top) Zeng Yun Hui, Zeng Bing Yuan’s sister. (Courtesy of her daughter Xue Ya Zhen.); Zeng Bing Yuan’s last photo in early 1980s. (Courtesy of Lirio Chan-Dapulag); Photograph sent by Zeng Bing Yuan to his sister in Xiamen showing his family in Bobon, Northern Samar. (Photo courtesy of Zeng Ya Zhen, Yun Hui’s daughter.); and The author (rightmost) and his family visit to Lirio Chan-Dapulag (seated, third from left) at her residence in Bobon, Northern Samar in November 2009.
Screen grabs of the video showing the moment the descendants of Zeng Bing Yuan and his sister Zeng Yun Hui were reunited. (Shenzhen TV, Guangdong province, China, Jan. 20, 2010.); Owen Chuan (詹仙友),
Xiamen’s relative finder; featured story: Jocelyn de Torres and her Chinese Aunt Xue Yun Zhen being interviewed by a Fujian TV reporter; story covered by Xiamen Daily newspaper (廈門日報); surviving children of Zeng Yun Hui – Xue Ya Zhen, left, and Xue Yun Zhen, right – flank Conchita Chan (one of the daughters of Zeng Bing Yuan); and dinner with the families of Zeng Yun Hui’s deceased son, Xue Fu Ping, during the Chinese New Year festival in Xiamen City
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – April 9-22, 2013 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue No. 21
Most of the people I have helped to find their Chinese relatives had links to rural China. Either their parents or grandparents grew up in an agricultural village, or had once lived in one.
For those unfamiliar with Tsinoys’ humble beginnings, searching for roots in China may seem daunting. Actually, it is not, specially if one has a good understanding of the language. Just get hold of old letters from the mainland; usually, the village address is on the envelopes. These villages are same-surname-villages, everybody knows everybody.
Then there are exceptions.
The family of my grandfather Zeng Wen Yi’s (曾文藝) friend is one example. His name is Leonardo Chan or Chan Ping Guan (Zeng Bing Yuan 曾炳源); he is originally from Xiamen. He settled in Bobon, Nothern Samar, a town next to my hometown.
Most people visiting the Minnan speaking areas of Fujian province enter China at Xiamen and are familiar with this large, bustling and fast changing metropolis. Bing Yuan may not have recognized it if he were alive to see Xiamen today.
In November 2009, my China cousins came to visit us in Samar. We toured them around the residences of families in our area with the same surname as ours: Zeng (曾).
One of them was Lirio Chan-Dapulag, Bing Yuan’s granddaughter. At her house, she showed us some documents she had been keeping, documents that included letters from her grandfather’s sister, Zeng Yun Hui (曾雲惠),
As a young boy in the early 1900s, Bing Yuan accompanied his uncle to seek better life in the Philippines. He had left behind in China his sister Yun Hui.
For decades, the two stayed in close touch. Bing Yuan made sure his children recognized their Chinese kin and involved his eldest son, and Chan-Dapulag’s father, Jose (Zeng Fu Xi 曾扶西), in writing correspondence to China.
In the early 1980s, both Bing Yuan and his sister were feeble from old age, so Jose made arrangements for his grandfather’s travel back to China. But in those years, getting travel documents proved problematic. In the end, both brother and sister died without a chance to meet in person.
With the elders gone, Jose ceased writing to China. He too died in early 2000s. None of Jose’s children or their cousins knew how to reconnect with their overseas relatives but remained curious about their distant kin.
I knew it would be extremely difficult to look for Bing Yuan’s kin in a metropolis. I would have quickly given up, but it is unusual to see someone as eager as Chan-Dapulag to know her roots.
Happily, the hunt for her kin did not end in vain: it opened up an opportunity of new discoveries and a wonderful adventure for Chan-Dapulag’s family.
It was Dec. 12, 2009. How to start my search? I was stumped. I browsed the Internet and found a discussion forum http://www.askmehelpdesk.com. In it, someone in the United Kingdom was asking for help looking up Xiamen relatives.
Someone in China had responded to his inquiry, saying he had been helping foreigners find their roots in China and was willing to help. There was an email address, so I wrote to him about my unusual hobby: relative finder.
We exchanged experiences of relative searching and got to know each other: Owen Chuan (Zhan Xian You 詹仙友) an ethnic Hakka who grew up in Fujian’s mountainous region.
Hakka people are well known for very close family bonds, closer than the usual Chinese ties. Just look at their enclosed one-building villages called Fujian Tulou (福建土樓), earthen rural dwellings built between the 12th and 20th centuries. These are three to five storeys high housing up to 80 families!
Before long, Chuan and I agreed on a collaborative project: to find Chan-Dapulag’s grandaunt.
He checked the old address from the letters I gave him and found the old house in which Yun Hui stayed. But it has already stood empty for many years.
I sent Chuan scanned copies of Chan-Dapulag’s documents to give him more information to work with. Chuan contacted the police to look for the names we found in the letters as well as asked his friends in media to help broadcast our search. On Jan. 5, someone called Chuan to say he is Yun Hui’s grandson.
The following day, Chuan visited their house and found family photographs sent by Jose in the 1970s.
Shenzhen TV, one of the media groups that helped broadcast the search offered Chan-Dapulag’s family free airplane fare to China to cover the reunion they organized.
Three relatives volunteered to come: a cousin, Nelly Chan-Cruzat, from Batangas; Chan-Dapulag’s sister Jocelyn Chan-de Torres from Richmond, Canada; and her Auntie Conching (Conchita Chan, Jose’s younger sister) from Antipolo. Chan-Dapulag herself could not go; her husband was very ill then.
Not only did Chuan and I helped with the search, we ended up acting as travel agents ourselves!
He helped organize the event with the TV station while I helped the Philippine delegation put together their travel documents, such as passports, visas and letters.
Before she left I met up with Chan-Cruzat to provide her some final tips about traveling to China and lent her my handheld digital dictionary: it comes in really handy for those of us who cannot understand Chinese.
The three ladies met up in Hong Kong and traveled together to Guangzhou on Jan. 28. Chuan was also there to guide the representatives of Yun Hui’s daughters.
Too old to travel, Yun Hui herself could not be there. On the evening of Jan. 30, both families met for the first time during a live Chinese New Year show at Shenzhen TV station. The show was broadcast all over China, Hong Kong and Macau. Segments of the show were made available via Internet video upload.
The next day, relatives took the three ladies to Xiamen. There, they were treated to the weeklong Chinese New Year festivities.
As well, there were additional moments of fame when they were interviewed by the Xiamen Daily newspaper and Fujian TV.
They say time goes fast when you are having fun. With all these happening in just over two months, time’s passage might have felt more like a flash of lightning for the Chan family of Bobon!
It was a-nother wonderful moment for me to have helped reunite yet another family. It was especially moving to see this happen during the Chinese Spring Festival.
This time, it was extra special because I met Chuan, a new friend and Chinese counterpart who helped make it possible.
The author’s grandaunt Zeng Wen Juan (second from left), daughter Ang (洪), right, with relatives. Despite being half-Filipina,
Zeng had small feet, indicating her parents practiced feet binding. Photograph is probably taken late 1910s or early 1920s.
(Left) Li Hao Jie and wife Zeng Wen Juan and daughter Ang; (middle & right) The couple in later years.
Li Hao Jie’s funeral (above); the address of his tomb at the Manila Chinese Cemetery (top).
The author and his cousin Zeng Na Na and perform ha-ha-po-pi for Granduncle Li Hao Jie in November 2010.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – December 4-17, 2012 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue No. 11
In 2010, one of our relatives in China, my cousin Zeng Na Na (曾娜娜), visited us in Samar (see Tulay April 3-23, 2012 issue). On her last day with us, she said she wanted to visit the tomb of Li Hao Jie (李豪傑). Her father, Zeng Huan Zhang (曾焕章), specifically requested that she visit the tomb. I understood her request. Years back, I would not have fully grasped its importance. Why was it so important to locate the tomb of someone who died almost half a century ago?
Old photographs My sister Christine brought home some very old photographs after her surprise visit to our ancestral village, Eni, in Fujian, China in May 2005 (see Tulay Feb. 7-20, 2012 issue). Since she did not know any Chinese, the stories surrounding these photographs were lost in translation. We just knew our relatives’ neighbor gave it to her. Among the pictures were photos of a funeral. Who died? Was I related to him? I tried to find out by visiting the tomb itself. My search for Li’s tomb brought me for the first time to the Manila Chinese Cemetery (華僑義山). I showed the caretakers the photos but they insisted these would not suffice since the cemetery had gone through tremendous physical changes. They needed the tomb’s exact address. Address, I say? Why would there be an address for a dead person? They directed me to the Philippine Charitable Association on Soler Street in Manila’s Chinatown. Inside the association’s office were shelves holding large hardbound books of identical sizes and color. Dates clearly marked their sides. I guessed these were “books of the dead.” The place was dimly lit and looked gloomy, scary even. At the front desk stood a group of elderly Chinese men and women who looked, despite their age, like great protectors of the underworld. I felt as if I was in an inquisition during the Dark Ages. I showed my photos and said I wanted to look for the tomb. They asked in mixed Hokkien and Filipino why, how I was related to the deceased person and when the photos were taken. I explained, but I was not sure if they understood me, because I was talking in Tagalog, that I was doing it for the dead person’s relatives in China. But I could not give them the date. And I did not know how I was related to Li. They looked at me with suspicion and denied my request.
Number 64 I went home in frustration. To distract myself, I scanned the pictures to archive them. I browsed each frame on my computer closely, zooming in to understand each minute detail that showed Manila as it was 50 years ago: the fashion, streetscape, car models and even plate number’s format. Most of it looked like a world away, except for the plate number formats. It was the same and on the lower portion there was a number: 64. I began to inspect current plate numbers and I noticed in the same spot were stickers indicating the year a car had been registered. So, the picture must have been taken not earlier than 1964! Eureka! I returned to the PCA with this information and, despite the insulting looks and pessimism of the staff, I insisted on looking for the name. One of the staff, an old woman, took two large books labeled 1964 and went through each page starting from the last as arranged in sequence of the date of burial. It was amazing to see these records and how they gave emphasis to recording a person’s burial. Each page was made of thick paper. The deceased person’s Chinese name was written in large characters at the center of each page with details of the burial, all in Chinese characters, consuming the rest of the page. After 15 minutes, she finished scanning the first book without finding the name. She complained it was a waste of time, but I urged her to look in the other book. Looking irritated, she started with the second book, still complaining as she quickly glanced at each page. She finished through September, October, November and then December. Did I really make a mistake and waste her time? We were almost done with the second book. Then I sighed with relief: we found Li Hao Jie’s name! Back in the Chinese cemetery, I showed the address to the cemetery caretaker and he assigned it to a man. I was asked to return the next day. It was cloudy and nearing dusk the following day when my girlfriend and I went back. The man had found the tomb. As we followed him, I was awed to see huge mausoleums all over yet I had a creepy feeling of being stared at by other-worldly beings: almost every tomb had a picture of the deceased on it. As we moved on, the mausoleums disappeared and the tombs became smaller. The further we went the older and more unkempt the tombs became, as if they had been abandoned. After passing an area filled with burning coffins and paper-mache furniture, we stopped in front of a tomb whose protective roof had collapsed, weeds had grown around it, and the spot where the deceased picture would have been posted was now a spot of rust. The tomb marker where the name was written was hard to read. I bent down and read the name: Dy Ho Kiat (in Hokkien, Li Hao Jie in Mandarin).
Relations I told my cousins I found the tomb. Later I learned that Li was our distant granduncle and from then on, if time permitted, I visited the tomb to say a prayer and have it cleaned. Perhaps it is hard to understand from a non-Chinese’s perspective why it is important to pay homage to one’s ancestors. Even I cannot explain it properly. According to cousin Zeng Na Na, their family, particularly her parents – Uncle Zeng Huan Zhang (曾焕章) and Aunt Du Li Hua (杜麗花) – had been taking care of the tomb of Zeng Wen Juan (曾蚊娟), my grandfather’s cousin and wife of granduncle Li. When he came to the Philippines to earn enough support his family in China, she had stayed with my aunt and uncle in the same house my great-grandfather Zeng Xiao Mu (曾小目) built in Eni village, Fujian province. Perhaps Uncle and Auntie witnessed grandaunt’s difficulties with her husband so far away. In 2005, the first time I visited China, we met a distant cousin, Li’s grandson Li Liu Bin (李柳彬). I had brought the stencil I made from scratching pencil on the bust of Li Hao Jie’s tomb marker the previous year. I gave it to him, explained the tomb’s condition, and that I had already cleared some of the weeds off the tomb. “You’re a good man,” he looked at me with tears in his eyes.
Zeng Wen Juan, Justa Macaso’s daughter, with bound feet. Both mother and daughter died in China. (Right, above) Lucas Chan died in Catarman in 1949; and (below) Justa’s grandson, Mariano Chan, now retired, was a cook at the Northern Samar Provincial Hospital.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – June 19-July 9, 2012 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue Nos. 1 & 2
Chinese Filipino: Filipino citizens with Chinese ancestry.
Filipino-Chinese: Chinese citizens with Filipino ancestry.
This describes some of my relatives in China. They descended from great-grandaunt, Justa Macaso, an Ilocana.
We know very little of her, this woman whom grandfather called Di-Um. In fact, because we didn’t know any better, we thought Di-Um was the name of a man.
Today, having delved deeper into our Chinese heritage, we know Di-Um describes the family relationship. Justa was grandfather’s aunt, married to his second eldest uncle Emilio Chan (曾大目): di for second, and um for the paternal uncle’s wife.
We first heard of great-grandaunt Justa from my deceased grandmother, Arsenia Lomagdong-Chan. She said grandfather had a relative he called Di-Um from Ilocos.
Ilocandia is home to many Chans descended from people who lived in my family’s ancestral village – Eni in China (中國福建省晋江市池店镇御辇村).
This was confirmed by the Chan-Cu family association: there were so many Chans in Ilocandia from Eni the association set up a separate branch for them in San Fernando, La Union.
Perhaps this was where my ancestors first landed, and where great-granduncle Emilio met his future wife.
One week after the visit of Rufino Chan’s descendants in Catarman, 70-year-old Mano Anong (Mariano Chan) came to see Aunt Cecilia Chan-Lim.
At the entrance of our ancestral house in Catarman, he met one of my cousins who did not recognize him.
Irritated, Mano Anong complained to Aunt Cecilia that he was excluded at the welcome party for our Chinese relatives, and the younger generation no longer knew him.
Until then, we only knew his surname was the same as ours. It turned out his grandfather was Emilio Chan, brother of our great-grandfather. (Previously, we had known great-granduncle as Zeng Da Mu. This was the first we heard of his Filipino name.)
He said his grandfather Emilio married an Ilocana named Justa Macaso!
The next day he gave us letters dated 1938 sent from China to his father Lucas Chan
(曾羅加) in Catarman.
Mano Anong said his father often traveled to China. He helped bring my grandfather to China when he was very young and brought him back when grandfather was a teenager. He also went with his mother to bring Rufino and Franciso back to China in the 1930s. This made him a party to the separation of Nay Lourdes from her two brothers.
The turbulent years in China the following decades did not allow Justa to return to the land of her birth. She died in China in the 1950s.
Mano Anong said Justa often wrote to his father for help because they were going hungry. So bad was the food situation in China they sometimes ate paper or rice dust!
Great-grandaunt Justa had two children: the son Lucas, and a daughter Zeng Wen Juan (who stayed in China).
Justa Macaso played a central role in my family’s history, a microcosm of the interaction between China and the Philippines. Most of what little we know of her surfaced in the past seven years.
More information about her may yet come to light. (Eduardo Chan de La Cruz Jr.)
Nay Lourdes’ brother, Rufino Chan, was also known in China as Huang Jin Sha (黄金沙) and Zeng Jin Sha (曾金沙) in Eni village. Photo shows Chan with his wife Lin Ji (林及). (Top) Nay Lourdes is flanked by (counter-clockwise) her daughters, son-in-law and a granddaughter.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – June 19-July 9, 2012 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue Nos. 1 & 2
It was noontime but it rained so hard the sky dimmed as if dusk. The sky wept endlessly and streets began to flood.
A small procession of cars, pedicabs, and people in white were slowly winding its way through the narrow streets of coastal communities in Catarman, Northern Samar.
It was a difficult journey, as if to reflect the difficult life of the woman being laid to rest.
This is the story of my grandaunt, Nay Lourdes.
A widow, Lourdes Dy Chan-Gallano was 82 when she died early last year. Affectionately called Nay Lourdes, she was grandfather’s cousin, thus grandaunt to us. She lived in Barangay Baybay, a fishing village. Some of her 10 children and grandchildren live as fishermen in this coastal community.
Nay Lourdes never went to high school. Unskilled, unschooled, she could not earn a living. So, she stayed home as a housewife. She was poor most of her life.
Her skin was brown from the beach’s sun. She spoke fluent Waray and was very Filipino in her ways. Only the almond slant of her eyes suggested that she is pure Chinese. She does not speak, read or write Chinese.
In 1994 when I was doing interviews to seek out relatives in China, an aunt mentioned that my grandfather had a cousin, Nay Lourdes, whom they said was pure Chinese but spoke no Chinese.
A lot has happened since that interview but my curiosity about her story continued to nag me like an incomplete school assignment.
Today, I have found my relatives in China and when dealing with extended families in two different countries with an almost different culture and language, it is very difficult to explain to both sides how one is related to the other.
So I created a family tree to show relationships with photos and names. Pictures do speak louder than words, especially when words fail, most especially because I do not speak Chinese.
And when these pictures spoke, they told a touching story of siblings lost and found. And that of Nay Lourdes.
May 2010: tale from China
Completing our family tree was the main reason for my third visit to the family hometown near Quanzhou City.
I presented my draft to uncle Zeng Huan Zhang (曾焕章), second cousin to my mother Nimfa. He liked the family tree very much and recounted so many stories but I could not understand him. So he wrote down some of them so someone in the Philippines can translate them for me.
For great-grandfather’s generation on the family tree, he added more names to show four brothers. He gestured towards the sea, indicating they left for the Philippines. Great-grandfather died and was buried in Samar. Did the other three return to China?
He did not know.
His daughter, Zeng Na Na (曾娜娜), said two years back, she and uncle had traveled to Xiamen for the funeral of a distant relative. Under great-granduncle Julian Chan’s name she added two more names: great-granduncle’s sons. The younger son was the relative who died recently. The elder had been forcibly drafted into the Kuomintang army in his youth and never heard from again.
That was all they knew.
June 2010: tale from the Philippines
A month later, in Catarman, a family tricycle stopped in front of our house. Onboard is grandaunt Nay Lourdes, 82. She paid a rare visit to mother. She was ill and needed to see doctors in Tacloban City, Leyte. She asked for money and a ride from my father, the provincial administrator.
Meanwhile, mother asked about her life history and took notes for our family tree.
Nay Lourdes was born Oct. 8, 1928, in Brgy. Polangi, a village in the hinterlands of our town. Daughter of Julian Chan and Dy Ken Yu, both immigrants from China, Nay Lourdes said her father was brother to my great-grandfather, Maximo.
She had two elder brothers, Francisco and Rufino. Her mother died of illness a few months after she was born. Three days after his wife died, Julian, overcome with grief, drank poison and died. Orphaned, the three children were taken in by great-grandfather Maximo who raised them as if they were his own.
Misfortune followed in 1937, when Maximo died of an unknown disease that caused ulcers on his skin.
Orphaned again, they were to return to China with their Di-um Justa Macaso, a Filipina married to their father’s second eldest brother – Emilio Chan (Zeng Da Mu 曾大目), also my second eldest great-granduncle.
Justa was living in China at the time, and had traveled to the Philippines to fetch them. The older boys went back to China with her.
Deemed too young to travel, the young Lourdes was left behind in Catarman with an elderly Filipino couple. At 15, she was wed in an arranged marriage to a farmer nearly 10 years older.
In conversation with my mother, Nay Lourdes admitted her unrelenting search for her brothers since their separation more than 70 years ago. She learned only that one of her brothers had become a soldier, nothing more.
She knew the Filipino names of her parents and brothers, as told by acquaintances when she was still young. She had no pictures, no documents and letters, no physical evidence to trace her brothers’ existence.
July 2010: Questionnaire
When mother gave me her interview notes, stories from my Chinese relatives and Nay Lourdes seemed to click. I had a strong feeling these were of the same family but I had no proof. I had helped others find their relatives. Surely I can do the same for my own kin.
I asked cousin Zeng Na Na for a contact with the family of our deceased granduncle, Chan Bon Tieng Meliton (Zeng Wen Cheng 曾文呈), in Xiamen. He was cousin to my maternal grandfather. If Nay Lourdes was who I thought she was, he would be her cousin as well.
I got a phone number, then asked my sister Christine to email her Chinese colleague in Shanghai to call for a house address. I sent a letter with my questions. The response came by email.
August 2010: Di-Um Justa
During our town fiesta, we invited Nay Lourdes over. We had good news for her. But first we wanted her to tell her story again. Mother asked: What was the name of the person who took your brothers away?
“I was told it was our Aunt Justa Macaso,” she said.
The aunt who had separated the siblings became our cementing evidence, the missing link that would bring them together again.
I asked Nay Lourdes’ newly-found relatives to visit her, especially now that she is frail. In November, her niece Huang Yu Lian (黄玉連) and grandniece Wu Yu Xia (吴裕霞) arrived in Catarman. These were granduncle Rufino’s daughter and granddaughter. Cousin Zeng Na Na also came to visit for the first time. We had a grand reunion and gave them a taste of the famous Filipino hospitality.
December 2010: an era passes
Northern Samar experienced an unusually wet Christmas that year. It would rain for weeks on end. By mid-December, Nay Lourdes succumbed to pneumonia and other complications from her long fight with myoma. She was in and out of hospital for a week.
A few days into 2011, she passed away.
For my family, 2010 was a historic year. In nine months, our family tree took shape, traced from a single root that branched out across history, across the sea, and across generations to bear very diverse fruits but united in one familial bond.
Looking at the family tree, the death of grandaunt Nay Lourdes, the last of grandfather’s cousins, signaled the closing of an entire generation.
But in its wake, a new realization sets in, particularly with my generation. There is now a deeper understanding of our lineage and of how we came to be. The story of the previous generation, previously buried in memory and might have stayed buried forever, has been unearthed and will live on in hearts and minds.
View from the author’s aunt Hu Ming Feng’s house: a modern building which stands at the ruins of their ancestral home. The roofs of intact traditional houses in Eni village (御輦村), including the restored ancestral hall, at the middle. Restoration to the ancestral hall was
made possible through the donations of Chan families in the Philippines. Other modern buildings are visible beyond.
The author’s uncle and his cousins from Quanzhou visit Samar Oct. 10, 2010.
Visit of Gilbert and his mother to their granduncle in Zimao town, Jinjiang, Fujian, China.
First video conference after the Li family was reunited. Gilbert’s granduncle, Li Mou Song, cries.
A visit from the Philippines on May 6, 2005: the author (second from left) with (from left) his uncle, aunt, Junjun and his parents at Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou city, Fujian province.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – April 3-23, 2012 ~ Volume 24 ~ Issue No.21
The first time I set eyes on my Chinese relations was in May 2005. We met in China. My parents and several Philippine relatives were with me.
My 80-year-old uncle, Benito Lim (林崢嶸), probably the last remaining Chinese immigrant of his generation to settle in our town, was inspired by my successful attempt to retrace our roots, and volunteered to come along as our interpreter.
Throughout our long journey towards Fujian, Uncle Benito would periodically dial a number on his mobile phone, only to hang up in disappointment. Later, on the way to our hometown in Chidian (池店鎮), my aunt, Celia Chan-Lim (曾絲惹), told me uncle had been trying to contact his cousins at an old phone number he had, unsuccessfully. My Chinese cousin, Zeng Na Na (曾娜娜), and her husband, Li Hai Bo (李海波), a policeman, fetched us at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport.
Born in a village near the famous ancient bridge in Louyang in the late 1920s, Uncle Benito bade farewell to his cousins and left their village when he was around 12. He would not see them again until nearly 70 years later. He journeyed for several days on foot with his stepmother, Ching Shiok Thiu, towards Quanzhou City. From there, they traveled to the ports of Xiamen. At the time, ships were not allowed to dock at port because Xiamen was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army. They took a small boat to board a nearby ship bound for the Philippines. Uncle and his mother were to join his father, Lim Chin Hoc, in Manila, who had earlier migrated there.
At our hotel in Quanzhou, we asked our police cousin name to help Uncle Benito. After contacting several other people, he gave the phone to uncle. It was one of his cousins!
A few minutes later, the cousins arrived at the hotel lobby. It was strange to see Uncle Benito, a normally very stern and silent man, wearing a huge smile on his face. During the entire visit, Uncle Benito was usually in deep discussions with his oldest cousin.
Back in the Philippines a year after, uncle asked me to meet up in Manila. When we met, he introduced me to a middle-aged man named Aurelio Lim (林少雄), his cousin from Mindanao. Aurelio was to leave for China that week to meet his half-brother: uncle’s oldest cousin whom we met in Quanzhou in 2005!
Indeed it was a series of fortunate events, a “pay-it-forward” situation. Seeing these reunions reminded me of the immense joy I felt when I found my own relatives and when we finally met in person. It was then that I decided to start helping family and friends retrace their ancestry in China, to become a relative finder.
My first assignment was Gilbert Lee Mendova, a high school classmate in Samar and married to the cousin of my girlfriend Sierra Ty. During one of Sierra’s family gatherings, he chanced upon Sierra’s family albums, including pictures of her family visits to China.
Gilbert recounted that his deceased maternal grandfather, Li Mou Ming, is Chinese; but his family has no contact with their relatives in China. Li left China before he was 10, accompanied by his uncle who had earlier migrated to the Philippines. Li settled in Catubig, Northern Samar, opened a small business and started sending money home to his younger brothers. After a while, he returned to China. But life in China was difficult, and he returned to the Philippines in order to continue supporting his brothers. He never returned home to China after that.
Sierra told him about my successful search for my Chinese relations and he got interested. He told us his mother had been keeping old letters from China as my mother did. I asked for copies of the letters, and with the help of Tsinoy friends, we identified the sender and the village.
I immediately wrote a letter, hoping the same strategy I used before would work again.
Because I work in the information industry, I used the Internet. With Google Maps, I located Gilbert’s ancestral hometown in Zimao County, which is near Chidian County where my cousins live.
I also made use of known couriers, such as FedEx Philippines, to deliver my letter. Although expensive, the courier makes it a point that letters reach their destinations. I can even keep track of progress online. And, they don’t give up.
Through this tracking mechanism I learned the courier could not locate the address. Perhaps it has changed, as China has undergone so many changes. Because I had given them my cousin Xie He Ping’s (謝和平)
address as an alternative, it landed in the hands of my relatives and not in a dead-mail section.
A month later, in December 2009, I was in Intramuros watching the Grand Marian procession when my phone buzzed. It was a message from my Chinese cousin neighbor Xie Nan Shan (謝南珊). They found the brother of Gilbert’s grandfather; he’s 90 and still alive!
I myself have never met my granduncle and grandaunt in China; they passed away in the 1990s. So I was happy for Gilbert, that he had this chance to meet his granduncle in person. I was doubly glad to know I helped make this happen.
This is the second in a series by the author, who chronicles his efforts to trace relatives – his and others – in China. An account of his first attempt was published in Tulay, Feb. 7, 2012 issue. – Ed.
(Top row) The Ty Family: (from right to left) the author’s girlfriend, her parents and her Chinese grandfather. Her father, who has always been the author’s inspiration, is the only one in town who he knows had constant contact with his kin in China. (Second row) The author’s grandfather Chan Bon Ge 曾文藝 (left) with his elder siblings and his eldest sibling Chan YioNio 曾養娘 and Chan Bon Teng 曾文呈 (middle and right, respectively). (Third row) The author (left) with his friend and neighbor, William Ingco; Jose Chan曾明亮 (died in 1980s), eldest brother of the author’s mom. (Right) Author’s second cousin Zeng Jian She 曾建設. This is the first photograph sent to him after re-establishing communications with his Chinese kin. (Above) An old envelope from China. At the background is a letter the author’s mom kept. (Below) A copy of the envelope with the address written by Ingco and one of the drafts of the author’s first letter to China.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – February 7-20, 2012 ~ Volume 24 ~ Issue No.17
I am a software engineer from Northern Samar. I am 12.5 percent Chinese. I am no-read-no-write where the Chinese language is concerned. I am a “Chinese relative finder” and because of this, I have come to love my Chinese heritage. A relative finder was not in my vocabulary before. It is not in any Odd Jobs listing. I certainly do not earn any money being one. Yet, having become one, I find it a learning experience, a unique hobby, and a calling. I grew up unaware of my Tsinoy roots during elementary schooldays. I even denied having Tsinoy ancestry. Then one day, when I was 12, my mom was sorting through her cabinet and found an old letter written to my grandfather from his half-brother in China. Fascinating! This is related to my own heritage. I am a Tsinoy after all! The letter looked fragile, the paper thinned and yellowed with age. It was in English, written with perfect penmanship. The message conveyed a simple farmer’s life and the longing of siblings long separated by space and time. Apart from a few letters and black-and-white photographs, very little is known of our Chinese kin. My mother’s brothers have died at a relatively young age and it seems no one else in the family bothered to ask my grandfather about his life in China. Grandfather, Papay Bon Ge to me, does not talk much about it anyway. So I set out on a quest to trace our Chinese roots.
Searching Between study, play and family gatherings, I talked to a wide range of people: friends, classmates, relatives and elders of the Chinese community. When the Internet became widely available, I posted questions in blogs and on discussion boards. But I did not get any significant lead from these first attempts. Then my search went on the backburner in 2001 as I began college life in Manila. Years later, a feature report on “Magandang Gabi, Bayan” television news magazine program rekindled my interest. It discussed origins of Tsinoys and the opening of Bahay Tsinoy, a museum of the Chinese in Philippine life, in Intramuros, Manila. In an interview with the family of Tsinoy musician and businessman Jose Mari Chan, I learned that people in Chinese villages often shared the same surname. Everybody knows everybody! I told my girlfriend – a close friend at the time – about the report: she was one of many I spoke to during early attempts to find my Chinese roots. I was so envious because she had just visited her uncle in Jinjiang (Fujian province). She said Jinjiang is also called Chinkang, a place mentioned in the old letters I found. I resolved to ask her Chinese cousins for help, on the slim chance that perhaps this may lead to locating my relatives. When I compared her cousin’s address with that on the old letters, I found that the Chinese characters near my grandpa’s Chinese name looked identical. Could it be that these characters indicated a village name? If so, then it is highly probable that someone in that village would know my relatives. I needed to meet someone who could read Chinese cursive characters. It was November 2002. While wandering around our neighborhood in Sta. Mesa, Manila, I smelled incense from a sari-sari store. “Tsinoy po ba kayo?” I asked the store owner (William Ingco). He seemed about to laugh at my question. He asked why I asked. I showed him letters I brought along and told him about my quest. I asked him for confirmation if there is indeed a village indicated in the old envelopes. He confirmed there is and encouraged me to write a letter. He would write the Chinese address for me. Excited, I rushed home and wrote my letter, including putting my email address and some recent family pictures. I mailed my letter and hoped it will find its way to our relatives. Jan. 7, 2003. I was home from school and checked my email. I was about to delete one email with unreadable characters on the subject line. I thought it might be spam. But then on second thought, I decided to read it. “…It is very happy to receive the letter, we that abroad that you also know afar have the relatives, but we address that have no you, can’t make the contact with you… am your elder brother (曾建設).” It was from my second cousin in Jinjiang. It was the happiest day of my life!!! I did have apprehensions if the email was authentic. But the doubts quickly faded when they started sending pictures. These photographs literally gave meaning to the term “look-alike.” Grandfather died without having the chance to visit his siblings in China. It saddened to know from my newly-found family that my grandaunt and granduncle have passed away as well. In 2004, my sister made a surprise visit to our ancestral village. This finding and our families’ eventual meeting, in a way, fulfilled dream of the elders: that one day they will all meet again.
Branches meet Christine, my second eldest sister was in Shanghai on business, sent there by the multinational company where she works. I emailed one of my Chinese cousins to let them know. After several days, I heard from them. Christine was already with them in our hometown hundreds of miles from Shanghai! A relative flew to Shanghai to fetch her. When she arrived in Jinjiang airport, at least 15 relatives were on hand to greet her. They travelled to our ancestral hometown in a convoy, first stopping to visiting our ancestor’s tomb. Then, she was toured around the ancient city of Quanzhou. Female relatives held on to her arms all throughout. I thought we Filipinos are the most hospitable people, but my Chinese relatives, by far, surpass us. They literally squabbled among themselves for the chance to play host to my sister. She had a full-day, instant Chinese cultural immersion! For one, she had an overdose of the local pipa fruit and an unusually sweet soup with boiled eggs. Four households gave her the same snack when she visited each one. I learned it was a Chinese tradition to offer that to a relative one meets for the first time. The round egg represents smooth relationship and the sticky soup symbolizes close family bond. How would you decline such noble gestures? My relatives encouraged her to finish up each meal, but at the last household she was so full she had to beg off! Just like me, my sister does not know any Chinese so my relatives used a Tagalog interpreter. When night came and the interpreter went home, she was alone with my cousins. Between hand gestures and facial expressions, they made it through the night. Thank goodness for non-verbal communication! The next day she returned to Shanghai, but not before relatives gave her more than a suitcase full of pasalubong that we never saw before: more pipa fruit, herbs and preserved candies. Talk about excess baggage! It was a heartwarming experience for her; she almost cried on departure. Even though it was their first meeting, there were no apprehensions. She was welcomed as though our relatives had known her for long time. Such is the importance of having strong family ties in Chinese culture. And this mirrors how close our extended Filipino family ties are here in the Philippines too.
To Find Ones Roots Is to Find Oneself