China My Other Country
by Gioietta Kuo
Most books are written by established writers. I do not pretend to be a writer, for indeed I am a mere nuclear physicist by way of Cambridge(GB), Oxford(GB) and Princeton(US). However, rarely would you find a scientist, albeit distinguished in her field, to write about, not science itself, for most likely you would not understand, but the life of a scientist when that collides with the real world.
This book is about the metamorphosis of a Chinese girl, at once brilliant and beautiful, when thrust abruptly into the Western world. It is not the banal tale of a girl's 'East meets West'. Her high sensitivity and intelligence make this an enthralling narrative of her strivings for - self identity, academic distinction and love for her father, who turned out later to have been a spy.
For my first 12 years, I lived in idyllic surroundings in the Himalayan foothills of Sichuan in south west China, in a town on the silk and caravan route of Marco Polo in times long past. I tell here stories of this blissful childhood - water wheel, water clock, silkworms and a giant panda with its symbiotic partner, a porcupine, as pets. There was also an expedition - crossing a torrential river on a swaying bamboo suspension bridge, to hike in a remote region called Kham, on the Sichuan -Tibet border . I also tell the harrowing stories of my feudal relatives - my cousin whose arm was chopped off by her drunken father when she was a baby and my aunt who was forced to die of opium for having an illegimate baby.
When I was just 14, my family moved to Europe. My father, a diplomat in Paris, dumped me in an English girls boarding school, with only a dozen words of English. This was traumatic for I was too old to forget my Chinese identity, yet too young to have acquired a firm notion of who I was. Thrown into the deep end, as it were, and left to cope with Western society all by myself, there followed an immensely interesting, not to say fascinating, metamorphosis of a beautiful and academically brilliant girl from one great old civilization to another great civilization. In a mere four years, I had seemingly adapted well. From that wild mischievous little Chinese girl in the Himalayas, I became an English schoolgirl, speaking with a perfect Oxbridge accent, imbued with Western values and a ready proponent of British culture. I went up to Cambridge, eventually getting a PhD in nuclear physics at age 24. However, this metamorphosis was not accomplished without a great deal of soul searching and inner conflicts. This thread runs through the following chapters and is told with great honesty and perspicuity.
As a very young nuclear physicist, my life was at times very glamorous. Surely, going to a reception given by the Mayor of Paris in the Louvre museum, ending up with us laying our champagne glasses in the hands of a Venus or an Apollo, must rank as an once a lifetime experience. I was pursued by countless young men of different nationalities in London and Paris. Call it, if you will, an irrepressible youthful joie de vivre - I was in the airport departure lounge waiting for my flight from Paris to Milano when a young man came and invited me for a drink. He was the billionaire heir apparent to the largest electrical conglomerate in Europe, Olivetti Inc. Our romance in the subsequent 3 hours was a tantalizing, yet restrained, heart throb which bordered on the surreal. Dancing with a Soviet physicist in the streets of Paris at the height of the cold war on Bastille day - commemorating the French Revolution, July 14th, 1958, brought about a sinister skirmish with KGB (Soviet Intelligence) and British foreign counter intelligence, MI6.
My father was a diplomat for Taiwan living in Paris. He was larger than life, a patron of the arts, a fabulous cook of global reputation, kind, generous and recklessly extravagant especially with women. He doted on me like Verdi's Rigoletto on his daughter Gilda and was devastated when I left Paris to marry a Croatian and live in Tito's communist Yugoslavia. He thought he would never see me again.
I tell the incident of my father's smuggling of a multimillion dollar painting of the Qing dynasty into the USA. Most sensational of all, father simply vanished one day in 1966 - he escaped to Beijing while being pursued by Taiwan agents, who wanted his head for high treason. This is a rare opportunity to read about the man behind his deeds - a real life spy story.