In the Gobi
In the Gobi, August 6th, 2022
Gala Sr. was born on a cold January -40F day in Harbin, Manchuria, China. It was 1924.
Her mother was a Polish Catholic. A daughter of missionaries, she had married a Chinese man. Her husband was in charge of procuring railroad ties for the Manchurian railroad. He was a wealthy and powerful man.
Gala Sr. was an only child as her mother could have no more and was in ill health afterward.
I met Gala Sr. here in Healdsburg back in about 2002. My wife and Gala Sr. and her daughter Gala Jr. were great friends. Gala Sr. would tell stories about her interesting childhood in China and her imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp in WWII. We like stories.
On Wednesday we would bring over a bottle of French champagne, and it had to be French, to her old Victorian house on Grove Street. Gala Sr. would put out some crackers and cheese. Then we would sit back and listen.
One day she told us about her childhood trip into the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. This would have been about 1931 or so.
Gala Sr.’s mother was still ill and her husband felt that a trip to a healing hot spring in the Gobi might help her recover. The husband organized an expedition of horses with supplies and armed guards to go with them across the desert to the hot springs. There were Mongolian bandits about. It was a lawless area.
On the way to the springs, there was some trouble with the horses and their caravan was delayed two days.
When Gala Sr. and their group arrived at a Mongolian village, they found the place burnt to the ground and everyone dead except for one young girl who told them what had happened.
The bandits had heard about this rich Chinese man and his entourage. They wanted to rob it. But when the thieves reached the village the caravan was not there. The bandits robbed the villagers and did their will to them in frustration.
We could see that Gala Sr. did not like to remember what she saw in that village.
The caravan went on to the hot springs with no further problems and then returned to Harbin.
Gala Sr. in her teens ran away from home to Shanghai where she met a young American man. They married. The American could see that the Japanese were getting ready to invade Shanghai so he and Gala Sr. fled to Manila where the American figured that the American Army would protect them.
He was wrong.
The Japanese captured the Philippines and Gala Sr. and her husband were interned in the San Tomas prison camp in Manila. The husband died there. Gala Sr. survived.
Gala Sr. eventually escaped the Far East and made it to San Francisco. She remembers well sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.
But that’s another story. TJM