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The Goose that Got Loose

chinese-gooseFor some people, they believe everything in life is preordained or predetermined. They consider that fate predestines all aspects of their lives.

I do not know whether the following event told by my mother can be considered to determine my existence on this earth or is the result of a simple mishap, luck, fate, chance, or ultimately the divine intervention of the Almighty God.

During the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War, my mother’s family lived in a village near Canton city. The living conditions were different from today. We have to imagine how the homes in China were built and how they arranged the rooms in the early 1940’s. Most of the houses were built from bricks, clay or stone. There was no running water. Residents had to fetch water daily from a well, usually shared with their neighbours, The washroom was located separately outside the living quarters due to hygienic reasons.

The kitchen was considered an “unclean” area. There was no refrigerator in those days so people had to go to the market daily to buy fresh vegetables, meat, and other perishable items. As for poultry or fish, they needed to buy them fresh from the farmers or fishermen. They would bring the poultry or fish live to the kitchen to kill and clean them. Cooking usually relied on burning wood or coal. The kitchen was smoky, hot, messy, bloody, smelly, dark and damp. It was usually built apart from the main living room or dining room because the occupants did not want the smoke or smell in the living area.

It was not unusual for the family to keep live poultry or fish in their homes for days if they had space for a chicken pen or a water tank for fish.

In 1931, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Manchuria in northern China establishing a puppet state that they named Manchukuo[1]. On July 7, 1937, they crossed the Marco Polo Bridge and started their invasion of the Chinese interior[2]. They then captured Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, and other parts of China. The Japanese Imperial Navy also started a campaign of bombings to seize Canton (Guangzhou) in 1939-1938[3].

My mother and her siblings cannot tell me the exact date of the following incident but all of them can testify that it did happen. She was only a pre-teen at the time. My grandmother and my mother were in the market shopping for candles, incense, and other items for an ancestral worship ceremony. It was common practice for the Chinese families to light candles and incense daily for their deceased ancestors as an expression of filial piety. My grandfather was at home to prepare dinner and the ritual.

Offering live poultry is part of the ritual of ancestral worship. My grandfather was trying to slaughter the goose as an offering. The family would then have a good meal after the goose and other food items were offered to the gods.

My grandfather picked up the fat, long-necked goose which had been kept alive in a little water pond near the house. He went to the kitchen with the goose and prepared to butcher it. All his children were there to learn how he prepared the sacrifice except for my mother who was in the market with my grandmother. A pot of boiling hot water had been prepared for cleaning the goose. With his left hand, my grandfather grabbed the long neck of the goose while holding a sharp butcher knife in his right hand. All was ready for cutting the goose’s throat and hanging it upside down to drain the blood. The goose was in obvious discomfort being grabbed by his neck and decided to put up a good fight before it became the sacrificial bird. It cackled, kicked and flapped like its life depended on it, which it actually did! My grandfather lost his grip on the flailing bird’s neck and the goose wrenched free from his hand. Finally, the goose found itself being ceremoniously dropped on the kitchen floor and it started to run for its dear life. Five screaming children and a madman with a butcher knife looming over him would cause any goose to flee!

The goose flapped its wings and bolted across the courtyard into the living room. The whole family fled the kitchen to chase the goose. While my grandfather, still carrying the butcher knife, and all the children were trying to corner the goose running wild in the living room, they heard a not so familiar sound from the sky.

It was the droning of Japanese fighter planes. Soon after, the humming of propellers could be heard as the planes flew over the roof of their home. Next came the rat-a-tat-tat of airborne machine guns firing endless rounds of bullets. People screamed, ran, and took shelter wherever they could. The high-pitched whistle of bombs pierced the air as the Japanese Imperial Navy conducted a bombing raid on the village. A bomb was dropped onto my grandparents’ kitchen exploding on impact. The whole kitchen as well as their neighbour’s house were destroyed.

My uncle had stopped chasing the goose when he heard the noise of the planes. While he was looking out the window, the shrapnel from the explosion hit his back but he suffered only a minor scratch. The whole family survived the bombing raid simply because the goose drew them away from the kitchen.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and my mother were still in the market. The Japanese aircraft also dropped bombs there too. Debris and dust were everywhere. My mother was screaming and tried to find her mother. After a while, which seemed to her like forever, they located each other. Running home as quickly as they could they were anxious to discover what had happened.

To their surprise, the house was still standing. All the family survived with only a few minor injuries. The Japanese took control of Canton and southern China. My grandfather and his family became refugees and escaped to Macau.

No one knows what happened to the goose. From that day until my grandparents passed away, they never killed or ate goose again in honour of the goose that got loose.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_invasion_of_Manchuria

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Polo_Bridge_Incident

[3] http://www.combinedfleet.com/Canton_t.htm