Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the hanami – ガンバレニッポン

1981 April 09 -

When the JAL flight from Subang International Airport, KL touched down in Osaka, it was late eveing.

There were two seniors from the Osaka - University of Foreign Studies OUFS - to receive us. There was minimum conversation and after a 6-hour journey – these seniors came across as a little detached. They put us into a cab and we were on our way to the campus.

All in there were three of us from Malaysia – another male student, and a Malay female student. It was our first trip to Japan – to further our graduate studies in the - Land of the Rising Sun. And this was our first stop – to do a six month course in the Japanese Language before we moved on to the college of our major.

As we wound our way thro Osaka to the university campus in the North – it was already dark and we could not see much. I remember there were road works on a narrow stretch of roads, and the barriers that segregated the roads were well-lighted.

When we arrived at the foreign students dormitory - a resident lecturer who was in the office received us, and aided our registration. As it was still holiday season and the new academic term had not begun, the campus was very quiet.

After which an elderly caretaker guided us to our rooms. This old man was much friendlier – though we could not really make out what he said in Japanese – we found him to be helpful.

The dormitory canteen was closing for the day and there was only one staff left. As we had not had our dinner – she was kind to stay on to prepare a light meal for us.

Dawn broke early in spring.

It was barely 6am and it was bright outside. The weather was cold - much colder than Cameron Highlands - our only reference then of a cold day.

Spring came early that year.

The Sakura trees had already gotten into full bloom a week earlier. New leaves were sprouting - and we could still see the lingering flowers and it was the tail end of the cherry blossom season.

For a true hanami-花見– cherry blossom viewing, I would have to wait till the following year to experience the awe & splendor of the Sakura trees in full bloom.

Monitoring the advance of the Sakura trees flowering as it moved from the southern to the northern part of Japan was and is as much a national activity.

For the next two springs in Japan, I would be as eager as the locals, on the lookout in the TV forecast when the 桜前線 – sakura zensen - the Sakura front - would be reaching Tokyo.

Hanami – was also a time for merry-making – a time for picnic and party – to drink sake, sing & dance beneath the Sakura trees. After the harsh winter, it would be the first outdoor activity to celebrate the harbinger of spring. It was also a time to renew bonds with fellow students, teachers and colleagues.

The hanami was one of a list of many customs and traditions that was uniquely Japanese that I enjoyed during my stay in Japan.

2011 April 09

Due to the colder weather the Sakura season was late this year.

It was reported that many a Japanese in the spirit of self-restrain - jishu - 自粛 - & in empathy and solidarity - with their fellow countrymen hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake – 東日本大震災 - had refrained from celebrating hanami.

However, the 5th generation sake maker of Nambu Bijin – 南部美人酒 – traditional rice wine - located in earthquake-hit prefecture of Iwake - had loaded a plea in you-tube to fellow Japanese to put aside jishu & to go out to enjoy the cherry blossom viewing.


In addtion to all your donations in kind and spirit -which they are most thankful, the sake makers in the earthquake hit zone of Iwate prefecture would be most appreciative of your choice in drinking their sake at your hanami gathering … wherever you may be...

Gambare ! Nippon –


1. 被災地岩手から「お花見」のお願い②【南部美人】

2. ガンバレニッポン, 頑張れ日本, GAMBARE NIPPON - Go! Japan
- Rally to aid victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake

3 . QSL card – Radio Japan
DX - verification card


Friday, April 08, 2011

old photographs - 老照片 - the early generations

The photograph was taken at the Young Cheong studio - 容昌- in Ipoh.

Ipoh was written in Chinese as 壩羅 – Balo - instead of 怡保。

Seated in the middle was great grandfather and great-grandmother & their family. Grandfather the 3rd son was seated on his far left .

As the photograph was not dated, the year 1906 was derived at from the age of the baby seated on the lap of the lady dressed in peranakan attire on the far right of great-grandmother. The nyonya lady was grandfather’s wife.

According to the record in the family genealogical record – grandfather’s son was born in the year of Emperor Guangxu - 光緒乙巳年 – in the 7th lunar month. That would be Aug 1905.

Assuming that the baby to be about 6 to 8 months’ old, that would make put the photograph to be taken between Feb – Apr 1906.

Grandpa was born in the year 1883 – and he would be 23 years old.

What a dashing scholarly figure he looked - in his traditional garb, wooden cloth shoes with thick soles and complemented with a round fan. Being the 3rd in his family – he was known as Gu San - 古三– to his town folks in later years.

It was common then for young men to marry local peranakan ladies. Grandfather's first wife the nyonya maiden was from the Xie Family- 謝氏.

The Gu family genealogy - 古氏族谱- recorded that she gave birth to two sons and died at an early age of 22 years old. Only the first son survived to adulthood.

Grandfather's two other brothers were in the picture. 2nd granduncle was seated next to great-grandfather, and the one next to grandfather was 4th granduncle.

2nd granduncle's wife was seated next to great-grandmother. She was from China.

As a Hakka’s it was not a custom for the womenfolk’s to have dainty bound feet – for the Hakka women folks had to work in the fields, tending to the housework bringing up kids, and attending to the elder in-laws, while the husband venture out to work in distant land.

What was the occasion for this family photograph? Why was  great-grand father and great-grandmother & all the family members here in Ipoh. Grandfather and 2nd grandunlce and their families stayed on, while great-grandfather, great-grandmother and 4th granduncle returned to China. How long was their stay in Nanyang, and when did they return to China?

If I remember well, I heard from dad that great-grandfather initially went to Burma, that is Myanmar, but later made their way to Malaya. As such grandfather could have left the village for Nanyang - 南洋 - in the late 1890/s or early 1900/s.

Photographs of great-grand fathers’ and great-grandmothers’ graves in China, used to hang in the old house together with this photograph.

These questions of when the early generations left their village and what was the occasion for the gathering in Ipoh / Menglembu - were family history lost in antiquity.

Perhaps, some living elders who still have the answers, be it here or back in the village in China.


This wedding photograph was badly soiled when it was salvaged from the old house 1A.

As a wedding memento - it was clearly dated and the event and date recorded in ink at the back of the photograph -
映於〡〩〢〧年乃民國〡〥年 六、二六号
陰暦 丙寅五月十七日

It was taken on the 26June1926, the 15th year of the Republic in the lunar year of binyin on the 17th day of the 5th lunar month. The bridegroom, age 21, standing in the middle of the photograph in black suit and bow tie was the baby in the 1906 photograph.

Grandfather was seated on the right of the bridge, a maiden from the Liang family -
梁氏. Grandpa would be 43 years old.

Seated on this right was his 2nd wife, and our immediate grandmother. His peranakan wife – as we heard died at a young age and subsequently grandfather re-married. Grandmother was born in China and she was from the Zou family - 鄒氏.

Seated on grandmother’s lap was a baby - about six months’ old. He would be our 3rd uncle, while the groom being the eldest son of grandfather was our 1st uncle. The first of grandfathers’ sons from his 2nd wife, was dad. Dad was on the far right among the children seated on the floor in the front row. He was 2 years old then.

All in grandfather had six sons and 6 daughters that lived to adulthood - one from his firt nyonya wife, and the rest from his 2nd wife.

2nd granduncle and his wife, were seated on the right of the photograph. The adult womenfolks were his daughters, as we know that 2nd grandmother had three girls, and did not bore any male.

The house where this photograph was taken was in Menglembu. It was probably behind 1A across Jalan Lee Man Hin. That was before they moved to another house where the current police station is located. When I was small, I heard that dad was born in that house - and it was probably this house in this wedding photograph.

Interestingly, there were two big lantern's - one was written with the characters - Gu Family and the other - Welcoming the bride. It was the custom and tradition of then, and these red character lanterns were too seen in the peranakan wedding ceremony.

Grandfather returned to China in 1946 after the the Pacific War ended. By then he would have left his village close to 50 long years. His vision then was to bring his brood back to China.

However, before it could materialise, he passed away in 1948, and his wife, his children and the grandchildren remained in Nanyang...


This 1926 wedding picture, together with the 1906 photograph, was left behind in 1A when the family moved house in 1983. In the late 1980/s or early 1990/s went back to 1A and found these two photographs on the floor in dad’s room, beneath the windows. The photograph frame had rotted badly after years of exposure in a dank and humid room where water would seep thru the windows during heavy rain.

The numbers written in the back of the photographs consisted of Shuzhou numerals蘇州碼子– which was the numerals for Chinese accounting then -


1. Chinese calendar – 万历年

2. Shuzhou numerals蘇州碼子

3. 古氏族谱- 革公派 - Gu Family Record - Ge-gong branch -

卅五世 ( 35th Generation)


卅六世 (36th Generation)


長子 永明

次子 永亮

(2nd granduncle died in Lahat, Perak, and 2nd grandaunt in Menglembu. They were buried in the 'old hill' cemetery, Menglembu.

三子 永禎  
清光緒癸未年(1883)十月十七曰子時生配謝氏操烈廿二歳生二子錦榮錦鑫継妻鄒氏光緒壬辰(1892)八月廾日丑時生現生三子錦宏錦環錦琳 (後錦朱錦昌)


Grandfather passed away in his home village Songkou, Meixian, in 1948, and buried there. While grandmother passed away in Menglembu in 1961 and buried in 'new hill'.

All their sons and daughters have too since passed away.

四子 永祥
光緒戊子崴 (1888)四月廿七自曰配李世

(4th granduncle and family remained in China. The elders from China mentioned that one of his daughters migrated to Malaya too).

Update -
12.04.2012 - replace  photographs re-taken on 13Mar/Menglembu


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

clear & bright – 清明

Living in the tropics where the climate is hot and humid the year round, an indicator of the passing of the seasons is the traditional festivals.

Qing Ming falls on 05April this year. Variously it is translated as the Tomb-Sweeping festival and it is a major event in the calendar of traditional Chinese festivals.

Its importance as one of the major traditional festivals is perhaps re-emphasized when Mainland China officially declared Qing Ming as a public holiday in 2008. Qing Ming has been a public holiday in Hong Kong and Taiwan all this while, though not a public holiday in countries in SEA with large Chinese diasporas. Qing Ming – in itself is one of the 24 solar nodes in the Chinese lunar calendar – as such it always falls with the first week of April each year - usual on the 4th or 5th of April.

Another traditional Chinese festival fixed by the solar term is Winter Solstices – which usually falls on the 2nd or 3rd day before Christmas.

The Qing Ming as I recall as a child:

When we were snall mum would used to tell us that a hundred days’ after Winter Solstice it would be the Qing Ming festival. Truly so – to be exact – it’s 104 days after deep winter – Spring is in the air.

However, in the tropical climate – there is nothing much to remind us of spring time, other than this festival – the big one after the Lunar New Year festivities. It’s the time again where we would have chicken for dinner.

Days before the festival – mum would earnestly prepare the offerings that would she would take on that day to the grave of the ancestors. There were the paper offerings of gold & silver – with pieces of paper sutra that she would bundled together with candles and joss-sticks. As the number of sets to prepare was quite many – she would mark each bundle neatly with a pencil to identify the relation that she had prepared for.

Other than the immediate members on dad’s side of the family, she would also prepare the offerings for members from her own side of the family, namely he mum, dad and her grandmother. This was because – she was the only daughter around that had the time to perform this annual filial task – as both her brothers had returned to China in the early nineteen fifties to support - the New China in construction.

As far as I could remember, the tomb-sweeping obeisance had never been observed on the actual day of Qing Ming. For one – it seldom fell on a weekend – a non-workday, and even if it was on a week-end, the ceremony was observed a week or so earlier for some feng-shui reason. Usually it would be by word of mouth round the community to perform the prayers earlier.

We would set off early at 8:00am where the air is till cool. It’s an extended family spring excursion of sort – with the uncles, aunt, cousins, nephews, nieces all in tow. It would take a half a day to make the rounds making the obeisance – with clearing of the weeds.

First it was to tombs of grandma and 5th uncles, on the new hill. After which it was to the old hill where 2nd granduncle and grandaunt – the elder brother of grandfather - were buried.

After these observances and prayers on dad’s side of the relation, mum would then make her way to offer prayers on her side of the relations. By the time all the prayers were done, it would be close to noon, and the sun is high.

As with other traditional festivals, the Qing Ming tomb-sweeping observances imparted an invaluable part of the Chinese culture and tradition to the young impressionable mind. For one it passed on values of filial piet. It also promoted family kinship and it was one of the rare occasions where the extended family of the same progenitor went on outing together – albeit to the hills.

Our elders would tell us stories that back in China then – Qing Ming festival would spread over many days- as they would literally had to hike to remote hills where the ancestors were buried.

The tread to the cemetery was also a geography lesson on China of sort. In each of the gravestone was carved the province and locality of deceased. Dad would point out to where these localities were in China.

The early migrants were mainly Cantonese and Hakka from Southern China. As such - 梅县 – Meixian, 焦岭 - Jiaoling, 五华-Wuhua, 兴宁-Xingning. 平远-Pingyuan, (the嘉应五属the five districts that make up the greater Jia-Ying district),大埔-Dapu, 三水-Sanshui,东莞-Dongguan, ,江门-Jiangmen,清远-Qingyuan – became familiar names.

Well, so much for Clear & Bright..

Postscript –

1. The photograph - Menglembu cemetery view from the ‘old hill’.

The cemetery should be more than a century old. On Qing Ming tomb-sweeping day , the first stop would be to the - Dabogong Shrine - 大伯公 庙 –dedicated to the God of Earth – the guardian of god of the cemetery - wooden building painted red.

Kledang Range - west of the Kinta Valley – in Perak, is located in the background. The grave in the foreground was built by the Menglembu Jiaying Assocation - a Hakka clan association. It was a - 总坟–a symbolic master grave dedicated to fellow sojourners from the home counties. It was consecrated 1941, Oct - 民国辛巳年.

The couplet:

萬里青坐凝紫氣 - a ten thousand li sitting on the green, the auspicious cloud gathers
五城芳草映斜陽 - the fragrant grass from the five districts, reflecting in the setting sun
澤蔭五城 – Beneficence to the five districts


1. Qing Ming

2. Menglembu Jiaying Association 万里望嘉应五属会馆