The Adventures of Tingye Li

Scott Cohen, Fourth Grade, May 26, 2000

Growing up during World War II was not easy for young Tingye. He ran as fast as he could toward the air raid shelter in the dark of the night. His mother, Lily, had had enough of the struggle against the Japanese. It was the fall of 1937 in Nanjing. One day she said, “Tingye, we are very lucky, we are moving with the government to Chungking, because your father works for them. Chungking is a good place to escape to because it has high mountains, which will slow down the Japanese.” Tingye was relieved and thankful.

A few years later, when he was 12, Tingye learned about his next move. His father, Chao, got a new job as Chinese consul general in Vancouver, Canada. His mother took him, his brother and sisters, with a family tutor and cook to join his father in Vancouver. It was a long trip to Vancouver. They flew out of Chungking over mountains to Calcutta, India. From there they took a train to Bombay. Tingye looked out from the window and saw the strange Indian countryside. He had never been outside of China before. Next they boarded a captured Italian liner that the United States turned into a troop transport ship. From being on the ship, Tingye felt like he wanted to be an admiral when he grew up. The ship headed for Los Angeles via Australia. The long journey took 37 days. They had to dodge Japanese submarines. The ship ahead of them was sunk by a Japanese sub. Every moment after that Tingye was scared that they might be sunk and his short life would be over. Luckily they made it there safely to Vancouver, where Tingye had to go to a different grade school. Tingye did not know much English, but before he entered the school, he made sure he knew how to say “Where is the bathroom?”

In 1948, when Tingye was 17, his father got a new job as Chinese consul general in Johannesburg, South Africa. To get to South Africa, they needed to take the train to New York and then from there a boat to South Africa. Tingye thought to himself, “More traveling!” But he knew that it was a great experience for him. Tingye went to the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study electrical engineering. Those four years in the university were some of the best times in his life. (The other times have been having me as a grandchild!)

In January 1953, after finishing up his last year of college, Tingye and his brother T.K. went to the U.S. to further their studies. They took a passenger ship to England. After a wet and wild ride, they landed in Southampton. Next they took a train to a “dark, cold, damp and foggy London,” where they did a lot of sightseeing. Then they crossed the English Channel to Holland to visit a good friend and then went to France. They stayed at the Chinese embassy with Dr. Tuan, who was his father's good friend and ambassador. Tingye was happy to be with a good friend of his father's. At lunch, Tingye stared in amazement as Mrs. Tuan peeled a pear and an orange with a knife and fork without ever touching the fruit with her hands! After their visit in France, they returned to Southampton, where they boarded the Mauretania, one of the most beautiful Cunard ocean liners, and headed for New York. Many of the passengers on board were sea sick, but Tingye and his brother tried to enjoy the huge amounts of food. They did not miss a single meal.

In Chicago Tingye went to Northwestern University, where he met his future wife and my grandmother, Edith Wu. There Tingye “wooed Wu and won Wu.” After getting his Ph.D. and marrying Edith on June 9, 1956, Tingye took his first and only job at Bell Labs in New Jersey. At Bell Labs Tingye worked on lasers and optical communications. His greatest accomplishment was the introduction of wavelength division multiplexing technology that helps carry telephone, television and Internet information both on land and across the ocean.

Tingye lived in New Jersey until he retired. In New Jersey he and Edith raised their two daughters, my mother and Aunt Kathy. Now Tingye and Edith live in Boulder, Colorado, near my Aunt Kathy, her husband and their children, Michael and Jessica. Another accomplishment Tingye is proud of is to get Jessica to give him a kiss. The reason why he thinks this is a great accomplishment is because she only gives kisses to her Mom. Tingye is still working as a consultant and traveling. He loves to ski and be with his grandchildren. My grandfather loves to tell stories about his exciting adventures as a child and I love to listen to him, and wish I could have been with him and lived the life of Tingye Li.




 



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