This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Margaret Joan Larson Carlson (CN 263, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Edgar Diaz and Janyce H. Nasgowitz, and completed in August 1992.
Collection 263, #T2. Interview with Margaret Joan Larson Carlson by Esther Braly on November 9, 1983.
BRALY: This is an interview with Mrs. Margaret Joan Larson Carlson by Esther Braly for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the Archives at the Billy Graham Center on Wednesday, November 9, 1983, at 1:30 pm. First of all, before we discuss your Hong Kong days, I'm wondering if you'd be willing to develop what the situation among the Indians was when your parents were working with them. And how it was develop...how their situation was relative to the government and their social status.
CARLSON: Okay. The laws on the books of Ecuador at the time my folks were there (they started in about 1924) were good, equitable laws for all Ecuadorian citizens. However, when you got out beyond the reaches of the urban areas, which were sophisticated and modern for the time, it was hard to enforce those laws. And, although The Indians technically had all the rights of Ecuadorian citizens, when it got right down to it out on the edge of civila...civilization, they sort of were one of the resources of the forest in the minds of the [paper rustles] white...semi-white people who were out there, the people of Spanish descendant as opposed to the native Indians. If they had coconut trees, and snakes, and pumas, and other natural resources on their land, the Indians were in the same category, one of the things that they were allowed to use as a natural resource. They belonged to them in that sense. I don't think they looked at it as slavery. They just looked at it from the point of view that they came with the turf. Well, [pauses] in order to make it palatable to the Indians or understandable to the Indians, there was a kind of a feudal system set up. These people [of Spanish descent] would have them [native indians] come to work for them for any given reason: if they needed cash, or if they needed clothing, or they needed something they could not get themselves out of the jungle. And then when it was time for them to pay for it, they would say, "I...I don't have any money for this. Let me work it off." They'd say, "Fine. Work for me in the kitchen, or fields, or wherever." At...when they went to leave, then, they'd say, "Okay, that's fine. You've paid for that bolt of cloth that you wanted. But in the meantime you've been eating my food and sleeping in my house, so you owe me for those days that you were here working." And it was a never-ending cycle of debt. They kept the books. The Indians couldn't read or write. They didn't know what was on those books. They just knew that they were constantly and always in debt to the patron, as they called them, the master, the overlord. Well, when my folks set up their store that we mentioned in the last reel, the Indians came in the same way. And they figured that they also were in debt just in the same way. But instead of paying them...ha...having them just go on the books, my folks paid them cash. And then they could take the cash, and pay their debt, and go home with what was left over. And they also paid them a reasonable wage. Well, you can see that this might raise the hackles of people who...who had been going under another system. It was interfering with what they were doing and in fact it did do that. Another thing, the Indians had every right to marry whoever they wished. But if a woman had trained an Indian to be the nursemaid of her children, she didn't want her marrying somebody and going down the river to live somewhere else. She would just say, "No, you can't marry him." Well, there again, the word got around that these very white foreigners.... There was a name used by them, the Francia, that comes from the word "French." And I guess they just thought that the French were the palest, whitest foreigners there were. Anyway, the Francia would help you if you wanted to marry somebody. And in fact the first person who worked in our home ran away from the previous mistress, because she wanted to marry a man who was working on the hacienda that the folks had set up there. And, to make a long story short, they went with her to the authorities in the little local town, and said, "These people have a right to marry." And they said, "Well, just a minute. She owes money. She owes to her previous mistress." And Dad said, "Well, under protest I will pay that debt." First of all, he...they'd said, "She can't marry." And he said, "Well, then I'll have to take this to the government in the center." And they said...they were afraid of that, because they knew the laws were there. So they said, "Well, anyway, she owes to this lady." So...it was a nominal sum, really. It's just that they had no cash to pay it with. So Daddy said, "Under protest I will pay this and then she will be a free Ecuadorian citizen and she can do what she wants to." So he paid her debt. Well, she then became the most enthusiastic and loyal supporter of my folks. And she came and worked in our home for a salary. She didn't go into debt to us. She went...came for a salary. She married her husband who was working on the grounds. And little by little the word got around that this was one place were Indians were people. And they had the rights of people. And my folks didn't think of that in terms of social justice, or a sociological ref...revolution, or a community development. Those terms were not around a lot in those days. It simply to them was the living out of their commitment to God and his children wherever they were found. I think I mentioned that my folks took their wedding china to the jungle. The only china they had. What was amazing about that to the people around was that the Indians were invited to eat off that china. There was no difference as to who sat at the table. Everyone was treated alike. And this didn't dawn on me until my mother was dying about ten years ago. And we received a most touching document from the first school teacher in the school for Indians. (That's another thing my folks started, a school for Indians, which was unheard of.) But he [the first school teacher] was an Ecuadorian gentleman who was in the jungle and he was living with an Indian woman, which was common practice. And my folks said, "Look, if you're going to teach in our school, you marry her." And he did, which was amazing. But he did and she was always a guest in our home just as he was, just as anybody else was. And he couldn't get over that. So he wrote this long al...almost a mini-biography. It was just a pouring out of his heart. He called it "Strewing Petals on a Grave" because he knew it [?] was dying. And it told about these things, which as child I didn't know myself. They just seemed very normal to me. I didn't observe them as anything unusual. But he in that situation did. And, in fact, the mission station, the Christian Missionary Alliance Mission Station, in Dos Rios, which was the co.... Dos Rios means two rivers. Mother named the hacienda that because two rivers met right at the point of land were the hacienda was. That was the first self-supporting Ecuadorian church...Christian...Evangelical church, and they had a school. And they...it was at a very basic level but, in fact, it was self-supporting and self-propagating. They...they...oh...they just moved up and down the rivers, which are the highways in the jungle, and told their friends. And it was from that nucleus there that the work which eventually became the outreach to the Aucas began. My folks opened up that area of the jungle and had wanted to go to the Aucas themselves, but were never...never had that privilege. By then they went back in...in Ecuador...in Quito, but it's that area there. And a lot of that was made possible because there was already a group of Christians meeting. To me, it's interesting that, by simply following what they believed to be the practical outworking of the Gospel, they did, in their naive way, what people write books about and spend a long time talking about in the way of community development. And it's an...an affirmation to me of the universality of the teachings of Scripture.
BRALY: Did this help you when you were in Hong Kong, this lesson?
CARLSON: Certainly this whole background helped me in Hong Kong, and the fact that people are people, regardless of their appearance, or their national background, or their social status, was something which was always accepted in our home. And I think that's a very useful tool wherever you go.
BRALY: [Pauses] When did you and Bob first begin to feel that the Lord was leading you to the mission field?
CARLSON: We both had it in the back of our minds, always, because we were children of missionaries. Bob was in grad school [at Wheaton College], and...actually he was a grad assistant and teaching Greek on the campus when Dr. and Mrs. Newbergs [?] from the Alliance Bible School in Hong Kong came on furlough. And they were looking for, listen to this one, a Greek teacher who spoke Mandarin or some universal form of Chinese, so that he could teach in Chinese, which is not terribly common to find. And of course that was my husband. This was right after the small woman, Gladys Aylward, had been on campus, and her talk had very, very deeply touched his heart. It stirred memories of his childhood. And, of course, you couldn't listen to her without being affected. But it affected him most deeply and then right on heels of that came the Newbergs [?]. And so that kind of tipped the balance that this was time to go and where to go. Actually, we were a little old for the Alliance. The Alliance likes you to go to an Alliance school, have at least two years internship or experience in a local church, and have less...two children or less when you go to the field, for very practical reasons. You don't learn languages readily after you're thirty years old, for instance. Well, we were pushing thirty. In fact, we turned thirty the summer that we went out. And we already had three children, and our schooling had been through Wheaton, [clears throat] which was certainly not frowned upon by the Alliance, but it's not...doesn't...didn't call it an Alliance school as such. So we considered it a tribute to the adaptability of the mission leaders, that they would consider sending us. From their point of view, I think they...Bob was a rare enough bird with his training in Greek and Chinese and his teaching experience. And the fact that both of us had grown up on the mission field maybe stood in lieu of experience in those days. Anyway they did send us.
BRALY: Why was it....what did the Alliance think it was important that people come from a Christian and Missionary Alliance school?
CARLSON: Well, I suppose that the chief thing would be to tie them into the Alliance family. The Christian and Missionary Alliance as a denomination is a fairly recent phenomena. It began as a group of people who were interested in sending missionaries overseas. And the churches grew up for the purpose, as a fellowship, to send people out. And then later it was incorporated as a denomination. And not every church has as their prime emphasis the sending out of missionaries. I think that would one very big reason. Another is that they wanted to be sure that we were in agreement with their doctrinal beliefs, which we of course were, chiefly because we had been raised Christian and Missionary Alliance parents. And because we considered them to be very basic. The Alliance isn't nitpicky in a lot of areas. They...they're...they have the basic Evangelical beliefs, but they wanted to be sure everyone was. If they were going to invest their money, time, and prayer backing, they wanted to be sure that they were backing the right people.
BRALY: Um-hmm. What was the size of the C&MA outreach in Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Hmm. I'm trying to remember how many missionaries there were when we were there. Hong Kong is a little bit of an anomaly. It's a British crown colony so that it has a [paper rustling] very strong Christian influence through the government. If you remember the...the Crown in England strongly supports the established church. So the idea of an established Christian religion is very strong in Britain and it carried over to Hong Kong. However, that does not mean everyone's actively a committed Christian who bows to those ideas. The Alliance worked with schools, churches, resettlement projects. There were a bunch of refuges from mainland China. At that time it was pretty closed and these people had [phrase unclear] at great peril and needed help. And they had nothing with them except their skills, which were few. When you...if you've been a special soldier all your life and your army lost, what do you do? So if they could paint and make a nice salable item, the Alliance had a group of people who would market their crafts. As far as the outreach of the area wher...in which we were assigned, our school, which was called a seminary, was the largest quote "seminary Bible school" in Hong Kong. Which isn't saying much. There are a lot of little ones there. I'm talking about Evangelical now, not Roman Catholic or mainline denominations. I don't think they had a...I don't think the Anglican church had a seminary in Hong Kong, to my knowledge. Our school only had about a hundred students. It was called a seminary because, in the nomenclature of the educational system of Hong Kong, a college is at high school level. So in order to differentiate it from that (it was at the Bible college level), it was called a seminary. Not the same as a post-graduate seminary in the States. But students came from, not just Hong Kong, but from all over southeast Asia to study there, which was the reason that my husband's Mandarin was useful. Hong Kong is in Cantonese speaking area. But these students were from all over and the official learned language of Hong Kong is Mandarin. And that is the...the dialect in which my husband was schooled.
BRALY: [Pauses.] What did you and Bob do to prepare yourselves before you went to Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Well, it was a rather quick thing, so that we didn't have a lot of time to prepare specifically. On the spiritual and emotional level, I think we had been prepared for many years, through our background, and through our interest, and through our parents, and through the moving of the Lord in our lives. As far as physical preparation, we got the usual shots and that type of thing for our children, but there was no point in packing stuff or buying stuff. Hong Kong is a free port and all you need there is money. We didn't have a lot of money, but what we had we took with us. And just packed suitcases, and that was it.
BRALY: How did your friends and family react to your leaving and was it difficult for you to leave the United States?
CARLSON: I think it was probably a lot more difficult for my parents than I realized because they were in Ecuador and they didn't know when our furloughs would coincide. And they went back afterward, but they were here when we left. And now as a mother seeing my grown children, I realize that it must have been hard for her to give up her grandchildren and the daily contact with our family. Or the possibility. Ecuador is a lot closer than Hong Kong and a lot less expensive to travel [to]. So that there was much more likelihood, had we stayed here or gone to South America, that we would see more of our folks. Bob's parents, of course, were very pleased, because it was their area of the world, but again we weren't sure were they would be stationed. They had been not able to go back to China. I think I mentioned that on the last reel. And they'd been assigned to the school for missionaries' children in Ecuador, but that tour of duty was over. They'd been sent to Vietnam and then back to a school for missionaries' chil...children. And they were, in fact, awaiting assignment and they didn't know were that would be. At the beginning it was harder on them. It's always harder to be the one left behind.
BRALY: [Pauses.] Well, did you experience any culture shock when you got to Hong Kong?
CARLSON: [Laughs.] Well, yes. I would have thought that having grown up in a country were you don't have hot water, a running faucet, and that kind of thing, that I would have remembered. But I had never had to contend with such practicalities as the baby's diapers without any hot water. And I just didn't think about it until we get there. And another thing.... As I say, we left in a hurry, so I hadn't done a lot of reading on Hong Kong and I wasn't aware that there was a water shortage in Hong Kong, until we hit Taiwan. Bob's family had family friends from China days on Taiwan and we spent several days with them, you know. Just a delightful time. And they had a...an interesting bathroom with just a bamboo tube coming in an aperture in the wall with a stream diverted through that bamboo shoot into the wash basin and out the wash basin, at the bottom, and then another branch of the shoot went into the bathtub, which was like a huge earthen vat, not long but sort of round. And it was hot, and this lovely cool water. And we mentioned how interesting it was to us to have this just plain really running water. You couldn't turn it off. It was just a stream going through there. And they said, "Yeah, you won't have that in Hong Kong." And I said, "No, its probably more sophisticated." She said, "No, you won't have water, period." "What?" It never dawned on me. Well, for most of the time that we were in Hong Kong, we had water at the most every third day, and for a great period of time it was for four hours every forth day. And that took some getting used to. There are not a lot of springs and wells in Hong Kong. It's an island set-up and if you dig far enough you get brackish water. So they're dependant on rain water and on a water from mainland China which can be piped in. But they were having trouble with mainland China. And they weren't too eager to let them have water. And there hadn't been a lot of rain, and the catch water basins were very low. So we always faced this shortage of water. And the first place we were taken when we got to Hong Kong was the mission headquarters. And there was a very basic apartment there which belonged or had been used by people who were on furlough. And they left just very, very little furniture and ver...almost nothing in the way of pots and pans. [Unclear phrase] we were expected to get own, of course. Everyone has his household goods. We didn't have any, though. We just came with our suitcases. And I guess one of the things that felt funniest to me was that there were no top sheets on the bed. It was very hot, so al...then the folks didn't have a lot of extra sheets that...the people who'd set it up for us. So you just put a bottom sheet on. And we slept on that mattress with a bottom sheet and it did...felt strange not to have a cover. [Both laugh.] Even if you throw a sheet off, you feel like you've got something, you know. And then no hot water to wash the diapers. And I didn't understand the metric system very well as far as weights and measures. And their canned goods all looked different, although there's plenty. Hong Kong has anything you want. It's just distributed a little differently. Until I got used to that, it was very strange.
BRALY: What about...did you have trouble, even after you learned the language, communicating, like, non-verbal kinds of communications or cultural things that you had a hard time getting used to?
CARLSON: Yes, and I'm sure, I'm sure I...I pulled little faux pas. For the first school year, we lived in Kowloon, which is a city on the mainland part of the bay...of the...the bay goes right down the middle between Victoria Island and Kowloon. My husband commuted out to the Bible school, which was an hour away by ferry, so he had to get up very early to commute, and I stayed in the city for language study. Well, we couldn't ask people to take us by the hand everywhere and not everybody spoke English. There's a lot of English in Hong Kong, but not everybody does. So I...I ran into a lot of interesting people. We finally had somebody come and help us, especially take care of the children and do some of the cooking and that type of thing, so that I could study. And she spoke Cantonese and I spoke English and that was it. And we had to communicate, and it was hilarious. She was a very, fairly intelligent woman. She was very intelligent. She was...she even had gone to school so she could read and write in Chinese. But we got some funny things that you can imagine because of...of that situation. I also learned something in that particular employee-employer relationship that had never dawned on me before. We had a woman come in to scrub the floors and wax the floors. Everything is about forty-five to fifty years behind America as far as, well, housekeeping details was concerned. So the...the way to...the solution for that is to hire somebody to help you, because you don't have the electrical gadgets and all that kind of things to deal with. Okay, so this woman, who spoke another dialect altogether, came to scrub the floors, wax the floors, do the windows, the heavy work. I was wanting to have her know about the Lord. I couldn't talk to her. So I asked her to go to church. One [unclear word] and she just laughed at me. And finally, through dint of much talking and asking questions, I discovered the reason. She lived a hand to mouth existence. What she earned from cleaning she spent that day to eat. If she didn't work, she literally didn't eat. So when would she go to church? That meant that she wouldn't work. That meant that she didn't eat. And I had never quite run into that kind of a thing before. Anybody that I'd ever hired or worked with in Ecuador had always been given a day off, or maybe a day and a half day off a week. But she never could never do that or she would be hungry. So of course the obvious solution was to hire her to come on Sunday and give her the time off. Even then it didn't always work, because then she could take the money and go have a little bit ahead and not go to church. And I you know, I...I found it hard to blame her for that.
BRALY: [Pauses.] What are some of the major differences you saw between the Hong Kong people and the Americans, and then also between the Hong Kong people and the Ecuadorians?
CARLSON: Well, there are many different people in Hong Kong. It was a British crown colony, with definite cross cultural differences there between even the motherland and the [unclear word] the colonies, which is another whole subject, really. I think for the first time in Hong Kong I saw myself as a barbarian. It dawned on me that I was dealing with a culture that was a millennia older than mine. And that they were very courteous to me. They never overtly said, "You raw heathen, you." [Laughs.] But the Chinese attitude is.... The name for the country is the Middle Kingdom, the center of the Earth. And certainly their civilization is very, very old. And they've been at it many, many centuries more than we have. And every once in a while I would just see a little shade of expression that made me realize that, in fact, wow, I was [door closes] the raw newcomer, the barbarian, the one to whom they were being courteous. And they were very courteous. But it's quite a different feeling from being the one who is teaching, from being the person who has the information, who has the sophistication, who has the knowledge to impart, to discover that, in fact, you are quite a johnny-come-lately. [Chuckles.]
BRALY: And then what about the between the...the Hong Kong people and the E...Ecuadorian?
CARLSON: They look at things from a...a very different viewpoint. [Pauses.] The Ecuadorian people are brought up in a Catholic community. The Hong Kong people are brought up in Taoism, and Buddhism, and all kinds of varieties thereof. So it's usually...so it's a...it's quite a different religious background. I've never found, in either place, that people were not courteous and gracious. They were religious...most...well, they were [unclear phrase] people in most cases, very different. So [unclear]....
BRALY: Um-hmm. Both in Ecuador and Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Both, both. [Pauses.] Very gracious people.
BRALY: You just mentioned that many of the Hong Kong people were Taoist, Buddhist, stuff like that. What was the predominant religion in Hong Kong and...and how did they accept Christianity as opposed to a religion that had been long established there?
CARLSON: I think one of the strong characteristics of the Chinese people is practicality, pragmatism. And many people...many Chinese people would accept, being a British Crown Colony, that it was really to their advantage, and this is not...I...I don't mean this in a bad way, but simply to their advantage to become social Christians, if you want to call it that way, because it...that's where they were living. But this is...this kind of thing, I think, has been quite common throughout. I'm not an expert on Chinese history, but my impression is that the religion of China has a lot of accretions from various philosophies and religions and they kind of mix it all up. And if a little is good, more is better. This kind of thing. Th...a...that...this was pretty well illustrated to us. Maybe this story will tell you the...the feeling I have about Hong Kong religion. Across the street from us on Cham Chau [?], which is where the seminary was, the island out, a fishing village mentality, a resort feeling, because people went out there, even though it wasn't elegant. [It was] a way to get away from the big city. Okay. A man across the street had died. An old man. He had made his fortune in Peru. Many Chinese people would leave the mainland or their village and go out and then make the money, send it back, and then eventually come home to retire. That's what he had done. And he spoke Spanish because he'd grown up...he had been down in Peru, his son had grown up in Peru, he spoke Spanish. So I had a lot of fun with them. When the old gentleman died, they gave him a Catholic mass, because he had adopted Catholicism in Peru, but his old wife was Taoist and she was not comfortable with that. So the son said, "Why shouldn't I do something that makes my mother happy?" He also was nominally a Catholic. So they had the paper models made that are part of the funeral practice for the Taoist. Most intricate and beautifully made paper house with all the furniture. Beautifully crafted. It takes great skill to make those and they're not cheap. Although they...they don't...aren't nearly as expensive as the labor would indicate, because labor is cheaper there. That...the house...they had paper servants with a tray on their hand with the cellophane glass attached to the tray. They had paper watchdogs. They had a paper ferry a...an exact replica of the ferry that we rode back and forth on to Hong Kong. They had a bridge which was the bridge between purgatory and paradise. The house was elegant. They had gardens, they had flowers, they had everything all everything made of paper. And the Taoist priest came and did their chants and their singing and [unclear word]. And they burned this all. Oh, lots and lots of paper money [?]. Because he had gone to the world of the dead, maybe, and they wanted to send this to him so he would have it there. And he had...would be able to use this, the house, the servants, everything until he crossed the bridge to paradise, where he'd no longer need it. Well, that satisfied the little old lady. But it was such a mixture of what they had learned of Catholic Christianity and the Taoism and it didn't seem in conflict or [unclear phrase] contradictory.
BRALY: Um-hmm. [Pauses] What did you miss the most when you were in Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Eventually, space. Hong Kong is beautiful. We lived on an island, surrounded by the sea, the beach. There were not many trees. During the Japanese War, they had been cut down, so it was a little bit barren. But, on the whole, it was lovely. Our children had their own [paper rustling] pirates cave, a real one. There'd been real pirates there. They had...we could give them a Hong Kong dollar, which was then six to a U.S. dollar, and they could go down town and come back laden with stuff that kids love. So we were very, very happy there. But Hong Kong colony itself is small. And the land...the usable land is an even smaller percentage of that. And of course there were millions and millions of people there. And the only way to go is up. So they had a lot of high-rises. They would cut of the top of a mountain and put it into the sea and built out a place to build more city. Always the sound of building. Always the sound of people, people, people. [Paper rustling.] I did not realize until we left on our way back to the States.... We had been there for seven years in a row then. And I had only been out of the colony for one very brief trip to Macao, which was a short distance away and by sea again. And that was another small area. So I had not been on an expense...expanse of land for seven years. We went to Taiwan and got on a train and drove for four hours in one direction with land on either side, and with the rice fields. Beautiful green. The...the Portuguese name for Taiwan is Formosa, which means "beautiful," and it is a beautiful island. And I...I found myself crying. And I realized then that it had been a long, long time since I'd seen that much land. And it was like the spring let loose, and that we missed.
BRALY: A lot of land reclamation was being done in Hong Kong in the early sixties to ease the congestion in the central district. Well, like for instance.... And also in the late sixties the...like the Clever [?] Cove seale...inlet was sealed off, drained, and filled with fresh water. Were huge projects such as these really helpful and was it because of this...this lack of water and lack of land that you mentioned earlier?
CARLSON: Yes. The British government, in combination with their Chinese counterparts, really had excellent schemes for meeting the needs of the colony. And, as I say, they cut the top of a mountain, put it into the sea and then built on that. And it gave them room at the top of the mountain and it gave them room at the edge of the sea. And our daughter has been back, and my husband just got back from Hong Kong, and he says we wouldn't recognize the waterfront. There's another whole city block...I think even two city blocks all along the strip that've been filled in. And this is the way Hong Kong can and does grow. And the Clever [?] Cove reclamation was very useful. It...it was a way to get more storage of water and I think the water problem isn't nearly so severe as it was when we were there. [Paper rustles.] [Pauses.] I think it's interesting that the Hong Kong government is one of the few governments in the world that's remained in the black. Not in the red, in the black.
BRALY: What does that mean? [Laughs.]
CARLSON: It means that they...they are not in debt. In fact, they are ahead of the game.
BRALY: Oh. How did they manage that?
CARLSON: Well, shrewd management and just simply refusing to finance more than they can handle. And of course it is a ver...highly industrialized colony. And it...there's just scads and scads of business there. And so that's the way it goes.
BRALY: [Pauses.] How did your children adjust to living in a foreign environment?
CARLSON: [Plane or train noise.] A little bit hard at first on our six year old daughter, our oldest child, because she went directly from American kindergarten into Hong Kong second grade. The Chinese start...like the British, start their children at five years of age in first grade. And that was her...she started fi...at five years of age in kindergarten. And when they placed her, they didn't place her according to her background. They placed her according to her age. It was hard for her. Fortunately, both her parents had been teachers of one sort or another, so she got a lot of help at home, and she'd been.... She had no problems as far as her abilities were concerned so she did make it [paper rustles] quite well. And she made up that year and was always a year ahead. But that's a little tough on...on a child, to leave all known friends and then hit a school where you're a year behind everybody else. She did very well though, in...in time, and adjusted very well. And the others didn't know they were in a foreign country. That was home. And it rapidly became home for her too.
BRALY: Was there anything you did while raising your children because of your experience as an MK?
CARLSON: Um-hmm. [Pauses.] When we were interviewing in New York with the Christian and Missionary Alliance to go to Hong Kong, they asked me (they interviewed us separately) about how I would feel about sending my children away to school, because it's a policy of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, if there are not local schools, that the children are sent to a Christian Missionary Alliance school, where the children get a good education. And I just sort of chuckled to myself because I didn't ever expect it to happen. We were in Hong Kong where there was the British school system. But even so, I very honestly said that I felt that I'd been on both on sides of that fence. I've been a child in a schoo...a boarding school, and I knew that children could survive and thrive. So I figured it was...I could handle it and that there were many positive things about that, as well, to go along with the hard ones. And they all seemed quite pleased with my answer. But, as I say, internally I didn't ever expect that my children would be sent away. Well, when we moved from the city to the island, there were no English schools on that island, only Chinese schools. And to have a child commuting an hour...an hour each way, it would have been asking them to spend most of their life in a boat...school and boat, and we couldn't do that to them. So we asked permission and were granted permission to use the Calvert System. I don't know if you're familiar with this. It's like a correspondence school in that they send everything to you and a parent can teach his own child. We were not allowed to do that by the mission, but we could hire a tutor to do that. And there were English-speaking tutors there, so we did that. For a number of reasons, it was not working out by the end of the first year. I don't need to go into all that, but it was obvious that a change had to be made, and it couldn't be made gracefully to another tutor. So [train noise and whistle] we decided to send our daughter Bobbie [Roberta] to a school for missionary children in Dalat [Sarawak in Borneo, a British crown colony?]. And she went off very cheerfully. After her first semester, she knew what it was to be away from home and she...the day that she was supposed to go back.... She had come home for Christmas. She was to go back on Monday. On Sunday morning as we went out for...to church.... She had said a few things, but we just sort of brushed over it. She just stood in the middle of her room and she said, "Mother, I am not going back to school. I'm not ever going to leave home again." And that really tore me up because, of course, it brought back all my feelings of the times when I had felt that way, even though I might have come out on the other side of this topic. We went to church and the first hymn was "Trust and Obey," which I found it very difficult to sing. By the end of the church service.... I don't remember the sermon at all because I wasn't listening. I was too sore of heart. [Pauses.] One way or another, it was all right. I didn't understand how, and I didn't know what I was going to tell our little girl. We went home for lunch and the director of the seminary, this Dr. Newberg [?], who we never knew before, came out from the city. He'd been in a church service there [paper rustles] and brought our mail, as often people who came from the city brought the mail there to us. We had no telephone, nor any of that type of thing and it was all pretty much hand-carried. And he said, "Here's your mail. Oh. And there's a piece of news from headquarters that...that probably doesn't mean a thing to you, but I promised I'd pass it along." He said because of the war in Vietnam, which was then heating up, the school for missionaries' children in Dalat [?] was being closed. It would actually be held somewhere else. And if you could find another way to teach [?] your children, you're welcome to do so. Well, I...he must have thought we were either stunned or crazy because we just were very, very over...overwhelmed by this provision. My husband's parents by that time had come out and retired in Hong Kong. And his mother is a qualified teacher. So she simply picked up the Calvert materials and taught the kids. But that was a very, very critical time in my life.
BRALY: [Paper rustles] [Pauses.] What was it like to have a baby in Hong Kong?
CARLSON: [Laughs.] Well, I was as healthy as a horse for one thing. Well, no, not all the time. We almost lost her [paper rustles] in the early months of pregnancy. But after that was over, I was fine. But the island was an hour by boat from...from the city of Victoria, which is called Hong Kong side in Hong Kong parlance, and then it was another half-hour, forty-five minutes to the hospital where I was to deliver. So we decided to go in a couple weeks early and I stayed at the mission headquarters, which is just a block and a half or so from the hospital, two blocks from the hospital. It was very handy. That was all fine. It worked out well. It was the first time that I had had anesthesia in childbirth, because the doctor who attended me there was a Ssouthern gentlemen who couldn't stand to see a person work even, let alone hurt at all. And he just slammed the mask on my face and I was gone. And I didn't account for that when they bought...brought Carrie [Carol Grace] in to me the first time. She was so floppy and flaccid and I by then was thirty-eight years old. And I was afraid she was mentally retarded, but it was the effect of the anesthesia on her. Then when that wore off [unclear], she's never given any evidence of being retarded since. So that...that was kind of an interesting thing. It was fun when we took her back to the island. We had a little push-cart that we put her in, because everything was on foot on the island. There were no...there was no motorized traffic at all. And the first Sunday I took her to church, she was lying on her tummy and it was quite sunny so I'd put a little light blanket over her head just to keep the sun off while we were walking along. And a bunch of children from an orphanage called "The Home of [unclear]," which was just up the way from us, had come down for Sunday school. And they were all clamoring around, "Oh, the baby, the baby, the baby." And could they see her? So I took the blanket off and they all leaned over to look. And one little girl looked up with the most astonished look on her face. She said, "Why, she's a little Western baby." [Both laugh.] I don't know what she expected. So we had a lot of fun with that.
BRALY: How was being the nurse at the seminary different than being a nurse on Wheaton campus?
CARLSON: Well, the whole attitude of Chinese people toward medicine is different from Western medicine. Now, I'm talking about the ones I was working with. I can't speak for all Chinese people. But they tend to manage their own illness and their own medicine and they shop around. And you really have to inquire very carefully to find out how many medicines they are taking, because they don't tell you. And they don't seem be aware of the fact that two medicines could get each other in trouble. [Laughs.] I remember one situation. One of our teachers had a...an ulcer and she was taking pills for it which would dissolve in the mouth and coat the lining the stomach. One of the students developed an ulcer and the doctor gave him a liquid. Sort of that chalky liquid type stuff that you take to settle your tum. And he didn't like the taste. So this lady said, "Well, my pills don't taste bad. Why don't you try them?" So he took her pills, never inquiring as to whether they were suited for him or not, and they didn't help him at all. So he went and complained to the doctor, when he wasn't even taking the medicine that the doctor gave him. [Laughs.] Which to me was rather indicative of the mentality of people there. They really do kind of manage things themselves. And you better look at it from that viewpoint and gain their cooperation and explain why you're doing what, and in a sense, they own the procedure that you're doing before you expect them to carry it out. So it was interesting. [Chuckles.]
BRALY: Did you find your nursing services in demand?
CARLSON: Oh, yes. It was...yes. Another characteristic of the Chinese people is that they do like professional attention. And [they] usually have a doctor, or a...an acupuncturist, or a masseuse, or somebody that is to be caring for their physical well being.
BRALY: Earlier you mentioned that Bob had a one-hour commute from the island to the city?
BRALY: I'm a little confused. Isn't the city of Hong Kong on an island or...?
CARLSON: Okay. When you land on Hong Kong, you land on an airstrip which goes right out into the sea like a...a big long toothpick which is attached to the mainland of China. There...on that area is a city called Kowloon, which means nine dragons. At the edge of the city or really almost in...in the middle of the city [train noise] starts the New Territories which are rented from China. They have a long term lease with the government of Hong Kong. The main city of Kowloon and the island of Victoria, on which the city that most people call Hong Kong is built...it's really the city of Victoria on Hong Kong Island. In Hong Kong they call it Hong Kong Side. It's...that's like a great big lump in the bay. The sheltered harbor is between it and Kowloon. And then out west of this an...well, all around it, all areas around, are smaller islands. You go out through a kind of a sheltered, not a channel, but a long, long harbor and then out into a...the China sea and there are islands around it. Okay. So we would get on the ferry on Hong Kong Island where the city of Victoria is and ride for one hour to get out to one of these smaller islands out there, which is where the seminary is. Hong Kong is made up of a bunch of islands and this strip on the mainland.
BRALY: Um-hmm. Why did you live so....why did you choose to live so far away from the seminary the first year?
CARLSON: That was for my language study.
BRALY: Oh, I see.
CARLSON: And for schooling for the kids.
BRALY: I see.
CARLSON: And it turned out to be very impractical. So we eventually moved out to the island, which was our choice. We could have stayed there if we had been willing to not be a part of the seminary really very much at all. My husband could have gone out as a community teacher. Then he would have had extra time with his students. We would have had very little time with his students. And we really didn't feel that it would be doing the job. So we moved out there.
BRALY: When did you have...most often have opportunities just to share Christ?
CARLSON: [Pause.] Hmm. Well, I suppose much of our contact, or our so-called ministry, was with people who already were Christians in the teaching setup. Which would be more nurturing and discipleship, just as you would at any Christian college. However, we also...I taught Sunday School to Chinese girls. We...I did child evangelism type work and did training programs for Chinese teachers. It took me a while to...to be able to speak, you know, to be able to communicate verbally. So I would suppose that we were really very much on display as to how we behaved and how we acted. And what kind of witness that was I wouldn't...I wouldn't know how to judge, because I wasn't watching me. [Both chuckle.] I think just about everybody knew that we were Christians. They assumed that any Westerner was. But to give that genuine content, we worked through our students and with our students and occasionally had chance to speak and teach ourselves.
BRALY: Do you think that the fact that you were a foreigner then helped or hindered your work?
CARLSON: Oh, in a sense...well, in one sense it helped, because in the areas in which we were teaching, westerners were accepted experts in that area. It hindered in that it was harder to communicate. But in Hong Kong westerners are very well accepted.
BRALY: Hmm. [Pauses.] Did the various mission boards work together in Hong Kong?
CARLSON: They had an inter-mission fellowship. A lot of...well, they had a Keswick, a meeting where everybody got together for a deeper life conference back at the.... We didn't get to a lot of that because we were out on the island. Those were...those activities were very prominent in the city area. But we did go occasionally. We tried to take a vacation time, for instance, during February because it was a very good time to...to refresh.
BRALY: Were all the Christian churches in Hong Kong originate...started by foreign missionaries, or were there any indigenous churches?
CARLSON: Oh, very, very many started and maintained by Chinese. Their original contact, either...either their personal contact or through their family contact, would have been eventually back through the years to some foreign influence because Christianity was brought to the attention of the Chinese by foreign people. But many, many churches there are begun, staffed, grow, supported entirely by Chinese people.
BRALY: Did these Hong Kong Christians have any connections with the Christians in mainland China there?
CARLSON: Yes. At the time we were there, things were still pretty tense and we...you...you were very cautious about exposing people in China as Christians because they were under very strong persecution. This was before and...and at the beginning of the Red Guard movement, which was really very...the Cultural Revolution was very, very hard on...even harder than it had been before. Our first helper in the home was a Christian, had become a Christian in Hong Kong. Her parents were landowners in China, and her father saw what was coming and got out just before his whole area was taken over by the Communists. And she also fled to Hong Kong in order to earn money to send back to her mother who had a lot of other children, her brothers and sisters. When the Communists took over they said, "Landowners are no good. You can't have as much land as you want. The people are going to divide it up." It was...they weren't big land ho...holders, but they had a farm. So the mother said, "Of course." She had nothing else to say. And the day before they were going to divide up the stock and the land and everything else and set it for the next day, the cow died. Why? I never was absolutely certain. But the mother was accused of killing it in order to keep from giving it to the people and she was put in jail. And when Ei Yung [?], our helper, went in to visit her family, which she could do as a woman.... She was not liable to the military conscription. Chi Qu [?], who was a Christian, told her mother, and her mother readily accepted what she had to say and became a Christian. But she didn't dare tell her brothers and sisters because they would tattle on her. They were brought up in the...in the village school. And they were spies in their own home. And that was a terrible thing for her.
BRALY: Did any of this revolution drift into Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Yes. In fact, there was a...a lot of tension just as we were leaving, the last year we were there. The Red Guards were very active. In fact, I...I remember seeing a bunch of people, younger people, one of them out in front with the little red book, reading the thoughts of Mao and the group behind him giving a demonstration. But it was never very heartily entered into. Everyone in Hong Kong was too comfortable. They didn't want it to be taken over, but they had to go through the motions. And the Hong Kong government was very, very much in charge. The Hong Kong police were excellent. They had training in...riot training and they had it very well in hand. But it was very carefully staged and orchestrated so that it would get in the papers so the people back in China would know that they had done ther...what they ought to do. Otherwise they couldn't...you know, the local cadre would have been in trouble.
BRALY: Un-huh. [Pauses.] Did your standard of living match the economic standard of the people you worked with?
CARLSON: Then I would have to say, "Which people I worked with?" Because we worked with people who were so wealthy we would never in this world aspire to have that much money. We also worked with people who slept...rented bed space only. There's a very broad spectrum of economic wealth in Hong Kong. We lived very simply by American standards. To some people we were very wealthy because, in fact, we each had a...our children had...the boys had a bedroom and Carrie [Carol Grace] and Bobby [Roberta] had a bedroom, we had a bedroom. Three bedrooms for one family, when a lot of people were living in one room. So if...it very much depends on who you were with. As I say ther...we had friends and...whose homes were palaces.
CARLSON: [Pauses.] This was a problem for me, where we fit. And it...it bothered me that there were...that I looked so rich to so many people. And yet we did live very simply by American standards and even by the standards of many westerners there.
BRALY: [Pauses. Paper rustles.] So did you find that the country was relatively industrialized compared to, like, China?
CARLSON: Oh, yes. Hong Kong is industry, manufacturing, consumer goods producing and handling. That is the raison d'etre for Hong Kong. A commercial, industrial complex. Enough farming to keep some people there fed, but it's not a farming area, its not agricultural as such.
BRALY: Hmm. So how do they get their food products?
CARLSON: The...wherever they could grow them there, they'd have truck gardens and some rice paddies, and so forth, but from all over southeast Asia, from China, from Macao, from the Philippines, from Taiwan, from...our peanut butter came from South Africa. They called it "Rombunchi [?] Butter." [Laughs.]
BRALY: What U.S. influence did you see in Hong Kong economically, socially, and politically?
CARLSON: [Pauses.] Hard to say. There were some American companies working there, but Hong Kong is a British Crown colony, and the British influence is much stronger. There's a large American legation there. Not an embassy. In fact, it may be a consulate only, a consulate general. I can't remember exactly what it's classification was. And I'm not sure what it is now. But there were many Americans there in business. But the British were the ones in charge and the Americans would only be in charge of their own businesses.
BRALY: 1964 was considered the year of typhoons in Hong K...Kong, and in 1966 there was a d...disastrous rain storm which caused massive flooding. How did natural catastrophes such as these affect the people's lives?
CARLSON: Very, very much. Those typhoons hit the people who could least take it the most, because they're always...even with the...the resettlement areas that the British government has put up...the Hong Kong government has put up, there're always squatter areas for people...more and more people coming in and take a little bit tin and board and put up a shelter and live there. Those are the ones that get swept away. And they didn't have much to begin with. In that rain storm that you mentioned, it wasn't just those people who suffered, however, because the massive mud movement down the mountain side swept away high rise buildings too and cars and there were...just as if a...a sluice went down the street and swept cars with it and they were all piled up at the bottom of the street. There was really a lot of damage then. As far as typhoons are concerned, you simply do the best you can to batten down the hatches. They usually watch the compass, so you only have the wind coming from one direction at a time to worry about. But it does make the rain go horizontally. It whips it so hard, so it just forces it through the cracks of the...around the windows. We had glasses on our bathroom window for...where we put our toothbrushes and they were just filled with water. The windows were all tightly shut...
CARLSON: ...and we had walls that were a couple of feet thick, stone walls with a mortar, something to hold the stones together. And as the storm went on we would see the outline of those stones on the inside of the walls as the rain came through the mortar, and outlined them. It was just driven right through. So it...it's a devastating, very awesome, awe inspiring thing to go through a typhoon.
BRALY: Did these natural disasters provide a good opportunity for Christians...for the Christian witness there?
CARLSON: Yes. There was always a lot of relief work and a lot of sharing. The Mennonite Central Committee has, at...from the time we were there, had a regular depot were they sent relief packages and did a very helpful work. In that line they used to give us consignments of the packages to give out as well. And this was very, very helpful to the people. And...and there were others as well. And the government helped. It's a very well organized colony.
BRALY: And did the people seem to appreciate this [unclear]?
CARLSON: Yes, yes, there...one of the major virtues in China is gratitude and gift giv...giving. This is all very...I mean, an ungrateful person just is not acceptable. So, yes, they do indeed. That's a [chuckles]...a little dangerous. When you're the last one in the string on the...on the chain of help that comes from people far away, but you're the one that actually hands out the package to the person, they tend to thank you. And if you're not careful, you can get to feel like maybe you're the one who did it. And it ha...becomes a...a discipline, a spiritual discipline, to recognize that all things come from God's hands and to make that very, very clear.
BRALY: Why did you finally leave Hong Kong?
CARLSON: Why? Our furlough had been due two years before and there hadn't been anybody to take over in the school and so it was time. So we...we came back to the States for our regular leave. It was not possible for us to return for a number of reasons. [phrase unclear] standards at that time and various health problems. And there were a number of other things which indicated to us that we shouldn't go back at that time. We should wait awhile. And we took a year's leave of absence and then at that time it still seemed not the time to go. And so we haven't been able to go back yet. We'd love to. I...now our kids go back and visit. Our daughters go back to visit. My husband is going back to visit. We would all like to go back. But I'm not sure when, or if we would go permanently. We are fairly well established in another area of work now. Um-hmm.
BRALY: [Chuckles.] Did you find it difficult to readjust living in...in the United States again?
CARLSON: Well, hmm. Yes and no. There's always an euphoria about coming back to the States. I remember that from childhood when we used to go back every five years. It was an exciting time. And it was part of that. And we came back to six nineteen, the house where we had gone when we were first married. So it was very familiar in coming home. This is all very lovely. Of course, we were seven years behind in slang and in current...very small local current events, and that took a...a bit of getting used to. I think for the first time coming back to Wheaton I felt at home. I felt like I was coming home. Before that I...I had always felt that I was the newcomer, because my husband's family were from Wheaton and in our church. And they were well-known and I was the new person. But this time I came back to familiar people and they made us very welcome, and it was on the whole it was a very happy experience [chuckles].
BRALY: What do you see for the future of Christian work in Hong Kong?
CARLSON: I see more and more that the Chinese themselves are amply well prepared to take it...take care of it, and are in fact doing it well. That...there may always be room for fraternal relationships and work just because it is a British crown colony so far. And...in about twenty years when you(?) revert to China, at that time there'll be a reassessment. Although there has been a lot of ground work laid and many, many capable Chinese leaders. But Hong Kong is....there's a little pamphlet about Hong Kong called the "Probity[?] of People." And that's both a problem, and a challenge, and an opportunity. People abound in Hong Kong and they keep coming and they keep coming, so that there're always many, many more people coming each day.
BRALY: Finally, I would like to know does all your cross-cultural experience help you in your present work with the HNGR program [clears throat] at Wheaton College?
CARLSON: Well, I suppose any experience, cross-cultural or just plain having been through a bunch of things, informs you for your next move. I think it's helpful to have lived in a number of countries and traveled a number of places so that I am well aware and hope I can communicate that there are many different right ways of doing things. And you don't have to say, "Just because it's different, it's wrong." And, having had a...a variety of experiences, I'm well aware of that. The languages help and just plain knowing people all over the world helps, because [unclear phrase] in global resources program places students everywhere. And you never know where there will be a friend that you have need [of] or can help you find the right spot [unclear phrase]. So all that is useful. It's nice to be able to pick up the phone and to call someone in South America, handle it with ease. And it's just very, very heartwarming to still be in touch with the ends of the earth. At my age and stage of things, it's not likely that I will very many overseas again, but I...I enjoy seeing that experience extended to students. It's really very, very heartening.
BRALY: Are there any final comments that you'd like to make?
CARLSON: I think you did a great job at this. [Both laughs.]
CARLSON: I could talk an awful lot about the very joyful, joyful enriching experiences that God has given me. I really do thank Him. Sometimes I have envied people who have lived in the same place and have roots, have always lived in the same house. I can't imagine what that would feel like. You read of the great houses in England where people have lived for centuries in the same place, but on the whole I think I rather be me [chuckles].
BRALY: And there's much more of that...that could be found out about your life. I didn't even get to ask everything that I....
CARLSON: Well, how in the world can you go through the many...the many years, the ins and outs, and the nooks and crannies. I...I appreciate the opportunity to rehearse it, to [pauses]...to the glory and...and with great gratitude to God, because I really am grateful for what He's brought into my life.
BRALY: Well, thank you very much.
CARLSON: Thanks, Esther. It's been fun.
END OF TAPE