After my return  to Philadelphia from Shanghai in 2012, I spoke to my very dear Parsi friend, Khorshed, of my interest on researching Sikhs and other Indians in Shanghai, Tianjin & Hankou.  I also apprised her of Shanghai’s Fire temple and its unfortunate demolition. To my surprise, Khorshed, mentioned that her father had been to China and had worked in Tianjin.

Khorshed’s father, Ratanshaw B Vakil,  had been employed as a manager in the Talati House Hotel in Tientsin in 1948. He did not stay in Tianjin for very long & headed to greener pastures in Singapore soon after. Today, at the National Archives, Singapore I had the opportunity to hear an audio-recording of his experiences in Tianjin.

As a manager of the Talati House Hotel which was owned by another Parsi, Mr Talati, RatanShaw Vakil, found Tianjin to be unsavory and unpleasant. Within few months of his arrival he was assaulted three to four times.  And, as a manager he had to deal with difficult guests including the shabbily dressed Chinese National Army soldiers who would occupy a corridor with young soldiers lying in front of the room allotted to their  leader.  Not knowing Mandarin, his pleas and continuous requests for them to move would fall on deaf ears. Mainly because much of the communication would occur through gesticulation,

Vakil, also noted that some of the employees would earn tips from residing guests by getting ” female entertainers” for them. Wages were low and tips were the way for some of the employees to supplement their income. Guests would walk in to their room with such women. In one instance a Chinese guest fumed and shouted in Mandarin, taking his pistol out and aiming at Vakil. Clueless, Vakil finally had help from an interpreter who told him that he had offended the Chinese guest’s wife by making an insinuation that she was an “entertainer.”

After this incident, Vakil decided to pack his bags and leave. He sailed to Shanghai and from there took a flight to Hong Kong and then Singapore taking up employment in a firm.

Vakil, mentioned that there were only 3-4 Parsis in Tianjin unlike Shanghai which had a sizable Parsi community. He stated that Talati, the owner,  stayed back in China even after Japanese internment and later died in Tianjin.


Audio-recording: Ratanshaw Beghampore Vakil, National Archives, Singapore.