Family History

Filed in Family, Memories

It’s five years since father left us on 15 April 2005 – at 7:05 a.m., to be exact. I was 15 minutes late posting a tweet about it this morning.

He would be 80 if he were still here.

Five days ago, his 2nd sister-in-law passed away at the age of 87. During the funeral, I learned from my cousin Ronnie that his father, my dad’s 3rd brother, had been 58 when he passed away in 1979.

The day after 2nd aunt passed away, I found myself thinking it’s just 4th uncle and Sai Goo (dad’s youngest sister) left of their generation. Then I remembered 2nd uncle is still here. Mother, too. 4th aunt as well. And Sai Goo Jeong (Sai Goo‘s husband). Also 3rd aunt. Oops x 5. I’m losing my mind.

On the 2nd evening of 2nd aunt’s wake, sitting at the same table with some cousins, I brought out my Palm TX and showed off the old family photos in it. I’ve done this before, but this time, the old photos brought up the old family movies shot on Super8. My sister and I asked about them and learned they’re with 4th uncle’s family. Now there’s a possible family project to convert the Super8 reels to DVD.

I have a keen interest in preserving our family’s history. Although I was only 3 when my grandfather passed away in 1961, I’d heard enough stories about him to know he was a special man. One, in particular, was told by a man who knew grandfather and had been the recipient of his generosity.

I learned from Sai Goo that grandfather had been 75 when he passed away in 1961. This meant he was born in 1886. The story I remember being told about him as a successful businessman who decided to come to Malaya (as Malaysia was known then) to open a Chinese medical hall was recently revised after a chat with my Sai Goo. Grandfather had actually come to Singapore to work in a Chinese medical hall and later came north to Kuala Lumpur to work in the KL branch of that medical hall. Years later, around the time my father was born, grandfather came out on his own to open a shop that sold a variety of goods but eventually only Chinese herbs (the business he knew best).

I also always thought Grandfather’s older children were born in China, but I was wrong. When grandfather came to Singapore, he left grandmother behind in the family village, and only sent for her later. All their children were born in Malaya, although there is a gap of a dozen years between the eldest, my 2nd uncle, born in 1919, and the youngest, my Sai Goo, born in 1931.

In his time, the family’s Chinese herb business grew and a second shop was opened. My grandfather became quite a prominent figure around town. Although no streets were named after him, at the time of his death, he was sent off with a grand funeral procession that took up all the trishaws in town (to carry the funeral tapestries given by business associates) and went from the shop in Chow Kit, through the major roads, all the way to the Kwong Tong Cemetery near Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka.

He was sent off in a grand hearse, and just before the final journey started, the entire family gathered in front of the hearse for a last photograph with him.

There are holes in my knowledge of the family history. In particular, I need to find out more about my Dai Goo (father’s eldest sister) who passed away when I was studying overseas, and also Dai Goo Jeong, her husband. As a kid, I used to visit their family, and also Sai Goo’s family a lot; I visited both together as they were living near each other in Sentul, which was then known as “Cowboy Town”.

As with most family histories, there are also dark spots that nobody really talk about. During 2nd aunt’s funeral, Ronnie had referred to 2nd uncle as Dai Bak (eldest uncle). We actually have a Dai Bak, who was adopted into the family as a boy but, because he was adopted, was not close to the family and instead committed an unfilial act that caused grandfather to put an advertisement in the Chinese newspapers to disown him. According to Ronnie, at grandfather’s funeral, Dai Bak’s eldest son had attended but the rest of the family refused to let him put on the mourning clothes. That was how serious the rest of the family viewed the unfilial act. But many years later, when Dai Bak passed away in Singapore, 2nd uncle and his eldest daughter, 3rd aunt (Ronnie’s mother), my dad, my sister and my brother attended his funeral. And when his wife passed away, my brother attended her funeral on behalf of everyone else. Sometimes, despite family quarrels and even the most unfilial act, family is still family, especially with the passage of time.

Related Posts:
Grandpa Chin
Grandfather’s Generous Spirit
The family’s Singapore connection