31. January 2011 · Comments Off on A Man on Fire · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags: ,
Aureliano Guterres Jorge

Aureliano Guterres Jorge

Ever since I was a small child, among the vague, scary things that sometimes came to mind was the image of a brave man trying to save another man who was on fire.   No matter how hard the man tried, he could not free the burning man.  Then a huge, flaming pillar fell on him and pinned him to the ground.

It was many years later when I realized that I must have overheard the story of how my grandfather died before I could understand it. 

My grandfather, Aureliano Jorge, was a prominent lawyer in Macau.  On February 26, 1918, he died in a fire at the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong.  He left a pregnant wife and ten children.  My mother was seven years old.

On that fateful day, my grandfather was at the racecourse with friends.  When the fire broke out, he and all but one man in his group had found an escape route.  But this man, a Japanese businessman, was trapped and on fire, screaming for help.  My grandfather, in spite of the friends who were frantically trying to stop him, rushed back to the trapped man.  A heavy pillar fell on them both.  They found my grandfather’s half-burnt gold watch, which was the only thing that identified his charred remains.

Instead of a vague scary image, I now have a heroic act and deep love for my grandfather, who in a decisive moment validated those of us who believe in the profound goodness of the human heart.


30. January 2011 · Comments Off on The Divided Well · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:
Where I grew up after my mother died when I was eight.

My grandparents’ home where I grew up, after my mother died when I was eight.

In my grandparents’ garden there was a wall that ran right over a well, dividing it exactly in half, and then continuing around the edge of the property, separating us from the house next door.   I knew that my grandfather’s brother and his family had lived there because my mother had taken me to visit him, but only once.  I knew somehow that they had gone to Portugal, but they were never mentioned.   That was a cue that questions about them were not welcome.  As a child, I played regularly in the garden and sometimes peeked at the other side of the well.  I never saw anyone.  Our gardeners did not use the well, since there were faucets outside the garage.  Who divided that well?  Who built that stupid wall between brother and brother? 

Finally, I met someone who was there and knew.   Was it the brothers?  After all, they had to pay for it.  Yes, they had to allow it.  But no, it was not their wish. Are you kidding?  That long wall burned up a lot of patacas, even in those days. But there was such a feud between their wives that they had to build a wall.  I would have moved.   But no, the women preferred the wall.  I guess it was weirdly satisfying to their hatred for each other to see that wall every day.  

The brothers met downtown or at their club.  The young cousins sneaked back and forth between the houses.   Nobody remembers what the feud was about.

That wall showed me that not everything deserves to be expressed, just because you have the means.  I also learned that ugliness can transform itself into beauty, given enough time.  Except for that weird division of the well, the wall grew old, grew mossy, and became a part of the breathtaking beauty of the garden.


Granduncle's house on other side of divided well

Granduncle’s house on other side of divided well



29. January 2011 · Comments Off on What Goes Around · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:
My grandparents and some of their children

My grandparents and some of their children

When my grandfather suddenly died at the peak of his professional life, he left his family no clue as to how they could sustain the lavish life they took for granted.  Money just flowed in and out.  They knew he had an extremely valuable stamp collection, but nobody knew where he kept it.  He and his brother shared an antique porcelain collection, but it was a hobby, and there was nothing in writing about ownership.  Most of the collection was in his brother’s house on the other side of that wall.  He was a fanatic collector who had actually been to the Chinese Emperor’s private museum.  Who knew that someday the pots would be worth more than their weight in gold?  The wall stayed up.

Then the sky fell down.  My grandmother was told that her husband kept a concubine in the penthouse above his office.  You didn’t need a DNA test to see that she had two of his children.  Another one was on the way.  All the men knew, but if any of her women friends knew, they lied and stuck to their story.  But before my grandmother could forget her manners and storm the other woman’s home to reclaim the jewelry, an angel knocked on her door.   He looked like a Chinese gentleman but she knew he was an angel from God when he told her he would take care of her family in the style to which they were accustomed – well, maybe small changes.

Why would he do that?  Because many business ventures ago, when he was still wet behind the ears in the world of business, my grandfather saw his potential and through the years helped him make his way.  Now it was his turn to return his kindness.  He would choose one of my uncles, send him to Portugal to learn his father’s profession, and support the family until my uncle could do so.

What her benefactor did not tell my grandmother, and my uncle filled in the story for me, is why my grandfather was so impressed with the young man who came for help to start a business.   He had come from hunger, literally. 

When he was 5 years old, his mother, with his baby brother tied to her back, stood on the side of the street and tried to sell him because she could not feed him anymore.  He said to her, don’t sell me, I can help you beg.  Sell the baby, because he is just going to eat.  Later, he had a job cleaning out the bowls at an opium den.  He noticed that there was always some stuff left in the bowls and figured out that if he kept the scrapings there were people who would buy that for less money.  He saved every extra cent, and eventually he owned an empire of businesses and gave to charity what he would not spend on himself.

Every Chinese New Year, this man would open his home, and every child in our extended family was welcomed with little red packets of lucky money. 

Now I knew that there are rich people who have no money and other people who don’t tell you that they have money.   Having money is not the same as having the means, and having the means is better. 

Above all, timing is everything.



28. January 2011 · Comments Off on When Love Drove Culture · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:

The guard greets my mom.  We walk up broad steps to what could be a palace, and my mom says that we are here to visit my granduncle, Tio Jose.   I have never heard of him.  I have no idea that his garden is on the other side of the divided well in my grandmother’s house.

Tio Jose kisses my mom and me on both cheeks as all our relatives do.  When my mom lets the amah refill her teacup, Tio Jose says come with me.  He starts pointing out the beautiful things that are everywhere.  He asks which I like.  I like a little box with a lid.  He nods.  That is very fine, very old.  Then he picks up another little box that is just as beautiful.  The boxes have markings underneath to tell you who made what.  All the rooms are filled with his beautiful things.  I want to remember what he is saying.   I understand that he thinks it’s important, even for a child like me, to know what he is saying.  I see a tiger that’s not like the other things.  It’s one of his beautiful things, but it’s fierce. 

But my mom is saying goodbye.  There is no talk of coming back soon, and my mom and Tio are saying goodbye as though it would be forever.  Kisses on both cheeks, tight hugs.  Tio Jose and his tiger disappear from my life.

Almost a lifetime later, I turn a page in a thick book that Tio Jose published about his Chinese art collection, and there is the tiger. 


Bronze tiger


It’s a bronze.   It has been with me all the time, the image of this tiger.  Sometimes a tiger, sometimes morphed into a roaring lion, like the one in the bible who goes about the world seeking someone to devour.   That day in my granduncle’s house my vague feelings of danger and sadness focused on that roaring tiger.   Within a year, my mother died, my granduncle left Macau, and two years later, he died in Portugal.  His enormous collection of Chinese art, which he loved to show to any visitor who asked, was scattered to the winds.  It wasn’t just the art.  It was their world.

Theirs was the story of old money in a changing world.  It’s really the same old story.   When you have more money than you need for generations, what do you do for your children?  You try to teach them how to behave in paradise (on earth) so that they get to stay there.  Good luck with that.

An optimist said, the world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be happy as kings.

Sure, but then there is that roaring tiger, both hunter and hunted.  By now you’d think kings are an endangered species, but no, they’ve just morphed and multiplied: there is King Kong, Elvis, Hollywood royalty, tenured royalty, sports for kings, and there will be kings as long as there is a numero uno.


Culture mavens

 Jose Vicente Jorge and scholars and lovers of Chinese art and culture.



by Jose Vicente Jorge

(translated by Doreen Jorge Cotton)




Disinterest is generally caused by lack of understanding.  Allow me, then, to give some understanding of these Beautiful Things which, it seems to me, ought to belong to all those who care about matters of art.

It has been a long time since the Portuguese, though motivated merely by commercial interests, were touched, in their sensibilities, by the charm of Chinese art, and made Macau a center for the export of beautiful things from China, bringing marvelous ceramics to the furthermost European markets; and others borrowed, in this way, whatever was new and extraordinary in these works of art.  This process marked, unquestionably, an epoch; and whereas interest decreased in Portugal, this did not happen in other countries, where in fact this style was stressed and without doubt is reflected in the arts of Europe.

The Orient, as is known, was always an inexhaustible fount of inspiration for Europe; at times, when it had tired of overused styles, it found in these distant regions a way to be different and strange and avidly took what it considered exotic and beautiful in the primitive arts.  Thus we will find, in many eras and in many schools, a well-marked influence of the oriental arts in music, in painting, in sculpture, in dance, in theater, in ceramics, etc., etc.

And perhaps France is the country which, through its innovative tendencies, was readiest to receive the influence of distant arts and where the greatest number of oriental motifs were explored.  The fondness with which it received the manifestations of Russian art was influenced certainly by whatever was new and unknown that reached that country, from near or far, which had on it a mark of the Orient.

Portugal, which was the first country to know the distant Orient, preferred to receive, sometimes, indirect influences, because our artists have shown absolute disinterest in all, or almost all, which is not all ready within the small limits of our continental territory, or in the dominant centers of European art.

Being limited in its field of operation, a national sentiment for art has not been readily conserved.

One of the interesting projects of the New State has been the promotion of artistic and literary works of its colonies; and mindful  that Macau is a Portuguese colony for about 400 years, and as it does not have characteristics of its own but only those which have come from  Chinese civilization, I feel obliged to add my modest understanding of Chinese art to help spark dormant interest.

 I will not dwell long, but long enough to initiate studies of what I think is valuable.

This work is not a treatise about Chinese ceramics, as I would not venture so much.

These are simply notes, taken from various books, from conversations I have had with certain Chinese collectors, among whom were the viceroy of Chili, Tuan-Fang, the minister Yuan-Shi-K’ai, who later became the president of the Chinese republic, the foreign ministers Liang-Tun-Ien, Na-T’ung, Lien Fang and Kuo-Chia-Chi, and the governor of Canton, Chan-Chec-U, with all of whom I have spoken, and was able to observe, during the long period of 50 years when I made this collection.  In the course of my official functions, I have had occasion to visit the palaces of princes and viceroys, the Imperial Palace, the museums of the emperor and the empress, where I marveled at the treasures that I saw, as much of ceramics as of other arts, all of undisputed and absolute authenticity.

I believe that when one has succeeded in overcoming the difficulties which Chinese ceramics present and can understand the motifs used in decoration, one will find a subject so absorbing and interesting that one will need no other stimulus to deepen one’s knowledge.

 If my modest work serves to help someone, in however small a way, I would be gratified for my labor, for I would not have written in vain.

Macau, September, 1940

Jose Vicente Jorge


I have about 10,000 pieces, representing the principal branches of Chinese art – ceramics, bronze, jade, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, engraving, enamel, lacquer, embroidery and furniture.

A reproduction of all the pieces would make this work very expensive and this book overly voluminous.

The pictures which follow are of the principal pieces and give a good idea of the collection, which when all is said, took me about 50 years to build.

I also found it of interest to reproduce some views of groupings, so that one can judge their decorative value.

Macau, September, 1940

Jose Vicente Jorge





My granduncle Jose’s family

27. January 2011 · Comments Off on Compassionate Hothead · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:


My mother is the little girl at the far left.


My aunt Angela married Fernando de Senna Fernandes Rodrigues, who was the eldest son in a family on which the stars fell.  This family received so much recognition for excellence in military, civic, philanthropic, and even literary achievement, it was almost an embarrassment of awards, medals and titles.  Fernando started a successful import/export company.  He was the President of the Red Cross.

He was handsome and persuasive.   He was also impulsive and a hothead.  During World War II, when the Japanese army had conquered much of China and occupied nearby British Hong Kong, some of their brass came to Macau, ignored the fact that Portugal was not in the war, and threw their weight around.  The city was overflowing with refugees.  Rice was their main food.  The Japanese profiteers worked out a way to monopolize the sale of rice and raise the price.  Fernando knew that would lead to starvation for many Chinese.  He resisted.  He organized missions to smuggle rice into Macau, which he sold at a low price.  The profiteers warned him repeatedly.  Not only did he keep smuggling the rice, he got in their face.  They put him on their death list.  He eluded them.

Everyone knew that the allies were winning and the war would end soon.  On July 10, 1945, one month before the war ended, Fernando took a chance and went to a funeral.

Fernando walked out of the St. Miguel Cemetery with his two daughters, my cousins Alina and Norma, one on each arm.  A barrage of gunfire brought him down.  Alina and Norma, who was still a teenager, were both shot.   But the gunman was not aiming at them, and they survived, even though it took months to heal their wounds.

A group of young men, students at the lyceum, tackled and subdued the gunman.   He was part of a group of mercenary collaborators with the Japanese.

Fernando left seven children.  Some of his sons and their descendants carried on the company he started.  It is still thriving today.

The Red Cross posthumously awarded him a medal:

Medalha de Louvor da Cruz Vermelha Portuguesa.


s.Miguel cemetery


S. Miguel Cemetery, crime scene.


26. January 2011 · Comments Off on Hijacked · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags: ,


My cousin Delsa da Costa lived in Hong Kong with her family (her mother was Sarah Cotton).  In 1948, she was 22 years old.  She loved her new job.  She was an “air hostess” for Cathay Pacific, a job so new and dangerous that she had just been interviewed about it for an article in Woman magazine.

On July 16, 1948, she was part of the crew that flew on the “Miss Macao” returning from Macau to Hong Kong.  Oh yes, they named the planes.  Flying was very different.  There were no seat belts, no long lines, no baggage checks, nada.  That was the problem.  Rumors had it that people stuffed their flight bags with gold bullion when they flew out of Macau to Hong Kong.   Why else would they fly that short distance? The ferry was much more fun.  It took three hours, but there was a band, dancing, food and even private cabins. The “Miss Macao” seated 23 people and had only one icebox for cold drinks.  Besides, it was amphibious and landed on the water. You had to take a boat to board the plane, but the tail of the plane had the Union Jack emblazoned on it, and everyone thought their gold would be safe.  No one thought anyone would hijack the plane.  There had been only 6 hijacking of planes in the world, and they had all been political.   This would be the first commercial hijacking.

Four pirates posing as passengers planned to fly the plane to the village of Nam Mun, loot it and abandon the passengers and crew in the rugged mountains of Seong Chong.  Something went terribly wrong.   The pilot was accidentally shot in the head and slumped over the controls.  Before the co-pilot could move his body, the plane nose-dived into the sea.  The only survivor was a pirate, who was sucked out through the port blister before the plane hit the water and turned into flotsam.  He was rescued by a fisherman in a junk.  Parts of the plane but no bodies were recovered.


 Delsa da Costa


Delsa da Costa

Captain Charles ‘Chic’ Eather has posted the definitive cloak and dagger details of this story (21 pages).


25. January 2011 · Comments Off on Anna Karenina · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:

Her name wasn’t Anna.  Her real name was whispered and her story told beneath the radar.  Not until I was old enough and crafty enough to get a copy of Tolstoy’s novel did I realize that she was “our Anna Karenina.”  All I knew was that she was a great, celebrated beauty and had two very young children and everything to lose.  She and her lover were discovered “in flagrante” – you can’t say it better than that in two words.  They took away her children immediately, and her own father refused to see her.  She was sent continents away, and that was that.   I heard nothing about a train or any other form of “You have to kill yourself first” stuff that would be the result of following the sort of crappy advice people actually said out loud.  At least that was a relief.

Then I saw a ghost!  “This is Anna,” my aunt said.  I stared at my aunt with the big question bulging from my eyeballs, “That Anna?”  She laughed.  Time had swept away many of the old taboos, not to mention people who held long grudges.  Anna was old, but from her sparkling conversation she had no senior moments that got in the way.  She had married a man many years younger than herself.  She regaled me with stories about the glittering world of her youth, which was also my mother’s world, that my mother had died too early to tell me herself.  And eventually, Anna told me the story of her heart.

Maybe I’ve become too crotchety, but I think that Anna’s story has very little chance of happening today.  Who has the time anymore to take so much from a glance behind a fan, a stolen sideways look, or a glimpse on the street, for desire to build up till you are consumed and forget that you would lose everything as well as the Bishop’s approval?  Yes, there was her never-failing wit, but I did not forget that there had been unimaginable pain and an indomitable spirit of survival.





24. January 2011 · Comments Off on Artur and the Cobra · Categories: B. Family Legends · Tags:

I shared a ground floor bathroom with my aunt Titi.  It had a window that looked straight down a narrow space between the back of the house and smooth rock that was the side of a cliff, which if you could scale would lead to a Buddhist monastery above and behind our house.  The window stayed open except during typhoons and cold spells.  No one had screens.

I was thirteen.  I opened the bathroom door and stepped inside.  On the floor under the window was what looked like a large pile of coiled garden hose.  Then it moved, slightly.  I held my breath.  Pretending to be not there, I carefully pulled back my leg, backed up and slammed the door shut.  I immediately broke two rules for ladylike behavior: Don’t raise your voice, and don’t run through the house.  “SNAKE!  SNAKE!” I screamed, “There’s a snake in my bathroom!”  Of course, I scared away the snake.

That night when the family gathered for dinner, they had a show and tell with a cobra’s head floating in a glass jar.   The snake I saw had terrified the kitchen staff, and my uncle Artur had caught and killed it.  Artur was our bachelor uncle and not a hunter.  Dancing in the night clubs was his kind of sport.   But the amahs held up the cobra head like a trophy.  Artur the Cobra Slayer!

Never mind trophy, the cobra head was valuable.  It followed the rest of the I- forget- how –many- feet- long snake to the Chinese apothecary.  The skin, the gallbladder, the meat, every last bit was used as medicine to heal people.

No wonder that was the only snake I ever saw around our house.






My uncle Artur