Times Past

Dan Krieger: Work took grandpa’s childhood

‘Every Chinese New Year I go to my grandparents’ home to celebrate. We always make Chinese dumplings together. I was so interested in the rolling pin that my grandpa used to make the skins of the dumplings. Within one minute, he could make two dozen skins which are thinner on the edge and thicker in the middle. Then they hold more when we fill them and are easier to fold.”

This Chinese New Year has special meaning for the Kriegers. Weijun Song, a young man from Beijing, who goes by the “American name” Vincent, came to us two years ago as a Rotary Exchange student at San Luis Obispo High School. Now he’s in computer science at Cal Poly.

For his English class, Vincent wrote about his grandfather, who at the age of 13 was apprenticed as a pastry chef.

Vincent continues:

“The rolling pin is shaped like a date seed. In my grandpa’s hand, it became alive. I wanted to know why he was so good at it. The rolling pin certainly died in my hands. My grandpa once said, ‘Don’t look down on the rolling pin; you cannot master it overnight.’

“As the Chinese New Year approached, I interviewed my grandpa in Beijing via Skype on my computer. To my surprise, so many stories that I never heard emerged. And I began to appreciate what my grandpa had done for our whole family.

“Grandpa was born in 1933 in what was then the Republic of China, which became the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

“His stories begin when he was four. His family made a living operating a small clothing factory.

“The political situation in China during the late 1930s was one disaster after another. On the night of July 7, 1937, the Japanese and Chinese armies began firing at one another in the so-called Marco Polo Bridge incident just southwest of Beijing. The clothing factory was hit by a bomb, and the equipment used for sewing clothes was destroyed. The family was left without a source of income.

“Tragedy struck again the next year. Grandpa’s father died and his mother was left alone to support three children. After a year, his mother remarried.

“The stepfather took care of the mother and children. A year later, grandpa’s brother caught pneumonia. His mother borrowed money from friends in order to buy medicine and obtain medical treatment. Despite these efforts, his little brother died.

“Now the family owed a great deal of money. It had to be repaid.

“Another tragedy struck when grandpa’s only sister went to the marketplace with an inattentive uncle and vanished, never to be found. This loss was extremely painful for his mother.

“To survive, his mother and stepfather made and sold clothes and other items in a tiny store. My grandpa eventually got a new little brother and three sisters. He took care of the children and helped with all kinds of house work. His childhood was destroyed under the duties of daily work.”

We will continue with Vincent’s story next week. But you can share some of the flavors and imagery of the Chinese New Year with Cal Poly’s Chinese Student’s Association.

The Chinese New Year Banquet will be Saturday in the Chumash Auditorium at 6 p.m. Doors open around 5:30. Ticket are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Entertainment includes the play “The Kung-Fu Kid” (a kid-friendly show), the Lion Dance/Ribbon Dance Teams will perform, and the Wushu/Taichi Group.

To order tickets, e-mail calpolycsa@gmail.com or call Jocelyn Wong at 408-839-7887.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.