January 16, 2011

How My Grand Father Lost his Mother



When my maternal grandfather the late Lau Kah Chui was only one month old my great grandmother decided to end her life . This is the untold story of my family.

Chinese women in China often took their lives when they could no longer bear the stresses of their lives. I was told that my great grandmother took her life after having borne enough nagging from her in-laws. She left behind my one month old grandfather Lau Kah Chui and his two older brothers.

My great grandmother was a quiet Foochow woman who took everything in her stride when she married into the Lau family in the 14th sub district in the  Ming Chiang District of Foochow Province China. Marriages were matched made and often go betweens would come and go in the villages. My great grandmother's family suggested a marriage between one of the daughters of the Lau family with a scholarly family in another village.

The marriage took place but the economy of the day was not good and the new bride could not take the poverty. So the Lau family put a lot of blame on my great grandmother who was expecting at that time. She was very guilt ridden and immediately after the Full Moon of her third child she took her own life.

How did my maternal grandfather survive ? He was sent to Lau Pang Shu's (Shu as in the word Teacher) grandmother who just had a baby too at that time. Indeed that was a very gracious gift any aunt could give to a young new born. She thus became his wet nurse and life giver. From that day onwards our two families are entwined in fate.

Without her gift of mother's milk my grandfather would not have been able to grow into a young boy and I would even have been born!


When my grandfather was older my great grandfather  who never remarried even though he was only in his 30's adopted two girls to be my grand uncle and my grandfather's child brides. These two became the ancestors of two large Lau families in Sibu. They all came with Wong Nai Siong in the Second Batch of the Pioneering Foochows on 16th Feb 1903 to Sibu. My grandfather's brother was Lau Kah Tii the man who succeeded Wong Nai Siong as headman of the Foochows and worked closely with James Hoover and other Foochows. My grandfather remained rather shy and insignificant in the background. He and the other pioneering Foochows were responsible in clearing most of the land along the Rajang from Sibu to 16 Company (near Bintangor). Each of them cleared as much land as they could. The divider between each claimant's land was a ditch 6 feet by 6 feet deep (regulation set by the Rajah Brooke). I believe my grandfather cleared 100 acres of land by the end of several years and he started to plant rubber seedlings.

By the time my mother was born my grandfather had a few families who had come out from China working under him. There were  4 "coolie houses" for these profit-sharing workers. It was 50:50 kind of contract. My grandparents owned one of the biggest smoke houses for smoking the rubber sheets  amongst the villages.

He donated a piece of land to build a Methodist Church (Hook Ming) and a primary School called Tiing Nang in Sg. Maaw near Sibu. He and my grandmother had 4 sons and 5 daughters who were all born in Sibu. The youngest son returned to China to study engineering but remained in China for the New China Movement. Today the members of the clan are spread all over the world.

As a person my grandfather was very generous with the little (when the rubber price crashed) he had and was always accommodating when people passed by his house in the village. He would provide them a place to sleep and plenty of food from his kitchen. According to my mother my grandfather was a merry though melancholic man who enjoyed having a drink with guests. And he loved his water pipe too which helped him calm his nerves. This was probably due to the fact that he never had a real mother to care for him.

My grandfather was also quite articulate. He did not say much most of the time because his elder brother was the leader type and demanded obedience but any way he was good in delivering great and memorable speeches according to my uncles. I wish they were all written down.

My grandfather however never forgot his eternal debt to Lau Pang Shu's grandmother for his life. In fact many years later when my grandfather was fairly well off and in a position to do something for his "saviour's family he applied for official permission from the Rajah for her able bodied grandsons - Lau Pang Shu and his brother (Pang Nguik)- to come out of China to join him in Nangyang or Sibu. The wood plane which I featured in one of my postings reminded my mother and I of their connections and my grandfather's suffering and gratitude.

My grandfather never forgot the life he owed to Pang Shu's grandmother and the milk he suckled. Today Uncle Pang Shu and his brother have prospered and have done very well for themselves .

When people do good their descendants reap the rewards. And we must never forget our debts to people who are good to us.





20 comments:

William said...

Amazing details. I lost all of them, perhaps just bits and pieces here and there of my grandparents. They all died very young during WW2.

Ann said...

You can write a Xiong Yaw story.

Anonymous said...

My grand mother had also an amazing story. There was a couple in Sibu whose children kept dying one after another as they were born. My grandma took the liberty to raise their newly born son and he survived. By then, my grandparents did not have any son yet, but an adopted one from China who did not stay with them. This raised boy later became very close to our family, like becoming a 'kie-gian' of my grandparents. I remembered my dad and uncles addressed him as 'ah goh' (brother). He did come to visit my grandparents sometimes, and in fact, my grandma looked for him when she was very sick at old age before she died.

The above story was amazing, but it was accompanied by a sad story behind. At that time, my grandma gave birth to one of the daughters, and she gave away the daughter to another family. This happened in old days in Sibu as well. This daughter was adopted by a Heng Hua family whom were friends with our family. This Heng Hua 'gune' (aunt) spoke Heng Hua dialect. She knew that her biological mother was my grandma. During childhood, I remembered she came from 'Heng Hua Ba' (Sg Teku) by taking one bus after another to visit my grandma, a few times a year. She would stay with our grandparents. I remembered one speaking Heng Hua and the other answering or asking in Foochow. They could communicate well. She loved my grandma, and I remembered she sometimes held my grandma's arms as they talked. It was like a baby playing with the mother. She slept in my grandma's bed, perhaps she did not have the kind of affections from her own mother while small and she demanded it as she grew up, when she could get close to her mother. Of course, her adopted mother was still alive at that time. Remember the rather bad relationships between Heng Hua and Foochow at that time, but our family had this breaking story. My father and uncles always tried to help her husband who was later a lorry driver and sometimes had little problems in town.

Unfortunately, all the three persons as mentioned above had passed away. May be my this 'gune' now enjoys playing with her mother in the fourth dimension that we could not see. If they could have lived up to now, I would make it an even interesting live drama.

The boy survived and grew up, likely because of the milk from my grandma. When the society was poor, the only best nutrition was from the milk of the mother. It could be that my grandma was really interested in raising a boy by her own. Although she gave away her daughter for adoption, I can guarantee that her love to the daughterS was always there. Why did I say that? I personally heard this story told by my grandma to me. After this daughter who was given away for adoption, she had another youngest daughter who was given away to the neighbour. The neighbour husband and wife were farmers and they put the daughter under the tree, near the farm as they worked. My grandma did go to check often. He said the neighbour did not take proper care of her youngest daughter, by putting her under the sun or giving hot rice soup to her that burnt her mouth. My grandma found out the miserable facts and she wanted her youngest daughter back. I don’t think the neighbour really tried to ill treat or abuse the baby, but it was not up to the expectation of my grandma. Unfortunately this youngest ‘gune’ eventually died. By claiming back the daughter, my grandparents and this neighbour became enemies for a long time. They started to reconcile only during my childhood, so it was a period of more than a few decades, after the husband of the family passed away.

continue....

Anonymous said...

My grand mother had also an amazing story. There was a couple in Sibu whose children kept dying one after another as they were born. My grandma took the liberty to raise their newly born son and he survived. By then, my grandparents did not have any son yet, but an adopted one from China who did not stay with them. This raised boy later became very close to our family, like becoming a 'kie-gian' of my grandparents. I remembered my dad and uncles addressed him as 'ah goh' (brother). He did come to visit my grandparents sometimes, and in fact, my grandma looked for him when she was very sick at old age before she died.

The above story was amazing, but it was accompanied by a sad story behind. At that time, my grandma gave birth to one of the daughters, and she gave away the daughter to another family. This happened in old days in Sibu as well. This daughter was adopted by a Heng Hua family whom were friends with our family. This Heng Hua 'gune' (aunt) spoke Heng Hua dialect. She knew that her biological mother was my grandma. During childhood, I remembered she came from 'Heng Hua Ba' (Sg Teku) by taking one bus after another to visit my grandma, a few times a year. She would stay with our grandparents. I remembered one speaking Heng Hua and the other answering or asking in Foochow. They could communicate well. She loved my grandma, and I remembered she sometimes held my grandma's arms as they talked. It was like a baby playing with the mother. She slept in my grandma's bed, perhaps she did not have the kind of affections from her own mother while small and she demanded it as she grew up, when she could get close to her mother. Of course, her adopted mother was still alive at that time. Remember the rather bad relationships between Heng Hua and Foochow at that time, but our family had this breaking story. My father and uncles always tried to help her husband who was later a lorry driver and sometimes had little problems in town.

Unfortunately, all the three persons as mentioned above had passed away. May be my this 'gune' now enjoys playing with her mother in the fourth dimension that we could not see. If they could have lived up to now, I would make it an even interesting live drama.

to be continued.....

Anonymous said...

The boy survived and grew up, likely because of the milk from my grandma. When the society was poor, the only best nutrition was from the milk of the mother. It could be that my grandma was really interested in raising a boy by her own. Although she gave away her daughter for adoption, I can guarantee that her love to the daughterS was always there. Why did I say that? I personally heard this story told by my grandma to me. After this daughter who was given away for adoption, she had another youngest daughter who was given away to the neighbour. The neighbour husband and wife were farmers and they put the daughter under the tree, near the farm as they worked. My grandma did go to check often. He said the neighbour did not take proper care of her youngest daughter, by putting her under the sun or giving hot rice soup to her that burnt her mouth. My grandma found out the miserable facts and she wanted her youngest daughter back. I don’t think the neighbour really tried to ill treat or abuse the baby, but it was not up to the expectation of my grandma. Unfortunately this youngest ‘gune’ eventually died. By claiming back the daughter, my grandparents and this neighbour became enemies for a long time. They started to reconcile only during my childhood, so it was a period of more than a few decades, after the husband of the family passed away.

Girls of early days were always having miserable life. When the Japanese invaded Sarawak, there were rumours that the young girls could be taken away unless they were married. This was in fact true because we now knew that many girls in Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, etc., were kidnapped by the Japanese army to become comfort women. There were two ‘gunes’ who were teenagers at the World War II, and they both were forced marry in order to avoid the eyes of the Japanese. The eldest ‘gune’ was married to a man who fled from China, after the army of Chiang Kai Shek was defeated. The other one was married to a nice man and she had had a very good and comfortable life. I never met the eldest gune because she died before I was born. She was badly treated by this CKS’s soldier (perhaps that was why CKS lost support in China because his reign was horrible to the people). There were some miserable stories told about the way he treated my first gune, even I could still hear the story from my dad, my uncles, who actually saw it happening with their eyes. My grandma was really hostile against this son-in-law of CKS soldier. The eldest ‘gune’ died of an accident in the Rejang River not long after giving birth to her youngest son, probably less than a month after the birth.

I hope one of you who are reading the stories could be the son/daughter or grandson or grand daughter of one of my ‘gunes’. Of course, there is a high possibility that you were, but you do not know exactly that I am talking about your grandma who was one of my ‘gunes’.

Anonymous said...

The boy survived and grew up, likely because of the milk from my grandma. When the society was poor, the only best nutrition was from the milk of the mother. It could be that my grandma was really interested in raising a boy by her own. Although she gave away her daughter for adoption, I can guarantee that her love to the daughterS was always there. Why did I say that? I personally heard this story told by my grandma to me. After this daughter who was given away for adoption, she had another youngest daughter who was given away to the neighbour. The neighbour husband and wife were farmers and they put the daughter under the tree, near the farm as they worked. My grandma did go to check often. He said the neighbour did not take proper care of her youngest daughter, by putting her under the sun or giving hot rice soup to her that burnt her mouth. My grandma found out the miserable facts and she wanted her youngest daughter back. I don’t think the neighbour really tried to ill treat or abuse the baby, but it was not up to the expectation of my grandma. Unfortunately this youngest ‘gune’ eventually died. By claiming back the daughter, my grandparents and this neighbour became enemies for a long time. They started to reconcile only during my childhood, so it was a period of more than a few decades, after the husband of the family passed away.

to be continued ......

Anonymous said...

Girls of early days were always having miserable life. When the Japanese invaded Sarawak, there were rumours that the young girls could be taken away unless they were married. This was in fact true because we now knew that many girls in Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, etc., were kidnapped by the Japanese army to become comfort women. There were two ‘gunes’ who were teenagers at the World War II, and they both were forced marry in order to avoid the eyes of the Japanese. The eldest ‘gune’ was married to a man who fled from China, after the army of Chiang Kai Shek was defeated. The other one was married to a nice man and she had had a very good and comfortable life. I never met the eldest gune because she died before I was born. She was badly treated by this CKS’s soldier (perhaps that was why CKS lost support in China because his reign was horrible to the people). There were some miserable stories told about the way he treated my first gune, even I could still hear the story from my dad, my uncles, who actually saw it happening with their eyes. My grandma was really hostile against this son-in-law of CKS soldier. The eldest ‘gune’ died of an accident in the Rejang River not long after giving birth to her youngest son, probably less than a month after the birth.

I hope one of you who are reading the stories could be the son/daughter or grandson or grand daughter of one of my ‘gunes’. Of course, there is a high possibility that you were, but you do not know exactly that I am talking about your grandma who was one of my ‘gunes’.

Anonymous said...

sorry, you may have to delete some of my postings. There are duplications because of errors during posting. thanks

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous

What a fantastic story. I must piece it together and put it again on my posting...I do hope that some people would recognise your stories and relate them to the right "relatives". Thank you so much for sharing!!

I assume that you are now living overseas?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear William
Thanks for writing. My grandfather was well loved by his children because he worked from home (as tailor and part time carpenter). He had land for rubber trees and his children and in laws tapped the rubber trees. the family sent their rubber sheets to his elder brother who was the middle man. That was the extended family arrangement of their "income" at that time. More stories to tell later. My mum and her sisters have lots of memories.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
What 's Xiong Yaw stories?

Ann said...

Around the late 60s and 70s, there was this very popular Chinese romances writer. I must have got the PIN YIN wrong. I think, in Sibu, that pronounce her as CHIN YAW. A lot of taiwanese movues were based on her books. (This I remember, though my Chinese was so louyah, I manathemt,)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiung_Yao

Chiung Yao (simplified Chinese: 琼瑶; traditional Chinese: 瓊瑤; pinyin: Qióngyáo; Wade–Giles: Chiung Yao; born 陳喆 on April 20, 1938 in Sichuan, China) is the penname of a popular Taiwan romance novelist. Many of her works have been made and remade into movies and TV series.

Films based on her books have been made in the Republic of China (Taiwan) since the 1970s, and were very popular during their time. They often featured Brigitte Lin, Lin Feng-jiao, Charlie Chin and/or Chin Han, who were then collectively known as the "Two Lins and Two Chins".

Anonymous said...

Foochow always think about Bing Xing. I think Chiong Yau was mostly on the love novels, right?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
Thanks. Yes I read almost all of Ching Yau's novels...in fact we had a sisterhood which swapped those books then. I felt that her books helped me a lot in improving my Chinese vocabulary. Any way I ended up able to read better than write. Writing was mainly made up of consistent copying in class and at home. I lacked the checking from a teacher so I never did well in that skill. Wish I can write Chinese as well....
Thanks for the clarification. Now I remember the two Lins and two Chins. Very vividly too....I used to cry buckets watching their movies.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous
thanks for writing. Bing Xing wrote more for education and for children in a different way. She was considered a literary great at international level.
Ching Yau is more commercial and she lives in a different era - she is like Stephen King or Dan Brown at the Taiwanese level. Although her themes are love related she concentrated on unique and perhaps idealistic relationships e.g. young girl student and an elderly scholarly teacher who risked all and then lived to regret. There are of course many different levels of interpretations regarding her novels.

How much does one have to pay for true love?

Anonymous said...

I always assumed that if the novel is based on the real stories and experience, it is more exciting

David Chin said...

haha! First time I see the comments being longer than the original blog post!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Anonymous
Thanks...facts can be stranger than fiction as the saying goes...real stories do touch peoples' hearts more....I like real stories too....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

David....finally I get a response from you!! Yes that's true...a short story in exchange for another...that's the essence of communication!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

To the Anonymous Commentor who wrote about his grandmother...thank you for sharing your stories...I was with an Iban man from Teku and Aup yesterday and he told me that when he was a teenager he saw actually how bad the Japanese occupation soldiers were to the Chinese. They usually hit the Chinese who did not greet them properly with the butt of their guns. Also Chinese girls were given away to the Ibans and Malays too. He gave me a fantastic but nevertheless touching story of a severely handicapped child who was given away by his mother to the Ibans in Bawang Assan. He told me that the Chinese mother did not want to leave the longhouse until someone accepted him.....Story to come out on my blog soon.
Thanks for sharing your stories. God bless.

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