Thursday, June 05, 2008

An Uncle Leaving for China 1954

My grandmother had been in tears for a few weeks after learning that my youngest uncle, Pang Teck, had adamantly decided to "return to China" for his education.

"Going back to China or Dong Nan or Mountain of the Tang" was a term used by many older generation Foochows in Sarawak,from 1903 to 1949 ,which meant that they wanted to go and see their relatives living in China, to separate from the Sarawak branch of the family, to go back to the homeland to live out the rest of their lives,to get ready to die in China,etc.

For the young, in the 50's going back to China was to aspire to study at universities, join the communist party, follow Mao Tse Dung, or even to marry some one born in China.

My uncle was one of the earliest graduates of the Form Three class of Sacred Heart School .( And our family is still looking for a photo of him and his class). He then went to Serdang and was in the same class as Ong Kee Hui. He was supposed to have a brilliant future with the Agricultural Department of Sarawak as he was English educated.

Upon learning that he wanted to go back to China,my grandmother even hid his passport but somehow, he managed to find it, bought a one way boat ticket to China after gaining admission to one of the universities in Beijing. He was very hopeful of a good university education.

On the fateful morning, my father and mother knew that he was on board the huge boat,the MV Soon Bee, and and together with us children, waved for a long time from our Hua Hong Ice Factory home, at the lone, white towel waving from the ship. I remember my mother waving until the ship disappeared from the bend of the Rejang River. I can still remember the sad siren, blowing for a long time until the boat was out of sight. Later I saw the old movie Titanic pulling out of the docks. It had the exact siren sound. Heart wrenching and foreboding.

Thus the Rejang River not only brought batches of Foochows to Sibu in 1901. In 1954, it also took away a beloved son from my grandmother, and a beloved brother from my mother. They were never to meet again due to political and financial reasons.

He had returned to China, unfortunately, during a bad time of political upheaval and his future was not what he expected. He did not realise his dreams of becoming a great "returnee" but instead, for many years, he was one of the barefoot engineers in the rural parts of China. We had news of him, about once every three or four years. My grandmother's hopes were dashed as she saw that her nightmare became real.

My grandmother only received a small 2 inch by 3 inch black and white "wedding" photo of Uncle Pang Teck and his bride, both wearing Mao uniform. Almost all communication was broken for about twenty years. We also heard that his beautiful teeth had become blackened due to poor dental hygience and lack of treatment. Two of his fingers were badly deformed due to rough work towards the end of his life. He did not live to see the more beautiful and developed China under the great president Hu Jin Tao.

Recently Uncle Pang Teck's graduate son, (the only offspring he had) came to Sibu to have a very emotional reunion. With all the travelling visas granted, with ease, by both the Chinese and Malaysian government recently, many family reunions have taken place, thus closing the emotional gaps and perhaps even "lay to rest" some past ghosts.

Thus we still have a very strong blood tie with some one dear and very close in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, China. He is as "capitalistic" , "futuristic", "realistic" and "high tech" as any one of us, carrying a handphone and a lap top! He is a very good modern sports science teacher.

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