Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Historical visit of our father's hometown in Fujian , China 2011

Great excitement lingered in the crisp air of dawn as I woke up hurriedly before sunrise on the morning of Nov 27, 2011 to begin a thrilling voyage with 14 other family members for a journey of a lifetime.

Being my first trip abroad in ten years, it was personally exciting for me. For the others who travelled all the time, this trip was extraordinary too.

It was a journey out of the blue, a trip that would bring us into the history of our ancestors, a trip that would bridge us to newly found paternal cousins across the South China Sea to our origin and our roots in Fujian, China.

Prior to this voyage, there were many arrangements for the get together reunion. Eight members of the eleven members of our family, some with spouse and their children would proceed enthusiastically to re-unite with six members of eleven children of our late elder aunt in Fujian, China.

By now, alas our late aunt had passed on. She and her immediate family had survived in many countries mainly Singapore and Indonesia before they returned to China in the sixties.

When China transformed through the uprising of Communism and the Cultural Revolution, travel into and outside the country was mandatory made impossible. My late father thus lost all communication with them since.
Yet our latest discovery of their existence was made possible by a stroke of miracle of all miracles and of course, with God’s intervention and grace.


At Singapore Changi International Airport, soon in a few hours’ time, we who travelled from Singapore would begin this journey of bridging this gap as we begun this unforgettable trip to Fujian Province.

We in Singapore would take this trip to join our hearts with those in China whom we were all from the same bloodline and same forefathers but were involuntarily estranged by the history of the previous generations that caused the rift.
Yet again it was the same bloodline and family lineage of the “Tan Family” that compelled us to join our lives across the Sea.

We set off with great gusto on China Airline CA958, in spite of a little hiccup over the luggage.

After a relatively smooth flight, we arrived safely at Xiamen Airport. For some of us, it was their first trip to China so it would be an eye opener and new adventure to them.

We went through the Immigration swiftly, collected our entire luggage and then walked effortlessly through the Customs at “Nothing to declare” green lane into China.


At the Arrival Hall, we quickly located our Xiamen tour guide. There was where the real adventure would begin.

The first leg of the journey begun as the coach moved across the 648 meters long Haicang Bridge, being the longest suspension bridge in Asia, built in 1999.

Then we travelled rapidly through the industrial areas opposite Xiamen (下門) in cool air conditioned coach whilst the exterior was clear and sunny as contrary to our expectation of much cooler weather of 15 degrees centigrade.


Across the Jimei Bridge of Xiamen and facing the island of Kinmen was Tong An District (同安区)Fujian where my late father left for Singapore in 1926 when he was only 8. He departed from China with his parents and his 2 sisters for a new life in Singapore since and would never ever to return or step foot on his homeland again.

Around Tong An District, all the former buildings were demolished and had varnished .Instead new modern buildings were erected where we would eventually stay at a 5 star hotel in Jimei District which on the south of his hometown for the final night of our trip.

After travelling for a short while, we stopped for our first lunch in China at a simple unadorned roadside restaurant for an unforgettable simple ‘Minnan’ or ‘Hokkien’ meal.

Ah, we started the 'appetizer' of the first meal with the traditional mahjong game while waiting, it was indeed an interesting way to start the journey in Xiamen!

In spite of the restaurant's humble and grubby facade, we were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant served very remarkable authentic ‘Minnan” food fare which ranged from “Kong Ba’, and delicious “Mee Swa with oysters’.  

I wondered whether the food was so delicious just because the cooks were really so good or was it because we were so hungry that this first meal turned out to be so sumptuous.

In any case, it was voted by many including me to be the best amongst all the meals that we eventually would have throughout the whole trip.

Thereafter we journeyed south west for the next few hours via Zhangpu (漳浦县) which we knew was the hometown of our late mother), towards Dongshan Island.  But we would first stop at Yunxiao County () beside Zhangjiang River where we would meet some relatives.

Meanwhile the tour guide entertained us with history of Xiamen to make the journey more pleasant. The journey to our relative’s home in Yunxiao County took about 4 hours.


Before we knew it, we arrived around 5 pm at the hotel lobby but the daylight had begun to turn dark. Night had definitely fallen early in China.

After a quick introduction with five waiting relatives, we checked in the spa resort (Triton Bay Hot Spring Resort) and hurriedly organized all the foreign liquors from Singapore as well as all the Singapore souvenirs of Risis floral bags and our legendary herbal ‘Tiger Balm”.

Jointly, we boarded the coach with the same enthusiasm and high spirit that we possessed when we left Singapore.

When the first spartan restaurant was found unsuitable, another nearby place was hastily located.

This simple restaurant which served simple ‘Minnan’ food actually belonged to one of our relatives’ family. Thank God for family’s link and tie as this simple cafe saved our first gathering without which we would not be able to enjoy ourselves!

Here we started informal chat chit and introduction of each other. It was not difficult to observe that they were our relatives as some of us looked like some of them.

One niece from China “ Liang Yea”, my sister “Daisy” and one brother “Henry” could easily passed off as from the same family line, all having  the same broad face shape, similar big eyes and even the business nose!


Furthermore, our relatives took out several antique photos which were sent by our late father that bore his own handwritings. We joked and laughed as we tried to relate the photos with those who were present, mainly the 5 older siblings and the triplet.

Frankly I did not totally remember the cuisine that we ate. Yet I was sure it was the same for all 40 plus of us except for the kids who might eat more heartily.

The rest of us elder ones were busy talking, introducing ourselves and trying to break the ice with small talks.

One dish though stood out from the rest: the small pink crayfish that seemed bizarre but tasted like lobster! I ate one of them as one niece removed the shell for me and another showed us how to remove them.

But most of us from Singapore dared not even give an attempt as it looked like our local cockroach with many crawly legs though it appeared pink and juicy.


Soon, someone from our cousins started the introduction of their family members. Then we also followed suit. It was at this time that we also presented them with our Singapore Souvenirs and XO brandy. This thoughtful gesture caught them by surprise.

By then, all of us had relaxed to each other’s company, so we took the liberty to sing some songs from Singapore which included the “Amazing Grace,” (),“The Gift of Love” (Ai De Li Wu) () “Nanyang Lady” (Nan Hai Ku Niang) ( 南海姑娘)and “Flower in the wild” (Ye Di De Hua) (野地的花), which was about God’s love and providence to us His creation.

When we sang “Bengawan Solo” an Indonesian love classic song, the husband of cousin no. 6 (living in Hong Kong) wanted to sing solo. As he took the lead, we joined in and sang with much gusto.

This was the moment which we felt the closeness and the bond between us whom we were all from the same family line but separated for years, but now by the grace of God, could interact and mingle with each other.



The next morning, we paid tribute and respect at our late aunt’s grave with her husband whom we had never met. We observed a moment of silence with a Christian prayer, placed colorful “Gerbera” flowers respectfully in front of their dual graves.

History had it that for many years, our late aunt yearned before her death to meet her youngest brother, he being the only male heir of their family. In addition, she instructed her son to locate us in Singapore several times but to no avail.

Now that we could visit her grave and could be reconciled with her children and their descendants, surely she should be tremendously comforted and consoled in the spirit wherever she might be.

So rest in peace, my late aunt and of course, my late father in Heaven for this historical gathering that brought their descendants together in their hometown.


Next we visited all the five cousins who lived in Huaxi Overseas Chinese Town in Yunxiao Province.

One by one, we visited their homes, drank many cups of Chinese tea and Coke including taking various types of Indonesian kuehs such as the “Kueh Lapis” ," Kueh Dadar" and rice dumpling.

During these visits, they related their story to us. When they finally returned to China, having being expelled by Indonesia, they were re-located in a refugee camp called the “Huaxi Overseas Chinese Town”.

They had lived there since. As some had prospered, they rebuilt their homes on the original site to more handsome ones when being compared with their neighbors.

The last home that we visited that morning was the eighth cousin’s home.

Thereafter we proceeded for lunch at a fairly presentable second floor restaurant. This time, being more familiar with each other, we dined more intimately and drank happily with cheering with our Singapore “Yam Seng”.


At this juncture, let’s us put on record of the bits and pieces of the family’s history.

Our paternal grandparents left China in 1926 for Singapore with their 3 children when my late father was only 8 and our late aunt 12.

During their time in Singapore, our late grandfather passed on when my father was only 15. Abruptly his mother also passed on 2 months later. It was believed that they were buried in Bukit Brown cemetery, along Lornie Road in Singapore.

From then on, my late father was raised up by his eldest sister, whom we knew her by name but never met as “Ah Pium Kaul” (literally translated as “Opium Aunt”).

After WWII, my 27 year old father married my lovely mother when she was only 20 and they had eleven children. He passed on at the age of 63 in Singapore on 4 October 1981 and my mum on 3 July 2010, a lapse of 29 years apart.

Our late grandparents were quite wealthy, so they left much heritage for their 3 children who included much jewellery, a kelong and a rubber plantation.

However, as I understood from my late mother, all these were either squandered away by the eldest aunt and her husband due to her opium habit or they were deceived unwittingly by some folks to hand over their inheritance.

The second sister, my late aunt whose children we met in China during this trip, would return to China shortly after arrival for her further education.

Subsequently after her marriage to a teacher in China, she returned to Singapore in 1936 with one son .Two more sons were added to her in Singapore. Four years later in 1940, they returned to China with all her 3 sons.

Over there, daughter no. 4 was born. Shortly they returned to Singapore in 1945 where son no. 5 and 7 and daughter no. 6 were born.
In 1948, our late aunt and her husband with sons no. 2, 5, and 7 and daughter no. 6 ventured into Indonesia to seek their fortune in tin-mining. As they moved from many places in Indonesia ranging from Riau Island, Padang in Sumatra , Jakarta and then Bengkalis Island ( Palau Bengkalis of Riau Province) along the Straits of Malacca, daughter no. 8 and sons 9, 10 and 11 were born .

In 1961, the whole family of the two parents and seven children would returned to China .The four elder children who were living in China all these while with their maternal grandparents later moved to various parts of Taiwan.

Maybe that was the explanation as why the four elder ones were not so close to the remaining seven in Fujian, China which was a result of their early year separation caused by history and logistics of their family’s exploration.
Son 5 continued to live in Jakarta whilst daughter 6 got married and went to live in Hong Kong in 1997. Son 7 passed on in 2004 due to a heart problem. Son 2 remained in Jakarta but returned to China in 1953 but moved to Yunnan.

Lastly, it appeared that there was another sister of my late father, being aunt no. 3, (an unknown aunt), who lived in another part of China, though she might had also passed on by now. Those in China were not in close contact with her children, so they probably did not know about our gathering.

OK, that was all about the family’s history so let’s continue our journey.

After the house visits, we continued the sightseeing whilst we arranged to meet our cousins once more for the finale dinner. We continued our tour towards the scenic Dongshan Island, which was legendary for its natural wonderland and fresh seafood.

Dongshand Island in ancient times was known as the “Copper Mountain” where seven crescent shape beaches were joined together to form a stretch of beautiful sandy coastline stretching 30 kilometers.
There, we visited the famous Dongshan Fengdongshi Rock (风动) at the east end of Tonglin Town, in Dongshan County. This rock which meant “Wind Moving Stone” was located in the Fengdong Rock site where many famous attractions were nearby.

At this well known location, we spent some time walking up the many stone steps, meanwhile enjoying the soft breeze and viewing the beautiful breathtaking coastline on the left. Soon we could see the legendary huge rock, which appeared that it could fall off the cliff any moment with just a gentle push of the wind!

Here we bought some souvenirs like asparagus tea and local brightly colored umbrellas. We were also brought to a tiny shop in the town that sold fresh dried seafood.

Thereafter about 4.30pm, we checked into a 4 star hotel, The Golden Seaside Hotel, which was located in the resort area in Maluanwan, Dongshan Island, Zhangzhou, Fujian.

This hotel was surrounded by blue sky ocean and white sand beaches.

Soon some of us went for a leisure stroll along the lovely beach to enjoy the clear seawater of the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

That night, the second night of our trip, the grand finale dinner was held at a posh restaurant in a karaoke setting.

Those at this dinner enjoyed excellent local cuisine amidst good ambience and fine stylish interior.

There again, more gifts of token sum (Ang Pow) were presented to each member of our cousin who were present.

Our relatives also returned to us with some mementos of our historical stay by presenting us with what else, but with their famous Chinese culture of tea leaves in exquisite gift boxes.

However, all that had happened on this night was conveyed to me as I was absent and in bed nursing a stomach and intestine problem.
So it seemed that the finale feast lasted for many hours of more chit chat and more getting to familiarize with each other.

Then everyone relaxed further with more singing from Singapore with our “Rasa Sayang” " Bengawan Solo", more Chinese pop songs and and even more reminisces of our late father and our late mother.

Before long, the night had to end , alas with farewells, hugs and more hugs, exchange of addresses and e-mail addresses, each wondering when we could get together again.

So the 3 meals fulfilled all that we had planned for many months. At least we felt thankful that we had travelled from afar for this gathering and had brought thoughtful gifts for this amazing unforgettable episode of our lives which would definitely etched into our hearts of all who were present and even in the hearts of those who were absent.


So farewell to all our cousins, nieces and nephews in China. May the Lord be with you all and will bless and protect you all until we meet again in the near future.  

Therefore adieu, adios, au revoir, good bye, sayonara, annyonghi Kaseyo, Shalom, L'hitraot, Selamat Jalan, Pêng-an, Zai jian, Till we meet again, may we meet again very soon!

The next day being the third day of our journey begun the holiday sightseeing. After an enjoyable breakfast, we proceeded to visit Chaozhou, hometown of Teochew People and to visit Shantou in Guangdong Province.


At this point we traveled westwards for 2 hours to visit a famous residence of a wealthy man of past generation in Qianmei Village, Chenghai, Shantou, Guangdong.

Mr. Chen Ci Huang (of the famous Chen Cihong’s Residence) was a Teochew who prospered much in Thailand. (

Then he returned to his hometown to help the poorer folks and his countryman. He implemented many immense projects by building schools, bridges and roads including construction of a large mansion compound in a 6 acres land which housed 506 rooms and halls.

This massive house compound combined the Eastern and Western architectural styles.

As we walked through the maze of this huge residence, the rooms were still in good condition which, during its prime period, would be very handsome and must be tastefully blended using local building materials as well as exotic ones from Thailand.

We also observed many beautiful and colorful Italian wall tiles with floral mosaic pieces with geometric patterns in subtle pastel colors being erected along many interior walls, which was to brighten the whole compound. Some of the clay roof tiles were unique and different and they stood out in the neighborhood.

Next we stopped briefly at the “Widow’s Village” in coastal southeast Fujian Province in tranquil Tongbo Village.

The separation of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan in 1949 left a bitter legacy in this southeast coast village of 200 families. Many men went to Taiwan by force but few returned willingly when the war ended. Most of them had started new families in Taiwan.
The women of this village did not marry again. They devoted themselves to their children or in-laws. Thus it was called the “Widow’s Village”.

Frankly, I didn’t even bother to walk up the staircase to view the 2 storey museum!  Hey, it was too depressing a place to remember or even stopover for a holiday!


From there, we continued southwards to Jinping District, Shantou (汕頭) Swatow or Suátao) in Guangdong Province to visit the oldest and biggest park, Zhongsan Park (中山公園) which was a 50 acres park in the midst of Yujian Lake.

As we entered the park, we could see the gateway with the Chinese characters 'Tian Xia Wei Gong', meaning the whole world as one community, were written by Sun Yat-sen, who was regarded as the father of China's Revolution.

Here we encountered an elderly man who specialized in writing Chinese calligraphy on the concrete floor with a huge brush which he was able to write in reverse movement.

From there, we went to Overseas Chinese New Pedestrian Mall ,Shantou, Guangdong near the Overseas Chinese Restaurant where we bought to our heart’s content of inexpensive shoes, scarves, clothing and cute souvenirs.

After dinner at a Teochew restaurant, we spent our night at the Golden Gulf hotel, a 5 star hotel at Jinsha Dong Road, Shantou, China. Later in the evening, some of us went for karaoke singing to end the night.


The next morning being the 4th day of our tour, we left for Yongding, Longyan,() Fujian and travelled northwards for 6 hours to visit the world famous Hakka Tu Lou ( The Hakka Earthen Fortresses).

Along the way, we saw many persimmon trees in full bloom.

After a late lunch at a quaint restaurant, we visited the historical Tu Lou with much enthusiasm.    


Fujian Tulou (Chinese: 福建土楼; pinyin: Fújiàn Tǔlóu, "Fujian earthen structures") is a type of Chinese rural dwellings of the Hakka and others in the mountainous areas in southeastern Fujian, China. They were mostly built between the 12th and the 20th centuries.


The Fujian Tulou was the unique Chinese residential buildings constructed by the Hakka people from Fujian Province. The Tulou were enclosed by a thick, defensive earth wall and were communal buildings housing up to 80 families whom they served the dual purpose of living and of protecting them.
There were more than 8000 round and square tulou buildings in Yongding County.

Among so many famous tulou buildings, the most famous was Zhenchenglou, a rotunda tulou in Yongding County, Fujian which was successfully inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2008.

Nicknamed "the Prince of Tulou", it was located in Hongkeng village, Hukeng Township of Yongding County. 


When the sun began to set, we travelled eastwards for 3 hours to return to Xiamen for dinner and a cultural show named “ Magic Minnan Cultural Show” which was choreographed by the world famous Zhang Yimou.

Our night was spent at The Xiamen Jingmin North Bay Hotel (Xiamen Jingmin Beihaiwan Jiudian), a 5 star hotel that overlooked the South China Sea with a view of the Jimei Bridge. The hotel suite was excellent and well designed with a patio that overlooked the South China Sea.

The last day of our holiday Dec 1, 2011 started with a city tour where we were brought to Dr. Tea for sampling of Chinese teas. Some of us including me bought the “Pu Er Tea” and the “Tian Qi Tea”.

When the coach passed by Xiamen University, we admired the beautiful and traditional University and took note that it was financed by the Singapore tycoon, the late Mr. Tan Kah Kee.


Born in 1874 and died in 1961, Mr. Tan Kah Kee  (陳嘉庚; pinyin: Chen Jiageng) was born in Jimei, Tong'an county, Fujian province, China, and went to Singapore in 1890, when he was 16 years old, to work for his father's rice store.  His business was at its prime from 1912-1914, where he was known as " Henry Ford"  of the Malaya community,Malaya both in Malaya and his native Fujian province.

He was a prominent businessman, community leader, and philanthropist in colonial Singapore, and a Communist leader in the People's Republic of China.
In 1919 Mr. Tan Kah Kee ,the well-known overseas Chinese overseas leader, donated millions of dollars to establish and endow Xiamen University, officially founded in 1921. It is regarded as one of the most prestigious and selective universities in China. (

Hailed as one of the most beautiful campuses in China, Xiamen University, which had three campuses amidst picturesque scenery. Xiamen University ranked in the top 20 among over 2,000 universities and colleges in China, and enjoyed an excellent reputation worldwide.


That afternoon as the weather was cooler than other day, we strolled along Huandao Road and the nearby beaches to enjoy the cool breeze facing the beautiful clear South China Sea.

From this location, we were able to see an island, Kinmen Island which belonged to China PRC but administered by Taiwan. This critical military tiny island was only 2 km from Xiamen (PRC) but 150 km west of Taiwan.

So this significant island was the site of fierce fighting between the Communist and the Nationalist forces and was a military reserve and a war zone for many years.

This beautiful coastline was also part of The Xiamen International Marathon which began in 2003 which was famous for its coastal scenic course.


After that, we boarded a 5 minute ferry boat journey to tour Gulangyu Island which was located southwest of Xiamen City.

Gulangyu Island was renowned for its delicate natural beauty, its ancient relics, and its varied architecture. The island ranked at the top of the list of the ten most-scenic areas in Fujian Province.

It got its present name from the surrounding huge reef. When the tide moved in, the waves pounded the reef , giving the sound of the beating of a drum. The island was then named 'Gulang'. Gu in Chinese means 'drum', and Lang, 'waves'.

As a favorite residence for Westerners during Xiamen's colonial past, Gulangyu was famous for its European architecture and also home to China's largest piano museum.

Later, we visited Shuzhuang Garden and The Piano Museum during our tour of the island.

With the price of only 3 yuan, we returned to the Xiamen Island by the same ferry that we left.


Finally we had the last reunion lunch at a restaurant from a huge round table that could sit 15 of us.

Before we left for the airport, we did our last minute shopping at the nearby Zhongshan Road.

Zhongshan Road was one of the most prosperous traditional and comprehensive commercial areas in Xiamen. Here we bought some local souvenirs before our journey to the airport.

Soon we were on China Airline CA 957 back to Singapore and arrived safely with memories of a historical and memorable trip of a lifetime.


HOME SWEET HOME everybody. Hip hip hooray for a safe journey home.

Thanks to everyone who helped and who had contributed to make this historical trip and all things possible and memorable.
Thanks be to God for all the protection, journey mercy and for all the good times together with family and new found cousins too.



Anonymous said...

It was a most interesting read. Love it!!!

Thank you for taking time and effort to keep record and blog about the China Journey.

I am glad you were able to make the journey and back home safe. It must have been a big step for you.

Good for you!!


Khuan said...

Great and well-researched documentary of our trip, and I especially appreciate the explanation of our parents' journey and how they came to live in Singapore. It brought a greater understanding of their lives and how much they meant to us. Lives well-lived...

Well-done :))