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Monday, 7 May 2007

A tough old missionary. Cholon. Vietnam

Mrs. Contento was one of those rare women one came across from time to time in odd corners of the world. She was of Irish Scots descent although married to an American. Her father had come from Cork in Ireland the same as my grand mother. I later found out my grandmother was in fact born in Kilkenny and perhaps Cork was just the port where many Irish sailed from. Her mother was Scots and she took her degree at Edinburgh University. My knowledge of Edinburgh was limited to standing guard at the castle and Holyrood House and a large number of its pubs.
I often wonder if she wasn't the missionary that my headmaster at Aberdour wasn't referring to when he was talking about this tough old Scots missionary in China that he knew.
Before coming to Vietnam she and her husband had worked in China as missionaries for twenty years but were forced to leave after the communist's victory and had then spent ten years in India.
Tough she was. She told me that when she first arrived in China, this must have been in the late 1920's, she found that there were many opium smokers on her station. She and her husband wishing to cure them of this habit, and themselves being very ignorant of drugs in general, locked them all up in a room. There were upwards of thirty of them and they were left in this room to dry out for a few days. The results were evidently disastrous although she declined to go into any details.
When her husband had a burst appendix they filled the area around it with some antiseptic product, this was before pennicilin, and took him by truck to the nearest doctor. He was also very tough luckily and lived, the journey having taken a few hours over very bumpy roads. My mother had a cousin who had a burst appendix on a bus in London and he died as was usual in those days. I believe these missionary types were of great physical and moral strength. A fluent Chinese speaker she and her husband lived in Cholon in a large sprawling house full of noisy Chinese students. She always travelled by one of those foul smelling three wheeled motorised cyclos.
The husband took care of most of the missionary work whilst she ran an English language school in Saigon. They had to keep themselves financially. I once referred to her as an old battle ax but personally held her in great esteem. The school was owned by a close friend of one of KC's sisters. I went to work for her.

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