Christmas Carols

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Guiding Light

 “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105

Eight months into working in the factory, I got used to the situation. One winter night I went out for a walk.  The singing voices drew my steps toward a small church. I heard some teenagers singing the Christmas Carole “Deck the halls.”

I stood by the door listening. The music was so angelic and attractive to me, my feet inched in and sat down in the last pew. The practice went on and I moved up a few rows. I sat there until the rehearsal was over. The young man who conducted the singing came up to greet me. Paul was the pastor’s son and he invited me to attend the youth group on Saturday nights.

I went to the youth group the following Saturday. There were about twenty teenagers in the group. They sang several songs at the beginning of the meeting. Then someone gave a presentation on a topic followed by group games. After the meeting, some girls introduced themselves to me. The friendliness of people made me feel welcome. The pastor’s daughter Esther invited me to the Sunday evening service.

I came to the Sunday evening service at 7:00 p.m. Pastor Zeto gave me a warm welcome and invited me to sit in the front pew. Even though I didn’t know the songs for the service, I enjoyed them by listening. The service concluded around 8:30 p.m. Pastor Zeto’s wife greeted me and asked about my family. She also gave me a small Bible of the four Gospels.

I continued to work in the factory during the day. I read the little Bible before bedtime. Even though I didn’t understand the Bible stories, I continued to read through the four Gospels.

When I read Matthew chapter 7, I came across these verses:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

These verses touched the core of my heart. I knew that my dad loved me very much. Yet my dad could not provide what I needed. My dad encouraged me to do well in school, but when the resources were scarce, my dad had wanted me to help the family by working at such a young age.

I longed for the relationship with the heavenly Father who would answer my prayers and provide for my needs. My heart was comforted by the verses in Matthew chapter 7.

In the months that followed, I spent more time in church. I attended the Wednesday night prayer meetings, Saturday night youth group, and Sunday evening service. Pastor Zeto gave me the New Testament of the Bible. I read it as if I was the Hungry Caterpillar. By April of that year, I was baptized on the Easter Sunday. The missionary who was the Director of Hong Kong Headquarter gave me the name “Miriam” because I liked singing, and Miriam in the Old Testament led the Israelites to sing after they crossed the Red Sea.


Early Education

I was six years old when I started first grade. Both of my parents worked, so I took care of one younger sister during the day. I went to night school until 4th grade. From home to school was one-third of a mile walk. I walked by myself in the first grade, the following year my sister #8 reached school age, we walked to school together.

The teachers liked me, and I liked the teachers. The best thing was that when I was in first grade, my teacher Mrs. Leung said I was bright, and that made a big impact on me. The confident in me about learning has been evident throughout the rest of my life. I am so grateful for Mrs. Leung. When I became a teacher, I naturally made positive comments to my students and encouraged them to do the best. I was keen to notice the strength of the students and praised them in the class. Many students excelled because of my encouragement.

During the first grade, we had a school field trip to Shatin to visit the rice field. My mom packed the picnic lunch for me. She warned me to be careful when walking on the mud paths. When we arrived Shatin, each class formed a line following the teacher. We walked on the soft mud path between the rice fields from one end to the other. I was overcautious because of my mom’s warning. The young growth in the rice field was waving the heads to attract my attention. My foot stepped on the soft edge of the mud path and went right into the water. My shoe got soaked wet. My mom didn’t say anything when she saw my wet shoe.

My dad wanted me to memorize certain lessons in Chinese literature. There was one week when I couldn’t recite the lesson, my dad gave me a good spanking. My mom tried to block the paddle and got one strike on her hand. When looking back, I gave credit to my dad for my good grades. He checked my homework every night and quizzed me every week. It was a blessing to have a dad who cared so much about my education.

All the subjects were taught in Chinese. English was taught as a literature subject. Hong Kong was a British Colony and English was the official language. My dad wanted me to learn English, so he sent me to English tutoring when I was in fourth grade.

I was nine years old when the ninth brother Albert was born. After my mom fed him, I carried him on my back to walk around in the neighborhood. There were no televisions, not even black and white ones. People listened to radios. Not everyone had a radio either. I carried my brother and stood outside of the store downstairs to listen to the radio. On our flat, one of the occupants had a radio placed on a little wooden shelf on the wall midway from the ceiling. I liked to listen to the news broadcast. I remembered the theme music for the noontime news. Years later, I identified it as the Overture of Bizet’s opera Carmen. The music started from the beginning of the Overture, after about thirty seconds, the music faded as a female voice came in to announce the news. I also remembered staying up until 11:00 p.m. listening to “Midnight Mysteries” which were ghost stories.

My mom gave birth to three more siblings. With so many babies and toddlers, my mom quitted working and stayed home to take care of the kid. Since my mom was home, my dad decided to send me to day school. It was in Wan Chai, half an hour tram ride from home. We had school five and a half days a week.

There were forty students in the class. At each grade level, there was a master teacher who taught Chinese literature. All the other subjects were taught by single subject teachers. There was a President for each class. When the teacher walked into the classroom, the class President called out, “Stand up.” The students arose and said, “Good morning, Teacher.” The teacher responded, “Good morning.” The class President commanded, “Sit down” to direct the class to sit.

I enjoyed the music lessons from Mrs. Cheung. I learned and memorized many songs. In 5th grade, there was a singing contest at the end of the school year. I entered the contest and won 4th place. The song I chose to sing was “What a Beautiful Waterlily.” I later recognized that the song was a tune in Puccini’s opera Turandot.

I made friend with the music teacher’s daughter, Shirley. Shirley had been taking piano lessons from her mom and practiced piano every day. I loved to visit her and listened to her piano practice. We became good friends and carried our friendship through adulthood.

She was married and moved to London. We continued to correspond throughout the years. When we traveled to London on a tour in 2006, we arrived in London prior to the tour group. Shirley and her husband took us sightseeing for five days.