My grandmother was born in Shanxian, in Shandong Province, and lived there until she was fifteen. She left unwillingly. The Japanese army had begun their approach, and my grandmother—along with most other schoolchildren—had to run for their lives. And keep running. They walked across China—until, finally, they reached safe territory. No food, no shelter along the way—just each other.
My grandmother never returned home.
There used to be a rather large German presence in Shanxian. My grandmother’s home was across the street from a Catholic church—while the nuns lived next door to her compound, even sharing the same wall. My grandmother would jump the wall sometimes to steal their tomatoes. Rumor has it the priests would also jump the wall to steal…um…other things. From the nuns.
Below, which can be enlarged, you can see the alley that leads to my grandmother’s compound. You have to follow it all the way back, and it’s quite twisty. Also, a shot of the old front entrance. The third picture shows the back of the compound and behind us is that infamous wall—except there’s a public school there now.
Local residents were a bit suspicious of us, even a little challenging. No tourists ever come to that neighborhood, and they wanted to why, why, why we were there. Fortunately, the man who lives in my grandmother’s old compound knows our family, which is why we got in to see the place—and he introduced us to some of the old ladies who started nosing around, wondering who these foreign strangers were.
Steps away from the compound are the old gates. There used to be gates like this all over Shanxian, but most didn’t survive the Cultural Revolution. Pictures don’t do them justice.
There’s more, but that’s all I’m getting into. Suffice to say, it was a remarkable trip. I wish my grandmother could have been there.