The Exiles: Chinese Bill.
We rented the Lake Bevan farmhouse for five summers and Mme S soon fell under the charm of C-B since she was, she confided, a lover of all things Asian. We were frequently invited to her home where she served strong espresso, burned cookies and told stories of her youth in upper-class Polish society. Mme S spoke Polish, English, French, Spanish and German. She spent hours telling us about her life as a young woman in Poland and, as if they were ordinary occurrences, extraordinary events such as being introduced to both Stalin and Winston Churchill(separately I hope). On one visit, she casually mentioned that she had studied Ju Jitsu and successfully repulsed intrusive Quebec bikers - so prevalent in the Arundel region - pot was a popular crop in the Western Laurentians, frequently grown on the edges of farmer’s fields.
In early May, guided by Chinese Bill, we were all digging and planting a big vegetable garden, where he applied his knowledge of soil quality, crop rotation, compatible species of veg, soil drainage and plant nutrition. We listened, worked and got very familiar with the local black flies. I learned gardening techniques that I would apply decades later when I moved back to Arundel - using old bras to support climbing squashes, and concocting ‘donkey tea’, a solution of donkey turds in a barrel of rainwater for fertilizing crops in mid-season. Mme S told us she was trying to sell her property(200 acres, two large houses, a barn and a guesthouse). She intimated that she would sell at a lower price if we were willing to buy the property whole and not divide it up(something the ‘general’ had hoped for). We tried to find ways of borrowing 70,000$ - a reasonable price at the time, but, for a group of artist-marginals it was impossible.
C-B and I were the most constant of the summer inhabitants and found a good balance between private time and socializing over meals. We became good friends, and although C-B remained evasive about himself, I took him at face value: a gifted, pragmatic, impenetrable Asian soul, who was a kind and thoughtful man, who easily made friends with women and didn’t confuse those friendships with sex. Besides cooking and gardening, C-B was also an intrepid ‘re-purposer’ of ‘things’ before re-cycling became popular. Bits of string, paper, and plastic containers were re-born as decorative kites, garden accoutrements and lampshades.
After the garden was established, Mme S introduced us to Mr. Seuss(not the Dr.), who lived at a nearby lake and from whom we could rent a rowboat, or rather, something between a canoe and a rowboat - both tippy and stable. I frequently went fishing with C-B after dusk, and while I managed one fishing rod, C-B manipulated 3. He held one rod in his hand, kept another at his side, and tied a third line to his big toe. That line had a small bell attached to it, floating on the surface of the water.
Pike were the most exciting fish to catch since they were lively and strong. I recall on one occasion, hooking a pike on my line and it swam under the boat, pulling hard. Meanwhile, C-B held two lines - one in each hand - with fish pulling on both when the little bell rang on his toe-line. Somehow, while I struggled with one fish, he landed three, and amazingly the boat didn’t capsize. We ate fish all summer, and in true Asian style, nothing was wasted since the raccoons received the fish guts(thrown deep into the woods), and fish heads and tails were boiled in cheesecloth in a big pot in the kitchen. For months the house smelled of fish - and the cats loved it.
C-B had one irritating habit - smoking, and although he only smoked outdoors, he was unable(or unwilling) to lose the habit. I remember many times when F would hide his packet of cigarettes, and he would quietly spend hours searching the house until he found them. C-B infrequently revealed information about himself, and once when I asked him how he arrived in North America, he implied that he and his mother had fled China and resettled in the USA, where he received his higher education. When I asked him about his work in Montreal, he mentioned a research study at McGill, and in addition, he received a stipend for managing his family’s money in Taiwan. During the years I was friends with Bill, he cultivated an air of insouciance and evasiveness - a protective shield made up of generalizations. His friends often joked about him being a spy.
In subsequent decades, our lives evolved in different directions, but I always thought I would return to Arundel. Meanwhile, C-B and Freda purchased a small chalet and continued to spend time in the area. Eventually, they separated, and C-B rented a basement on an Arundel farm, where he lived for several years and continued to fish. Periodically he and I met for Chinese food in Montreal, where he chose non-descript restaurants with excellent food, and we discussed fishing, calligraphy and kite-making.
Almost 30 years later, a serendipitous turn of events sent me back to Arundel as co-owner of the old Craig farm, and in 2003 I left Montreal to live there full-time. Good friends of mine live down the road and remember C-B fondly. At some point, C-B disappeared from our lives and none of us knew where he was or why he had left so suddenly. We all felt abandoned. I followed up on one lead, speaking to a woman with whom C-B had a relationship during his last few years in Arundel. After he abruptly left Canada, she went to Taiwan to try and re-establish a connection with him, but apparently, he declined, and she returned.
Periodically in Arundel, C-B’s name crops up as an intrepid fisherman, learned gardening guide, and avid kite flyer. Of course that’s Bill, it looks just like him, said David, an Arundel friend from down the road, after seeing a photo of the Taiwanese activist known as Peter Huang. That’s what I think too - C-B spent 25 years in Québec and his physical resemblance to the ‘activist’ is very apparent. As the ‘unknowns’ about his life fall into place - I find myself thinking back fondly about this engaging, knowledgeable, elusive and inscrutable man. It was a privilege to know him, and his influence lives on in the memories of those he encountered - long after his departure.
POSTSCRIPT: is this C-B?
Peter Wen-shiung Huang also known as Peter Ng; born 2 October 1937) is a Taiwanese activist for democratization and human rights.. Huang majored in journalism at the National Chengchi University in Taipei and then served in the military for two years. In 1964, he applied to the graduate program in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and studied there before transferring to a Ph.D. program at Cornell University in 1966.
Assassination attempt: On April 24, 1970, Huang and his brother-in-law, Cheng Tzu-tsai, both members of the World United Formosans for Independence, were involved in the assassination attempt [zh] of then-Vice Premier Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang Kai-shek's son) in New York City. Huang approached Chiang with a gun at the Plaza Hotel, but a Diplomatic Security Service special agent pushed him out of the way, causing the bullet to strike the hotel's revolving doors. The World United Formosans for Independence later issued a statement disclaiming involvement. He pleaded guilty in a 1971 trial to charges of attempted murder and illegal possession of a firearm, but was granted bail before sentencing, and fled the United States.
Aftermath: He was in hiding for 25 years, returning to Taiwan in 1996, after Taiwan's statute of limitations had run out on further prosecution for the assassination attempt as one of the last persons who had not been permitted to return to Taiwan for political reasons. Huang was prosecuted and served four months in jail for violating the 1987 National Security Law for illegal entry since he did not have an entry visa when he returned to Taiwan in 1996.
Freda and Bill, Bevan Lake, by nash
Please look for the January 2024 blog…..not sure what it will be about yet.