Ah Dia*, (endearing salutation for Dad* in my Teochew dialect)
Happy Father’s Day! I first wrote this letter to commemorate your 30th anniversary and to celebrate your journey of resilience in life. Yours is amongst the many journeys undertaken by countless others in the history of the Chinese diaspora. This year 2017 is your 33rd anniversary and it’s time for an update.
Your family here on Planet Earth has grown larger to 24 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Your seven* children are staying bonded as a family and living in harmony. That was Mom’s last wish.
Since Mom joined you in January 2011, the both of you are in our thoughts and prayers during family gatherings. We celebrated the last Chinese New Year Eve with a reunion dinner with Ezra* and his family. He was called home to the Lord 0n 11 May 2015.
Nowadays, we (including your grandchildren and great grandchildren) celebrate Chinese New Years in different parts of the world – two locations in the United States, London and Shanghai in addition to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. So our family has its own diaspora.
Dress Neatly And Smartly
The photo below was taken during Mom’s 88th birthday celebration in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. I know that you will like it for you had always taught us to dress neatly and smartly, and that’s how we did.
The World And China Since 1984
I remember that you kept abreast of news around the world by reading your daily Chinese newspaper and by listening to your trusted, but crackling, transistor radio. The world since 1984 has changed a lot. Nowadays people can communicate with nearly the speed of light! They have so many choices to stay in touch. Emails, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Viber and WhatsApp – to name just the big ones. Facebook is not available in China, but there’s Sina Weibo. People do not need to hide messages in mooncakes to start a revolution, unlike during the Ming Dynasty.
There’s this Airbus A-380 airplane that is even bigger than the Boeing B747 you knew. By the way, Heng still flies** for a living, but not with MAS. He was flying the new large Airbus A-330 on the long haul flights with a low-cost airline called Air Asia X. Now he flies** in a simulator and trains younger pilots. I thought I should like to update you on aviation since at one period, three of your children were making a living in airlines.
Whilst technology continues to accelerate the pace of development in every human endeavour, there are still many wars around the world. In the misguided use of religion, people are still fighting each other like in the middle ages. We are the only species in the animal kingdom which kill one another, and not for food. I am afraid Aldous Huxley was right in making that observation in his book “Ends And Means“.
China’s Scientific And Technological Achievements In 2016
I am adding this update so that you are comforted by the country’s progress in the scientific and technological fields. As a strong country, China need not see its people be made to smoke opium in exchange for tea! It is no longer bullied as the sick man of Asia. The following video is for your Father’s Day enjoyment.
Your Journey of Resilience From China
China, the country of your birth has a population of over 1.3 billion people. Lest you worry about the people, there is no need to for there is no more starvation stories such as those which you had told to us. Why? Because a very stoic man and a very pragmatic leader was enlightened enough to “open up” China in 1979. He was not concerned whether a cat is black or is white, but it’s a good cat so long as it catches a rat. That part you knew on earth, but would you have guessed that China’s economy is now the second biggest in the world?
Perhaps harder for you to extrapolate, based on the China which you left as a young boy, is the China that would become the third country with a successful crewed space program. An astronaut was sent successfully into space aboard Shenzhou 5 on 15 October 2003.
Your ancestral home in Swatow (now known as Shantou), then a town with 65,000 inhabitants, was struck by a devastating typhoon in the summer of 1922. According to Wikipedia, that Swatow Typhoon, killed 5,000 inhabitants and is ranked amongst the deadliest typhoon in history.
As A Young Boy In Swatow
Knowing that way back as a young boy in Swatow, you attended school for barely 6 months. Your formal schooling was disrupted by the prevailing turmoil in post-revolution China and the typhoon aftermath. Soon after, as an 11-year old, your Mom (my Grandma) packed up and sailed to the Southern Seas with you in tow. She was on a mission to find your Dad (my Grandpa whom I never saw). She brought you up alone by working as a cook in a wealthy Teochew family.
She never found Grandpa, but she worked diligently. Known as the lady with a golden heart by her employers, she was treated well and moved with them to Kuala Lumpur. Years later, sometime in the 1990s when I visited the surviving matron of the house with Mom, I learnt about her good reputation.
Looking back, I realise your generous support and belief in education for all of us. I will always retell, with great pride, the story about you buying us a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The cost was, of course, rather astronomical. You paid the nearly-2,000 Malaysian dollars with an 18-month long instalment plan!
Man Of Few Words But One With A Ready Smile
You grew up as a single-parent child and imbibed the kindness of Grandma. From the photo which you hung at our old home I can still recall mentally, the picture of her kindly face, a face in the shape of a melon seed – the type possessed by classical Chinese beauties. The black-and-white photo showed her in simple “sam foo”, wearing her hair tied neatly with a bun behind her head. Now I can connect the dots. That’s why you had always wanted us to dress neat and smart.
I know for sure that you will beam your ready smile down to me whilst reading this letter. You will still say little by way of comments. It’s not because of what I wrote, but rather that was how I remember you to be – a man of few words but with an ever ready smile. Unfortunately, I have the latter trait but not the first!
I Know It In My Heart Your Unconditional Love
In my time with you, it was not the norm nor the practice for me to tell you of what I think or feel about you, let alone to hug and to kiss you and Mom. I wish to tell you how I remember you and the life skills that you have taught.
Leaving your home in China at 11, starting with little formal education, growing up without your Dad and then losing your home during the May 13, 1969 riots – such traumatic events were more than anyone should be subjected to. Yours was an epic journey. A journey of immense resilience and fortitude.
Honesty And Integrity
You showed me integrity and honesty. Even after our house was burnt down ( May 13 riots in 1969 in Kuala Lumpur) and moved to another place, you paid those 2 shops all the outstanding credits.
I don’t think my generation, let alone your Grandchildren’s generation, can ever imagine what you went through. I admire your courage and stoicism in migrating blind to a new country without many resources and still managed to thrive.
As I grow older, I’m more appreciative of what you and my grandparents did to give me a chance in life. After all, we inherited fairly good genes from you.
Your Teochew Maxims
Now I can see more clearly the meanings of the Teochew maxims which you taught us. They have become a part of me, a part of my consciousness to live by what the great 4th century BCE Indian teacher and philosopher Chanakya teaches – to spread goodness in all directions.
1. Mouth Sweet Sweet, But carry a dagger behind – teaching us not to be double-faced, or talk bad behind people’s back
2. Bua Tang Sai – half a shit pot. About being humble, show humility, not to boast, not to be loud.
3. Bor Tua Bor Soi – not showing respect to elders, no manners, poor family upbringing.
I do hope that you will be motivated to dig into your family’s journey and discover the legacy of your forefathers. Happy Father’s Day …Ah Dia
- It is often easier to write about Mom, than paying compliments to Dad. The word “Mom” ranks top of the pops, but “Dad” somehow ranks low in the heap. To my children and Gen Y readers, please read my post with some give-and-take.
2. This post was first published on Sep 30, 2014. It is now updated and re-published on June 17, 2017, for Father’s Day