Survivor endured different kind of loss

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am

Few lives were changed more dramatically by the disaster than that of Ye Lunming, one of the 36 survivors and one of the few still alive. He attended the memorial event last month.

Born in 1921 and a native of Fuzhou, Ye moved from Shanghai to Taiwan after the war with his wife and family for a better life. They went into the tea business and he often travelled between Taiwan and Shanghai, sailing several times on the Taiping.

'That evening, my friends and I were sitting down to a joyful dinner, with everyone looking forward to rejoining their family in Taiwan. Then we heard a huge crash, the ship began to list and water flooded in. I could not breathe for fear but said to myself: 'I will not die'.

He swam furiously in the water and clung to a piece of wood; all around him, he heard the sound of people crying for help and weeping as they were sucked down. It was the middle of the night and the water was very cold. The vessel had a dozen lifeboats but there was no time to launch them. 'Some people were very bad. They had their own small boat and would not let anyone else board it. I am a devout Buddhist and believe that the Buddha saved me that night.'

After the Australian ship took him to Shanghai, he went to an apartment in the city the family owned. After such a traumatic experience, he could not face taking a ship back to Taiwan. He explained this in letters to his wife, but all were returned, unopened.

An iron curtain descended between Taiwan and the mainland. Ye lost contact with his wife and his family in Taiwan. He scraped a living making and selling clothes; his 'class' status as a manual worker protected him from persecution during several Communist campaigns. He did not remarry.

In 1980, he was allowed to move to Hong Kong and learnt that, in 1950, his wife had married another man and started a new family. His father had known this earlier but did not tell him. Her husband later died and she asked Ye to reunite with her. 'I said 'No'. She did not wait for me. I had got accustomed to a single life.'

He rented a small apartment in Chai Wan and lived alone, earning a modest living by making pillowcases and mosquito nets.

He saw people running marathons and decided to join them, resuming a teenage pastime. He continued to run into his 80s, becoming the oldest marathon runner in Hong Kong and joining races around the world. This year, family members took him to Fuzhou, to spend his final years in his hometown.

For Ye, running has a significance far beyond keeping fit. He was running for those who could not run with him.

'Each time I ran, it gave me the strength to live. Sixty years ago, my friends on the ship did not reach Taiwan and were swallowed by the sea. As a survivor, I must work hard to breathe and live. If you run, you feel your flesh and the beating of your heart and do not feel alone.'


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