|San Mao (file photo)|
Rick O'Shea has a double claim to fame. He was the first foreigner to come to China's mainland and host a nightly bilingual program for 11 years. On top of that, he was the last love of the popular Chinese writer San Mao.
O'Shea's memoir about his experiences as a radio personality and his relationship with San Mao was published in Chinese by China Radio and Television University Press in 2011. He is now working on the English edition of the book: Echoes of San Mao.
The book details his shared experiences with San Mao (a.k.a. Chen Mao Ping, 1943-1991), whose works are still read by Chinese around the world. Most Chinese are familiar with her work The Stories of the Sahara (1976), and many know she was married to a Spaniard named Jose Maria Quero Y Ruiz, whose life came to a tragic end when he drowned in a diving accident. Even then, San Mao was no stranger to heartbreak. Before Ruiz, she was engaged to a German man who died of a heart attack.
Indeed, San Mao was a cosmopolitan woman, fluent in English, Spanish, and German. She had studied in Spain and Germany and worked in the US. Her books focus on her travel experiences in Africa, the Canary Islands, and Central and South America. Altogether, she wrote more than 20 books. These are the parts of her life that many fans know.
But most do not know of San Mao's later romance with Rick O'Shea, whom she met through a mutual friend in Taipei in 1981. "I didn't know who she was or that she was that famous," O'Shea said. "I only knew her as a person, not a writer. In some ways, I envy those who knew her from her books. I think she appreciated that I only knew the real her, and not what she chose to put in her books."
For example, O'Shea remembered that San Mao had an eclectic style of dressing "that looked earthy and classical, not fashionable" and that she loved long dresses.
"In fact, it never felt like being on a date with her. Much more like being with someone I was naturally close with. We never had to pretend to be anyone else." She also liked to smoke "Long Life" cigarettes from Taiwan.