black hair pomaded tightly to his skull. The creases of his trousers were knifesharp,
despite the humidity. His somewhat high-pitched voice spoke the local dialect with a strong Peking accent. His mouth pursed
in disapproval of both boys, unattended and unkempt. Chu's mouth opened and shut soundlessly. He looked worriedly at his brother,
then quickly turned to leave. The younger boy responded instantly, bowing his head respectfully to the older man, his most
innocent grin on his face.
"We wish to purchase a baseball, Honoured One." He answered the man's sceptical gaze by pulling a handful of coins
from his pocket. "We have money."
Chu turned back slowly to stare at his brother, not expecting this turn of events.
man nodded curtly and escorted the boys over to the counter to make the purchase, watching them closely. Street urchins such
as these were not to be trusted. He continued to watch them, and his merchandise, until the package was wrapped and they left
On their way through the store they spotted a display of shortwave sets and Victrolas They lingered, listening to an
Eddie Cantor record used to demonstrate a Victrola. Thev wandered slowly through the area, examining the Western toys more
closely, meanwhile keeping a cautious eye open for approaching staff. Luxuries such as these were far beyond a family like
theirs; in the Shanghai of November 1932, they were reserved only for the very rich.
"Let's go!" Chu urged nervously as he saw a salesman approaching.
With a last
regretful look, Ywan-Ai followed and they headed back downstairs and out onto Nanking Road.
you see the look on that man's face? He didn't think we had money to buy anything Guess we showed him! Here, it's yours."
Shorty handed the parcel to his brother.
"We can't afford this!" Chu protested
as the reality of the situation sunk in.
we can," his brother assured him with typical confidence. "We'll head over to Frenchtown and make more money. Maybe the singsong
girls on Rue Moliere'll need some errands done."
"You wanted to go to the Tai-Phung." Chu knew how badly Ywan-Ai wanted to go to the movies, how hard they'd worked to have the free time.
Ywan-Ai shrugged. "We'll go some
other time. Same show plays all week."
looked past Chu. "Here comes the tram," he waved his brother forward. "Run, can catch it."
The boys sprinted for the trolley, weaving dangerously through the muddle of rikshaws, sedan chairs, pedestrians and
motorcars which was the Bund on a weekday afternoon. With a flying leap, Ywan-Ai
grabbed at the stanchion on the open side to pull himself in. Chu, face flushed
and breathing heavily, followed him soon after. They were heading away from the center of town, so the car was nearly empty.
The conductor collected their fares and they sat down quickly on the cane seats nearest the door.
tram rattled vigorously down the cobblestone surface of the Bund. Chu noticed the parcel still in his hand, giving his brother
a glance of wordless affection. Then he tore enthusiastically into the wrapping, destroying it in no time, revealing the ball
inside. He held it reverently, as if it were something rare and precious. Leather cover, wooden core; for both boys it
was the stuff that dreams are made on.
tossed the ball to his brother, and soon they were engaged in
an enthusiastic game of catch. This game interested them far more than the all-too-familiar scenery passing outside the tram.
The banks, export firms and the restricted clubs of the early settlers went by unnoticed. Not even the bronze lions of the
Hong Kong and Shanghai bank caught their attention.
looked up only briefly when the tram entered the French Concession, the large estates and merchant palaces of the International
Settlement replaced by smaller, older shabbier buildings. The streets became narrower, lined with large houses hiding behind
peeling whitewashed walls, their shaded balconies jealously guarding their privacy.
The brothers got off when they reached Rue Moliere,
the main street of the French Settlement. They stood for a moment in front of the small shops with French names, trying to
decide where to try first for work. Here, the passersby were more Chinese than European, as it was nearer to the Chinese city
itself. They hurried along the streets, their quilted jackets drawn tight against the arctic winds from Siberia. Coolies raced
past at the shafts of their rikshaws, wrapped in rags and newspapers to keep out the cold.
Nearby was a fruit store, and seeing it reminded the boys that they
hadn't eaten all day. Ywan-Ai gave his brother a conspiratorial glance, then asked the slower boy to meet him at a canal bridge
a few blocks away. Chu started to protest, but Ywan-Ai had already blended in with the traffic before he could say the words.
He waited until the shopkeeper was busy with afternoon customers, grabbed
some oranges, then took off at top speed, dodging and weaving with ease through the streets and alleys. The shopkeeper and
some other men started to give chase, but soon dropped behind, then gave up. When he was sure he was safe, he headed towards
the bridge where Chu waited impatiently. "I thought they caught you!"
"Not me! I'm too fast!" he bragged,
sharing the booty he was pulling out of his jacket.
"You shouldn't have done that."
"He cheats everyone anyway. So I cheated him."
As they walked, they ate, blissfully spitting orange pips into the gutter
as they tried to see whose would reach the farthest. The boys twisted and turned through the tangle of streets until they
arrived back at the Rue Moliere.
The place they sought was a small, pink shuttered house with a porch
facing out onto the street. It housed a high class brothel where the boys often did errands and odd jobs. They greeted the
short, balding doorkeeper, who recognized them and passed them on to the madame.
"Madame Kwan," they greeted her, bowing respectfully.
"Young gentlemen," the tiny woman greeted them,
clad in a jade green cheongsam
which showed off her dark hair and pale complexion. Her bound feet put a peculiar sway in her walk as she headed toward them.
"I fear you are still too young to sample my wares," she teased.
The boys shuffled a bit in mock embarrassment. It was a running joke
between the boys and Kwan Ching-Ling. "Is there anything we can do for you today,
Madame?" Chu asked.
"Most of the girls are still asleep. It has been unusually quiet today."She
noticed the disappointment in their eyes and continued. "I, however, need a few purchases to be made. Can you take care of that?"
"Certainly." They nearly bumped into each other in their haste to bow.
Madame Kwans eyes twinkled in silent amusement at their enthusiasm. She named a list of items she needed, which they were
careful to repeat after her until they had memorized it perfectly. Reading and writing were skills reserved only for scholars;
all others had only a well-practiced memory to rely on. When she was sure they knew what was required, she gave them some
money, then watched them turn and leave.
The errands were quickly taken care of Chu and Ai said their farewells
to Madame Kwan and continued onward through the area.
Ywan-Ai stared longingly at the ships out in the harbour. There was
a whole other world out there, one he'd discovered at the Tai-Phung moviehouse. There, across the ocean, life was easy. Fathers
didn't drive a rikshaw all day for a few coppers and mothers didn't spin silk until their hands were chapped, bleeding and
raw. People who were smart, ambitious and good had nice things happen to them and lived a happy carefree life. Ywan-Ai was
determined to live that way too, someday. Hollywood was his dream and he believed in it with all his heart.
From place to place they went, washing dishes, running errands and doing
various odd jobs until evening. Ywan-Ai was a shrewd bargainer and they nearly always got what the job was worth, despite
Once they were done, they played with the ball for a while, bouncing
it back and forth against a stone wall near the quai until they were distracted by a sound in the harbour.
"Ywan-Ai! Look!" Chu pointed excitedly at the sky, where a formation
of planes flew overhead. The boys craned their necks for a better look at the seldom seen flying machines. Lower and lower
they dropped toward the harbour, where warships from many countries were berthed. Points of light flashed through the dusk
from the deck guns of a cruiser. Unscathed, the planes grew closer yet as small cylinders fell from their bellies. Loud roars
and clouds of black smoke followed. The concussion threw the boys to the ground as a tanker exploded in a fireball, lighting
the sky like sunrise. Ai and Chu lay gawking where they'd fallen, frightened and puzzled by what they'd just seen.
"We've got to get home!" Chu yanked his brother off the ground. They
pelted though the winding streets and alleys, past the canals and across the boundary into Chapei.
Things seemed almost normal when they entered
the city. The streets seemed more confused than frightened. The boys' terror faded, and they paused to rest. "What happened?"
Ai gasped as soon as he was able. "The gangs again?"
were foreigners' ships in the harbour," Chu pointed out. "Not our business what they do. Things are all right here." He smiled encouragingly at his still terrified little
brother. "C'mon, lets go home. We now have an excuse for being late."
Ai paused, straining
to hear past the noise of the crowd. The odd clattering sound grew louder, and he grabbed the older boy's arm. "Sounds like
guns -- like in the pictures."
They're attacking!" No one really saw where the shout came from, but pandemonium was the result. Despite their best efforts,
the brothers were swept up in the now panicked mob. Ai coughed, nearly smothered against his brother's back. He worked a hand
free and made a desperate grab, clinging with all his strength to his brother's waist. Chu's mind raced as he tried to figure
out what could be happening. This had to have something to do with the planes in the harbour. Whatever it was, he hoped he
could keep his brother safe until they could get home.
"Easy, baby brother. We'll be
okay if we're careful."
crumping sound -- mortar fire -- seemed to be growing steadily nearer. The crowd thinned as people fled into nearby houses,
or through the back streets toward one of the foreign concessions. The boys leaned against the mud-brick wall of a nearby
house to catch their breath.
"What?" Ai swiveled
his head, eyes wide. His brother held a finger to his lips.
he whispered. A thudding noise in the distance became louder. Ai yanked at his brother's arm, and they ran quietly to the
end of the wall and around its corner, flattening themselves against the other wall.
stragglers were also trying to fade out of sight. There was a sudden crash and a smothered moan. Ai's curiousity got the better
of him, and he peered cautiously around the wall. A middle aged lady was picking herself awkwardly up off the ground. The
white of her face and her fear darkened eyes contrasted oddly in the moonlight. Her desperation was clear as she hobbled awkwardly,
trying to urge some speed from her bound feet.
Rifle fire echoed nearby. Baby tanks, armoured cars and motorcycles approached,
their weight shaking the ground as they passed. At the rear of the procession was a company of marines, shooting out streetlights
as they passed. From somewhere within the troop came raucous laughter as someone spotted the woman. This was followed by a
barrage of machine gun fire. The woman toppled slowly forward, then remained still.
A shot ricocheted from a nearby mud-brick building. An officer fell silently to his knees. A startled mutter spread
through the ranks, then faded away as the wounded man, with an obvious effort, barked out an order. With a junior officer now at their head, the troops spread out to meet the threat.
He gestured with his samurai sword and the men advanced, rifles at the ready
and bayonets fixed Those with machine guns moved to the forefront, waiting for the snipers to betray their location
Light flashed from a second story window as another shot
rang out. The marines reacted immediately with a deafening barrage of gunfire as they inched forward to storm the building
As self-sufficient as they were, the boys felt very young
and frightened. They wanted their parents. All they could do was cling
tightly to each other's hands. It was partly to keep from being separated, but mostly they needed the comfort of each other's
Ywan-Ai and Chu huddled together. "I'm scared," Ywan-Ai
whimpered, shuddering. gripping his brother's shirt in terror. Two young boys in the middle of a war were definitely expendable.
Chu held tight to Ywan-Ai's arm, looking for somewhere
to hide. Rifle shots from both sides bounced freely off the cobblestones. The marines were firing wildly, as likely to wound
one of their own by mistake. Despite this, the men made it into the building. Screams and shouts told of the battle still
The street was empty save for the dead and wounded. Acting
on instinct, Chu dragged Ywan-Ai across the street and along the wooden walls of nearby buildings until they were out of range
of the fighting. Even after they were far from the battle, they kept running until they finally collapsed in the yard of a
deserted wooden shack. They lay face down on the cold, damp ground gasping with relief. Ywan-Ai sobbed openly now that the
danger was passed. Gone was the cocky, self confident hero, replaced by a terrified little boy. War wasn't like this in the movies!
It was different when the blood was red, splattering him, not gray on a movie screen
"Come on," Chu nudged Ywan-Ai. Flat as flounder, they wriggled
through the yard and out onto the next street, peering around before daring to get up. A loud drone caught their attention.
The planes were coming back!
The drone was directly above them now, the blood red spot
on the plane's wings clearly visible as it dove, its bombs dropping with a whistling squeal. Nearby buildings erupted in a
roar of fire and flaming debris. The concussion shook the ground like an earthquake. The crackling of fires and the shrieks
of the wounded and dying broke the eerie silence. The reek of fire and burning flesh reached the boys as the planes came back
for another run. This time, they came still lower yet, fire spitting from the fronts of their wings as they shot at desperately
fleeing civilians in the streets.
Chu shook his head dazedly and dragged Ywan-Ai to his feet so they could keep
running "Come on! Over here!" Behind them, the planes stitched lines of bullet
fire behind their heels
Ywan-Ai stared in horrified facination at the victims falling,
like dolls from which the stuffing had been removed. Children in Shanghai grew up used to the sight of death from
an early age. Disease, starvation and violence were commonplace. But that was nothing like the unprovoked, random slaughter
screaming towards them from the skies.
"Ywan-Ai!" Chu grabbed the shocked
younger boy by the scruff of his neck and dragged him back to comparative safety behind a partially destroyed wall. Who knew
when the planes would return?
Chu swallowed the bile rising
in his throat. This last escape had been too close. He collapsed on hands and knees as his legs gave way, and was thoroughly
and violently sick. His shivering younger brother tried to smile reassuringly at him, but failed miserably.
"We'll be all right," he gasped as soon as he was able
to speak. He was trying to convince himself as much as he was his brother. "We'll find somewhere safe to stay tonight,
then see what we can do tomorrow." Shorty nodded his head in violent agreement and made a hasty prayer to the greater gods
to protect them from the fury of the foreign armies.
They rested a while, then set
off cautiously. Corpses littered the street.
It wouldn't be safe to stay here once the dogs and vermin discovered them.
Everywhere it was the same. The entire borough seemed to
be in ruins. Once the armies moved on, the survivors began trickling out of their hiding places, heading desperately for the
presumed safety of the Settlement. Wailing and keening filled the streets as the survivors discovered their dead.
Dread came over them as they approached their home. Ywan-Ai
petitioned all the lesser and greater gods he could think of. He made incredible promises, willing to vow anything if only
his family had been protected.
The light from the dying fires showed them the evidence.
The armies had fought all around the area. Wounded and dead from both sides lay where they'd fallen in the streets. The entire
block was a ruin, houses smashed like matchboxes during the battle. Chu and Ywan-Ai looked bleakly at one another. Only if
their parents had not been home could they have escaped. As they walked numbly through the rubble, they recognized people
they'd known, neighbors...
Ai tripped over the butt of a broken rifle, fell, and dislodged
an avalanche of debris. He rolled over and over, groping wildly to try and stop his downward slide. Finally he caught hold
of something solid and turned to see what had broken his fall. "No!" he screamed, then fell to his knees, sobbing and digging
wildly in the debris.
Chu closed his eyes briefly in pain.
He knew what Shorty must have seen.
But he was the elder. He had to be strong. He braced himself,
then crawled up the pile of debris to join his brother. An arm protruded from the wreckage of what was once a building. Ywan-Ai's
weight had been enough to pull the body forward so that the shoulder and head were visible. He was now pulling frantically
at the arm, trying to pull his father towards them.
and awkward, they sat there for hours, clinging together, holding their father's head, crying.
approached, sniffing at the bodies. "Get away from here!" Chu yelled hysterically He searched around for a weapon and found
the nearly forgotten baseball in his pocket. With all his strength he hurled it at the scavenger, his face a contorted mask
of grief and anger. The ball connected in a pitch which would have done Lefty Grove proud. The animal whined sharply and
slunk away, leaving the boys to mourn.
Marching feet in the distance
caught their attention. "We have to go."
Ywan-Ai nodded listlessly, wiping his tears on the back of his sleeve. "We
can't leave them here!"
"We have to," Chu replied numbly. A small fire nearby caught his eye.
"But we don't have to let the scavengers get them. Get some sticks and help me."
With a quickly thought prayer to the lesser and greater gods for his
parents' spirits, he started spreading the fire around, creating a pyre. They stood in the rubble and bowed, showing respect
for the ancestors, then Chu grabbed Ai firmly by the hand and dragged him along. He was desperately searching for a place
they could hide. Survival was all that mattered now.
away from the soldiers, stumbling through the crumbling masonry of what was once a garden wall.
The soldiers came closer. Chu pointed wordlessly at a small opening under the wall's foundation. The two boys
began digging frantically, trying to be a quiet as possible. As soon as it seemed big enough, they squeezed in. It was a very
tight fit. They barely made it. It
was muddy, it was damp, rocks poked at them from all sides, but no one would know they were there. To make sure, Chu reached
out and covered the opening with a couple of large rocks
and search the area!" The Japanese sergeant snapped his order and the men fanned out. Chu and his brother cowered deeper into
their hole, barely daring to breathe Cramped and uncomfortable, it seemed that they'd been in this place forever. Ywan-Ai
screwed his eyes shut, flinching. If they were going to die, he didn't want to
see it happen.
Chu listened carefully. It had been quiet outside for what seemed an eternity.
Slowly and cautiously he started pushing rocks aside. It seemed safe. Once a path was clear, he extricated himself carefully
from his still sleeping brother. They would need food and water, and Ywan-Ai was in no condition to travel further right now.
Laying the rocks back in a seemingly random jumble, he went to explore the area.
Hours later, Ywan-Ai awoke with a start. At first he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered the horror
of the night before. "Chu?" he whispered, realizing he was alone little at a time he poked his head through the rubble. Everything
was quiet. There was no answer.
Chu must have left willingly. The rocks had been put back
in place. He was nearby, checking on something, maybe looking for food. He had to be. Ywan-Ai tried to reassure himself as he squirmed quickly out of the hiding place. He stood
up and started to look around him, frightened. Surely the gods could not be so cruel as to take everyone from him!
It seemed the gods had no such scruples. Chu was nowhere
nearby. For days he searched with no success. Finally he started drifting toward the Settlement with the rest of the refugees,
hoping to find his missing brother.
He would go back to the places they'd worked together,
to see if Chu showed up, but the way his luck was going, he didn't expect success. There was no sign of him, but Ywan-Ai knew
how little this meant the way things were now. He'd spent the last few nights sleeping in alleys and doorways, hoarding the
last of his money for when it was needed. Stealing food was now a necessity, not a game, and just staying alive was a challenge.
"Children! Children for sale!" As he shuffled toward Garden
Bridge, the boundary to the International Settlement, he heard the cry behind him. He swung around to see a young man and
wife with their five children. The sight frightened him. It made him think of stories he'd heard about the famine which had
happened when he was much younger. Only then, in his most distant of memories, could he remember things being this bad. He
headed quickly away from that place and down a side street.
Business was booming in the opium den down on Liu Street
when he popped his head in. If hard times were coming, this was the place to be: a place where people wanted to go to forget
their troubles. Maybe his luck was starting to improve, he thought as he worked out a deal with the owner. The job itself
wasn't much, but there were good chances for squeeze. There were also opportunities for other jobs on the side.
He was almost happy, until he remembered what he had lost.
If only he didn't miss his family so much! But such were the workings of fate. Perhaps now that fate had robbed him of so
much that he cared for, she would see fit to repay him with good fortune. No one could ever tell what the future had in store.
Ten-year-old Ywan-Ai studied the new arrival with interest. The tall man towered over the others in the crowd as he
stopped at a fruit stand and pulled out his wallet. Europeans really weren't very bright, he thought, threading his way casually
toward the man.
A seemingly random bump and the wallet changed owners.
It was all so easy too easy.
The boy was suddenly tackled from behind,
his prize pried from his hand. He ducked and spun, trying to escape, only to find himself facing the intent gaze of the tall
American named Indiana Jones.