By Sgt. Marion Hargrove

YANK Staff Correspondent

SOMEWHERE IN CHINA—Their post is hundreds of miles off any beaten track, and they don’t see even an American plane more than once a month or so. There’s only a handful of them, with three or four officers. Neither the town nor the hostel offers anything in the way of amusement. There’s no radio, no newspapers, not even an occasional GI movie.

“What do you do for entertainment around here, besides wearing out that checkerboard over there?” I asked.

A corporal replied: “We get along. We go shopping in the evening.”

“And we ‘make face’ with the Chinese,” said a sergeant.

This sounding intriguing in a dull sort of way, and since the corporal intended to go to town that night in search of a package of envelopes he had no hope of finding, I decided to tag along.

We passed a couple of Chinese theaters and stopped to see what pictures were showing. There was a double feature at one house—an ancient film starring Jessie Mathews, the British actress, and “The Return of the Cisko Kid.” All three of us had seen both of them in better days. The other theater advertised a gripping Chinese drama with some appetizing stills.

wwii china american soldie sergeant

American soldiers train Chinese Army troops

“We might see the Jessie Mathews picture and the ‘Cisko Kid’.” I suggested, but the corporal and the sergeant both turned thumbs down. “You wouldn’t hear a thing,” they explained. “The pictures probably have Chinese subtitles, and when you get a whole house full of townspeople reading the subtitles aloud to each other, you wouldn’t be able to hear even the fire siren.”

The only thing left was to go in search of the nonexistent envelopes and attend to the little matter of “face making”.

The corporal explained that his command of the Mandarin language was extensive, so he did all the talking. At the first shop we entered there were a number of Chinese envelopes, the kind with the bright red rectangle for the address. After the usual greeting—“Hao pu hao,” which literally means “good not good” and passes for “How are you?”—the corporal started his palaver by pointing to the envelopes.

En lai kan kan,” he said. This is very good Mandarin and means “Pick up bring see see.” The shopkeeper picked up brought see see. The corporal looked sadly at the envelopes and shook his head. “Ni yu mei yum el-kua—?” he said. This was all right as far as it went; it meant “Haven’t you got any American—?” but he got stuck when he came to the word for envelopes.

“That,” said the corporal, “is a helluva note.” While all this was going on, accompanied by urgent gestures by the corporal, the sergeant was busy outside “making face” with the Chinese. By this time there were about 50 village children staring and giggling at him.

Ni kan ni kan”, said the sergeant, expressing in beautiful Mandarin the command, “You see, you see.” The sergeant pointed to his throat, from which protruded a large but decorous Adam’s apple. The children gawked attentively and the sergeant swallowed hard, with a loud and musical gulp. His Adam’s apple slide gracefully down his throat and rose majestically again, to await a repeat performance.

The children gasped and burst into roars of wonderment and joy. The performing larynx moved beautifully up and down, making a tuneful gulp with each downward glide, and the children grew tense with excitement. Several of them tried to do the trick themselves but, not having Adam’s apples, were unsuccessful.

Now the corporal emerged from the shop, looked with solemn severity over the crowd and began to wave his finger at child after child as he changed the mystic phrase: “Meeny, meeny, tipsy teeny.” Then, with great dignity, “Applejack and Johnny Sweeny. Have a peach, have a plum, have a stick of chewing gum!” The corporal’s finger flew at a frightened little Chinese face and the other children shrieked with relief and enjoyment. The corporal swung toward them once more. “O-U-T spells out and out you go, you dirt, old dishrag, you!”

The sergeant opened his umbrella and pushed it gently through the crowd, which now numbered at least 150 children and a few scattered adults. We headed down the street and the crowd fell in behind us like a parade. The sergeant began to swing the umbrella the way a drum major twirls his baton, to the immense delight of the children, their parents and a couple of white foreigners who applauded loudly, away we went.

The next shop, the sergeant inquired for envelopes, while the corporal “made face” with the townspeople. This time he changed his routine by hotly winking one eye, which is apparently impossible for the Chinese to do, and by wriggling his eyebrows rather furiously.

The crowd had swelled to 225 as we headed to the river. They left us at the bridge, and we entered a tea boat for refreshments. “I’ve heard a lot about ‘making face’,” I said over our third cup of tea. “Is that what it is?”

“That’s all there is to it,” said the corporal. This was a crock of extremely erroneous information.

“You know,” said the sergeant, “I’ve been out here only three months, but they say after you’ve been here a year or so, you start turning a little whacky.” The corporal answered, “That’s all imagination. Like as not, China won’t have any effect one way or another on either of us.”

“No,” I said rather weakly, “not a chance,” I got the hell out of there the next day.

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