A visit to Sing Sze, ancestral village of Andrew Pang Oct 26, 2017 1:17:02 GMT -5 ginagaladriel likes this
Post by lolly on Oct 26, 2017 1:17:02 GMT -5
Through this wonderful forum, I was lucky enough to acquire undreamed of information about my grandfather Andrew Pang (see thread “Finding Andrew Pang – with much help” in Sharing Tales 2.2.2015) The offer was extended by Douglas Lam to assist me in making a trip to China to visit the Pang ancestral village. A chance viewing of the story of Luke Nguyen on “Who Do You Think You Are” jolted me to the realisation that I needed to make that trip and do it immediately. Three main reasons: 1. Things are changing in China, and remnants of the old life are disappearing due to decay, weather and “progress”. 2. I am not getting any younger, and taking on this adventure would not get any easier with age. 3. The offer of assistance from Douglas was much too valuable a resource to ignore while it was still available.
So, with much trepidation, dates were proposed, Douglas was consulted, and the plans were put in place. I was accompanied by my husband Bill, daughter, Lori, and three cousins from New Zealand who were champing at the bit to learn more about their grandfather. In two groups we organised some general sightseeing prior to meeting in Guangzhou and then Zhongshan. Douglas was on hand to see us settled in at Zhongshan, and had already made some preliminary calls and meetings to set us on our way. During a couple of his previous visits (detailed in “My Excellent Adventures in China”), he had made contact with “Suzie”, the wife of my third cousin he had located still living in Sing Sze. It was his hope that she might gather other family to come and be guests at a dinner, that we would host, to meet both relatives and local officials. Unfortunately, he did not get the response from Suzie that he was hoping for, and was instead directed to the Bureau of Overseas Chinese. We were invited to meet with them, and they would see what they could do. Douglas was a little downcast over this ….. but ….. his spirits lifted enormously as our day with these officials progressed.
We initially met at their very impressive offices in Shaxi, and were then transported to the local offices at Sing Sze. The greeting from the local official was warm, and we were shown to a room with a table set out with bottles of water, brochures, postcards and maps of the local area. A second gentleman, who was apparently the party secretary, arrived, and then a lady breezed in …. and it was Suzie! Douglas was quite amazed. She seemed very happy to be there and meet us, although we had no Chinese and she had no English. The next person to come in was an elderly man, and Douglas excitedly told us that he was the village elder who had located and transcribed our jiapu copy back in 2013. He had thought we would not meet him as he had retired from his official position. We did not get his name, although Douglas does have it in fairly shaky chinese characters. Hopefully we will learn more about that later. Seeing him was an absolute highlight, especially when I presented him with a photobook that I had put together about my grandfather’s life …. as much as I knew it. It included scanned images of the jiapu as he had written it. The look on his face as he realised that it was his work in the pages of the book …. pointing at the pages …. pointing at himself …. we did not need to be able to speak chinese to understand that he was saying “I wrote this! This is my work”. That was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile even at this early stage.
We then set off as a group for an escorted walk around the village. The Public Welfare building, a Childcare Centre and a School were all proudly shown. The smiles and welcome from the locals were delightful. A centenarians’ arch and a Maternity Hospital built in the 1900s from donations from overseas chinese were other points of interest, as well as the variety of buildings of homes, both currently in use and “abandoned”, and local business premises. We covered a fair bit of ground. September is quite warm in this area, and it was in the mid 30s temperature with very high humidity. Suzie took us to her home where we met my third cousin Gum See. She was very hospitable offering us moon cakes and large pieces of ginger root. Not sure what she had done with the ginger, but it was quite interesting to eat.
A funny little aside from the afternoon’s meeting was when the officials asked for email contacts for us, or “were we on Facebook”? I commented that they couldn’t access FB could they? “We can easily get around that” was the reply.
So … on to the dinner. It was decided to make it a lunch as that would suit the majority. Douglas felt that there would probably be two to three tables – up to 30 people? We arrived in taxis to the restaurant which was next to the market area and backing on to the river. Great opportunity to have a further look at other parts of the village. We were ushered upstairs past enthusiastically smiling and waving locals, and shown how to rinse our crockery at the table before eating.
The village officials arrived with containers of quite wonderful “appetisers” (as Douglas called them). We think they were probably cooked up in the kitchens at the Public Welfare Centre. Suzie arrived with a huge “sponge” – it was like a steamed “ginger fluff” – delicious! “The mains are still to come”, warned Douglas. And they did - duck, chicken, soup, vegetables, prawns, eel, squid, rice.
In between times, Douglas had a surprise for me. Back downstairs we trooped and onto the street where some fireworks were being strung up on a ladder. Douglas brought me some lit incense sticks and told me to ”light the fuse and run like hell!” I did …. both!
Suzie, her son and his wife and baby joined our table, and every now and then I would find an item of food dropped into my bowl from her chopsticks. I did my best to sample everything. The officials from the next table rose and gathered round our table to propose a noisy toast. Ten minutes later, Douglas advised that we should do the same at their table. Have no idea what actually was proposed and/or responded, but everyone seemed very happy.
A print out of a photo in which I could recognise the Pang character was shown to me. It was from the plaques on the wall of the Maternity Hospital we had seen on our village walk, and it detailed the names of the donors to the building of the hospital. My grandfather’s name was there as having made a donation in 1914. After lunch we returned to the hospital for a closer look.
As the lunch concluded, Douglas and Bill made their way to settle the account for the meal. They were promptly waved away and were advised that we had been the guests of the officials. A very generous and delightful surprise. Gifts of mooncakes and souvenirs from Australia and New Zealand were exchanged, and we were in for yet another surprise. Would we like to see our ancestors’ cemetery? We were quite astonished at the size and “layout” of the site, hidden in an overgrown area on the side a hill overlooking agricultural plots. Douglas reassured us that when Ching Ming came around, there would be a lot of cleaning and tidying up of the memorials. We were shown to the headstone that was relevant to us, and I do believe I heard it said that it went back to the Ming Dynasty and that the people had originally come from the Shanghai area. I definitely need a translation of the headstone …. and there is much more to be learned about that!
There are so many questions that should have been asked and pursued while we were there. I think we were just quite overwhelmed by it all. And the lack of sufficient common language was certainly a barrier. However, in spite of feeling (in hindsight) that we could have done more, we all came home feeling more than satisfied with the whole adventure, and perhaps a little incredulous that we had actually done it.
There were no surviving remains of the house where my grandfather had lived, but we felt incredibly lucky to be walking in the places where he would have lived, played and grown. A plaque marking the site where a family residence and shop had been was all that we could identify with. Again. I have yet to get a translation of the plaque.
I have no doubt that this journey would never have been undertaken without the assistance and enthusiasm of Douglas Lam. We are extremely grateful for all he did for our whole party. Just hope he also enjoyed the combined celebrations of “we three septuagenarians”. My cousin Suzanne and I both took on this trip as part of our 70th birthday celebrations in October. Douglas then advised us that he too was turning 70 at the end of October/beginning of November. We did manage to sing Happy Birthday to him and have him blow out a candle at our final lunch together. It was indeed an unforgettable experience.