My cousin, Kevin told me the previous story, which I then wrote out and sent him. This inspired him to rummage in his basement to find the stack of photo albums and audiotapes Phyllis had left there when she could no longer drive and needed to move to Stone Lodge. As soon as I leafed through these photos, I knew it was time to start my blog. So first, I begin Phyl’s story, in her own voice.
“Before the war, we all lived in the Embankment building, considered the best apartment building in Shanghai, with its own swimming pool. I remember in the summer, coming home for lunch and going straight to the pool with amah waiting with towel and swimsuit. I’d have a swim before lunch, then back to work. My lunch hour was from 12 to 2. I was carried to and from work by private rickshaw.
I remember the manicurist coming to our apartment at 7:30 in the morning to do Ruby’s, Grace’s and my nails as we lay in bed before getting dressed to go to work.
I remember the tailor coming to us so we could try on dresses we had ordered to be made from U.S. magazine pictures. He had McCall, Butterick and Vogue dress patterns and could copy any item of clothing required. There was also the itinerant “sew sew” woman who called on houses to do sewing and mending. She had a basket of materials, and would squat on the floor all day working. I remember the shoemaker making shoes to match our dresses.
The best job an educated Eurasian girl could get was as a secretary. All us sisters: Daisy, Ruby, and I were expertly trained in typing and shorthand. We were secretaries, yet we lived in luxury. Our employers counted on us to be smart, efficient, discreet, and ready to work at all hours, as needed. And they repaid us with their trust and with excellent wages. However, we had no idea how to cook or clean or take care of most of our personal needs. We had servants who did everything, and we had our private rickshaws, very elegant with pristine white seat covers. They stayed close to the house, took us wherever we wanted to go, and waited to take us home. In cold weather, there was a rug to wrap our legs. Daisy and Hans had a smart car and chauffeur which they used until petrol became unavailable. Until wartime, we took wonderful vacations in Japan and resorts in China.
photo of Embankment building from Patrick Cranley’s collection
photo of swimmers at Embankment pool
Photo of Daisy, Ruby and Phyllis