Tag Archives: Chinese characters

Relative Finder: The missing tomb

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The author’s grandaunt Zeng Wen Juan (second from left), daughter Ang (), 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.

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(Left) Li Hao Jie and wife Zeng Wen Juan and daughter Ang; (middle & right) The couple in later years.

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Li Hao Jie’s funeral (above); the address of his tomb at the Manila Chinese Cemetery (top).

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The author and his cousin Zeng Na Na and perform ha-ha-po-pi for Granduncle Li Hao Jie in November 2010.

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By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.

Published by Tulay Fortnightly

Chinese Filipino Digest – December 4-17, 2012 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue No. 11

http://www.kaisa.org.ph:16080/tulay/archive/2012/110612/110612-V25N11.html

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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.

Relative Finder: Phl-Chi branches meet

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(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.

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By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.

Published by Tulay Fortnightly

Chinese Filipino Digest – February 7-20, 2012  ~ Volume 24 ~ Issue No.17

http://www.kaisa.org.ph:16080/tulay/archive/2010-2011/020712/020712-V24N17.html

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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.