I told this story a few times then decided to (verbosely) blog it and direct everyone here. It’s a lot to say, it’s slightly weary to repeat it and you know that I don’t like talking too much ;)
My paternal grandfather traveled from Fuzhou to Batu Pahat at 17. He was the 4th of 5 brothers. His 2 older brothers were also in Batu Pahat, the other 2 remained in Fuzhou. People have asked me why Batu Pahat and not Sitiawan or Sibu for those are places where Fuzhou people congregate. Well I really wouldn’t know and it’s too late to ask my grandfather, him being deceased and all.
To another common question of whether or not I speak the dialect, the answer is no because no one taught me. As simple as that.
My Dad being the eldest son and most educated in the family (at that time) had the honour of helping my grandfather write letters back to his homeland. Since my Dad was pretty much the only person my grandfather would converse with, he became well-versed with our family history in China, assorted relatives, the old house by the river, state of muddy yard etc.
Thus in the autumn of his life, it is no surprise that my Dad would want to visit his dad’s place of origin. He’d memorised the stories, now he wanted to see it for himself.
But it wasn’t as easy as pie. No one in our family kept in touch with those in Fuzhou. We didn’t have any addresses for back in the 90s, the local government changed the provinces. So the address that my Dad knew from his earlier days of letter writings no longer exists. And you know, China is a friggin’ huge place, so where do we start??
My Mom and sisters spent 3 years trying to look for the old village but to no avail. They asked those in the local Fuzhou clan association, but no one there knew ether. That’s why the trip to Fuzhou was always postponed. In the meantime, my Dad could only go to places like Bali, oh the tragedy :P
Earlier this year, my Mom’s friend who retired and became a China tour guide returned with good news: he’d found the old village!! I don’t know the details. All I know was that I was going to to China with my parents and most of my aunts.
I was stoked for my Dad, of course. It’s something that he’d always really wanted and now it’s all coming true! Finally he’d be able to see where his father had lived! Well, the same district anyway for the exact location was yet to be found.
November 2012, Fuzhou.
I’m skipping the stories of Guangzhou, Chaozhou and Xiamen for this story.
The night before *the* day, the tour guide told us that he went on Baidu and found the exact location of the street in the old village. Apparently the 3 years of looking could have been easily minimised with Baidu, haha! But I believe that there’s a reason why things happen now and not then, so…
Off we went to Minhou.
The old village was ‘Xili Chun’, which literally translates to ‘village by the river’. It is now…
We found the road where the old village was. There was construction all around as huge buildings were being built. The bus driver suggested that we ask any older folks if they’d know of the old house (where my great-grandparents lived) as they’d be more connected with the past before all this development.
And what do you know; right in front of our bus was an old man crossing the road with a helper! My Dad approached him…
Mr. Yeh (in his 80s!) knew of the old village for he lived there too! He thought it’d be a good idea to go to the local community centre to… actually I don’t know why because I wasn’t paying attention.
Saw some folks there, Dad began retelling his ancestry connections.
A few phone calls were made and… “Oh you have relatives here, they’ll meet you down the street.”
:O :O :O :O :O
Mr. Yeh was so happy, he said he’d take us to the meeting place ‘cos HE LIVES THERE TOO!!
:O :O :O :O :O
After walking for a bit, we saw a couple waiting for us. Could it be them? Indeed it was them!
Turns out my grandfather’s youngest brother had 5 sons and 1 daughter. The man who met us with his wife was the 2nd son.
Dad’s 2nd cousin brother took us to his flat. On the way I saw this huge melon and thought you have to see it too.
Upon entering his flat, we saw familiar faces..
The top two are my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather looked younger because he passed away at 45. Not sure how long my great-grandmother lived for. The bottom two photos are my grandfather’s youngest brother and his wife. Lived to ripe old ages, I see!
This was incredibly surreal because I grew up with the top two photos in my grandfather’s house. It used to scare the living s- out of me because they were really old and not as photoshoppped, no mountains and greens in the background. Here, I found a photo of the ancestors’ pictures in the old house in Batu Pahat:
Many photos were taken…
Many calls were made. In fact they called just about everyone! The 1st brother immediately boarded a 4-hour train with his son to come see my Dad for dinner! Soon after, the 3rd brother arrived…
Then HE called his sons and told them to take the day off from work. And we all went to lunch nearby where they insisted on buying us a massively extravagant meal.
And they took us to my great-grandparents’ (relocated) grave which was by the Min River.
Then 3rd cousin brother’s sons took us to ‘Old Fuzhou’, a touristy place but it was really nicely done. Spent the rest of the day with us, I was quite overwhelmed by their hospitality.
It was quite funny though. Fuzhou seemed to be rather homogeneous. My cousin asked me about Malaysia and her people, so I went for a bit. He asked me if there were a lot of Chinese in Malaysia, I said yes there are Malays and Indians too. He went, “HUH INDIANS, WHY INDIANS?? WHY DID INDIANS GO THERE??” Hahaha I nearly laughed out loud at his reaction. He was really puzzled out of curiosity so I told him about the British bringing in Indians to work at the plantations. A short history lesson there, thank goodness I still know some!
We went for dinner and there were more people; kids of kids, kids of kids of kids etc.
And it was my Dad’s birthday, so…
Everyone toasted him!
Dad was so happy :D
Contacts were exchanged, more photos taken, they loaded us with gifts after gifts…
Well that was a most fruitful trip, wasn’t it? Credits to my Mom for trying so hard for so many years to make this happen, she’s incredible! Now my Dad will have something to talk about for 3 years ;)
And of course I’ll never forget Mr. Yeh. He was the bridge to this reunion and I’ll always keep him in my thoughts :)