On October 17 2015, a sunny day in Toronto,Canada,over 100 formally dressed senior arrived at the Chinese restaurant “Long Chuan Shoo” (Dragon Legend). They came from all over North America and greeted each other with warm hugs. Then they saw us, reporters and cameramen from China Central Television (CCTV) and Sichuan Television Station, who were there to shoot a documentary of this occasion, they were so happy and some even ventured a little Sichuan dialect such as “hao an yi” (how cozy it is)and “hao ba shi yd’ (it is agreeable indeed). I am the executive editor of the Giant Panda magazine and went as a put of the media contingency.
Those at the reunion were the West China Union University (WCUU) founder’s children or grandchildren. WCUU was jointly established in 1903 at Huaxiba in Chengdu, China, by churches from Canada, United States and Great Britain and was the predecessor of today’s West China University of Medical Sciences, part of Sichuan University.
At that time there was a Canadian school in WCUU for the foreign staff’s children. The locals used to call school “brothers’ school”, as the professor’s children were to younger brothers and sisters of the students studying there.The pupils of this school called themselves CS kids (Canadian school kids). CS kids and their parents left China before 1949 and cherish their fond memories of their time and decided to gather annually to share nostalgic stories and remain close-knit despite living far apart. A few Canadian missionaries and teachers that had returned from Chengdu formed the “Huaxi Club” as early as 1936. They developed the tradition to gather every year on the second Saturday of October at a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. 2015’s reunion was especially and sentimental as it celebrated the 701 year of this tradition, and was attended by Chinese media.
Among the group, Bob Gierbern was the oldest,aged 92. He was the grandson of Children, one of the university founders and was born in e’mei Mountains. The youngest in the group was 76 years old. One of Chidern’s granddaughters, Muian, 83, wore a traditional Chinese-style satin shirt with buttons down , which smartly complimented her. On the luge screen in the font of the haul old photos ofHuaxiba Hashed including the bell tower, school gate, classroom building, and children engaged in school activities.
When the photo of the 7 years old Marian and the giant panda cub Pandora appeared on the Screen, joyous laughter broke out. Marian is the oldest giant panda fan outside China I have known. I spent my when CS were there.I can still recall the huge lawn in the font part of CS, where football was played and leisurely grazing cows. Uniquely Ms lawn was also where giant pandas were seen relaxing in the sunshine.
Between 1938 and 1946, fifteen giant pandas that had been trapped in the mountains were here and kept for some time before they were transported to the United States and Great Britain. Indeed, they transformed CS into an informal tourist attraction) governed officials from other provinces as well as local civilians flocked to have a rare species, and the popularity to visit the giant pandas at Huaxiba developed into a new custom in Chengdu during those days.
One of the giant pandas that had stayed in CS was Pandora. In March 19381 the New York Zoological Society wrote a letter to the WCUU authorities with the hope to receive a giant panda cub. Frank Dickenson, a university biology professor took up this mission. He asked locals in Guan County (today’s Dujiangyan), to go and trap a giant panda cub. At the same time] he sent his wife to see if a hunter there would be able to keep the cub at their home, while logistics were being organized to transport it to Chengdu. When a cub was found, it was named “Pandora’.
During Pandora’s short stay of a little over a month at WCU the CS kids took great chances and after school they would approach Pandora when she was taken out onto the lawn to exercise. Marian and her sister Andy had several photos taken with Pandora and had kept them for 77 Years.
In 2008 when Marzan re-visited Chengdu, she had a picture taken with a giant panda cub at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I presented Marian with the English version of my recent book “Story of Giant Panda”. When I turned to the pages written about hey she got excited at the photos of Pandora, saying that she,as well as her sister and schoolmates, were amused at each of Pandora actions, like when she reeled towards the milk pot or crunched on bamboo shoots.
At this point, other members of the group gathered around us, saying that they were also giant panda fans. They told me that most of them were born in China and grew up at Huaxiba and that one of their fondest childhood memories was spending time with the giant pandas. One man introduced David, and said that he was the son of the Canadan Roy Spooner and bore in Chengdu. Roy Spooner was the dean of the chemistry department at WCUy and was
the only person entrusted by Dickenson to bring Pandora to New York when he, along with his came back to Canada for a vocation in 1938. David said that the journey was rough going for his parents as they took both him, a child of five years old, and the panda cub.
“We Hew from Chengdu to Chongqing, transferred to a ship to Hong Kong, and then went aboard an ocean liner called President Cleveland to the United States. Father emphasized that I should not go near the cage in case I would be scratched by Pandora. “We spent 20 days on the Pacific Ocean. When we were crossing the scorching equator, Pandora suffered terribly and could only have some coolness the occasional showers by indulging herself in the rain on the deck. One day we suffered a hurricane instead of a shower, waves the size of mountains crashed onto the deck; the ship shook violently; dazed passengers were nauseating; I was scared and crying and screaming but Father was taking care of Pandora, leaving me alone…
A voyage of more than one month brought us to San Francisco on June 9. Pandora became a popular star I was so impressed by his story that I presented him one of my paintings “Giant Pandas and Their Cubs”, as I occasionally paint as an amateur artist.
The CS kids talked about their childhoods in and sang old songs that were popular in their childhoods. As nostalgia drifted in the air, someone mentioned Norman Bethune, a Canadian who came to work in China as a battlefield doctor in May 1938 and died in November 1939 of blood poisoning after he nicked his finger man operation. Then] I said,’Just as Dr. Bethune has been regarded as a hero by the Chinese people, we really appreciative the Canadian and American peoples’ pioneering work in China’s modem medical science in the first half of the 20′ century”. Then I showed them the recently published book “Chengdu, MY Home”, which contains many old
photos of CS kids and WCUU.
From 10:00am until 2:30pm, laughter was right through the air while cameras were flashing. They hugged each other when they had to say goodbye, looking expectantly to the next meeting. I thought to myself “If l should write a book about what you experienced in China, Your Eves in Huaxiba would be a necessary chapter.”