— Lila’s Shanghai ~ 1923-1937


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Anya (whom I’ll call Balia from now on), Lila (Melitza), Jenny, Lida and Maria left Vladivostok some time in 1923 and went to Shanghai.  Joseph came later that year.  His father-in-law managed to get him on a ship which was going to Tsingtao.

Life was pretty hard – there were a lot of White Russians there and, having left everything behind, Balia and Joseph had to do whatever they could to earn a living.

Balia gave piano lessons and did several other things, like running a boarding house and catering during the summertime, where she used to supply the kiosks in the public gardens in Shanghai with food.

I heard from my nephew that Joseph worked on ships as a steward but for how long and when, I have no idea. He started a few ventures which didn’t take off but then, with a partner, he started a Georgian restaurant which they called «Alaverdi».

Unfortunately Joseph had a gambling problem and so money was pretty scarce most of the time, but when he did win, mom said her father used to heap all kinds of goodies onto a couple of rickshaws and bring them home to the family! Regrettably he lost more times than he won 🙁

Mom was tall and gangly as a kid and she told me how, as she grew, she’d have to stuff newspaper into the toes of second hand shoes Balia got for her just so that she could walk in them.

I don’t know which school mom attended. Certainly her English was excellent and she never spoke with an accident, so I’m pretty sure she went to an English-speaking school.

Balia was a tough-love mother who’d smack her on the bottom with a hair brush every day, whether she was naughty or nice!! 😮

Mind you, I know mom had a mischievous streak in her and would get up to occasional shenanigans when she was in charge of her little sister, Jenny, and Sashka while her parents were working!


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She told me about one hot day during summer when she was home looking after Jenny and Sashka when Balia and Dedushka were out working. The younger kids were whining about being hot so mom had a lightbulb moment.

Their house had a conservatory so mom removed all the furniture, got the house, and proceeded to turn the room into a swimming pool!!! Can you imagine that? Oh wow! 😮

I’m not surprised that Balia got her hair brush out for that misdemeanor! LOL! 😀

Sign in Jessfield Park

Sign in Jessfield Park


Mom also told me about the parks in Shanghai and how some had signs saying «No Dogs or Chinese» but that seemed to be the rule in 1903 and not when mom was there.

This pdf makes for interesting reading about the topic. Click here to read it.





I also remember her telling about a sign she saw pointing up some stairs to a tailor shop which said «Cockeyed Joe – Tailor. Ladies have fits upstairs»!

I couldn’t stop laughing when I found a cartoon about that very thing in a book I got about Shanghai! Obviously it was the standard sign for tailors in the city!! 😀

There were several photos which I got from my cousin which seem to point to Joseph being someone who wanted to be involved with resurrecting the «old Russia». I don’t know if this photo was part of Dedushka’s political involvement or not. Certainly mom was kneeling down in front of Batushka (the priest) and my grandfather was seated second from left.


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The right-hand side photographer’s mark says «Chang Bros | Szechuen 10A | Shanghai»

When she left school, mom started working at Whiteaways in the Ladies’ department and was courted by an English policeman called Jack Seaby.

Lindy tells me that Balia thought Jack was a terrific catch and it wouldn’t surprise me if she bamboozled mom into accepting his offer of marriage.

She married him in 1935, when she was 18, and that same year they went on home leave, ending up with his family in Southend (which mom used to pronounce “Sauffen” when she wanted to annoy me ;)).

I know mom was enchanted with England and was very fond of his mother, but not so much with him and when it was time for Jack to return to Shanghai, mom stayed and worked at a local department store.

However it wasn’t for long as a telegram arrived telling her her father was ill so she jumped on a ship and headed back to Shanghai.

She realised she really wasn’t in love with Jack so asked him for an annulment, which he granted. It must have been soon afterwards, probably July 4, 1936, when my mother went to the St George’s Hotel with some friends and there was my father, playing on the piano. Their eyes locked and the rest, as they say, is history 😀

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He was captivated by her brown eyes and for him it was love at first sight! 🙂

Mom used to laugh when she recounted the times daddy would wait at the bus stop and when she got off, he’d escort her through a cemetery when she walked home.

Mom was rather wary, especially after her annulment, so really didn’t want to get into a serious relationship, but my father wouldn’t be deterred!

He pursued her and she finally relented  😀

In 1937 dad got his job with the HK Hotels so they left Shanghai in November of that year.



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Lila's Shanghai

Photos and other pictures taken during Lila's time in Shanghai

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