Monday, August 20, 2012

San Diego and the English Channel Connection

San Diego, California, where I spent more than 20 years of my prime life, is famous for two open water swimming events held annually. One is a mile/ half a mile open sea on Coronado Island on July 4th, thanks to the NASNI Coronado Navy Swim Association. The other is a one mile/two mile/three mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim (LJRWS) on Sept 9, between Scripps Institute (known previously Biological) Pier and La Jolla Cove. Both have shorter courses for younger and master (elderly) competitors. The former celebrates its 54th and the latter celebrate the 82nd this year.

The LJRWS was first held in 1916 in commemoration of the World's Fair Pan American Exposition in Balboa Park and the 2nd in l923 and the 3rd in 1931 and became an annual event after the 4th time in 1948, sponsored by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce and Town Council. The course for the LJRWS has finally been settled after a number of variations throughout the years. The Gatorman 3 mile championship, swimming "cove to the pier and back" is similar to the "grueling" original endurance route of 1916, as per the LJRWS. The number of swimmers for LJRWS zoomed year after year from 7 men in 1916 to today's estimate of more than 2,000.

As a swimmer myself, I was interested in the above events and wanted to very much participate. However, I was stung severely by a jellyfish while swimming in one of the southern Los Angeles beaches and quit ocean swimming and thereafter engaged in pool swimming only.

While in San Diego, I followed the swimming career of Point Loma's native daughter, Florence Chadwick (1918-1995), who has a record of crossing the English Channel (aka: Dover Channel) a number of times. San Diego Union newspaperman Arthur Ribbel wrote in his "Yesterday in the West" that it was in 1950 that "San Diegans almost to the household, hung excitedly before their radios when their own Florence Chadwick was stroking her arduous way to world fame as an English Channel Swimmer. Some of those hometowners wondered if, during some of her grueling hours in the water, she didn't think back to the carefree times when she negotiated the Silvergate as a girl."

Florence began her swimming career at the age of five and entered swimming competitions at ten. Reportedly she never won a U.S. National Championship, but she won all the major west coast rough water swims, including the Silvergate and the La Jolla Rough Water Swim.

Florence, inspired by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, sought a way as to how she could accomplish her little girl dreams. She grabbed a chance to work for ARAMCO as a comptometer operator at a desert installation. After a year she got a transfer to the Trans-Arabian Pipeline Company office near the Persian Gulf where she began pre-channel training. She said "After two years I picked up the pay I have saved to sponsor myself and left for France to complete my training". What motivation and wonderful planning. When she finally swam in Dover, she broke the record time set by Gertrude Ederle 24 years earlier by more than one hour. She swam the 21 mile wide channel in thirteen hours twenty minutes. One year later, she became the first woman to swim from England to France, against the flow of the channel's strong currents. She swam 4 times, three times against the current.

My June 1982 diary noted the day Florence Chadwick was inducted into the Hall of Champions and, it was at this ceremony that she met Mayor Pete Wilson and Police Chief Bill Kolender. I also scribbled down Florence's reminiscence in my diary. "The successful swims are recalled in details, the unsuccessful ones are slipping from memory."


l. July 4th Coronado Rough Water Swim

2. La Jolla Cove Rough Water Swim

3. Florence Chadwick Record (1950-1955) at Dover Museum

Florence was a typist and swimming coach from California. 4 successes in 10 attempts. 32 years old when she became the first woman to swim from England to France in 1951, St. Margaret's Bay to Sangatte. This also made her the first woman to do the double as she had swam France to England in 1950 (Cap Gris Nez to South Foreland). Her three England to France swims each took the record for the fastest time, going from 16 hours 22 mins in 1951 to 13 hours 55 mins in 1955. On her last 3 successful swims she also attempted to swim there-and-back but gave up on the return leg.

England to France: 9/10/1951 (success), 8/2/1953 (failed), 8/15/1953 (failed), 9/4/1953 (success), 8/15/1955 (failed), 9/23/1955 (failed), 9/26/1955 (failed), 10/12/1955 (success)

France to England: 7/26/1950 (failed), 8/8/1950 (success)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Incredible Lady

Quiet Land
by Aun San Suu Kyi (ASSK)

In the Quiet Land, no one can tell
if there's someone who's listening
for secrets they can sell.
The informers are paid in the blood of the land
and no one dares speak what the tyrants won't stand.

In the quiet land of Burma,
no one laughs and no one thinks out loud.
In the quiet land of Burma,
you can hear it in the silence of the crowd

In the Quiet Land, no one can say
when the soldiers are coming
to carry them away.
The Chinese want a road; the French want the oil;
the Thais take the timber; and SLORC takes the spoils...

In the Quiet Land....
In the Quiet Land, no one can hear
what is silenced by murder
and covered up with fear.
But, despite what is forced, freedom's a sound
that liars can't fake and no shouting can drown.

"But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha's teachings"
Dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi by Karen Ethelsdattar, Union City, NJ

The shade of a tree is cool indeed
The shade of parents is cooler
The shade of teachers is cooler still
The shade of the ruler is yet more cool
But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha’s teachings

On July 19, 2012, Burma celebrated its 65th and its first state-level Martyr's Day for "Bogyoke" (General) Aun San (1915- 1937) in Yangon. Her daughter Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate (1991), was the one laying a flower wreath. Announced recently was a Bogyoke movie under planning to commemorate the hero Bogyoke’s 100th Birthday Anniversary due in three years, with Daw Suu Kyi serving as honorary Chairman, and the funding campaign for the movie has started.

Daw Suu Kyi just returned from her high profile European trip, addressing the UN ILO assembly in Switzerland, speaking as Nobel Prize Laureate in Norway, giving thanks at an Amnesty International Event in Ireland, receiving honorary doctorate at her alma mater Oxford, and meeting with Dalai Lama. Family-wise, she celebrated her 65th birthday with children she hasn't seen for years. Yes, she wouldn't have thought that taking care of her mother would keep her this long in Burma, missing her dying British husband in U.K. It was rumored she was a scapegoat for the should-be-returnee Aun San Oo, her brother, from San Diego, California. She was a housewife, mother, and hoping to study Burmese literature.

I've heard about Daw Suu Kyi's famous speech "Freedom from Fear" which started with memorable phrase "It's not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power...". Her intelligence and eloquence appealed to Burmese and brought the National League for Democracy (NLD) a landslide victory in 1990 over the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the military Junta. The Military Junta hastened to put her under house arrest and ever since she has been resisting bullying generals with the power of the powerless, fighting bravely to achieve democracy, protecting human rights through nonviolent means. She should be encouraged with the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 199l. In l992 she was awarded with the Jawaharal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simon Bolivar Prize from the government of Venezuela.

Now she is an icon, a fighter of Burma, and her movie about her was made in Thailand ahead of her father Aun San, which was just released in Japan very recently. The government has finally ceded, inching toward democracy, allowing her to travel and attend parliament.

Upon returning from Europe, she stood for the first time from her NLD seat toward the back of Naypyitaw parliament to call for an end to discrimination against ethnic minorities as part of the "emergence of a genuine democratic country." "Based on the spirit of equality, mutual respect and understanding," she said, "I would like to urge all lawmakers to enact necessary laws or amend laws to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities." Suu Kyi's comments came in support of a motion by a ruling-party lawmaker from the ethnic Shan state to uphold ethnic minority rights. Prior to her European trip, she had traveled Mae Sot, Thailand to visit ethnic Kachin and Karen refugees who fled war at home. I'm glad she highlighted basic ethnic issues, requiring urgent debates.

Daw Suu Kyi has been touching on Buddhism in her speeches including the recent Nobel speech. Her favorite word is "Metta" or compassion and she translates it as "loving kindness". Another one is "Mudita" - sympathetic joy. She seems to be practicing 14th Dalai Lama's teaching "Without love, human society is in a very difficult state: without love, in the future, we will face tremendous problems - Love is the center of human life". Another is "nyien chan" She explains it literally as a beneficial coolness that comes when a fire is extinguished. I was amazed that such short words have a profound connotation. The Australian National University listed the word in its language list of security as coolness - the state of ease.

The paper reported her travel plans for 2013, which includes USA and Japan. She had worked at the United Nations Building in New York and in Japan to study at the University of Kyoto during 1985-86, so she will be happy to reunite with many of her friends, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Burma aka Myanmar

I had a gut feeling that I was less than 200 miles (280 km) east of Myitkyina, Burma when I traveled to Dali, Yunnan, China. Yes, that's on the Allied Forces supply road to rescue Chiang Kai-Shek in Chongqing, Sichuan, during WWII. The reason I remember these foreign names is because of the map we used to draw at school with the rising sun flag where the Japanese Imperial armies occupied: Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, etc. However, in order to shut the above Burma Supply Road, the Japanese Army dared an impossible invasion into Assam, India, through the steep Arakan Mountains, with heavy guns, munitions, and limited supplies of medicines and miscellaneous necessary needs. A mere ideological tactic (Allied called it a folly), dismissing oppositions and negative factors such as the rainy season, and malaria. The Allied named it the Battle of Kohima and the Japanese coded it Imphal Operations. The battle ended in a death toll of 85,600 * Japanese soldiers; almost a total defeat, succumbing to thirst and hunger, terrible sickness, appalling dysentery (per battle records) and bones laying along the retreat road.

Myitkyina, capital of Katin, northernmost province of Burma, occupied by the Japanese, was retaken by General Stilwell, (1883-1946), a West Point graduate, the Allied Commander, more well known as Vinegar Joe.

Very few records of the war exist because most of the soldiers at the front perished. One best selling fiction Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama released right after the war became a movie and I had to see it. It was a tearjerker all throughout. One defected Japanese soldier became a monk to bury and mourn for dead friends. Takeyama, who had no war experience, claimed he wrote a children's story, fantasizing the battleground as a "Home Sweet Home" chorus competition between British and Japanese armies.

Mr. Koichi Tsukamoto (1920-1998), the founder and manufacturer of Wacol, Kyoto women’s apparel, was one of three survivors out of a 55 man platoon.

I recently read a sad story that one Japanese soldier sought shelter at his Burmese friend's house as he had no family in Japan. While he was taken care of by his friend's daughter, the two got on well. Everything seemed to be going alright, until one day he ventured out to see a dentist (he claimed he couldn't stand his toothache) and was caught by the police and sent to a concentration camp. Eventually he was sent back to Japan. He tried to recontact his Burmese family, but was out of luck.

Decades later, he learned through the news media that his son in Burma was looking for him. The reason he got no response from Burma was because the family was ostracized from the village for hiding a Japanese defector.

I was about to move on to another story when I saw a book titled: And I survived in Burma by Kojima Shoichi (1920-), published in 2011 in Fukuoka, which led me to pursue the war aftermath a bit more. Kojima lives in Fukuoka; actually his parents lived in Kitakyushu, where I now live. He fought in two wars, Guadalcanal and Kohima, both losing battles. I could tell that he was born under an unlucky star.

The 124th Battalion was from Fukuoka. At the Guadalcanal landing (Aug 1942), he wrote: the carrying boat was shipwrecked on the coral reef while fleeing from the Allied Air night raids, 300 meters away from the seashore. Soldiers had to swim to shore. On landing alone, one third of the battalion was lost. On the island during fighting, he injured his leg and was unable to walk. His Hancho advised him that they had to move on without him. He made a wooden stick for a cane in order to follow, limping. The retreat order came and they left Guadalcanal on January 1943. The 4,000 Fukuoka Battalion had only 200 soldiers left, all with injuries and health issues of some kind.

I had read that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (1941-) listed Guadalcanal Diary written by Richard William Tregaskis (1916-1973), as one of his favorite books. I wonder why he specifically mentioned it. I'll read it when I finish reading Kojima's story.

The 200 Fukuoka survivors were then sent to Saigon on June 1943 to be incorporated into 34th Army Division for the Impahl Operations, but he redeveloped malaria which he suffered in Guadalcanal. He was sent to a Hong Kong Hospital from Saigon for special treatment. When he recuperated, he traveled alone to catch up with his troop via railroad, and random rides available, which led through retreating routes.

I was impressed with his way of thinking that you can't walk the ocean back from Guadalcanal, but once you were on the continent, the road led to Japan. Even limping, he had the fortitude to continue walking. He and two friends walked over 1,000 kilometers to Chiangmai, Thailand. He was very thankful for all the help and alms from local Burmese along the way.


*This figure was taken as the most reliable number from the "Museum of Kohima" of York (UK) Website - "85,600 Japanese soldiers participated in the Imphal Mission, 30,000 died in action, of starvation and illness and 20,000 were injured or succumbed to malnutrition and illness. The road between Kohima and Imphal was called ‘White Bone Road’ on which lay the remains of many corpses in military uniform who have never been taken back to their home."

A monument was built at the Kohima site with the script: "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today", a British soldier inspired by the Greek poet Simonides' (556-468 BC) epitaph "Oh, stranger, tell the Spartans that we live here obedient to the world." See the photos of Kohima Bridge (battle zero ground), and the Monument.

The same website has a link to Sato Memorial, posted on Feb 13, 2012, by Akiko MacDonald, Honorary Secretary of Burma Campaign Society, related with the Anglo-Japan Alliance.