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Me and my future wife in our younger days (Photo provided by company)
My Personal History

The letter that saved my life: Mochtar Riady's story (9)

A reply from my sweetheart came just in time to prevent my boarding an ill-fated ship

| Indonesia

To escape the civil war between the Kuomintang-led government and the Communist Party, I left Nanjing and came to Hong Kong, even though I did not know anybody there.

I visited the local association of people who had come from Xinghua in Fujian Province (present-day Putian), my father's home region, hoping that I might receive some help.

As I expected, a member of the association took pity on me and arranged for me to stay at a shop run by a relative.

I wanted to return to Indonesia, but unfortunately I had no identification documents. I submitted an application to the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong for permission to return home, but my request was rejected.

Then I heard rumors that Imam Soekarto, who had led guerrillas fighting the Dutch forces in Indonesia's war of independence, had become the Indonesian ambassador to Burma (now Myanmar).

In Indonesia, I had supported Soekarto's fight by bringing medical supplies to his troops.

The armed conflict between the Netherlands and Indonesia continued while I was in Nanjing. Finally, however, the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia as an independent and sovereign nation in the Hague Agreement at the end of 1949.

I wrote a letter to Soekarto, asking him to prove that I was an Indonesian national. I had no choice but to wait for his reply in Hong Kong.

I spent my time in Hong Kong visiting bookstores and libraries to study Karl Marx's "Das Kapital."

I found that these shops and libraries also had large collections of books criticizing communism, so I read many of those, too.

Because the authors critical of communism were well-versed in communist ideology, reading their works helped me better understand Marx's theory. I did not have the slightest desire to become an entrepreneur.

Through my study of communism, I made many friends. We talked about traveling to Yan'an, a city in Shaanxi Province famous as the wartime stronghold of the Communist Party until 1947, and eventually agreed to go.

But I was concerned about my relationship with Li Limei (Suryawati Lidya), my sweetheart, who was four years younger than me.

I first met Li Limei in Surabaya while I was involved in supporting the Indonesian guerrilla army. Later, she also went to China and studied at a junior high school in Nanjing. As the situation in Nanjing became dangerous, however, her family called her back to Indonesia.

If I returned to China to join the revolution, I would probably never see her again. Almost every night, my heart ached for her and I longed for her even in my dreams.

I didn't want to part from her, but I would have to if I wanted to pursue my ideals.

Day after day, I was tormented by this painful dilemma. My friends became worried by my haggard face.

I wrote a letter to Limei from Hong Kong and waited for her reply. I checked the mailbox every day, in vain.

Just as my anguish was becoming unbearable, I received a letter from her. It arrived the day before I was to aboard a ship for Tianjin with my friends.

"I have been waiting every day for your letter and for your return home," she wrote. It had simply taken a long time for her reply to reach me.

My heart was torn in two. I couldn't get a wink of sleep and spent the whole night crying.

The following day I told my friends that I wanted some time to think over what I should do and urged them to board the ship ahead of me.

Just then a typhoon was approaching Hong Kong, whipping up the wind and waves. Because I arrived late I was unable to board the ship. My friends were waiting on board, but the wind only grew stronger.

Chemicals had been loaded onto the ship, and as the vessel rolled, it created friction that sparked a fire. The flames engulfed the ship, and everyone on board was killed.

I learned of the tragedy next morning from the newspaper. My girlfriend's letter had saved my life.

 

Mochtar Riady is the founder of Lippo Group.

Click here to read Mochtar Riady's full "My personal history" series.

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