War stories no longer told
Surviving WWII vets who fought against the Japanese say young people are not interested in their heroic acts
At the age of 86, Mr Liu Chun-sing looks like any other man in his 80s: lean, diminutive, and thin-haired. His wizened hands are not special either except for his right thumb, which bends backwards and hints at a different story – his past as an anti-Japanese guerrilla during World War II.
"You can never fire a Mauser pistol unless you cock the hammer really hard before squeezing the trigger," Mr Liu said. "My thumb bone is permanently deformed after I repeated the same action countless times."
When he was 15, he dropped out of school in Hong Kong and joined the fight against Japanese troops in Guangdong. A front-line commando during the war, he has lost count of how many times he had been wounded. Beneath his wrinkled skin, fragments of grenade are testimony to his turbulent past.
There were many young Hong Kong fighters like him, but of those who survived the war, as few as 130 are still alive in Hong Kong. Most of them are well into their 80s and 90s. Like many other elderlies in the city, they face the seemingly inescapable fate of detaching from the fast-walking younger generations.
"They're much too busy," said Mr Liu, the father of four sons and eight grandchildren. Mr Liu lives on his own in an apartment in Sheung Shui and has spent years of Spring Festival alone. His eyes, though, gleamed with pride when he talked about his family.
Eventful his past may seem, Mr Liu has told his children few of his stories. "They show no interest in listening to my stories, nor did I talk much," he said.
Not that he is not keen on telling stories. Serving as the manager of the Old Veterans' House, an organisation that caters to local veterans, he spends much of his free time on writing a memoir.
"My children and grandchildren will know my stories by reading it, after I'm laid to rest," he said.
Occasionally, Mr Liu would drop by at a shoe shop in the neighbourhood to chat with the shopkeeper Ms Tse Chin-chi, sharing his fighting stories – sometimes more than twice.
"It could be kind of boring at times," she says, "but I will not interrupt him, since it's reasonable for an 86-year-old man to behave like this."
Mr Peter Choi, a 91-year-old veteran who served at the British Garrison Forces, is the president of the World War II Veterans Association. His job is to manage the association's clubhouse, in Causeway Bay, that accepted members of World War II veterans before the membership requirement changed to accept all local veterans.
The number of members of the association had halved in recent years, vice president Mr Leung Hing-chuen said.
"All of the old soldiers are in their 90s. It means that most of them can just be found lying on beds in hospitals and nursing houses," he said.
Mr Leung is one of several middle-aged veterans volunteering at the association who chat with Mr Choi every now and then.
"Living alone, Mr Choi just wants to have someone to talk with," he said. "Most of Mr Choi's veteran buddies have died over the last 20 years. Obviously, it's easy for him to feel lonely."
A single father who received no formal education, Mr Choi brought up his six children on his own, who are mostly working professionals who earn decent incomes. Still, they are too busy to spend time with their father. In fact, money is rarely a concern for the old veterans; loneliness is.
"Thanks to the social welfare system, the old veterans do not lack money," said Mr Kent Shum Wing-kin, a social worker who has served World War II veterans for nearly a decade. "The major problem is that they feel lonely with nobody keeping them company."
Most senior citizens in Hong Kong, he said, face the same issue, with their children being too exhausted at work and spending little time with their folks. There was also a wide generation gap between the elderlies and their children, as their lifestyles were poles apart, he said.
Mr Leung of the World War II Veterans Association said the future of the organisation was unclear. But he was sure about one thing. "The veterans would like to enjoy the rest of their life peacefully," he said. "And none of them wants war again."
Reported by Celine Ge
Edited by Alan Wong
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