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.