The Linguist

On 15 April 1965, just three and a half months before I retired from the U.S. Navy, and while acting for the absent Supervisor of Shipbuilding, I was on the program to speak during the ceremony that accompanied the formal transfer of the new minesweeper MSC 300 to the Republic of China. The event was conducted alongside the moored vessel at Seattle’s Pier 91; that site was then part of the U.S. Naval Supply Depot for the 13th Naval District. A celebration, hosted by the Chinese officers and crew of the newly christened RCS YUNG CHI (MSC 160), took place afterwards in the nearby officers’ club.

That was an important event for me because it would be the only time that my wife and our three youngest children, four to 11, would see me participate in an official event.

Since none of the Chinese crew understood English and since I wished to reach out to them also, thanks to Dr. H. Chi, then employed by nearby Lockheed Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, I ended my presentation with four Chinese words, ee loo shun foong, that is, “fair winds smooth seas.”

The Chinese crew responded perceptively, but not as much as when later on my wife Rhoda was much more effective at breaking through the language barrier. What’s more, she never said a word!

At the Officers’ Club some of the Chinese enlisted men were busy serving drinks and various delicacies. Other were standing aside and simply observing what seemed to be strange to them, that is, an American-style reception where people stand around sipping and snacking while engaged in seemly endless talk.

At one point Rhoda noticed that one of the nearby Chinese sailors, a petty officer, seemed to be more interested in watching our kids’ antics and shared in their laughter when one did something amusing. Then, on the spur of the moment, Rhoda by just pointing to her wedding ring and then to him, clearly asked the petty officer, “Are you married?”

He nodded.

Then by pointing to him and then to our kids she asked, “Do you have any children?”

He nodded again and held up one finger.

Next, by pointing to our daughter and then to one of our boys she clearly conveyed the question, “Is your child a girl or a boy?”

By this time some of his shipmates were tuning in to the unique conversation, so he puffed out his chest a bit and pointed to one of our boys. Rhoda then responded by pointing to our daughter Gina, and then pointing to our boys while moving her hand back and forth as if erasing them. The message that she clearly conveyed was, “Without girls, there would be no boys!”

The Chinese sailors erupted in laughter while simultaneously nodding their heads in agreement.

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