Relative finder: sowing seeds

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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.

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The author’s uncle and his cousins from Quanzhou visit Samar Oct. 10, 2010.

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Visit of Gilbert and his mother to their granduncle in Zimao town, Jinjiang, Fujian, China.

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First video conference after the Li family was reunited. Gilbert’s granduncle, Li Mou Song, cries.

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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.

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By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.

Published by Tulay Fortnightly

Chinese Filipino Digest – April 3-23, 2012 ~ Volume 24 ~ Issue No.21

http://www.kaisa.org.ph:16080/tulay/archive/2012/040312/040312-V24N21.html

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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.

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