Thursday, December 20, 2012

- the maternal grandpa grandma - 外公外婆家

These old photographs were salvaged from the old house – 1A.  They were left in the drawer of the main cupboard when moving house in 1983.  This by then the photographs had been left in the cupboard for close to 37 years odd.
These photographs are probably close to 90years old now.
These photographs were probably some of the few mementos that mum brought along with her from her maiden home when she married into the Koo Family on 09 Feb 1945.  These photographs were not kept in a proper album. They were in individual envelops and stacked in a corner of the drawer, together with our birth certificates, and other official documents. 
 As the curious kid, I would spend many a time rummaging thru these old photographs.  Though I had browsed thru them many times, there was never a time where I would take these photographs to mum and ask her who those in the pictures were. 
Looking at these old photographs now inadvertently brings back those childhood memories. 
Although mum never had a chance to share the memories of those photographs directly with us and pointing out who they were, she would nevertheless during dinner time told to us stories from the maternal family.
Maternal Grandpa Lim Fook @ 阉鸡 -
Mum used to tell us that her dad’s trade was to caponize chicken, and he was probably very skillful and much sought after then.  It was a trade that he learn in his youth, and he probably caponized domestic animals too.
Grandpa Lim Fook would practice his skills in the Menglembu market, and traveled to markets in the surrounding township.  It was common for families to rear their own fowls in the old days.   Caponized chicken was a special treat during festive season.
The folks would time when the chicken would be caponized such that it would grow to the right maturity and size came the big festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn or Winter solstice. The young chicken 生鸡 – young rooster - would be caponized at a tender age and would be ready for the table after 6 months or more.  
In the pre-war years cost one cent or so to caponize a chicken, and Grandpa Lim could make a decent living. 
He supported the family with his trade, and able to sent her two elder daughters to school.  Mum was always grateful to mention that hat she had a few years of primary education and  could read and write in Chinese.  She would sign my report card in Chinese, when I had poor results from school &  dad would refused to sign the card.
She also said that her dad used to own a shop in Menglembu. The shop had a signboard in bold characters hanging above the entrance -  福林-Fook Lim -and coined from Grandpa Lim’s name.  This single storey wooden building right in the middle of town used to be a bicycle repair cum barber shop as early as from the 1960’s. It was gutted by fire in the mid-2000.
Grandpa Lim Fook’s house was in the north-western area of Menglembu-北区.  Mum used to say that her maiden home was before the railway gate in the direction of a Chinese temple.
To folks of mum’s generation – the railway gate was a landmark of Menglembu in the pre-war years.  It was located at where the round-about with the groundnut monument is now.
(A railway line used to run from Ipoh to Tronoh, passing thro Menglembu town – which is now Jalan Lee Man Hin.  However during the Japanese occupation, it was dismantled by the Japanese military and the rail removed to build the Burma – Thai rail link.  This railway was made into the popular movie - Bridge over River Kwai - in 1957).
Grandpa Lim Fook was the eldest son & he had at least two other younger brothers and a younger sister. The 2nd younger brother who lived to the 1970’s & whom we called sookgong  叔公– moved to the western part of Menglembu   - choo kai pang,  probably during the resettlement of the rural household during the emergency period in the early part of 1950’s.
It was not clear which year Grandpa Lim Fook passed away- probably in the pre-war years.  However what we heard from mum was that he passed away on the eve of Chinese New Year.  As it was a festive occasion, there was minimum ceremony, and was sent for burial on an on an ox-drawn carriage.
Maternal Grandma Lim-Chong –
As to the photograph of this lady of good stature, who looked relatively tall, the fashion and era of the photograph pointed to one taken in the 1920’s. 
My only guess now was that she could be maternal grandmother whose family name was Chong -. In the 1960’, mum would visit her maternal grandmother who lived in Pasir Pinji, 兵如港怡保Ipoh. She would bring me along.
I remember this grand old lady – whom we called maternal great grandmother. 姐婆太 jia po tai – in Hakka.  She was of a tall stature, which this lady in this photograph reminded me of.  
Attired in traditional sam-foo, she looked resplendent in her finery's.
She had a gold chain with a jade pendant around the neck, dangling gold ear rings and wearing bracelets and a gold ring on her left hand. These pieces of gems were painted in gold and the jade pendant in green.  This type of decorative photography was in vogue from the early 1900’s/
She had on her left hand a watch, and was holding a handbag on her right.   She wore a pair of matching medium heeled cover strap shoes. 
Her hair was neatly combed back into a bun with a decorative gold hair pin.  She complemented her dressing with pieces of western fashion article. This blend of east and west was the fashion of that period.
She was probably in her early 30’s then.
If I recall well,  Grandma Lim-Chong  together with her mum was probably a dulang washer in her maiden years.  They lived in the Pasir Pinji village.
They would venture out to the tin mines early in the morning together will the village women folks to  wash the tin tailing's from the open cast mines or palong,  for tin ore.
 On a good day their labor could fetch a good return. By early evening they would troop home with a small tin of tin ore and dulang (wooden pan for panning tin ore) in hand.
Grandma Lim-Chong first two eldest children were girls.  In order to wish for a boy, mum told us that she, the 2nd girl was given the name - 锦娣 Kim Thye .  The character means -   younger brother - in Chinese.   True to the word – Grandma Lim-Chong next two surviving children were males.
Mum told us that the year her mother  passed away, the family broke a porcelain bowl during the Chinese New Year festive period. This  was supposed to portend bad luck for the coming year. 
As such it was a custom to wrap the broken pieces in red papers and to dispose them off after the auspicious day - so as to ward off bad luck.
From the family structure, it seemed that the relations from the maternal side settled in Malaya a generation earlier than from the paternal side.   Had Grandpa Koo came to Malaya in the 1900’s then, Grandpa Lim and Grandma Lim-Chong who were born in Malaya, their parents would have migrated to Malaya in the 1890’s or earlier.

1) Maternal grandpa and grandma
Maternal grandfather was the eldest son of the Lim family.  He married a maiden from the Chong family, and had four surviving children to adulthood – two daughters and two younger sons.  Mum was the 2nd daughter.  The two sons though born and bred in Malaya, left for New China in the early 1950’s. 
As such,  each year in early April during  Qing Ming, 清明- tomb-sweeping festival, it was left to mum who dutifully performed the ceremony at her dad and mum’s graves, until she passed away in the 1980’s.
Grandpa Lim’s ancestral roots was supposed to be : 溪,广东省
Maternal Grandma Lim-Chong was the eldest daughter of the Chong family.  She had a younger sister whom we called – yee-por - 姨婆.  I heard that she lived to 100years old. She had a brother who died early and survived by his wife who we called –kiu por - 舅婆. There often were visits by Mum to her relations in the 1960’s, during the Chinese New Year festive season..
2) The maternal great grandma’s  
Maternal Great grandmother Chong . 姐婆太 jia po tai was in her nineties, then.  She was mentally alert and clear, and when mum would chit chat with her and she would reply with a soft gentle voice.  I remember her calling us young boys – ah moi阿妹  - which is a term for girls.
It was a perhaps a tradition of her generation to call young boys – in the female term. It was a belief that, addressing a male child as the female gender,   would avoid unwarranted calamity to the child.  The female gender was considered a lesser treasure that would not attract undue envy in the greater realm.
Mum often narrated that maternal great grandmother Chong was a kind lady and  that  - Zhu bak por 朱伯婆 - a dear family friend  of paternal grandmother – remembered this kind neighbor giving her food when she went hunger in the young days.
Maternal Great grandma Lim, Grandpa Lim Fook’s mother, whom we called- AhTai 阿太-survived their elder children and lived into the 1960’s.  Great grandma Lim however was inflicted with eye problem in her later years and she became blind.
These hardy great-grand mothers probably came to Malaya in the 1890’s or even earlier, and they would probably be the early wave of female migrants that left their villages to venture to Nanyang. Their children were born in Malaya.
From the maternal lineage, ours would be the 4th generation in this land. 
3) Mother’s marriage 
Mum married in to the Koo Family in the Feb of 1945, six months before the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore. 
Over dinner, mum used to tell us that during the war years, she was working in paternal grandpa’s timber yard - soo liao chong - 树料厂 - making cigarettes. 
Probably cos of the deteriorating situation of  the economy in the later part of the war years, Grandpa Koo diversified from supplying timber to the mining industry to making cigarettes – the end process of rolling the tobacco into cigarettes, and most probably they were making cigars -  or chee-root yan, as they use to call locally.  Mum was one of the young girls working there.
Paternal grandmother was seeking a marriageable partner for her eldest son. Dad was then 21 years old and mum was 22. And, as they said the rest was history .. 
4) Photograph cum post card
The back of the photograph were printed the following words:  Post card, Carte postale (French), Cartolina postale (Italian), Tarjeta postal (Spanish)
5) Menglembu -   Choo kai pang – (in Hakka dialect) 
A notorious area in the 1960's -
To the local residents this regrouping area to the western part of the town had seldom been called Sai-khoi, 西区but always as Chowgai pang – in Cantonese dialect.   The other three areas to the eastern,  southern  and northern sectors of the town  are known as:  Doong-khoi,  东区,
Lam-khoi, 南区and Buk-Khoi -北区
How did the term chou-gai pang came about?  A possibility was that it came from a combination of Chinese and Malay word.
 Chou-gai – meaning to extract taxation. Chukai is the Malay word for taxation, and chou – is the Chinese word for extract –
 Pang – meaning  a shed 

Bordering Chou-kaipang – is Bukit Merah new Village – 红泥山新村.



This is the grave of maternal grandp and grandma in Menglembu, old hill.

It’s stated that the grave was erected  in 1946, 30th day of the 12 moon  (the 35year of the Republican Year).  That year of 1946 was most probably  the reburial date, a Hakka traditional of exhuming the bones and reburying them again in an urn.  This tradition came about from the migratory trend of the Hakka's over a thousand to escape war from northern to southern China.  In their migration, they brought along with them the remains of their ancestors.

Maternal grandpa’s name was : 林福养 and grandma’s name was 张鸿娇。Their ancestral district was 赤溪,广东.Chixi, Guangdong.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

俊頭 1929

While listening to the live web broadcast of RTHK Radio 3 early this morning, I came to know that today, 14Jun is Family History Day. 

Well, to celebrate this day - here's another one to share with the folks-


1929 - January

The caption to the panoramic photograph reads :
A scenic view in the direction of Zhentou lower village - taken in January, the 18th year of the Republic. 

As such there  is no need to second guess the date of this photo as it was clearly written that it was taken in January 1929, the 18th year of the Republic. 

Zhentou village -  俊頭村 - is our ancestral village, in Songkou, Meixian, Guandong province - 廣東省梅懸松口填. 

This photo was recently re-developed from a negative which was found among the old photographs. The original print used to hang on the wall of the old house, and the negative was probably made from this print.

The photograph was taken from a higher elevation - the overlooking the lower  part of the village in the direction  towards the Mei River - 梅江.

The vegetation in the background were bamboo bushes along the river's edge.  Our ancestral home - I made was -  the 1st house from the right - with the main door and open court yard facing the camera.

When I was in my teens - in the 1970's I used to pour over the original photograph to find where the ancestral home was.  I had it viewed together with another photograph -of Grand father's funeral - where the assembly of the clan was kneeling in front of the ancestral home.  The form of the house was clearly visible in that photo, and I had matched it that the  ancestral home was located towards the right.  (However, this photograph was lost when we moved house in the early 1980's).

In an earlier post, it was postulated that dad visited the ancestral village when he was 4-5years old, and that the photographs of him taken with 2nd grand aunt and Great-grand mother were taken in winter.  The time and season matched with this scenic shot of the ancestral village. 

Most probably - a photographer was invited to take this scenic short during that trip - and this memory of the ancestral home was then taken to Nanyang.

Songkou - 松口填 - the busy river port where many a Hakka would begin their journey to new world - is located on the opposite side of the river.  There was no bridge linking the two areas then.  It would take about a 5-10 minute ferry to cross the river to Songkou from Zhentou -圳头.

2011 - December

The bamboo bushes along the river banks is still there

However, concrete alien looking boxes have been sprouting haphazardly all over the village, since the 1980's,  scarring  scenic scape.  Seasonal flooding has further dealt a deadly blow to the lower village,  and not much is left of the old world charm...

Reference :

1. 俊頭  vs 圳头  - Zhentou

Zhentou in traditional Chinese script was written as : 俊頭   (talented, smart head)
In simplified Chinese script -  it is : 圳头  (head of furrow in a field)

This change of the village name -  with a  proletariat nuance could be from 1950's with the establishment of New China.

2. Family History Day - BrookstonAlmanac -


Sunday, June 03, 2012

life in the little old things yet –

While digging thro the shelves during March balek kampong, I found this mini post card calendar tucked away among the many old stuff from the university days in Japan. 

May 1982
This mini-calendar used to hang on the wall on my room at the dormitory.  I had chosen this series on the images of Buddha perhaps because – one of  he earliest encounter with Japan was that of Buddhist images and images.
It was a tourism booklet of Japan that I saw when I was in primary school, in the 1960’s.  The cover page of the elongated booklet page, was  a photograph of the statues of the  Kanon bodhisttavata - 観音菩薩 - images from the Sanjyusan-gendo (三十三間堂), Kyoto.  I could not recall how the brochure came about as in the 1960’s tourism was a a luxury that not many of us could imagine.   
A rich aunt though, went on a tour of Japan, and it was a big event then.  I recall a big group of us, bigger than the entourage, were there at the Ipoh airport to see her & her travel companions off. 
She was a devout Buddhist with a richly decorated altar at her home.    As souvenirs, she gave us a pair of pointed Japanese chopsticks, and a few small black colored trays for holding tea cups. I did not recall we ever used them as they were too exotic, and we kept away in the meat-safe.  Well, that was close to 50years ago. Perhaps the brochure could have been from her travel.
While travelling to Japan as a student years later in 1981, on the first visit to Kyoto, the first temple I visited was the Sanjyusan-gendo.  And before that, in that Spring, our first outing was to the Nara Deer Park - 奈良公園, -  and we visited the Todaiji-daibutsu - 東大寺仏 .

Naturally, perhaps it was this aspect of cultural Japan that consciously or unconsciously guided the choice of this calendar. 

June 2012
A google of Seitaka-dooji - 制多迦童子- brought up interesting notes. 
The main Buddhist deity associated with this attendant is Fudo-myo-o - -不動明王. Together with the another attendant Kongara dooji -  矜羯羅童子, they form the trinity – Fudo-sanzon - 不動三尊
Fudo-myo-o -不動明王- is venerated in Esoteric Buddhism, and not usually found in local Chinese Buddhist temples.  Perhaps, we could find a statue of this deity at the temple in Chinatown, without the attendants.
Interestingly, Fudo-myo-o  is supposedly to be the guardian of people born in the zodiac year of the rooster.  Perhaps, it’s a re-connection after a lapse of thirty years-
Time, how you have flown .. Leaving behind the little old things where there is life yet –

Reference :
2.      Taking a leaf from the article in today’s  Sunday Times, Sundaylfe – Reflect page – Giving Life to old stuff -  it finally give me the inspiration to sit down to reflect on this - 30 year old calendar.
3.      A memory to Brother-in-law, who passed away peacefully this morning in hometown, after a 6-month struggle with colon cancer. May be rest in peace - omtf.
4. 仏像 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

our grandma - born in the dragon year

When I was small, we used to hear that Granda was born in the year of the dragon.  And being a dragon lady, she had a relatively blessed life compared with her peers.  And this perhaps further reinforced the myth of mystical blessing of those born in the dragon year.  This would be the 120th anniversary of her birth in 1892.
When Grandma passed away in April of 1961, I was close to 4 years/ I could barely remember much of it.  However, from the photographs taken during the whole incident they had left quite a bit of a memory. 
Those photographs were taken over a number of days, recording her passing with all her children grandchildren and kin’s were gathered, of the many customary services, the procession to the cemetery at the foot of Kledang hill, to the final burial ceremony.  
The photographs were framed, and hung in the middle hall of the old bungalow for some years, and they were later taken down and kept away and subsequently were lost when we moved house.  Those photographs would have been quite a valuable part of the family history –as there a large gathering of the clan in Menglembu.  She was being one of the earliest migrant to this town.  
Similarly, the earlier passing of Granpa’s in 1948, was also recorded in photographs, which had since been lost.  There were two photographs of grandpa’s funeral in Songkou, China – on of the clan gathered in the funeral hall in the village home, and another with members kneeling outside the ancestral home in front of the pond, on the day of the funeral. 
It’s 51 years to the lunar calendar month, since Grandma passed away in 1961.  The incident had left a deep memory on the 4 year old kid. Perhaps, those were impressionable year when a kid started to get to remember his environment and these impactful incidents had left a deep impression. 
Come to think of it – these bytes in the memory bank - while other more recent memories were transiently stored in the random access, those from our childhood seemed to be burnt permanently into the hardware.
An incident I recalled was a cousin sister – Moi Zee - asking this kid if he saw any lucky numbers forming on the white paper tape that sealed the coffin.  She was a jovial & friendly cousin sister, and she was already married then.    Perhaps in the midst of all the mourning and gloom, perhaps grandma could bring some distractive luck to her brood.  The incident perhaps had also unconscious taught this little boy - what a down to tradition we had!
All in Grandma gave birth to 12 children – 6 daughters and 6 boys.   All survived to adulthood and got married and had families of their own.  All her children had passed away.
Dad was her fist male child after 4 daughters. Mom used to tell us over dinner, that the 2nd daughter was given away to another family as – Sim-Q-Zai – i/e  a hakka term to mean – young daughter-in-law. That is  - the baby girl was adopted by another family, with the intent of she becoming the wife on marriage age, to the son of the family.  
Grandma in turn, adopted another daughter – though she had already had five in the family.  We called her – Xie-Moi-Gu细妹姑.  She would be the one who would help grandma in the household chores.  Grandma though, did not pair her with any of her sons, and Xie-Moi-Gu married to another family and used to live in Gunong Rapat.  She used to visit us during festive seasons with her kids in the 1960/s and early 1970/s.
Mentioning Gunong Rapat, grandma had a younger sister – whom we called –姨婆- Yee-por.  I recall her a old toothless lady, and occasionally would come visit us in Menglembu.  She would help to sweep the compound clean of leaves, and heard that sometimes she would walked all the way from Gunong Rapat to Menglembu – a distance of 6-7miles.
Well, so much of Grandma – and the great grand-mother, and great great grand-mother to the many of us here, in China, and the US.
This photograph of her used to hang on the left side of wall of the old house, while that of grandpa was on the right.  Many of the pre-war documents were kept in the Germany made safe that she kept in her room.  They are an invaluable record of an earlier part of the family history..
Ref –
1)  The date and time of Granda's birth and death were clearly written on the back of the Granda’s portrait -prepared for her funeral service. The record were in – in Chinese lunar and the Gregorian  year -
古母 太君
公元一八九二 年西 九月十
Born:  GuangXu – Renchen year, Lunar 8th moon 20th day, Chou hour; 10 September 1892
Died : Republican Xinchou year, Lunar 3rd moon 12th day, Wei hour; 26April 1961l 2:20PM
2. Tablecloth
The red tablecloth – if not a 100 years old is close to that.  Dad mentioned that as long as he could remember this table cloth have been in the house.  It is a square piece of European looking tapestry of flora design.  Every Chinese New Year – it will be laid out over the round marble – which could be as old. It could possibly have moved house – 4 times in Menglembuu - over the century or so.

2014 Oct02 - 

Traditionally, other than Qingming in April, the Autumn day of double nine - Chongyang is also a day for outing to the hills and paying respect to the ancestors. 

Here's the  photograph of grandfather’s grave taken in Songkou in December 2011, and grandmother’s grave in Menglembu, Perak, taken in September 2014.

1883 - 1948
Songkou, Dec 2011

Menglembu, Sep 2014


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

what’s in a receipt – 36.11.21

1. Money home
松口, 圳头. 
Though it is a small piece of paper not  more than 14X7cm, what is printed and written on it tells a story of a different era, a different time.
 Whenever I walked past the ICBC Bank in People’s Park, Chinatown, and seeing the foreign labors from China lining up to send money home, I would visualize  a century and more ago, grandfather  would have been doing a similar thing –i.e.  remitting his hard earn money to his family in Songkou -
Perhaps with this thought in mind – it makes me feels a sense of connectedness & affinity to these folks. Our family too started off like them – albeit a hundred odd years earlier.

Well, by the time of this receipt dated 36.11.21 – that is,  the 36th year of the Republican era (民国)in 1947 November 26th,  grandpa was 64 years old, and had returned to his village for good.  He came to Nanyang – 南洋- and ventured to the tin mining outpost of Menglembu in is his early twenties, together with his 2nd brother.  
For the greater part of the next forty odd years and more – he was engaged in th timber industry – a service industry to the tin mines, supplying logs and planks for the palong ( in open cast mines) and the mining kongsi (dwellings for workers, operations headquarters,  depot  - all rolled into one) in the vicinity of Lahat, Papan and Menglembu.   His circle of business partners were mostly fellow Hakka tin miners  who hailed from the  neighboring  Hakka districts of South China.
Remittance to the home village was similarly sent thro the Hakka business network, in Ipoh.
On this  receipt, one can find two English words  – a)  LEEBROS –  which was the telegraphic code of the remitting company – Li Sanmao - 李三茂 - and b) Koo Kwat Chin – 古国祯 - in the red stamp  on the right bottom corner – grandpa’s chop which was a modernized version of the seal.
LEEBROS located at 39, Leech Street, was the main agent used by grandpa to remit money to the village.  The other agents were Eu Yang Sang, and thro Charted Bank.
This receipt was an acknowledgement that the sum of 5 million Republican yuan - - was duly received by the countersigned– on 21Nov1947, and stamped with the grandpa’s chop.
The person countersigned on the receipt was not grandpa, but was 4th uncle – with his nicely written namely as 古锦琳. – Gu Jinlin  (pinyin) . The person who remitted this sum from Ipoh – was dad -古锦宏 Gu Jinhong.
The establishment where this sum was remitted to, was located in the upper main street of Songkou town – Xinhe Zhuang - 信和庄松口上大街 – marked by the dark colored chop in the center of the receipt.

2.       Exchange rate 121 - Straits $ to Republican   1945 – 1947
How much was this princely sounding sum of 5million Republican yuan  equivalent to?
  Well, luckily the sum could be traced to accounting record.  From the handwriting it further confirmed that it was dad’s entry.

It stated : On Nov 06, a remittance of  $5million republican yuan was made thro Li SanMao to  - to be received by Daren大人手收 -  (Daren - an honorific old school address for one’s superior - grandpa) .  Following was a note in Suzhou character for a sum of $190.00 Straits dollars.
 This would make it at an exchange rate of $1= ¥26,315
Interestingly from the first record entry made just after the end of WW2 in Dec 1945 to the last entry made two years later in Dec 1947, the Republican yuan would have depreciated by close to 140 times against the Straits dollar!  The slide was especially drastic starting from 1947 -
Here’s a sample the exchange rate on remittance sent thro Li Sanmao, Ipoh, to Songkou, China.
10Dec1945          $1=¥256
16Mar1946          $1=¥625
27Jan1947           $1=¥2,040
26May1947         $1=¥10,000
26Aug1947          $1=¥11,674
23Sep1947          $1=¥Y14,705
06Nov1947          $1=¥26,315
09Dec1947          $1=¥35,714
Well, this is an unexpected lesson in economics coming out of the family history.  This was a period of turbulent upheaval in China. Perhaps we have a pretty good hindsight now, to come to think of it.
To grandpa who longed for his homeland – come what may home was where the heart was. In the hills lie his ancestors, and it would be there he would return.   Perhaps, the mountainous terrain of the Hakka highlands had nullified the impact from the hyperinflation, and dulled the distant din of the gunshots raging south.
PS –
1.       Republican Yuan  -indicated  as ¥    /  

Here to mean the existent currency in circulation at that time.  It could be called by different notation

Well, a google on the republican yuan  - leading to Chinese currency indicated that there were two period of hyperinflation in China that brought about the downfall of the regime.  One was towards the end of the Yuan dynasty - 元 - (1271–1368 ) and the next was during the end of the republican rule in mainland China  - 民國 - (1911-1949)

Chinese currency –