So, I could tell you a story about food poisoning and crazy rides across the Philippines, but I suspect you want to know what the cover of my book looks like, or what its final title and release date will be, or how you can pre-order it, or read about some fascinating characters from Portland who played both heroic and sinister roles in World War II.
Chongqing was hot. It was loud. It was squalid. It was crowded.
It was home. Chongqing was home.
"You get to like it,” Mel wrote.
Will I like it? Five weeks from today I will wake to my first morning in Beijing on the first leg of a trip through China and the Philippines. In the weeks to follow I hope to visit Guangzhou and Manila, to see Shanghai and Cebu, to ride trains through Guangxi, and to sail through the Visayas. Most importantly, perhaps, I hope to climb from the Yangtze through the exploding megalopolis of Chongqing and, I hope, to find this place Mel and Annalee and so many others once called home.
A new year looms. As it has since I began unfurling this story, New Year's Eve carries a special meaning. As much as I'm thinking about Mel and Annalee, I'm also thinking about the people who left similar impressions upon them, and upon whom they left their own impressions. They are on my mind as I consider how, 73 years ago tonight, Mel and Annalee made the heartbreaking decision to leave their friends at a Manila hotel, run to the city's burning docks and leap aboard the last boat sailing into a dark, mine-strewn harbor before the Japanese entered the Philippines' capital. It was not an easy decision; the people they left behind were their colleagues, their friends, their fellow "soldiers of the press." They were, as I've addressed before, their tribe.
“Whether I'll ever arrive at a point where this letter can be mailed is still a matter of fate. So far we've been scared plenty but very lucky — and I'm knocking on wood. We slid out of one island hideout just a bare two hours ahead of one of Mr. Tojo's destroyers and have been seeing dim outlines on the horizon ever since. But all that will be a story later, I guess.”
-Melville Jacoby, March 18, 1942, Somewhere at Sea
For a brief moment after the wedding, the world fell away from Mel and Annalee. That they didn't have the traditional wedding their friends in the Chinese government wanted to throw for them back in Chungking didn't matter. That all their things — including most of Annalee's clothes — were on a ship that would end up diverted from Manila when the war started didn't matter. They were two young reporters in love.