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Dorothy   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

“Excuse me, are you Kuro-e?” the woman catching up with her from behind asks.

Kuro-e turns around, “Yes. Have we met?”

“Not really, but I heard about you. I am a friend of Dorothy, she often talked about you.”

“Oh, how is Dorothy? I haven’t seen her for a while.”

“She passed away last October.”

“I am so sorry to hear that. I used to bump into her and walked with her almost every week. The last time I saw her she was walking home in the snow; she looked so frail.”

“That must be before last February. She was mostly home-bound since then; I took care of her. We talked a lot; she had such an interesting life. Did you know she was born in Shanghai?”

“Really? How did that happen?”


“She didn’t tell you? Long story. Dorothy’s parents were Protestant missionaries from Chicago. They went to Shanghai before the First World War, when China was still under the Qing Dynasty. To get an English education, her parents sent her to the Chefoo School in Northern China, a Protestant boarding school. After graduation, she came back to Shanghai to help with her parents’ missionary work. By then, Qing Dynasty was overturned, the country became a republic. She said at that time, Shanghai was known as the Paris of the East, full of glamour, decadence, and crimes. It was not a good place for a young girl. She got a good scolding for following her friends to a nightclub patronized by businessmen and gangsters. The country was plagued by civil unrests as activists staging frequent strikes and uprisings. The final straw came in 1927, when Chiang Kai-sek’s Nationalists unleashed a bloody purge in Shanghai, executing thousands of ‘radicals’, often publicly in the streets. Her parents had enough, they arranged for Dorothy to move to Nanjing; she just turned 21.”

“That must be a very scary time, what did she do in Nanjing?” Kuro-e asks.

“Through a missionary friend, she got a job teaching English in Ginling Women’s College. At first, it was just a temporary assistant kind of job, but the school soon realized she was a great asset because she spoke fluent English and Chinese.”

“That makes sense," says Kuro-e, nodding in agreement. "Then how did she end up in Santa Fe?”

“That’s another long story. When Japan invaded China in 1937, Dorothy lost contact with her parents in the chaos. Her mother was killed during bombardment of Shanghai. Her father was detained later, along with many other foreigners and ended up in an internment camp. After Shanghai fell, Japanese army attacked Nanjing. Dorothy’s school became a refugee camp, saving thousands of Chinese from what became the Nanjing Massacre. She escaped by making a long risky journey to Chengdu in western China. From there, she traveled south to Guangzhou, and eventually to Hong Kong.”

“Wow! She was completely cut off from her father then.”

“Yes. They never saw each other again until after the war.”

“What happened to her in Hong Kong?”

“Dorothy sought refuge in a Protestant enclave on a tiny island called Cheung Chau, an hour by boat from Hong Kong. At that time, Cheung Chau was reserved by law for British and American expats. She thought she would be safe there. Little did she know the war would follow her there. The day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japanese army attacked Hong Kong. The city fell within days. This time, there was no escape. Dorothy along with thousands of ‘enemy nationals’ – British, Americans, men and women, even children - were rounded up and interned in the Stanley camp on Hong Kong island. She never set foot outside the camp until the War ended in 1945. All that time, she did not know the fate of her parents.”

“Sigh… I had no idea! She never said a word about all these to me. The stupidity and cruelty of wars; when will we ever learn? Did she see her father again?”

“Yes, after the war, they both went back to America. Her father became a minister. Dorothy found a job as a librarian in St. John’s College in Maryland. When the new St. John’s campus opened in Santa Fe in 1964, she transferred to there and worked until retirement. The students loved her; she often helped them with her favorite subject, classical Chinese literature.”

“No wonder!" Kuro-e remembers. "One time we walked together past a house with beautiful wild roses. The ground was scattered with fallen petals from an overnight rainstorm. Imagine my surprise when Dorothy suddenly recited a poem in perfect Mandarin:  Yèlái fēngyǔ shēng,  huā luò zhī duōshǎo **  I asked how she learned that. She just gave me a sly smile and said, Magic!"

“Indeed, she was.”

**  last two verses of this Chinese poem:


-  孟浩然

Sleeping in spring unaware of dawn, birds chirping everywhere
Sounds of wind and rain last night, how many flowers have fallen

- Meng Haoran (689-740)

Shrub Roses on Adobe Wall

Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano   

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