How we unexpectedly found our relatives in China

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.

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie's Dad in bus
Me Dad! What is he thinking?? How is he feeling?? I don’t know!!!

The old village was ‘Xili Chun’, which literally translates to ‘village by the river’. It is now…

Minhou, Fuzhou - Xili Lu
Makes sense, no?

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…

Trip to Fuzhou - Met Mr Yeh
My Dad, my Mom’s tour guide friend and Mr Yeh!

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.

Trip to Fuzhou - going to community centre
Walking to the community centre

Saw some folks there, Dad began retelling his ancestry connections.

Trip to Fuzhou - at community centre

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

Trip to Fuzhou - walking to meet relatives
Going to see Dad’s cousin!

After walking for a bit, we saw a couple waiting for us. Could it be them? Indeed it was them!

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie's dad's cousin
Meeting Dad’s cousin!

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.

Trip to Fuzhou - happy folks
Happiness all around!

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.

Trip to Fuzhou - random big melon
Random big melon

Upon entering his flat, we saw familiar faces..

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie's ancestors
Ancestor worship, hence the photos are there

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:

Ancestor photos in Batu Pahat
SEE!! SEE WHAT I MEAN!!!!!

Many photos were taken…

Trip to Fuzhou - taking photos of ancestors photos
Hahaha I thought this was cute

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…

Trip to Fuzhou - Dad's cousin, 3rd brother
He looked like one of my late uncles, surreal!

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.

Trip to Fuzhou - looking at old family photo
Looking at an old family photo at lunch

And they took us to my great-grandparents’ (relocated) grave which was by the Min River.

Trip to Fuzhou - at ancestors' grave

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…

Trip to Fuzhou - Dad blowing the birthday cake

Everyone toasted him!

Trip to Fuzhou - birthday toast with baby

Dad was so happy :D

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie with parents

Contacts were exchanged, more photos taken, they loaded us with gifts after gifts…

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie's dad and his cousins
Dad and his cousins, one missing as he wasn’t feeling well

Trip to Fuzhou - Suanie's relatives in China
Group shot!

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 :)

comments

Comments

  1. one big happy family :) a very heart warming post

  2. so that’s what it takes for your dad to start smiling in photos.

  3. Lulu Cattywampus says:

    Really lovely post :) So happy for your dad!

  4. I can imagine my dad wanting to visit there now… LOL Let me show him this post and we shall see. This is an amazing post!!! Btw, they speak in hock chew or mandarin?

  5. Such a heart warming blog post. Am not sure if I’m game to visit China to trace my ancestors. :/ Such unfilial person I am :P

  6. You know, your Dad’s cousins may all look PRC but they sure share the ‘not quite a smile’ habit!

    My grandfather went back in the early eighties. He has warned all of us not to ever make contact with our China relatives because, well, it could get complicated in the usual PRC way.

    • Runs in the family ;) Yeap I understand what you mean. I’ve heard stories too. Initially I was apprehensive because… you know ;) But they turned out to be really nice and gracious, we were very lucky. Good people :)

  7. What a journey! Quite amazing to hear about all the connections and the strong ties that are still there. The family blood must be indeed thick!
    Serenely recently posted..Christmas Shortbread {Blog Train}My Profile

    • Hah.. it’s weird but my Dad’s 3rd cousin brother insisted that for the past few days, he’d been dreaming of visiting Malaysia. Initially I thought it was shady, but later on I felt that he was sincere about it. So, who knows…

  8. totally love this post!

    happy for your family! :)

  9. What a wonderful adventure! ~ with some great shots. Touches the heart indeed. Topped off by a big smiley melon :D

  10. Well done Suanie, you said it all. I read and reread what u have shared. It makes me re-capture that meaningful trip in Fuzhou. Thanks to yr mum, we sisters were able to go on this trip. It was really amazing that we met Grandpa Yeh and less than an hour, we were in our cousin’s flat. Like you I have shared with .so many of our friends! From this visit it also confirms what yr dad once told me, we are the direct descendants of the Zhao emperor’s family of the Sung dynasty. Well, for once I m getting interested to check out this ancestry.Great to have a niece like u.

  11. what a lovely post! made me smile when I read it! great to see so much happiness! <3

  12. Awesome reunion! we tried looking for our relatives too…but still stuck. The only folks in China we have regular contact with are my mum in law’s folks in Hainan island.
    missyblurkit recently posted..Christmas @ Serai Life CentreMy Profile

  13. Good blog!
    Your Mom’s friend, the China tour guide is great to have good news. My mom try to search for his dad (my grandfather) relatives in Luoding, Guangdong, China. We know the village but I do not have a tour guide to guide us to find relatives … Can you help?

    Thanks.

  14. Geoff Lim says:

    I too have been trying to find relatives in Fujian, especially who my great grandfather is n my cousins so on. I only know my grandfather used to send money back to his elder brother in China. My grandfather left China alone for Singapore then Brunei at the age of 13 during the Communist regime where everything was taken away. Sadly, he passed away the year I was born so I never knew him. I only know his name n two pictures of him, one young one old. Maybe you can provide contact details of that tour guide of yours? Because I dont really know how to find them plus my relatives here are not interested. They keep saying stupid things like “Why you want to find them? That was a long time ago bla bla”

  15. Dear Suanie, i just can’t stop smiling after reading your blog. Seriously, you really capture my attention with your description of the journey and the chronology of events that are really good. Congrats!
    It made me think deeply about my ancestors as well, because both of my late-grandmothers are actually from China and were brought to Malaya by their parents in the 30′s (i think). Both of my glate-grandparents: from my father side, my great-grandparent migrated to Batu Pahat and from my mother side, my great-grandparent migrated to Ipoh.
    What was told to me by both of my late-grandmothers were the same, that their parents have handed them over to the Malays to take care due to the economic situations that they are in and they only kept the boys to ensure they can work in the future. So by nature, my late-grandmothers didn’t remember well their parents but just distant memories and they began to embrace the Malay culture and eventually got married and so on, and here i am..hehehe
    I have always wanted to know where my ancestors are exactly from and i saw many documentaries shown many successful stories about tracing back their origin through the DNA.
    Hope you can advice me too… Thanks!

    • To Ariff:
      What are their Chinese names, Chinese characters of their Chinese names, do they still recall relatives names in Malaysia? What Chinese dialect/language did their parents speak?

      Ed

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