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Friday, October 14, 2011

In search of our root

In search of our root How it began
The bedroom door flew open and a little girl burst breathlessly through the room and plopped herself onto the pillow beside me.
“Kong kong, can you tell me a story about grandpa?’
The interrupted siesta was soon occupied in regaling her with interesting moments in her grandpa’s life. Moment after she had left the room, I was left alone to reflect about my paternal grandpa who had passed away long before I was born. I remember that long -ago days when as a teenager I used to listen to the many interesting stories my parents would tell about grandpa. Feeling inspired by the interest shown by my granddaughter towards her grandpa, I decided to write something about my own grandpa. Then it dawned on me I did not even know his name. Other then knowing that he had emigrated from China, I had no information about his place of origin in China. Suddenly I remembered about a small green notebook.
One morning, when I was in secondary school mother asked me to take out the old chocolate box from a cupboard’s drawer. Inside the tin I found a green notebook and birth certificates secured with red ribbon. I was told to copy the details in the birth certificates into the green note book. Years passed. Mother had passed away and the green notebook too became a forgotten item. Could I find the information I was looking for in the notebook?

That afternoon I rummaged through the dressing cabinet’s drawer. Under a pile of files and worn envelopes I found the small notebook. Its cover was slightly frayed and its green colour had paled. As I flipped through the pages now stained yellow with age, I found my parent’s and all their eight children’s names and dates of birth written in my cursive handwriting. And on one of the pages I discovered grandpa’s name and his place of origin. It read:
Wan Cheng Liew
Place of origin
District: Yongchun
Village: Au Yeon
The Green Notebook
That day I realised that although mother was illiterate she had foresight and knew all these information would come in handy one day. Armed with the little information, I wrote a short account about grandpa. My wife read the story and she said. “This is interesting. Why don’ you let the children and their cousins read it.”
So, one festival day I brought the draft to our ancestral home and let my nephews and nieces read it. Although the story was not much of a literary work it did generate an interest, an interest that was almost contagious. My sisters were soon providing additional anecdotes on grandpa. My niece, Joon volunteered to find out her great grandpa’s birth date. So one Cheng Beng’s morning, toting a camera, she followed her father to her great grandpa’s grave in Bukit Rambai to snap photo of his resting place. On a worn and moss-covered tombstone she managed to make out the faded numbers : 1863-1932
My son, Lenny, bought a new PC and printer for me to write out and print the story. My son, Andrew said, “One day we should visit Yong Chun and see how great grandpa’s village looks like.” Busy with his work and family the years flew by and the trip remained a dream. Then one night my wife rang him and inquired whether he would like to join her on a package tour of Xiamen and Fujien.

It was a dream come true for him. After getting the necessary leave from his employer and consent from his family he agreed to join the trip. True to his profession he was soon busy researching the background of the early Chinese immigrants in Melaka; their place of settlements; economic activities; their place of origin in China and he even had his colleague send a map of Yong Chun.Map of Yong Chun

Trip to Xiamen and Fujien 4th June 2011 - 11th June 2011 as narrated by my wife, Siew Leng and son, Andrew
On the road to KLIA
The morning of 4th June dawned bright and clear. After our luggage was loaded into the trunk of Lenny’s car we headed for the nearby Straits Meridian Hotel. A small group of fellow travellers, filled with a flurry of excitement, had already congregated in front of the hotel as they waited anxiously for the coach that would take us to KLIAOur Tour Group

After all the luggage had been loaded into the coach and all the passengers accounted for the coach began its journey towards KLIA via the Alor Gajah toll plaza. On arrival at the Seremban rest area the coach stopped for about half an hour to allow the group to go the toilet or stretch their legs before proceeding for KLIA.
We arrived at KLIA at 3pm and as the flight to Xiamen was only scheduled to take off at 4.55 pm we while away the time window shopping at the many brightly-lit shops in the terminal building.

Xiamen: night's view from the coach
At exactly 4.55 pm Xiamen Air took off and after being air-borne for about four hours a voice from the cockpit announced that we were about to land at Xiamen airport. We were met on arrival by a smiling tour guide. Xiamen’s airport was not as bustling as KLIA and only a few people could be be seen at this late hour. We boarded a waiting coach and soon it was humming its way towards a seafood restaurant.Our tour coach: BTW the driver is in the coach

As I gazed at the fleeting landscape from the coach window I could only make out the murky outlines of houses and trees in the deepening darkness, but as we neared the city the facades of a few high-rise buildings glowed brightly with flickering neon lights.

Trip to Quanzhou : city of temples, pagodas and museum
Dawn the next morning found us on the road to Quanzhou.All around us were signs of development. In the city centre, high rise buildings were mushrooming and in the countryside new four storey brick buildings stood on barren land. In front of the twin pagodaAt the Marititime Museum

In Quanzhou, we visited Laujun Rock, the Twin Pagodas and the Maritime Museum. On display at the museum was a boat named 'Sinbad' and that left us wondering whether Sinbad of the famous Arabian Nights had hailed from Quanzhou.
Exhausted with the day’s outing we were glad when we finally arrived at Zaiton Hotel for a good night’s rest.

Meixhou Island: bithplace of Matsu, the goddess of seafarers It was a bright and sunny morning when we made the sea crossing to the island of Meixhou, on board a ferry filled to capacity with a seething mass of humanity.
The crowded ferry

Standing at the starboard I watched the shoreline of the mainland fade away in the distance while Meixhou island loomed ahead of us.Meixhou Island loomed ahead

As we approached the island, we could make out the statue of the goddess Matsu, the guardian of seafarers, standing in serene splendour on top of a hill.Matsu, the goddess of seafarers

She had guided us safely across the sea and was waiting to welcome us to her birth place. Buggies ferried us to the base of the temple and from there we made the slow ascent up the hundred or more steps to the temple. It was an exhaustive climb, but on reaching the top the sense of tranquillity and reverence that pervaded the atmosphere View from the hill top

made it a worthwhile climb.

Yong Chun City : a bustling city
After a quick lunch we headed for the mainland and was soon on our way to Yong Chun. We made a brief stop over at the Dongguan Bridge, a covered bridge which also housed a small shrine and a few benches. According to the local guide the bridge was about eight hundred years old and had since been repaired and given a facelift by a The Donggan Bridge

Tan Sri from Malaysia. Yong Chun is now a modern, bustling city with wide roads teeming with people and packed with vehicles that streamed endlessly from both directions. Crossing the road we found out was a risky undertaking as the drivers seemed oblivious to the presence of the pedestrian crossing and so we sought security among the small group of local pedestrians as they weaved their way bravely between the customary throngs of cars, buses, bikes and bicycles.

Huyang: search for a Fan’s family
We woke up the next morning to find sunlight streaming through the hotel’s window with a promise of yet another bright and sunny day. The much awaited day and the highlight of our trip had finally arrived. At the hotel lobby we could feel the sense of excitement as our friends in the tour group waited anxiously for their relatives to pick them up while others waited for the transport that would take them to their relatives houses in the nearby district. As for Andrew and I we did not know of any relatives in Huyang and so we were content to see for ourselves the physical landscape of Andrew’s great grandfather’s childhood place and any chance encounter with a Fan’s family we knew would be a bonus. At about the appointed time the pre-arranged cab arrived to pick us up for our trip to Huyang or Au Yeon or commonly referred to as Oh Yeoh or Ore Yew by the local Hokkien community. Accompanied by our tour guide and the local tour guide we soon found ourselves cruising along a wide and well-paved road that led to Huyang .The well-paved road

We passed through Dong Guan tunnel and at intervals we caught glimpses of the Nan An river, with hazy, blue mountains providing a perfect background to the rustic scene. We were informed that in the old days ships were able to sail downstream as far as Quanzhou and upstream as far as Fuzhou.View of Nan An river
The cab came to a fork in the road with a signboard with the words Huyang 13 km, Jiaowei 63km displayed boldly on it.The road to Huyang

The driver took the road leading to Huyang and after half an hour drive we were pleasantly surprise to find ourselves in Huyang‘s village. The cab driver pulled up in front of a two-storey brick building which accommodated three houses. We stepped out of the cab and took in our surroundings.
The rustic scene

There was a sense of familiarity about the place. We had the uncanny feeling of having seen or been to this place before. A middle-aged lady emerged from the first house and the cab driver inquired if she knew of anyone with the surname of Fan A lady emerged from the first house

in the village.

“ I’m a Low, but my husband’s surname is Fan,” she replied.
We were both excited and happy to learn that there was a Fan’s family in Huyang. We could not believe our luck when we later found out that there were only two families with the surname Fan in Huyang. The other eighteen families who had once settled in this village had since migrated. Like the other rural areas in China, only the women and children still stayed in the village while the men had left for the bigger towns and cities to find better paying jobs. The many untended farmlands were a clear

An untended farmland: Where has all the farmers gone?

testimony of the rural -urban migration.The lady of the house invited us in and informed us her husband was working in another town and would be back only in the late evening. She provided the cab driver with her husband’s phone number. Using his mobile phone the cab driver was soon engaged in deep conversation with the husband at the other end of the line. He would pause occasionally to relay the The interior of the Fan's house

relevant information to us. According to the lady’s husband the Fans had originally come from Nan An or Hu Lan. Her husband’s grandfather and his four siblings too were from Nan An, but when they migrated to Hu Yang three of them were sold to the Low’s family while another two were sold to another family. One of the brothers managed to run back to Nan An but was eventually brought back to Hu Yang. He however escaped a second time without a trace. Could he have emigrated to Malaya? With the question lingering in our minds we bade farewell to Mrs. Fan and made our way to Yong Chun city.
Back in Yong Chun, we took a leisurely stroll along the esplanade and took in the sight of the many scenic spots on both sides of the river. After window shopping at the many apparel shops that lined both sides of the road and at the ubiquitous stalls we returned to the hotel.

Trip to Baizhang Rock : scenic but.....
The fifth day of the tour found us on a coach heading for Baizhang Rock which is located at the highest peak of the mountain. As the coach made its slow ascent up the narrow and precipitous road, I took a peep at the view below us. Down in the deep ravine , pine trees with verdant canopy stretched towards the distant mountains which were shrouded with low -lying clouds.Pine trees and distant mountains

The animated conversation that had preceded the trip suddenly fell into hushed silence. I wondered whether our fellow travellers were enjoying the breath-taking view or engaged in silent prayers. As Andrew took in the view, he smiled to himself. He recalled an incident while traversing a mountainous terrain in New Zealand. The coach driver, noticing the look of concern on some of the passengers’ faces had announced, “ I know the scene below you are frightening. If you’re scared just close your eyes, just like what I’m doing now.”
His quiet reverie was interrupted by a shout that emanated from the coach rear’s seat. At every turn and twist of the sharp corners, the sound of ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah’ could be heard. Someone was obviously having a ride of his life.
Most of us heaved a big sigh of relief when we finally arrived at the foot of a temple dedicated to the lady deity, Masi Chengsen. Dragging tired feet, we slowly climbed the steep flight of steps to the temple and as we strolled round the temple complex with cameras clicking, the harrowing trip up the mountain was soon forgotten. After we had filled our growling stomachs with local fruits it was time for us to make the heart-thumping trip down the mountain.
When the coach finally screeched to a halt at Yong Chun a burst of applause greeted the driver. We all wanted to show our appreciation and gratitude for his skilful handling of the bus and for bringing us safely home.

Jimei : educational complex and garden
On the way back to Xiamen we stopped at Jimei, a town well known for its educational complex which was set up by the renown educator and philanthropist, The educational complex

Tan Kah Kee.
A visit to Jimei would not be complete without paying due respect to the man who had contributed generously to education and society and and so we made our way to see his garden, memorial park and his humble house. A stroll in the parkTan Kah Kee's memorial

Egret Island : home of the white egrets
Back in Xiamen we were taken on a tour of the large and scenic recreational park on Egret Island. It was a welcome break from the heat of the afternoon sun as we were able to walk under the cool shade of the stately trees and feel the caress of the gentle A view of the lake Hi, the statue is in the background

Can you spot the egret?

breeze that blew in from the lake. One of the main attractions in the park was a stone statue of a maiden grooming her flowing tresses. A white egret which was perched on her left shoulder was unperturbed by the hive of activity below it.

Gulangyu Island: waves 'drumming' on reefs
On the morning of the seventh day we left the bustling city of Xiamen on board a ferry heading for Gulangyu island or ’Drum Waves Islet’ so-called because of the sound generated by the waves as they lashed against the reefs.At the jetty

That morning the sea was calm and so there was no drumming except for the sound of rolling waves breaking against the side of the ferry. Gulangyu is renowned for its beautiful beaches, winding lanes and varied architecture, but owing to time constraint we only managed to visit the Piano House, admire the European-style villas and then spend the better part of the morning browsing and shopping for souvenirs at the many shops and stalls that lined the narrow lanes.Statue on top of a steep outcropA view of the beachEnjoying the viewHouses in Gulangyu

Overseas Chinese Museum, Xiamen: moment of nostalgia
Back at Xiamen we were taken to the Overseas Chinese Museum which housed a comprehensive exhibits of ancient artefacts, Chinese potteries, as well as photos and paintings that highlighted the history of the Overseas Chinese. Overseas Chinese Moseum

There were photos and paintings depicting the squalid condition on board a junk; under-nourished labourers with look of anguish on their faces and photos of old The squalid condition in the junkThe look of anguish

buildings in the Straits Settlements.
As we gazed at the photos, we were stricken with nostalgia and felt a tinge of sadness for they reminded us of own forefathers who had brave the hazardous sea journey to reach the shore of Nanyang. We realised they were men of fortitude who through their own sweat and toil and frugal living had made a better lives for themselves and ensured that their descendants would have a brighter future.
We followed a knot of tourists and our steps took us to the fa├žade of a peranakan house with its typical elaborately carved wooden door flanked by windows fitted with The facade of a Fan's house

iron grills.
We could not believe our eyes when we took a closer look at the house. Just above the door, written in bold Chinese characters, we could make out the word 'Fan'.
Just the beginning not the end
We had set out on the trip to see for ourselves the physical landscape of Huyang where Andrew’s great grandpa had lived as a child and to enjoy the scenic beauty of the tourist spots. Little did we know that the trip would hold small surprises for us. We had managed to see a Fan’s household in Huyang and view the facade of a Fan's house in the very heart of Xiamen. Maybe, the trip is another milestone on a journey in search of our root.

1 comment:

  1. Rereading the story of our search for Great Grandpa's village brings back a beautiful memory. Truly, it is another milestone in search of our roots, but also a memorable milestone in our journey of Life.