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 –