China, 1930

My parents were newlyweds in 1930 when they crossed the Pacific Ocean to Shanghai, China. They were bound for the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province and their first of two tours of duty as medical missionaries.

The previous year Dad was appointed by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Board to join the medical faculty of West China Union University. Having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in Philadelphia, he was in his final year of training in internal medicine. Mom arrived in Philadelphia in autumn 1929 to begin her first year at Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. After a whirlwind courtship the following spring Dad asked her “to pack her trunk and go to China with him.” Determined to finish her medical studies, she accepted his proposal after he offered to help her get into the medical program in Chengdu.

From Shanghai they still had 2,000 miles of river travel. They were on river steamers up the Yangzi River through the Three Gorges. At the confluence with the Min River with about 200 miles left they switched to river junks for the rest of the journey to Chengdu. These motorless boats were hauled upstream by teams of men — the age-old method of upriver travel in China.

On their last day, the junks were lined up waiting to traverse a stretch of shallow water. Unable to wait when they were so close to their destination, they pulled out the bicycles they’d bought in Shanghai. The boatmen helped put the bicycles ashore and my parents cycled the remaining twenty miles to Chengdu. Their belongings would catch up with them the next day.

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