Monday, September 29, 2014

Techblogging August 1944, II: To Sail Beneath the Saffron Flag

Fraternal Brother Liu Chu Wan!

Knowing of old how discretely you vet my cousin's correspondence. I implore your assistance. The matter of self-murder comes up several times in the letter which follows, and I fear my cousin's mood, as he will have heard of the first, the death of Admiral Moon.  There has been a fall in the American female suicide rate this year, which Time magazine attributes to nothing less than prosperity. I do not wish to infect my cousin with mad impulses, but I do believe that this anecdote will illuminate changes in the American mood, changes that confirm to me the odds of a postwar housing boom. The item is on a a separate page, if you deem it best to remove it, I would ask that word of it might be whispered in the ear of my cousin and lord.  

Your Loving Elder Brother, Tay Chao She

My Dearest Reggie:

Just a brief note to append here before I sail. I will left the household in Santa Clara bring you up to date. Sparrow is refit and ready to sail. Fat Chow will join us in Hawaii. As I have hinted several times, our orders take us to the Philippines as part of MacArthur's navy for a landing on Leyte preparatory to the taking of Luzon. The young people are proceeding south with Wong Lee, your youngest to begin his V-12 programme at the University of California, "Miss V.C." to enroll at Stanford, of all places.  She had a busy summer, even managing to reach Nootka, where I relented and had Joseph George take her under his wing and spin tales about the old blackbirding voyages up to Tsawatti. Combine that with Old Liu's tales of Chilcotin cattle drives and Columbia river barges, and she has the old "Red Route" from Whampoa to Spokane. Now she only needs the deeds, to know when and how the ranches along the way came into her family's ownership, to put the rest of the Nootka connection together. As far as I know, those do not exist outside Chicago, but that does not mean that she will not keep looking. 

I am sorry to divert you with my little game at this moment. I cannot, still, believe that I am sailing to war at my age, but all the arrangements have been made, and if the strain prove too much for me, there will at least be some poetic closure of a life spared by Japanese shrapnel so long ago. I am sentimental. 

I would prefer better.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Arnhem:To Make Free On the Land

The title announces Arnhem, the Dutch city where, seventy years ago today, the "Red Devils" of the 1st Airborne Division is slowly being ground down in close combat with 9th and 10th SS Armoured Divisions of II SS Armoured Corps, last encountered in its massive train convoy attempting a Frederican grand operational manoeuvre across the continent of Europe to counterattack and drive the Allies into the sea before the Russians notice that they are gone. The months intervening have not been kind to II SS Armoured Corps. They are currently taking out their frustrations on 1st Airborne.

The title lies: I am talking about XXX Corps' advance down a road, specifically, "Hell's Highway," the old Route 69, now Netherlands Motorway A50, and the post that this one looks back on is rather this very considerable "Technical Appendix." You may or may not notice that I cleaned up some typos this morning, but I also added a video to that post. And also here, so that Faye Wong can help us keep our feet on the dharma-path. (Remember that wisdom is like an orange. You cannot have juice unless you squeeze it.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Techblogging August 1944, I: Ancient Scandals

My Dearest Reggie:

The trip through the Oregon country was as wonderful as ever, although somewhat trying, in that Wong Lee and I were confined in close quarters with three teen-agers with considerably less patience with sweeping coastal vistas. Nor was the impatience much lessened by the experience of the sleepy pace here in Canada. Your youngest is amazed to see the way that time has stopped since he left! Ore perhaps he merely chafes under instructions to be circumspect in looking up old friends. Word is not likely to get back to the police, never mind the FBI or Border Patrol where it is not sought, but even so, I should hate to undo the work of his "midnight rebirth," and his American life will be the easier if there is never occasion to doubt his supposed American birth. 

Turning to your hospitality, I can only repeat my thanks, and apologise for the burden we impose on your wife, who has retired to your summer place on Bowen Island, as I am sure she will let you know. Fortunately, a few more days (and one more newsletter), and I shall be on my way to the South Seas, while Wong Lee adopts the role of teen-ager-wrangler-in-chief and chivvies the young ones back down the coast to California. 

If I can ask one more favour, could  you discretely seek out our friend and put some questions to  him? I distinctly recall him saying, on more than one occasion, that his grandfather came to the country to work on the railroad. Nor was he above the old joke, "Ching, Chang, Chong, the Old Names make the sound of the hammers," although careful to leave his own clan off the list. While I would not put it past the Old Man to lie to us in the matter, I am confident that Grandfather would have sought his own sureties in the matter of purging the relevant  records. Yet it seems certain now that our friend's employer believes that it has in its possession documentary evidence of our friend's grandfather's date of arrival in the country and racial origins. I know that you will regard this as a footling matter, but it is important to me that when discussions turn to breaking off the relationship, we have the upper hand, in the form of an offer to address their technical concerns, and not they, in the form of a breach of the morals clause of the employment contract. (If you are wondering about the fate of your "Christmas present," Bill and David have subcontracted the matter to a Santa Clara engineering student of the utmost discretion.)

Speaking of investigations, and morals concerns, you are correct that the fonds that I have directed "Miss V.C." towards in the Vancouver Archives are related to Old Liu, and, of course, the Honolulu arrests cannot go unmentioned, even after 39 years, as his family's continuing attempt to ignore their ancestor would anyways suggest. Yes, these are not matters that one wishes to discuss with an eighteen-year-old girl, and, yes, her mother's opinion of me can still go lower. However, they are also not a side of life that can be practically withheld from a young lady of her generation, what with the Andrews Sisters and burlesque dancers and worse on every radio and cinema screen. Old Lieu will introduce "Miss V.C." to the specific cargo that the whalers of the old McKee "triangle trade" brought in to Nootka, and the provision that was made to place that cargo on the trail and rails to Chicago. If she does not now think of the issue of the "Prince of Maquinna," it will be because she is diverted into the larger scandal, seeing in the fonds the connection to the Chinatown arrests that the family interest so promptly suppressed. 

And that, apart from the delicious scandal of it all, will, I imagine, bring her back to the rails and the connection with her grandfather on another line of inquiry. 

I suppose. Right now, she is asking for my assistance in reaching Nootka. Naught but disappointment awaits her inquiries there, as you had the good sense to move our landings to more congenial locations in anticipation of the Volstead Act, but I can hardly tell her that! 

As I rather expected, we have seen more of Lieutenant A. than one might have expected. His employment in Seattle seems none too onerous, and his attendance at Pearl Harbour scarcely required, as in practice if not in strict chain of command the refitting of the new flagship's radio arrangements is in other hands. Fortunately or not, it now appears that the young man will continue his remote association with it, too. That is, he will join Nimitz's family in Honolulu, rather than that of his admiral at sea, for the forthcoming campaign, with signals responsibility. It does not appear that military service is  necessarily that onerous if you choose your grandfathers adroitly. It rather makes me wonder how "Sink-Us" got his appointment!   

I do not ignore your inquiries about Fat Chow. We believe that he is going to reach Kashgar via Herat, and when we know more, we will let you know.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Electric City, VI: Royers Lock: Or, the Fall of Antwerp

It's been a long time since I wrote an addition to "The Electric City" series, and they're all old and crappy and digressive Also, this "tag" thing was then foreign to me. (1,2,3, 4). The intent, however, was from the first to build to this. Not the biggest and most important of electric cities, but the one that counted for the most at the critical turn towards modernity: Antwerp, and specifically, Royers Lock.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Techblogging July 1944, II: Hereditary Jaundice

My Dearest Reggie:

Again I find myself breaking the rules of war correspondence, though not with news of fear and danger, but rather of business. Matters financial I leave to the bottom, where your daughter-out-of-law kindly appends a thorough precis of the "Bretton Woods" system. In short, she thinks it solid, for at least this generation. As far as I can make out, this is just female intuition, but it is ostensibly not unsupported by political arithmetic, and I cannot argue my case. The business, then, is concerned with more irregular matters.

First, Wong Lee has been to Los Angeles, and has established that the "Section 60" clause is no boilerplate. It was inserted into our friend's contract two years ago, in response to some marital issues which have apparently been resolved as far as they can be. Unfortunately, before he appealed to us, our friend took the rather desperate step of burning his own house down. This seems to have confirmed his employer in his suspicions at the same time that it apparently removed any evidence. Even more unfortunately, it now appears that his employer has been offered independent confirmation. Although it seems absurd that a morals clause would be triggered by such a barbaric law, our friend has relations who will not wish to see the facts emerge. The point here being not to humiliate someone in public, but leverage contract negotiations. Our friend wants his freedom --but at what cost?

Second, after diffident sniffing about submarine tours and various grandiose and implausible aerial projects, Fat Chow is going homewards the way he came. His pan-Turanian friends may be both mad and pro-German, but the bomb plot has soured them on Berlin, and they are willing to extract him. He has the precious medium, and a device for "reading it," which the Gestapo, for its own reasons, has manufactured entirely of components removed from American aircraft --which should help if his belongings are searched. He will not, of course, proceed to the Panchen Lama and make broadcasts to set Central Asia aflame --he doubts even his Gestapo handler takes this  project seriously any more, never mind the Foreign Office girl assisting him. They just want to cultivate us, Fat Chow intimates. Well, we shall return the favour, however ambiguous. The girl and the man's family, anyway. I doubt that anyone will care very much if someone with that much innocent blood on his hands slips into the black waters instead of being delivered to Buenos Aires safe and hale. As for the Pan-Turanians, they get one last chance to bleed us. Fat Chow has been evasive about his route, but if they really do send him through Tashkent, I shall be quite cross. Considering its reputation, the NKVD is surprisingly inept, but I do not trust Russian slackness anywhere near that far.

However, whether via the Pansheer or the Vale of Fergana, Fat Chow will not be returning to California directly. You will have heard of the fall of Nomura. Now comes word from Nagasaki of a willingness to exchange yen-for-Hawaii dollars-for-US at a most favourable return. Or, indeed, for promissory notes on the right conditions. Some money is better than no money, it is thought, an American investment even better under the circumstances. I have word that our Hawaiian counter-parties are pleased by the idea of silent partners of such distinction. Moreover, though I have misgivings about dealing with the old enemy, the exchange will be done at the old house in Alicia, giving us the means to reward old retainers. Fat Chow will need to be conducted thence, and Nagasaki's assistance will greatly ease the trip from Kashgar to Zamboanga. If the matter does not disintegrate into a mutual massacre of Moros and Satsuma men, Fat Chow will then make his way to New Guinea and join me on Sparrow, and we shall see to the freight from there. 

Speaking of Sparrow, I am definitely taking a temporary leave of "Cousin H.C.'s" employ to drive to Vancouver to join my ship. I will be accompanied by your youngest, "Miss V.C.," my housekeeper, and one other. I have taken your counsel, and will not chance having someone with "Miss V.C.'s name register at the Provincial Archives. Rather than ask her to use forged papers, it proved a simple matter to arrange the accession of certain papers to the city's holdings. I get the sense that while the money is not unwelcome, ancestral memory weighs heavily on a house trying to forget its past.

 Whether the father or the mother more, I do not know. I could tell them that those days could be hard for an orphan girl, that not all who "gave honey for money" had their heart in the old trade. But I expect they would misunderstand, and my disapproval of their lack of filial piety might come through.

I may not approve of the lack of filial piety, but that just causes "Miss V.C.'s" inquiries to warm my heart the more. I do not think her lessons advanced enough yet to read the old papers, so I have asked that Miss Wong accompany us as translator. I imagine that your youngest could read them, but he has so far kept his oath of silence remarkably well. 

Young Lieutenant A. will be joining us in Vancouver from Bremerton at what I expect will be all-too frequent occasions. I gather that his admiral has chosen to fly his flag from the New Jersey battleship, notwithstanding its dubious suitability. She will be returning to Pearl to make up its most serious deficiencies with some equipment to be assembled in Seattle under the young man's supervision. That is the admiral for you.

Have I mentioned that I met Lierutenant A.'s grandfather in Palo Alto? A younger sibling is in prospect of being sent to the college, and inasmuch as the  father is serving in the Pacific, it is left to the grandfather to see libraries and sororities and be jollied by his old chief. The Engineer  is as uncomfortable in the role of college booster as you would expect, and I managed to restrain the temptation to grab the old admiral by the lapels and yell, "Where are my ships?" For I gather that it was really all no-one's fault, or possibly that of the Admiralty, or of Stark, or King, or the President, or perhaps even tourism boosters who would not black out the coast. Heaven forbid that we should trouble the old man in his retirement!