Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In search of the family's roots (Part 2).

It was said that there was a pirate in our family lineage. But then, it was also said that I was picked up from the rubbish heap! So I will rather go with what seems more plausible. My late paternal grandfather's name is Khoo Seng Kit. That's a fact!

Why did he uproot to cross the "southern" seas from his village in Lam-uah (or is/was Lam-uah the village itself?... more about that in a bit) to arrive in colonial Singapore?

The history textbooks tell us that many Chinese -- to escape hardship in China -- came to Malaya and Singapore to work for the British or as coolies (labourers) or as laundrymen, etc. But my grandfather ("Ah Kong"), as far as I knew, did not do any of that (Question: what was he doing for a living in China?). Over here, he set himself up in a secluded Chinese village in Lorong Puspa, in Pasir Panjang (Lorong Puspa no longer exists). I know so little about him! What did he do for  living here? For sure, there was a village well, there were plenty of fruit trees (I remember the jackfruit and the starfruit), and I suppose life in the village was idyllic. Each time I was taken there as a boy, I would see him smoking a pipe. Here he  is:

Ah Kong, what big hands you have!
I recalled that when he died, there was an elaborate funeral and I had to wear sackcloth, which was not very comfortable in the mid-day's humidity. We all had to walk quite a distance before we could get into the hired bus to take us to the burial site.

When did he die? Where was he buried? I Googled just today and found his death ad (Straits Times) from the National Library's archive:

National Library archive
I thought it was a pity the death ad insertion was so pithy. Apart from Ah Kong's name, only his sons' names were included: Ghee Tam (my father), Ghee Liam, and Ghee Teck. Till today, I do not know the name of my paternal grandmother ("Ah Ma"). Here she is:

Ah Ma, I know so little about you.
Ah Ma had bound feet, so they looked small. I must have been told not to ask questions about them because it was only much later that I learnt about the traditional Chinese custom of binding women's feet. I believe she smoked too, but not a pipe. It was the rolled red tobacco type. Alas, I have no recollection or record of when Ah Ma died.

I will continue with Part 3 tomorrow, including some posers about Ah Kong's (and Ah Ma's; the space was meant for two) purported burial site as stated in the death ad: Hock Eng Sueh burial ground. My initial Googling using those key words threw up nothing.

To wrap up for today, I was still curious about the place name Lam-uah in Fujian province. Googling, I found this chat thread on the topic "Hamlet or Village of Lam-uah in Fujian province, China":


From this site, I am reminded that my parents referred to China, in Hokkien, as "theng suah" (Tang Mountain, literally). Hence, people who came from China (specifically, southern China; this distinction is important) were "theng lang" (people of Tang). One of the site participants, however, took to referring to "theng suah" as "land of long mountains".

My nephew, Tan Huat, also dug into some research on this place (Lam-uah) with several name variations and the possible Khoo (Qiu) connection. This is the result of his effort:


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