The First Night in Shanghai

As a brand new Ensign arriving in Shanghai, I had a chance meeting with a very nice Chinese customs official. He learned that this was my first day in Shanghai and he said he would like to invite me to his home that night for dinner. I had known previously that the customs people were the elite of China since customs is where the foreign currency is generated! Mr. Lo’s invitation sounded very genuine, so I accepted with pleasure.

Lo’s house was elegant—beautiful furnishings, antique pottery, silken wall paintings. A servant let me in and seated me in what looked like a large anteroom. A young man passed by me several times without speaking; he looked like Mr. Lo, dressed in his Chinese gown rather than in his work clothes. It was Lo; in China it is quite all right for the host to pass by his guests without noticing them, until he has the occasion to greet them properly. And that is what happened. Lo finally came over and greeted me profusely and led me into the next room where sat his lovely daughter, Amy. It also explained my dinner invitation: I was a safe date for his daughter.

When I was sitting in the antechamber, I observed a little object on the desk. Lo asked me if I liked it, and I said yes. Before realizing what I had said, he made his obligatory response. “It’s yours,” he smiled. I made my obligatory response, “Oh, but I couldn’t possibly accept it.” The next day it was delivered to my hotel room, and at that point I was obliged to accept. I sent a prompt thank-you note.

To spend our time before dinner, Amy was ready for me; she had it all planned. Before sunset we took a little walk out to the lighthouse and climbed up the spiral stairway to the top to see the play of lights on the sea. Later when I was back on board ship and out to sea, I was to receive a lovely poem from Amy describing our enchanting visit and the lights upon the water. I never lived that down with the other officers who ungraciously referred to Amy Lo as “One Hung.” And to hear them talk, I had a real Chinese lover.

Next, Amy introduced me to a game which I think she called mah-jong. It was like a chess game except some of the principle players could not move across the center line of the board. I had played chess a fair amount with my father so I picked up the game pretty fast, and beat her; she was so admiring of me. If she let me win, it was not at all obvious.

It was time to go to dinner which was described, between every course, as “just the simple food we eat at home.” By the time we reached the eighth or ninth luxuriant course, that explanation was beginning to wear thin.

Finally, we reached what appeared to be the final course. I heard one of the family burp ever so delicately, and I noticed on her plate the traditional three grains of rice, indicating she was full. So I made my little burp, which wasn’t too convincing, and left my three grains of rice. They then quit offering food to me, and dinner was over. That was the last I ever saw of the Lo family. The very next year Shanghai fell to the Communists and I heard the family fled to Hong Kong. Their surname Lo, next to Lee and Liu, is probably the most popular surname in China, so it is useless to ask about a Lo family.


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