The Way It Was
Why I Left Hong Kong for Good
By Horatio Ozorio, March 12, 2008
Was I overtaken by nostalgia when I jetfoiled into Hong Kong from Macau at the end of Encontro 2007? You bet I was. Even after 49 years. The blue-green waters of Victoria Harbor, the Ferry Tower, the Peak, the Star Ferries, Peninsula Hotel, St. Theresa’s Church, all brought memories flooding back, mostly pleasant ones, of nearly 3 decades of life as a boy and a young man in Hong Kong. Would I ever go back to Hong Kong? Not a chance. Emigrating to the United States was the best thing I did for my family and for myself.
I was not unhappy living in Hong Kong. As long as I was not too ambitious, as long as I could accept the system of government there, as long as I “knew my place,” and despite being disenfranchised, life was pleasant enough. But eventually it was not. In the makeup of the population I was ethnically sandwiched between the privileged minority Caucasians, who held the power, and the majority Chinese citizens, who were oppressed. In-between these two groups were the non-Caucasian, non-Chinese segment of the colony’s population. I was ethnically Portuguese, “classified” as a Macanese, someone whose ancestors were born in Macau, so I belonged in that segment. It had its pluses and it had its minuses.
Since this short dissertation has to do with why I left Hong Kong, I will focus briefly on the reasons for my disenchantment with that former British colony. Don’t get me wrong. I was very much an anglophile. Still am. But the colonial Brits were something else. I suppose that was understandable since they owned the football.
Whether they were motivated to do so or not, just a handful of the Macanese could afford to go to college. I was not one of the lucky ones. I was pulled out of school, after World War II, to help my father’s large family. Most of the Macanese ended up indentured as clerks, secretaries, and stenographers. I was one of them. Seventy-five percent of my salary went on rent alone, necessitating my wife getting a job and leaving our two children with a baby amah. My father’s generation and the generations before his, to put it bluntly, were obsequiously servile under their British masters and subserviently accepted that jobs at the higher management levels were reserved to the expatriates. Salaries were predicated on the ethnic group to which one belonged. In that respect there were no agitators or militants among them for a better deal. They took what they got and “liked” it. Prospects for advancement were nil. They and their children could only see life in Hong Kong as getting basic schooling, getting a job, getting married, and getting children. A lot of getting but getting nowhere.
Denied of economic, political, and social opportunity, the Macanese residents lapsed into being a community of helpless complacency and apathy. Still, life was tolerable for them and they made the best of it. They even had a misguided sense of superiority given that there were the Chinese whom they looked down on. The Macanese had one thing going for them that lifted them out of the doldrums of life under the colonial British. They could afford live-in servants whom they paid pitifully little with no other work benefits. This left them with a lot of leisure time and that enabled them to engage in what they enjoyed – sports. In that arena they excelled, which upped the regard of the Caucasians a little for them. Sports then filled their need somewhat for some happiness in their lives.
World War II seems to have cleansed the atrophy from the thinking of the Macanese by having knocked down what had been their bailiwick in the three-tiered society that was Hong Kong’s before the war. With the Chinese gaining ascendancy, the younger generation started looking overseas for a better life. Glowing reports filtered back from America by the courageous few who had taken the plunge and left the Far East for greater opportunity in America. So, feeling as I did about the colonials and the colonial system, I joined in the Macanese exodus from Hong Kong.
The improvement in the quality of life in America was dramatically brought home to me very soon after I arrived there. Whereas in Hong Kong I was not allowed by my employers even to sign a no-risk outgoing wire after working for them for five years, in the United States where I got a job as a bank clerk the first day I started looking for one, I was given authority to sign cashier’s checks within six months, and there were no restrictions on the amount of the checks. I could sign for a million dollars if that was what the transaction called for. A big deal for me at the time, I was the proud owner of a checking account with an American bank. The bank in Hong Kong had made me feel like a beggar when I asked to open an account with them. Unlike in Hong Kong where evening school was unheard of, it was available in America and I took advantage of it. Best of all, I was able to rent a lovely three bedroom home in San Francisco and was able to keep my wife at home to care for our two children.
Today, I am a financially secure American retiree with the right to vote on how and by whom I shall be governed. I own a home and income property, have two cars, take vacation cruises, and am enjoying life to the fullest. Most importantly, I see all my children and grandchildren thriving. And I am proud that I received not one cent in government assistance along the way. That’s not bad for someone who arrived in the United States without a college degree, without a profession or trade, and with only enough to live on for a month of two in his pocket. Nor was it only I who was so providently cared for by the good Lord. Many of the Macanese immigrants who did as I did can say the same for themselves.
But I continue to miss Hong Kong, in the way the Chinese feel about their heung ha. Viewing scenes of old Hong Kong and its residents of yesteryear at work and at play sends me into a temporary funk of melancholy. I even find myself ruing that I had to leave Hong Kong to seek a better life. António Pacheco Jorge da Silva’s recently released book “The Portuguese Community in Hong Kong - A Pictorial History” sent me tumbling into an abyss of nostalgia. The fabulous collection of photographs of people I knew in the days of old enabled me to vicariously relive some of my life as a boy and a young man in the Pearl of the Orient, as Hong Kong was sometimes called.
Today, I continue grappling with my mixed emotions on July 1, 1997, sympathizing with the British as they sadly lowered their Union Jack handing back the colony to China; from trying to comprehend the joy of the Chinese as they proudly resumed sovereignty over territory that was once theirs; from the pride of the Chinese and Hong Kong Governments as the Chinese National Flag and Hong Kong’s new Bauhinia Flag were simultaneously hoisted; and from worrying about the uncertain fate of my Macanese colleagues who were “left behind.”
That was the way it was.
Macanese Fighter Pilot's Heroic Deed
By Armando “Pinky” da Silva – July 8,2005
This story is touching and it reflects the heroism and sacrifice of those who gave their all to this great country. It is the story of our own Lt. Augusto Xavier, USMC. I wrote about him about 10 years ago in an issue of the Lusitano Bulletin (California). From memory let me retell that story which is very personal to me. Augusto Xavier was the son of Smokie Xavier, a member of the Hong Kong Volunteers and a WWII POW, and was on the same ship that took me as an emigrant to America. He was about 10 years old then. We shared the same dining table with some other Filomacs (but of course).
Augusto went to high school in San Jose, California. After graduating he enlisted with the U.S. Marines. The Corps saw in him a natural leader, and an intelligent one. He was fast-tracked to officer candidate school and promptly assigned to Corps Aviation. He further attended flight combat school and on his finishing was commissioned a lieutenant with "wings." He went with the first contingent of U.S. Marines in 1965 to Vietnam. There he flew A-4 Skyhawk jets on missions supporting ground troops.
On 9 March 1966 he went on a mission to help out a mountain fire base on the Ho Chi Minh Trail manned by Army Green Berets. The base was being overrun by infiltrating North Vietnamese regulars. From official accounts, Augusto made three runs at the enemy, the first two times dropping napalm bombs. On the third run to machine gun and distract the enemy his plane was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire and he crashed in flames. Most of the Green Berets and their Montaignard allies managed to escape from the fire base during the bombing raids led by Augusto. Augusto was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, which I believe is the second- highest service decoration in the U.S. Military.
After the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington (only an hour train ride from Baltimore where I taught) was completed I would go every year to "The Wall" and place a rose by his inscribed name. His parents were most appreciative of my gesture which allowed me to honor the supreme sacrifice of a Macanese patriot to his adopted land.
Love is a Many-splendored Amah
By Julieta de Souza Regenbogen
Ah Sei was amah to the Souza family in Canton and Hong Kong since, it seemed, from the beginning of time. In fact she was family. We loved her and she loved us. She was virtually my second mother. But there came a time when the family broke up, my parents emigrating to the United States, my big sister getting married, and I as a Lufthansa flight hostess resettling in Germany. After taking on some temporary employment, Ah Sei decided to “retire” and go back to her heung ha (Shiu Hing) somewhere in the depths of China.
It was heart-wrenching to say our goodbyes when we left Hong Kong. Then in 1996, on a nostalgic impulse, Sylvie in California and I in Germany decided to visit her in China. She was 86 then, bless her.
It was a trip I know I would never ever make again as long as I still had my sanity. For the first time in my life it felt like I didn’t know where I was traveling to. I had an address for Ah Sei but since it was written in Chinese, and I couldn’t read a word of Chinese, I just presented it to China Travel Service and they told us there was a boat leaving the next day from Yaumati. Sylvie almost chickened out, so skeptical was she about making the trip, but I prevailed upon her to go.
We were the only non-Chinese on that small boat. It was overloaded with passengers going back home. The smell of ducks, chickens and diesel fumes plus the noise and people getting seasick was almost unbearable. What's more, for some reason the windows were covered with grey foil so we couldn't see where we were going. Nor were we allowed to go on deck. The seats were so narrow and the rows so close to each other that my knees were bruised. It was difficult getting up and out of our row to go to the toilet, plus squatting over a nojo hole while the boat was rocking wasn't my cup of tea, so I kept holding off going as long as I could. The journey took five agonizing hours during which Sylvie died a thousand deaths. Since I spoke Cantonese fairly well, I killed time conversing with all the folks near me and they were quite awed when I told them where we came from and where we were going.
At the quay, Ah Sei's nephew was waiting for us with a mini bus. We had managed to find him and correspond with him through respective translators. He took us to our "hotel" where we freshened up a bit, then drove on to her village. I still had no idea where I was going! The ride was bumpy but most interesting. I snapped pictures of kaan teen farmers guiding their water buffalos through the rice paddy fields. Chickens, pigs, ducks and geese crossed our path at any and all times as we drove past rows upon rows of Chinese vegetables like choi sum, kai laan, choong, etc. The rice fields were a lush green and glistened in the sun. It was wooonderful!
Finally, after about two and a half hours we reached her village. It was one that manufactured red bricks, so all the houses in town were built with them. They looked very picturesque. The car pulled up on a mud path where kids were playing barefoot in the slick. And there she was at the door, small, shriveled, dressed in her best saam fu, beaming away at us. Half of the village turned out to greet us and accompanied us to her house. We were flattered by all the attention we were getting. She lived in a three-storeyed house which looked like the most janota one in the village. I guess all her Hong Kong dollar savings made that possible.
First, she showed us around. We saw that she slept on a wooden bed covered with a mat she wove herself, with a wooden pillow, and the obligatory flask of tea on a chest. Then she took us to the first floor, where she stored her rice. It was piled up on the floor and she had a metal shovel stuck in it. Her shower was epic - a cubicle, with a hand lever to pump the water from overhead. Her see tap was a wooden construction over a hole in the ground. It was shaped like a coffin, and had a hole in the middle with an elevation on each side for her feet when she sat. She said she was not able to squat, so the local carpenter made that contraption for her.
She hospitably offered us tea and biscuits, while we gave her goodies from our respective countries. She boasted to all her neighbours that we were her "children" from the US and Germany. Some of them walked in still with the kaan teen grey mud up to their knees. They couldn't wait to see Ah Sei's "children". It was a really memorable visit. We chatted for a while and then it was time to say our goodbyes. Ah Sei kept waving and repeating "Goot bye" until we were out of sight. There was a big lump in my throat on the way back. I knew I would never see her again.
The next day, we took the same slow boat back from China. We had a sense of closure. We had filled a void in our hearts.
Re-visiting Lisbon and Sintra Vicariously
We found Lisbon, with a population of 3.9 million, wonderfully convenient and best explored on foot. Narrow cobblestone streets, many closed to traffic and turned into outdoor cafes, meander through commercial districts where tourists mix with stevedores and sailors, bureaucrats and poets. Trams and funiculars provide picturesque help in climbing steep passageways up the hillsides.
A good place to start is the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle), reached by foot or tram, which overlooks the Alfama district and provides stunning vistas over the red-tiled roofs of the city, the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and the hills beyond. The site was a fortress in Roman times, and we could peer out from castle walls built by Moors who ruled the land more than a thousand years ago.
The Bairro Alto (Upper City) dates back 500 years. Its colorful streets, lined with balconied houses, come alive at night. Small bars and budget restaurants serving local dishes such as duck, roast pork, tapas and cheeses offer an alternative to pricier eateries and dark nightclubs where traditionalists play and sing fado music, the Portuguese version of the blues.
At the waterfront end of the Baixa district, the Rio Tejo flows past the Ribeiro fish market, where the sun rises over baskets of the catch of the day. We had a second Lisbon dinner nearby, at a small spot tucked in the former fish warehouse that used generations-old recipes for charcoal-grilled fare.
We invested a half-day of our Lisbon time to take a tram ride along the river out to Belém, once a separate city but now a Lisbon district, where the Rio Tejo meets the ocean. From here in the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator inspired generations of explorers, including Vasco da Gama and Bartholomeu Dias, onto the "Sea of Darkness" in search of the riches of the east.
Their courage launched the Age of Discovery and is immortalized in the Padrão dos Descombrimentos, a riverside monument of two ramps meeting like the prow of the famed caravel ships that set out from this spot. Nearby is the Torre de Belém, a tower erected around 1515 and a traditional national symbol.
As we looked out from its battlements across the river and out to sea, it was easy to imagine the combination of fear and excitement that accompanied each ship as it set out on its journey.
Across a beautiful park lies the impressive Mostério dos Jerónimos, a monastery founded in 1502 and built in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for da Gama's successful voyage to India. Legend has it that the sailor is entombed within the walls.
Our time in Belém was limited, but we made sure to stop at the fabled Pasteis de Belém, to sample the sugary, doughnut-like confections that the community is known for.
Driving outside Lisbon was easy thanks to the several six-lane toll highways. Roads throughout the country are well marked, but a good map came in handy.
Sintra, a quaint village with four palaces and 12 centuries of history [is] set in the lush green mountain range between Lisbon and the Atlantic.
Frederic Kneubuhl describes it as "the most beautiful spot in Portugal," and chose it to open a guesthouse, Casa Miradouro, in a 100-year-old refurbished villa with large rooms, soaring ceilings and views of the scenery for many miles around.
His hospitality often extends to sharing a glass of port - the country's trademark beverage - with guests as they head off or return from their explorations.
Near the city center is the National Palace of Sintra, home of the Moorish governors of Lisbon until the crusaders recaptured it in 1147. It is said to be the only surviving royal residence from the Middle Ages. The plaza outside was once the site of jousting tournaments.
During the day, the town is filled with shoppers and day-tripping tourists from Lisbon. But by late afternoon, the pace slows and the houses take on an amber glow in the fading sunshine.
On our last night in Portugal, we lingered over dinner in an outdoor cafe in the city square to see the floodlit spires and domes of Pena Palace, an eccentric, 19th-century fairy-tale concoction perched on what the Romans had called the "promontory of the moon."
Morning would mean a drive to the airport for the flight home, but we put that out of our minds and ordered a couple more glasses of port.
(The foregoing are excerpts from an article “Discovering Portugal” by Alan Friedman and Karen Hosler, Sun Staff, published in Angela’s List dated September 22, 2004. – Ed.)
Were Amahs Charitably Treated by Us?
(By Horatio F. Ozorio)
For many Macanese-Americans who have lived during the past five decades in these democratic United States of America, where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are held to be self-evident truths, they probably cannot help but hark back mentally to the way they treated the servants they employed while living in Hong Kong. Juxtaposed against their presumed present day sense of Christian charity, democratic fairness, and common decency, acquired while living in a country where employee rights are paramount, would they in retrospect hang their heads in shame? Probably not.
Just about all Macanese families in Hong Kong had servants in those days to attend to a variety of household chores. These human beings were called amahs and generally started off as young Chinese women from inland China. They were illiterate in English, and usually could speak but not read or write Chinese. As amahs their economic status and living standards did, however, represent a considerable improvement over their lot in China.
Most were treated pretty much as pseudo slaves. They had no rights. They had no privileges. The luckier ones were treated as a quasi member of the family though never without forgetting their servant status. But these tended to be rare exceptions.
They were paid a pittance. They were on duty from dawn to late evening with no breaks, and occasionally were called upon to perform a chore even after they had retired for the night. For food, they were allocated a pitifully small amount of money per day. They had no savings, no medical insurance or facilities, no provision for security in their old age. When ill, they tended to be self-treating – herbal brews and Man Kam Yau.
Not unusually, each family had two amahs, one to cook and the other to do the rest of the chores. Larger families had a third amah to care for the children. When a family was exceptionally large, say eight or more children, there might be a fourth amah whose main duty was the laundry. In the high humidity tropical setting of the Far East a heavy load of laundry every day or two was usual. Everything had to be handwashed and hung out in the sun to dry. There were no washing machines or dryers to speak of. Nor were there vacuum cleaners. Floors were swept daily and hand-polished weekly with a weighted floorbrush.
They slept in tiny rooms at the back of the house called servants quarters. Beds consisted of wooden planks placed over sawhorses ,which left no room for other furniture. All their possessions probably could fit into a suitcase which they kept under their bed.
Airconditioning was a rarity in the Macanese homes of those days, but there were fireplaces to provide warmth. Amahs had neither. They had no bathroom facilities. Our amahs brushed their teeth at the kitchen sink and bathed in the dark in the kitchen. For a water closet they squatted over a hole-in-the-ground flush at the back of the house or outdoors.
They were given a one-day-a-year vacation, usually Chinese New Year. Yet family members grumbled at having to do things for themselves that day. Dirty dishes were heldover for the amahs’ return.
Amahs were pathetically ignorant of worldly values. Asked what she would do if she won the Lantao Handicap sweepstakes, which was worth in the millions of Hong Kong dollars, one elderly amah said she would buy a pair of shoes. They usually went barefooted, to save wear and tear on their cloth shoes.
There was no entertainment of any kind for them. They did not participate in any family recreational activities or celebrations.
Amahs gained their ascendancy from the Fifties onwards when capitalist businessmen fled the northern part of China ahead of the oncoming communist armies of Mao Tse Tung and reestablished themselves in Hong Kong. Factories sprang up like mushrooms in the New Territories offering vastly improved employment alternatives for the younger amahs. And took them they did.
The above, I believe, fairly describes how many if not most Macanese families in Hong Kong treated their amahs. Those I checked with told pretty much the same story. It was not sinful exploitation. We just didn’t know better. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling rotten about it. I suspect that for the Macanese families of Macau and Shanghai it was probably not much different.
A Trip to a China Town Grocery Store in California
Having by now, after several decades, been accustomed to the glitzy merchandising of American supermarkets, one would imagine it a little anticlimactic to shop at a grocery store in China Town. Not so! On the contrary, the experience can be one of fun, nostalgia, and accomplishment. Memories of shopping in a cai see come flooding back. The feeling is that one is back home in good old Hong Kong or Macau or Shanghai.
Actually, shopping in China Town turns out to be an expedition of sorts, for it is not customary to shop alone. One either goes with family members or with friends, the latter needing no inducement to say yes to a telephone invitation, “Hey, we’re going to China Town, want to come along?” It is an opportunity to stock up the larder with Chinese groceries; it is an excuse to stop in afterwards at an authentic Chinese restaurant for a gourmet experience; and it is a chance to load up at a Chinese pastelaria on cheen toois, loh pak ko, yau cha kwai, paak tong ko, hah kao, siu mai, wu kok, haam yook chung, and what have you.
Just approaching a Chinese grocery store on foot starts the adrenalin flowing. The cluttered storefront overflowing with familiar oriental food items trigger immediate visions of exotic meals at home for the next few days. On arriving at the store, the nostalgia begins with seeing seasonal imported fruits and Chinese vegetables of many varieties and other produce crammed into wooden crates, cardboard boxes and gunny sacks all neatly arrayed on the sidewalk in front of the store just like it was in the “good old days.” Exclamations like, “Ooh, look at that, ling ngao,” or “Ooh, si qua, haven’t had that in ages,” or “Look, haam taan, and pei taan,” are what one might hear above the clamor and congestion outside the store as pedestrians and shoppers exiting and entering the store try to get past each other.
Like as not, many of the displayed items are not found in American supermarkets, items that were commonplace in the Macaense diet of old but now potential feasts by virtue of their scarcity or unavailability. Inside the store with its narrow passages and the unheavenly smell of salt fish, dried squid, dehydrated vegetables and so on assailing one’s nostrils, more nostalgic food items can be found: hoong cho, yau yue, haam yue chai, laap yook, laap aap, hoong tau and look tau, wong tong, none of which turn up on supermarket shelves. Tins (not cans, if you please) of Western brand products known to be favored by a Chinese clientele, such as Klim, Lactogen, Glucose-D, Riboflavin, corned beef, and sardines, are also available.
The picture, however, is not complete. Paraphernalia that Far Easterners are familiar with are no longer seen: the da ching, which has given way to the digital scale; old newspaper folded and glued into triangular pockets to serve as wrappers, now replaced by plastic or brown paper bags; the ubiquitous abacus and the click/clacking sound of its beads, ousted by the silent electronic calculator; the muk putt, made uncommon by the ballpen. The players too are different: foh keis waiting on you, made redundant by prepackaging and self-service; the occasional proprietor sitting behind the counter in his black tsao pants with singlet rolled up displaying an ample belly, replaced by otherwise unemployed housewives or by part-time school-age children.
Ah well, you can’t have it all.
The Best Pitman's Shorthand Teacher East of the Suez
By Horatio Ozorio
He was widely touted as the best Pitman’s Shorthand teacher east of the Suez. The “he” I speak of was Fausto Maria Ozorio of Hong Kong, or "Toto," as he was affectionately called by his family and friends. He was my father.
I don’t know what brought about his love affair with shorthand teaching, but a love affair it was. He carried in his head every lesson, rule and outline in Pitman’s Manual Instructor. Mother used to relate how Dad would talk in his sleep and it was often bits of teaching instruction or dictation exercises that she heard him mumbling. During Mass and even in conversation with others he could often be seen tracing shorthand outlines on his lap with his finger, or his lips would move as he repeated inaudibly something he had just heard that he thought could be represented by an interesting shorthand outline or contraction.
During the WWII refugee days in Macau, Dad was a big contributor to the eventual rehabilitation of many Macanese families. He conducted shorthand classes for otherwise idle Macanese youngsters six days a week in the tiny house on Beco da Boa Vista we called home. To accommodate his larger classes, he cleared the dining area on the lower floor of our two-storey house and erected makeshift tables and wooden benches that wobbled on the uneven floor. But he could do nothing about the melodious cries and smells that wafted in through the windows of his street-level classroom of itinerant vendors hawking their wares, some less than fragrant, like chau towfoo. He also had to contend with Grandpa occasionally sneaking violin practice as quietly as he could behind the partition at the far end of the room.
Dad must have instructed at least a couple of hundred Macanese in their teens and twenties readying them for the day they would return to Hong Kong to take up employment as secretaries and stenographers. It provided them with the ability to find jobs and to feed and house themselves and their families after the war. The economy of Hong Kong, it will be remembered, had been devastated by the war and jobs were hard to come by. Knowing shorthand was a critical and very marketable skill to have in those days when one remembers that tape recorders, transcribing machines and other electronic recording devices did not then exist. The Japanese cease-fire negotiations in August 1945 were recorded by a note-taker in shorthand. Court proceedings, too, were captured in shorthand, and in the latter, I might mention, two of Dad’s students, Francis "Fuji" Gutierrez and Rennie Vas, were outstanding.
How Dad loved to work with his students! It was such a pleasure for him to drive his more advanced students faster and faster to dictation speeds of 150 to 200 words per minute. And they reflected his enthusiasm and energy as they strove to keep up with him. It was often more of a game than a lesson. Speak to his past students today and they will fondly recollect the happy times they spent with "The Professor," as Mercedes Ramos sweetly nicknamed him.
Cognizant of the dire straits in which the Macau refugees lived during the war, Dad charged his students a nominal fee, and even this he would unhesitatingly waive if it was burdensome. His older children too contributed to the cause when they became sufficiently proficient in shorthand to help Dad correct the piles of homework submitted by his many students.
I sat in on many of Dad’s classes. After all, there was not an awful lot of things for a young lad to do in those days. I never regretted it for I can say it made a great difference in my banking career to be able to take notes in shorthand. If I may say so, the end product of my work was usually detailed and complete.
I am pleased that A Diaspora Macaense na America affords me the long-wanted opportunity to pay tribute to and acclaim the contribution of my father to the Macanese community in his day. It would greatly delight our family if any of his former students would write to this Web Site with any thoughts and memories they may still have of the best Pitman’s Shorthand teacher east of the Suez – my Dad.
Alaskan Hospitality By Horatio Ozorio
This story has previously been told in the Lusitano Bulletin but bears repeating to a wider Web Site audience. It happened in September of 1998 when 50 plus Filomacaus, on the first leg of their Alaskan cruise on the ms NOORDAM, arrived at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska.
As they prepared to disembark the plane the public address system on the plane crackled and a voice boomed out: “Welcome to Alaska.” And that was the start of a welcome speech worthy of a chamber of commerce. The voice belonged to Gabby Pereira, “son of Manico Roza Pereira” and brother of Ernie and Red. His career in the airlines had brought him to Alaska forty years ago from Shanghai. His lovely daughter, Grace Browning, an employee of Alaska Air, had pulled strings to allow him access to the plane’s cockpit.
Huge grins broke out on the faces of the Filomacaus when they realized it was they who were being welcomed. Later, in the baggage claim area, Gabby mingled and chatted enthusiastically with the Filomacau tourists all the while proudly trumpeting his Macanese kinship and declaring his pleasure at meeting his fellow countrymen. It certainly started everybody off on their cruise with a good feeling, especially nephew Alfredo Roza Pereira and wife Madalena who were part of the tour and who were just as pleasantly surprised as everybody else. Wasn’t it great and patriotic of Gabby to do something like that?
Cultural Shock - A Filomacau Fresh Off The Boat By Horatio Ozorio
On my first day of work in the USA as a Filomacau fresh off the boat, lunch was to present me with an unforgettable cultural shock. No brown bag for me, I had said to myself as I dressed for work that morning. Stepping out of the First Western Bank on famed Montgomery Street in San Francisco at noon, I made my way across California Street to Len’s Café at the corner.
“What’ll you have,” the lady behind the counter said to me when it came my turn to be served. Not wanting to hold things up while I studied the variety of offerings on the wall menu, I chose the first item.
“I’ll have the devilled egg sandwich, please,” I told her.
“On white?” she asked.
I said, “What?”
She repeated, “On white?”
I said “Pardon me?”.
“Do you want it on white bread,” she said, showing some impatience.
“Oh, yes, please,” I stammered, feeling a little embarrassed.
“To go?” she asked.
“What?” I said.
“To go?” she repeated. I stared at her blankly, now quite embarrassed.
“Do you want to eat it here or do you want to take it out with you,” she said, with increasing impatience. After all, it was her rush period and a cluster of people was waiting behind me.
“I’ll take it with me, please.” I said.
That’ll be 45 cents she said as she handed me the sandwich.
Pulling out a pocketful of unfamiliar coins, I studied the assortment trying to identify which was the quarter and which was the nickel, while she waited tapping her foot. I gratefully exited the shop and headed back to the bank’s cafeteria where coffee was free.
Oh man, I thought, what a tai heung lay I was, and probably more embarrassments to come in this new country. A small compensation in retrospect, the devilled egg sandwich with a dash of celery salt was the best I ever had.
Looking back, I can laugh at myself. That sort of thing can happen to anybody at some time or other. Not everyone can be a Fonzarelli.
An Unsophisticated Macanese Boy in 1942
By Horatio Ozorio
The hostilities were over. Hong Kong had fallen to the Japanese army on Christmas Day 1941. It was in early February 1942 that we, the Ozorio family, now refugees, left Hong Kong by steamer for Macau to be guests of the Macau Government. It was a nice day and Hong Kong had pretty much settled down under its new rulers. Right after lunch, all those Portuguese citizens taking shelter from the war in the Lusitano Club and leaving for Macau started to make their way, on foot, to the ship moored at a pier about a mile away.
Our family of two adults and eight children, the oldest one of which was 12, split up into two groups. I followed my Dad, but about a block from the Club on Queen’s Road, he said to me, “You better go with Mom and help her.” I retraced my steps to the Club, but did not meet up with Mom. I went into the Club in search of her but was told she had already left. So I hurried back to join Dad, but now he was nowhere to be seen. I backtracked a bit again in hopes of finding Mom. No Mom. Back to Queen’s Road again and a block further. No Dad.
Mom had not taken the left turn onto Queen’s Road upon leaving the Club, as Dad did. She stayed on Ice House Street until she reached the waterfront, before making a left turn for the Macau pier. I couldn’t find either of my parents. I did not know the way to the ship nor was I familiar with the area. Then the awful truth dawned on me. I was lost. I did not have a cent in my pocket, I had no ID, and I was empty handed. It did not occur to me to go back to the Club and report myself lost. You see, I was an unsophisticated eleven year old.
I did not panic, and I certainly did not start crying. Probably didn’t realise the predicament I was in. As a matter of fact, my thoughts were on the scolding I was going to get for messing up. Suddenly, up ahead of me I espied three persons, one carrying a suitcase, walking at a very leisurely pace in the same direction Dad had taken. I thought they looked like “us,” i.e., Macanese. Did I go up to them and ask if they were heading for the ship to Macau? No! Why not? Unsophisticated, as I said, that was why.
The way I was brought up, you don’t approach or bother strangers. You’re supposed to avoid making a scene. I never received training as a youngster on what to do in an emergency. In those days, there was little concern for kidnappers, molesters, and the like. Had I come across a policeman - not that there were any with the Japanese having just taken over - I am not sure I would even have approached him for help. Policemen were, in my mind then, not your friends. They were there to arrest you if you did anything wrong. That was their only function. Was I an unsophisticated kid or what.
Anyhow, I decided to follow those three. I walked about fifty feet behind them. They, of course, had no idea I was following them. I never found out who they were. Well, I walked and I walked, and with each step my apprehension increased. What if these people were not going to Macau. What then? Now I started to think Lusitano Club and how to get back there.
After what seemed an interminable amount of walking - one mile of uncharted territory is a lot for an eleven year old - the three made a right turn. Another couple of blocks and I could see blue sky and the harbor ahead of me. When I got to the waterfront, I was flabbergasted. There standing at the entrance of the pier was Mom, wringing her hands and red-eyed from crying. The Lord be praised? No, I had not prayed. But yes, He was with me.
No, she didn’t pound on me either. She embraced me sobbing her heart out. The ship was about to leave, she said. Oh, she was so worried. But she would have stayed behind had I not turned up, she said later when the story of my epic was recounted over and over again to anyone who would listen. I boarded the ship and sat down on a bench near the engine room as quietly and unobtrusively as I could. What a lot of staring people. I thought, like Dorothy said to the weeping Cowardly Lion, “My, what a lot of fuss you’re making.” Almost immediately, the boat cast off. I guess they must have held the ship for me. The episode was soon forgotten for ahead of us lay a new adventure - Macau!
Compared with pre-adolescent kids of today, was I or were we Macanese kids that unsophisticated in those days? I believe we were!
Chicken Soup for Bankers By Oscar Collaço
I read with interest the many areas covered by this website, and came across your early experience on ordering the sandwich, which brings to mind an amusing episode that happened to me during the early sixties which I would like to share.
I was working for a major bank in the financial district and was looking for a quick place to order a bowl of soup and a sandwich before attending evening classes offered by the bank. There was this cozy short-order place on Market St. near Sansome named 'Ole King Cole'. It was a buffet type restaurant. When it came to my turn in line, I ordered a sandwich with chicken soup, then heard the person behind me ordering split-pea soup. I have never heard of this soup and asked the person behind me if it was good. He told me that it was better than chicken soup, so I asked the expressionless waitress behind the counter to change my order of chicken soup to split-pea soup, at which she immediately put her head through the small window, and in a loud voice, hollered, "Hold the chicken and make it pea". There was a thunderous laughter that erupted from all of us within earshot. Even the busy poker-faced waitress began to smile after that.
I must say that the split-pea soup was excellent.
As Simple as Do Re Mi By Horatio Ozorio
As newly arrived immigrants to the US at the end of the Fifties, we had to furnish our first home, a delightful flat on 19th Avenue in San Francisco which we rented for $120 a month. We only had beds, a washing machine and a refrigerator when we first rented it, so it was not surprising that we were frequent visitors to Busvan on Clement Street where secondhand furniture could be had at reasonable prices.
Even though we were poor as a churchmouse, we could not resist buying a used piano for $140.00. Our children had Sequeira blood and we decided that we would be selling them short if we did not investigate whether they had the musical talent the Sequeiras were renowned for. To make sure we were not buying a dud, we fetched our good friend Aurea Baptista, a concert pianist, to check it out. She tested it and gave it her okay.
We couldn’t wait for the piano to be delivered. When the truck arrived I looked out the window of our second storey flat and saw three men preparing to bring it up. “Holy Mackerel,” I said to Yvonne, my wife, “they’ve only got three guys to carry it up.” Guess what. Two of them brought the piano up. The third was the driver of the truck, and labor union rules didn’t allow him to lend a hand, he said when I asked him.
That was a quick lesson for this Filomacau on American “coolie” labor.
(Kaima, as Aurea Bapista was known to her family and friends, passed away on October 3, 2003, after a long illness. May she rest in peace.)
Adjusting to Cultural Shock
By Horatio Ozorio
Coming to America as immigrants, we Macanese have some adjusting and adapting to do to orient ourselves to the American way of doing things. We have to cope with cultural shock. For me, it had started already on board the s.s. President Wilson which brought my family and me across the Pacific Ocean to the Land of Plenty in 1958.
In the game room on the first day at sea, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a rarity in Hong Kong, seemed like a good idea. I glanced over at the bar and saw that the bartender was a Caucasian. I was used to seeing a Chinese in that slot. I found myself actually wondering, “How would I address him? What would I say to him?” Speaking to a Britisher in Hong Kong was a rare experience. Generally, Britishers and other Caucasians had status of some kind and some deference was usually expected. It was a little shocking to approach him but I did. HE was friendly and cordial. The orange juice cost US$0.50, and as was my wont the first few days out of Hong Kong, I promptly multiplied the cost by six to convert it to Hong Kong dollars. I was shocked at how much more expensive it was.
Then I needed a haircut. I was looking a little shaggy. With a little foresight I would have had one last haircut in Hong Kong just before coming to the US. It would have cost me HK$2.40 (40 cents US) and would have included a shampoo and a cigarette. It shocked me that it cost me five times as much on board ship (I had to go into First Class to find the barber, expecting to be told I was off limits), plus I had to give him a tip which I never had to in Hong Kong. Instead of a Chinese barber cutting my hair, I had to put up with, again, a Caucasian. He asked me how I would like my hair cut, something a Chinese barber in Hong Kong never asked me, so I said just a trim please, meaning I didn’t want anything resembling a crewcut. He barely took off anything and it looked like I hadn’t had a haircut. For this I had to pay a fortune!
I don’t know why I expected to see Chinese coolies on the wharf doing the heavy lifting. I guess I wasn’t completely reprogrammed yet after 18 days at sea. So I marveled to see Caucasians and blacks doing the stevedoring. Blacks! Except when the US Navy was in port in Hong Kong on R & R, I never saw more than a single black here and there, maybe two, just occasionally. And now I saw them in handfuls. The last time that happened was in Macau when I saw units of Landims (Africans) outside the governor’s palace in the process of changing guard. I was running the risk of saying “Excuse me for staring,” for that was what I was doing.
We arrived in San Francisco on the last day of 1958, and as was the Macanese tradition we went to church to attend Te Deum services. Some friends offered us a ride to the church but as there was not room enough for all of us in the car, I had to go by bus. St. Ignatius Church was about a mile away. I watched one bus go by before I realized I was waiting on the wrong side of the road. It had not sunk in yet that they drove on the right side of the road in this country! Boarding the bus, I handed the driver my fifteen cents fare. He looked sullenly at me and snarled, “I don’t want it.” I thought to myself, well, if you don’t want it, what am I going to do with it. When he saw that I was obviously fresh off the boat he pointed to the fare box and spat out impatiently, “Put it there! Put it there!” Then I had to puzzle out how to get the bus to stop at my destination. In Hong Kong one bell stopped the bus and two started it going. Passengers were ringing sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes as soon as the bus got going, sometimes just before arriving at their stop. Which was it. As it turned out, another passenger was getting off the same stop as I, so that was one riddle I didn’t have to solve immediately.
In the days to follow there were more shocks in store for me:
In Hong Kong I was accustomed to seeing Chinese beggars, “Cheena pobres,” we used to call them” but instead, here were down-and-out Caucasians in that predicament. Shocking!
There were Caucasian females in colorful garb everywhere. In Hong Kong I could count them with the fingers of one hand. I was more accustomed to seeing Chinese women clad in the traditional black pyjama pants and tunic tops. What a scenic transition it was.
I saw flowers blooming in gardens in front of residences, in the parks, on road medians. How come, I thought, they had not been picked clean by passersby. A pleasant discovery indeed.
Why did everything in the San Francisco Bay Area look so clean, so spick and span, I wondered. Then I realized why. Hong Kong was in the Tropics where rust and decay quickly overtook everything, where anything not promptly cared for started to look run down. What a plus.
Pigeons flocked everywhere in San Francisco. How come, I asked my father-in-law who showed us the city, that the pigeons hadn’t been captured and eaten. Americans, he said, weren’t that hungry.
And that was the way it was for me.
A WWII Refugee remembers Caixa Escolar Days in Macau
By Horatio Ozorio
I don’t suppose any of us Macanese refugees from Hong Kong, who left for Macau soon after the capitulation in 1941 of Hong Kong to Japanese invading forces, had any idea of what to expect when we got to Macau. If we thought of refugee camps along the lines of those we see today in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, it would be hard to fault our imagination. What we got, however, was palatial in comparison.
The Macau government had set aside properties like clubs, schools, a hotel, and a military depot to house us. No fenced-in open-air camps, tents, and outhouses for us. The buildings were more than habitable, with bathing facilities, toilets, electricity and piped-in water. For the nostalgic effect of it all I recall the names of those refugee centers: Caixa Escolar, Bela Vista Hotel, Clube Sargento, Escola Luso-Chinesa, Clube de Macau, Gremio Militar, Chacra Leitão, #3 Rua da Praia Grande, #XX Rua de São Paulo, Armação, and even the “Tung Hui,” a moored river steamer.
Our family of 10 was lucky to be assigned to Caixa Escolar, a two-storey clubhouse fronted by a turfed hockey field and basketball courts. Right next to it was the Liceu Nacional Infante D. Henrique, a classy high school. In addition to scheduled hockey and soccer matches, Liceu student activities were also a source of diversion for us refugees, which we spectated from the verandah of the clubhouse. The Mocidade, of which I was a member, practiced their marching parades there too. Caixa Escolar was well kept and conveniently located, with the main drag Rua do Campo running alongside of us. Not a bad set-up under the circumstances, I’d say.
Another stroke of luck: The four eldest girls in our family of 10 were whisked away immediately to live as boarders at Colégio de Santa Rosa de Lima where Mother’s sister, Bertha Xavier, was a nun, Mother Socorro.
Yet another stroke of luck: Mrs. Letty Antunes lived two blocks away on Rua Tap Seac. She was Dad’s sister. I appreciated this because her bathroom was a definite improvement over the one we had at the center! And this underfed boy could always find something to nibble on at Aunty Letty’s.
Caixa Escolar is so graphically indelible in my memory that despite many a senior moment these days I can still recall a lot of what I experienced there as an 11-year old boy. For example, I can remember those housed on the upper floor where we were: the families of Mr. & Mrs. Afino Santos, Mrs. Beatrice O’Brien, Mrs. Chellie Franco, Mrs. Regina Machado, Mr. & Mrs. Eduardo Mattos, and the family of Mrs. Isabel Luz.
The Chief at the Caixa Escolar center was Mr. Humberto Pires. He lived on the lower floor with his wife Evelyn and their six children. The only other families on the ground floor that this pre-teener can recall are Mr. & Mrs. E.A. de Souza, and the Chaves family. By the way, Humberto Pires lives today in Vancouver B.C., Canada, is 103 years old, and, like Johnny Walker, is still going strong! I remember him disembarking a Happy Valley tram during the 1999 Encontro while it was still in motion.
We lived at Caixa Escolar for just a few months before moving out to our own home. That was made possible by the generosity and highmindedness of Dad’s employers, the Asiatic Petroleum Company, a business style of Shell Oil Company, which continued to remit his monthly salary. Corporations had a heart in those days! Too, we received a small monthly subsidy from the Macau government in lieu of staying at the center.
I conclude this tiny memoir by expressing the belief that but for the grace of God and the humanitarianism of the Macau government some of us refugees might not have made it through the war.
Cash, Checks, Buying on Credit
By Horatio Ozorio
I look back to the decade of the Fifties, when I was still a complacent Hong Kong resident, and must say I continue to be a little flabbergasted, and now maybe a little amused, that every financial transaction in which I was engaged was in cash, whether for rent, utilities, groceries, restaurant meals, or for any of the multitude of daily living needs. Even my salary was received in the form of cash. My wife and I wouldn’t have known how to write a check or conduct a checking account. Nor did we have a savings account; it took two salaries to meet our minimum expenses and there was precious little left to save.
It was only when, in late 1958, I was departing Hong Kong for America as an emigrant, that it became necessary to have a checking account or, as the British called it, a current account. Both my wife and I very fortunately were recipients of sums of money, from our respective employers as termination emoluments, that were too substantial to be carried around in cash paying for our costly passage for four to the United States, paying for packing and freighting of our personal effects, buying new suits and clothing, and so forth.
To have a checking account at a British bank was a kind of status thing. We had to be trustworthy, have references, have a minimum deposit, sign agreements, etc. The bank after all had to be protected from the possibility of fraud and misuse. There was good reason actually for all this caution which I won’t go into here. The truth of the matter is when the account was finally opened I suddenly felt I was someone, silly me. I felt I had attained some status. What a contrast this was with the American system, which solicited one’s account and opened it with a minimum of fuss or muss in its relentless pursuit of non-interest bearing demand deposits.
As I was soon to realise after reaching American shores, paying by check was losing ground to buying on credit. Merchants were in hot pursuit of sales and were willy-nilly offering credit terms to just about any Tom, Dick or Harry. Window shopping for a TV, I remember we were invited in just to fill in an application to establish our credit and to point to a TV set that we would probably choose if we decided to buy one when our credit was approved. We pointed to a console sitting nearby, more for the looks of the cabinet than for its technical features, and lo and behold, one week later it was sitting at our front door! We loved the set and so accepted the transaction as done. That was our first lesson as know-nothing immigrants dealing with a hustling American salesman. We also got some learning from dealing with an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman, but since we were bent on our children being knowledgeable students we again went along with the transaction. We did, however, two weeks later demand and got a second set of encyclopedias for children which were an inducement give-away of which we were not aware at the time.
From that time on, we were veterans at dealing with hard-charging unscrupulous Yankee salesmen, or in the parlance of the Twenty-first Century, salespersons. These days we hardly hear the term “caveat emptor” any more; buyers are protected by reams of legislation, to the point of absurdity. As I stood in line in a department store recently waiting my turn to return faulty merchandise, I witnessed one customer returning an earlier purchase: a three foot ornamental plant dead and dried, an obvious casualty from lack of watering. She got her money back.
Life in the US in the Fifties, Life Now
By Oscar Collaço
Life in the San Francisco Bay Area was so much simpler in the mid-to-late-fifties when we immigrated here from Macau, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Jobs were plentiful, housing was inexpensive. I recall that my Dad rented a house, for the 5 of us, on Ashbury Street between Haight and Page Streets, 3 bedrooms, moderate size kitchen with a spacious laundry area and stairs leading down one flight to the backyard, bath and a half, large living room, garage, for $55.00 a month which included water and garbage. Also, one extra month's rent with no security or cleaning deposit.
The same house now would probably rent for $2,500.00 plus all the utilities. Plus 2 to 3 month's advance rent payment and in addition, at least $1,000.0 for security deposit.
Riding the Muni bus was .15 cents then with a 90 minute transfer to another bus good for one way or cross directional use only. Now we pay $1.25 for 90 minutes of unlimited directional use.
Waiting for the bus at a stop, I now find much longer and Muni's schedules for in-between bus runs are not that reliable. Service is big problem in some isolated areas of the City.
Owning a car then was great because there were not too many on the roads and freeways. Gasoline, if I can recall, was about .39 cents a gallon. With a fill-up you would receive many amenities, such as a set of glasses, toaster, and such, or redeemable stamps, blue, green, orange, which you filled up pages in a booklet(s) and brought them to an outlet to redeem for various household and recreational merchandise. Parking was open and meterless except for the downtown and certain tourist areas. A dime would hold for 3 hours. Now, we are mired in traffic, parking is most difficult, and the meter gobbles up .50 cents for about 8 minutes. Most owners park outside in the streets and their garage is packed with "who knows what."
UMA socials for Luau's and New Year's Eve were catered for 500 to 800 plus party-goers. Hall rental was something like $50.00 from set up time the eve of the affair and lasted till the day after the affair at 2 or 3 a.m. A live band of 5 musicians would cost about the same; ticket donations were $7.00 a couple. Parking was no problem. Mixed drinks offered were .50 cents a shot. Now a hall rental runs for at least $400.00 for about 5 hours at most. You'll need a cleaning deposit of about $100.00. You'll need a rider for 1 million dollars insurance coverage for liability purposes, at least 1 security guard for every 80 persons attending. Live band could cost at least $1,000.00, ticket donation from about $15.00 to $100.00 per person, depending on the affair. We must guarantee at least 100 persons. Parking is always a problem, even at large hotels. Some hotels charge extra for parking.
Community life was simpler then and most lived in the Richmond District and met at Sunday services and ventured to the few Chinese restaurants for dim-sum after Mass within the Clement Street area, or made plans to eat at Bunny's Waffle and Pancake Shop on Market Street which was right in the shopping center of the City. We had no malls then.
Now we have shopping centers all around outside the City. Our community has purchased homes mostly in the suburbs of the Bay Area. City prices are ridiculous. This is what has made our clubhouse problem so difficult to resolve.
A 2-bedroom home purchased in the sixties for about $25,000.00 is now priced around $500,000.00. We used to bargain down the asking price. Now the asking price has become the starting price, because buyers bid up from it.
Every household now has 2 or 3 cars compared to a one-car family of 50 years ago.
These are just some of the changes that I have encountered in San Francisco. I am sure others will have their stories to tell covering a similar experience in general, and many more can expand on their personal observations from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties, and share their notes and views of the diverse changes we face today.
A Lesson in Humility
By Horatio Ozorio
January 26, 1959, was my first day of work in the USA. I was hired at US$325 a month by the First Western Bank & Trust Company on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. A good starting salary my father-in-law Alvaro Souza, then working for Bank of America, had told me. I got the job because the vacancy was for someone who spoke Portuguese and I told the personnel officer I did. Well, some patuá at least.
The 31-Balboa bus dropped me off on Market Street at the point where Montgomery meets Post Street, i.e. at a three-way intersection. Guess who walked up Post Street for several blocks instead of Montgomery. Twenty minutes late to work on my first day. An inauspicious and embarrassing beginning, to say the least.
I was dressed in my new three-piece grey business suit, one of several suits I bought in the closing days of my life as a Hong Kong resident. Tucked under my arm was a brand new leather briefcase, also a last minute purchase before leaving Hong Kong. With the imagination of Walter Mitty, I had visualized myself as a budding executive embarking on a new career in corporate America.
My first assignment taught me a lesson in humility I would never forget. Seated at an old unused desk, I was given a three-foot high stack of brown envelopes containing the bank’s 1958 Annual Report, a stamp pad, and a rubber stamp that said “Airmail.” “Go to it, tiger,“ said my supervisor. My heart sank. The office boy did that where I came from! I thought I had left that sort of stuff behind me in Hong Kong.
Next I was sent to the comptroller’s department a block and a half away on Kearny Street to check on the accuracy of the bookkeeper’s posting of Sterling transactions. Nobody there knew how to add and subtract in pounds, shillings, and pence. Well, at least that called for a little skill. I was happy to do so. But, would I please also take that to the comptroller. “That” was a box of manuals weighing 20 to 25 lbs. I didn’t know anything about dollies in those days (Hong Kong coolies never used dollies) so I hefted it onto my shoulder, careful not to dirty my three-piece suit. I just hoped I didn’t meet any Filomacaus on the way. They wouldn’t understand, I felt. It would have been embarrassing.
And so it was for the rest of the day. Small trivial jobs. My dignity was in tatters. Did I have a right to feel that way? Good question.
The next day, I decided to leave my briefcase at home. I had received a brief seminar on dignity and humility that was going to last me for the rest of my 27 years with the bank. By way of demonstrating what wonderful opportunities the USA offered us compared with Hong Kong, I would mention that I retired a Vice President. So did many other Macaenses, or better.
Saudades on the Road
Here is a story told five years ago in the Lusitano Bulletin, a quarterly of the Lusitano Club of California. It bears repeating, slightly edited, to the wider audience of this Web Site, for it testifies to the ever present saudades da pátria in the breasts of Macaenses, in this instance the members of a touring group of Macaenses on the road in Portugal.
Having checked in at the Hotel Dom Luis across the river from the University town of Coimbra after a somewhat hectic day, seventy-odd tired tourists, who had signed up for the September 27 through October 9, 1997, Portugal trip organized by Casa de Macau, Toronto, now eagerly looked forward to the promised dinner of roast suckling pig and crispy fresh lettuce at a restaurant in the nearby village of Mealhada and to the local sparkling wine of the region, the Bairrada. And feasted they did indeed.
That, however, is not the point of this entry in the Macanese diary. It was what happened after dinner that was noteworthy and heartwarming. Some Californian Macaenses, feeling justifiably mellow after the sumptuous meal, broke out in song. Lustily, they belted out, or tried to belt out, the tricky cadences of California, Here We Come, followed by the patriotic strains of America the Beautiful which drew participation by Seattlelites Gerry and Filo de Pinna. Not to be outdone, the Canadian Macaenses countered with O Canada. There was no stopping now. The Macau contingent put in their bid for recognition with A Portuguêsa, in which all present joined - somos todos Portugueses, pois não? Dr. Bobby and Sylvia Remedios Barnes who joined the tour out of England couldn’t very well remain silent after all of that, so the dining hall rang out with God Save the Queen. Not to overlook that Evelyn Alonço Osmund from Australia was part of the entourage, Waltzing Matilda suitably marked her presence. Lastly but by no means least, and to the delight of the diners, China took a bow with Chilai, Chilai, Chilai, bravely rendered by the otherwise quiet Antonio “Sapateiro” Choi. He got the loudest applause. Even the two tour guides, two charming Portuguese lasses, chipped in with a couple of ditties. Oh yes, somewhere along the line the irrepressible La Salleans sneaked in with their college marching song, Boys of Courage, Boys of Daring.
Well, now, what was that all about! Was it the soothing effect of the excellent vintages sliding down the throats of the revelers, or was it simply a melodic manifestation of saudades for heung hahs, even adopted heung hahs, that comes naturally to true Macaenses in moments of soulful nostalgia? A bit of both, really.