UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part IV

A busy Shanghai street, January 1947. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The sights and sounds of 1947 Shanghai left memorable impressions on the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory. Beyond the typical images of Dragon dances, kites, hand-embroidered silk items, hand-painted porcelain, and hand-carved wooden figures, Les Messamer remembers the rhythm of the city.

In observing the disproportionate weight being carried on the ends of bamboo poles by people who were small in stature, he says, “They moved in a rhythm that coincided with the up and down bounce of the bamboo pole. I was told that if an American tried to pick up a bamboo pole with heavy objects on each end, they would probably break the pole. That same rhythm could be heard at any time anywhere. I called it a ‘ching, ching, ching, ching’ cadence.” The rhythm came through “tinny loudspeakers on street corners with radio broadcasts of music”; through children’s clapping hands, chanting voices, and clanging together of tin cans and blocks of wood; through the sound of unfamiliar musical instruments coming out of buildings. “People walked with that rhythm,” he says, “taking steps differently than Americans. The rhythm was definitely a part of every one and everything.”

While the cattle were being unloaded, the seagoing cowboys stayed in the New Asia Hotel. The hotel housed UNRRA staff, and UNRRA trucks took cowboys to see the sights. Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

On a less appealing note, the regular seamen had described Shanghai to the cowboys as “the largest, noisiest, smelliest, dirtiest, most crowded city in the world.” Harold Hersch’s diary illustrates the point. “Bicycle rickshaws and human rickshaws crowd the streets,” he noted. “Buildings are terribly poor, many are just grass or sod huts; also there are many who live on small dingy [sic] junkets on the canal which runs through the town. The town is filthy and unsanitary, men and women alike urinate and relieve their bowels openly on the main street so that piles of human dung are thick on the sidewalks.” Another day he reported, “The stench was strong in many places of human bowel waste, even in a temperature of 30°.” Nevertheless, Hersch noted, “People were courteous and helpful despite their filth, and apparently healthy.”

A home on the street. Photo credit: George Weybright.

“This was before the Communists had come in,” says cowboy Richard Reiste, “and life was very, very difficult for a lot of people. There were people who never got off their boat, did all their trading and everything from the boat. There were poor people who had no home. They might have a mat to lean up against the wall and another mat to lay on at night. That was their only shelter. And a truck came around in the morning to carry the dead people away. We saw a lot of tragic things like that.”

Life seemed to hold little value. Messamer recalls seeing a dead baby tossed into the street as if it were a dead rat, and there it stayed for three days before being removed. He also witnessed a man falling onto the dock from some 15 or 20 feet up. Another man rushed up to him. “I assumed this was to help,” says Messamer, “but was dismayed when he began laughing and kicking him.”

The cattle barns outside Shanghai next to the remains of the horse race track amphitheater. Photo credit: George Weybright.

As for the animals, Harold Hersch noted that the Chinese dock workers “love the cattle and wouldn’t dare hurt one of them.” From the pens on the dock, the cattle “were loaded onto trucks and driven about five miles to the campus of the Shanghai University where four cattle barns had been erected for the purpose. . . . Adjoining the grounds on which the barns are erected is a great amphitheater which used to overlook the world’s largest horse race-track, but which during the Japanese occupation was used as Japanese military headquarters and consequently was bombed by the AAF and ruined.”

Some of the cows found their way to an orphanage, and some of the cowboys got to see the children take their first drink of milk. A hopeful sign that the program would have some value.

Chinese children line up to receive their cup of milk. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

That value came home to Les Messamer more than fifty years after his trip in an unexpected way. He took a newspaper article written in Chinese about the arrival of the heifers in Shanghai to a local Chinese restaurant he frequented to see if the Chinese owner could translate it for him. He says,

The mother and her adult son read the page, occasionally stopping to talk to each other in Chinese. They eventually asked if I was one of them in the picture and I pointed to it. Instead of telling me what it said, they began profusely thanking me. They were able to tell me that careful records had been kept and that there were still descendants of the cattle that we took that were there – that the program of giving the first heifer from the cows to another place had continued. That was all good to hear, but they still did not translate the newspaper page to me.

 

Next post: On to New Zealand

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence; Richard Reiste quotes from oral interview.

UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part III

A Chinese English language newspaper reports on the arrival of the heifers in China, January 1947. Courtesy of John Morehouse.

The S. S. Lindenwood Victory crew got to celebrate New Year’s 1947 twice. Twenty-two days after attending the Rose Bowl Parade in California, their ship docked in China on the first day of the Chinese New Year, as recorded by Harold Hersch in his diary:

Wed Jan 22 – Land visible when we arose at 7 o’clock this morning. Water soon turned muddy brown and we headed up the Yangtze River. Shortly after we turned into the Wang Po River and headed for Shanghai. Grass and sod huts visible on the banks and river junks thick on the river.

Photo credit: George Weybright.

At about 4 P.M. we tied up to another Chinese freighter. We had to do this because, being the first day of the Chinese New Year, stevedore help was unavailable. It soon became apparent that it was quite uncertain when we should be able to unload, because of the New Year, when most Chinese take 15 days’ vacation.

“No one on shore was willing to take a line from the ship to tie us to the dock,” recalls Les Messamer. “Eventually, one person did tie a small line to a post on the dock. Our own crew members then went hand over hand down that line (on ship, a rope is always called a line) and pulled heavier lines to shore to secure our own vessel.”

Once on shore, the cowboys witnessed the traditional extended family Dragon Dances in the streets, “not as an organized parade,” says Messamer, “but each dragon was its own colorful celebration. The paper mache dragon’s head was carried by an honored member of the family, and the rice paper body of the dragon trailed behind with the rest of the members beneath. Exploding firecrackers were everywhere.”

When unloading finally began, it became quickly apparent that the Chinese dock workers were unfamiliar with cows. Messamer says,

Photo courtesy of Les Messamer. Photographer unknown.

When the first cow, which did have a calf with her, was lowered onto the dock and the door to the crate was opened, the cow and calf walked out into the open. The workers, and there were a large number of them, talked with each other as they stood in a kind of semi-circle. It was obvious they were trying to decide how to get those things from here to [the pen that had been constructed]. One of the [men] came forward and picked up the calf. That is a good way to move a calf, as any farmer knows. Then, another fellow came up and threw both arms around the cow’s neck while several others got behind and started pushing. Farmers know that is not a good way to move a cow. The cow panicked and ran, and literally ran off the dock and fell into the ocean. By using many ropes that were placed under this heifer, she was eventually lifted back onto the dock by manpower. She seemed to be none the worse for the experience.

Cowboy foreman George Weybright noted that the Chinese dock workers followed instructions as best they could, imitating every word and movement of the seagoing cowboys assisting them, as another of Les Messamer’s stories bears out:

On the dock in Shanghai. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The pen where [the cows] were to be taken was perhaps fifty yards away from the unloading point on the dock. The cows needed to be herded between the two points. Early in the process, one of the cowboys happened to be just leaving the gangplank when a loose cow was very near to him and did not know where to go. The cowboy waved both arms at the cow and said, “Go on.” The cow moved, and from that moment on, the workers waved both arms at the cows and, in what sounded like a Chinese word, yelled ‘Gwan.’ It did appear to work.

The Chinese dockworkers left a memorable impression on cowboy foreman George Weybright. He wrote in the Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger:

Longshoreman carrying bags of feed for the cattle. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

Our men can testify that these longshoremen were decent, hardworking men. . . [They] were honest. One group went far out of its way to return an article of clothing belonging to their cattleman ‘masters.’ They were reasonably clean, considering their background and utter lack of education. They were pleasant, courteous, considerate and cooperative. They enjoyed good jokes. They tried to copy little tricks and gymnastics on a parallel bar that was suspended in hold number 4. Their ability to lift heavy loads (in rhythm with a chant), and run with their loads if necessary, was amazing.

Weybright concludes, “Needless to say, this was a rich experience.”

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Gospel Messenger quote used by permission of Brethren Press; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence with the author.

Next post: The sights and sounds of Shanghai