MY INSPIRATION FOR THE CHARACTER OF WILLIAM
In this novel, William is associated to a certain degree with K, the Korea veteran and even the veterans of California Veteran Society. But, he is also quite different from them, and even not like any veteran in reality. I endowed William with the identity and mission of a marine explorer and an excellent writer.
THE STORY OF K
In the few years before meeting the American veteran K, I had many interviews with overseas-Chinese veterans who served in the Sino-Vietnamese war and who were part of the war refugees relocated by the UN at the end of the 1970s. In those interviews, some of them were proud of the number of aircrafts they shot down and the enemies they killed, some were disappointed and felt lost, some escaped enrollment and hid in caves, staying alive by hunting and feeding on raw fish and shrimps… I was deeply moved, but I was looking for how their experiences affected their values, the lessons they learned and the way they looked at life now.
Then, very unexpectedly, I met K who in his college days got enthused by the propaganda “Fighting for Freedom and Peace”, enrolled in the army and went to Vietnam. Among his companions, some were killed, some got physically injured, and some were mentally shattered like he was. After the war, K frequently had nightmares because the bloody carnage stormed into his mind as soon as he fell asleep. With the years, he reflected more and suffered more punishment. In his middle age, like numerous veterans from the Vietnam War, he returned to Vietnam over and over again, trying to do as much as he could to help local orphans left by the War. But he felt that what he and other veterans did could only relieve their own repentance rather than eliminate the pains and damages brought to the Vietnamese. So he slid into deep thoughts and regrets, covered under a heavy mental burden, and found no one to speak of his pain. After his children grew up, he acted on an impulse to say farewell to his past life and to start a new one. And so he made the decision to leave America and to move to China where he married a Chinese woman. They enjoyed a sweet married life, but in the waves of love K didn’t recover from his illness. Being in a foreign country with a different language and culture, he encountered many difficulties to communicate and to find employment, which in return aggravated his illness.
One day, I visited a foreign affairs agency to pick up some documents. The employee told me that a lady was there with her American husband: it was K. She had had an abortion and now they were there for a divorce. I was shocked and upset. International marriage was not popular at that time, but why did they want a divorce? I saw that lady. She was young, about 30 years, looking thin, pale, sad and languished, with tears on her face. Apparently, she was experiencing a very strenuous time. Her official address was in the city but she didn’t live there. Her American husband only came to this strange southern city twice. The first time he came here to marry her and now he came to divorce her. Everyone in the agency quickly knew about it, they could not ignore this sour matter. They thought that maybe she was too impulsive and wondered how to persuade her not to do it. The employee in charge was kind-hearted and thought that there were probably difficulties the two were reluctant to mention. She was eager to know the reason but thought it inconvenient to interfere, so she tried to find an excuse to postpone it. Chinese have a habit to make peace rather than break a relationship; this is not just because of tradition, but because of wanting to safeguard love. At last, the crowd and the employee in charge urged the lady to postpone the decision. I wanted to know more about her reasons and started to speak with her. After a brief talk, she decided not to divorce. Walking out of the office, she met her husband at the door, who seemed to have lost his wits. He looked back at his woman with vacant and sad eyes. When she said that she didn’t want to divorce him, he sighed with relief, closed his eyes and hugged her. K said that he deeply loved his wife. He said he abandoned his American life and only wanted to build a new life with her, so he never thought of divorcing her.
We went to a restaurant where we had a relaxed discussion. K had told her in the beginning that he was a Vietnam veteran, that he committed crimes to the Vietnam people in his young time and that he couldn’t forgive himself. All the time, he had found no way to forget the cruelty of the battlefield. After the War, he found it more and more difficult to find peace of mind. He had suffered from melancholia for years, and it was even more serious now so he had to depend on drugs. The lady said that in everyday life he was absolutely a flawless husband, considerate, gentle and sincere. He had a broad experience and profound knowledge. Ever since she married him, her world had expanded and become more interesting, so she loved and admired him a lot. But he couldn’t bear the mental suffering in China, so he had to go back to America, although he relied on her a lot and couldn’t help thinking of her once he left China. She admitted that they loved each other and couldn’t bear to be apart from each other. Every time K went back to America, she felt empty. K wrote to her every day and even kept diaries about them as he did in their intense love period. But each time he came back to China his illness attacked him, the vicious circle started again. K was in bad moods and frequently had nightmares. Wishing to escape from the shadow of Satan, he stood at the window of his 20-storey high room; she had no way but to keep calm and retain him with her gentleness. Once he woke up from his nightmares, he begged her for forgiveness, but all this really put a heavy burden on her. She was his life partner and the only one who could help him. So, to leave him at his time meant to push him out of the window. She realized that she should stay with him to overcome this crisis together. She regretted having had the abortion, but she had to because K had taken medicine for a long time which might have been harmful to the unborn baby. Before they came to the city today, there was no doubt in their mind that their life together was over. Both of them would go their own way, which meant for K that he would go back to America. However, after dinner they returned back to the city where they lived.
If the circumstances of K’s life made me think about war, power and the human race, then what I met with later caused me to think deeper. On Facebook I am in contact with an American Veteran Association. The members are veterans from the Sino-Vietnam, Iraq War and Iran War. With time and age progressing, many people regret their actions in the countries that were labeled hostile, and some of them suffer light or heavy post-war psychological problems. Over half a century, quite a number of veterans have always been returning to the places of the battlefield, trying to do what they could do for the countries and people they had done wrong to. Some Vietnam veterans donate their profits from long-term investments in tourism to Vietnam to help local people and orphans still suffering from the consequences of the then used herbicides.
All of this encouraged me to put something in writing.
THE STORY OF THE KOREA VETERAN
At the breakfast table one morning, I talked about the details of the novel in my head, and about the Vietnam veterans I interviewed before. Rock said that the coach in his diving club fought in the Korean war before. Rock was a diver for over twenty years, and started the club together with some friends ten years ago. Rock was the editor of the club's magazine, mainly publishing articles and pictures of sea explorations, protection of marine life, diving holidays etc. In this magazine Rock published an interview he had with the Korea veteran, many years ago.
“The interview recording should still be there, I wonder if it is still good enough to listen to…” with these words, he went to the basement. Soon, he came back with the tape recording and put it in the recorder in the kitchen. The voice of the veteran could still be heard so many years later. But the interview was in a local language, and so Rock translated it for me word by word. On the tape recording the veteran explained that he did not have to join the army in his young time and that he was wondering whether he should go to college or to look for a job. One day he went to a bar with friends, everyone trying to drink more beer than the other. He vowed that he would join the army if he lost… Hearing this, I suddenly saw the light and saw that the veteran went to war just because he failed to drink more beer than his friends. He kept his promise and went to the army.
He likes telling about his young and interesting life as a new soldier, especially about the experiences that he and his comrades-in-arms had on the navy ship taking them for a voyage of three months via the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Arabian Sea, the Laccadive Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and finally to Korea, and to the war. For those young men it was an adventure, a free ride across half the globe. Compared with Columbus who discovered America, their journey to the Far East stimulated their heroic feelings and romantic thoughts about newly discovered places. So many years later, even more legendary stories have been added to the event. It is not difficult to understand his feelings during the three-month sea voyage, which was an exceptional experience for a young man who had just left school. However, what I wanted to know is what he thought about the years in the battlefield. And how he thinks now, in his old age, about his previous decisions? And what about the impact of his war experience on his mind? And how does he think about war now that it is peacetime? “Nothing! Nothing!”, Rock said, “He drops into complete silence when he is asked about his days in the frontline”.
I’d like to write my novel… I said quietly and deeply. I sensed my unusual breathing and my slightly trembling hands that were still holding fork and knife. The day had finally come that I could start my writing. A voice inside me said: “Breakfast is not over”, but I hurried to my study...