This is James Wong and his family making them the fourth and fifth generation from the couple who became the proud parents of the First Foochow Baby Boy Born in Sibu. James' great grand father is Wong Kah Yu and like any family, one can gather a lot of oral history from them. But there is a lot more from this particular family of Sibu.
I am honoured to be able to do a some research and write this little posting. I only wish that there are more old photos to share with you.
Unfortunately I also do not have a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Wong Kah Yu. But what I have here is an old photo from 1950. The second Mrs. Wong Kah Yu is third from left. She was respectfully called Ting Hook Moo (Mother of Ting Hook). (Back Row from left Mr. Luk Sung Seng,Mr.Cheng Wan Ju,Rev Ho Siew Liong,Mr. Ling Siew Tieh. Front : Rev Ling Chii Tzu,Miss Ling Yu Kwong,Mrs Wong,Mr. Lau Kah Tii)
This is an early photo of the children in Mrs. Mary Hoover's kindergarten circa
1913. I assume that the three brothers must be amongst them.
The Foochow Pioneers came in three batches to Sibu . The first batch came in 20th Feb1901 with 72 pioneers. They recognised Rev Ting Kwong Tou and Wong Ching Choon as leaders.
The second batch with 5 leaders (Ting Hing Choon,Lau Kah Tii,Wong King Huo,Lau Tieu Foo,and Ling Woon Choon) and 30 others. They arrived on 16th March 1901. I often wonder why this is the date the Foochows of Sibu recognise as The Date of Arrival of the Foochows. Amongst them was Mr. Wong Kah Yu and his wife.
The third batch was made up of the largest group of 511 including several women with good leadership skills. They arrived on 7th June 1902. Amongst them was my grandfather.
Each pioneer was allocated 5 acres of land for personal development and cultivation. Life was terribly hard then. And they were supposed to pay the Foochow leader a small sum of money every year in the agreement they had with him. Unfortunately according to the records the climate was against them and their hardwork did not pay off. Mr. Wong Nai Siong was very frustrated and left Sibu soon,and never came back. It was a divine act of God which brought Rev James Hoover and his wife Mary to Sibu during this time too. And the over 1000 souls started to prosper. And as they say the rest is history.
Mr. Wong Kah Yu was one of the pioneer agriculturalists. He had become a Christian when foreign missionaries had gone to Fuzhou to spread the faith. When Wong Nai Siong came to Fuzhou to recruit another batch of pioneers for Sibu he and his pregnant wife agree to join him. When they arrived they were alloted Hostel No.6 which was one of the first kajang or attap buildings constructed by the Foochow pioneers in Sungei Merah.
A few months later Mrs.Wong Kah Yu became the first Foochow woman to give birth to the First Foochow Baby Boy. The parents called the baby boy Wong Ting Sing. (Sing is New in Foochow)
Later they had two other boys called Wong Ting Hook(Hook in Foochow means Blessing ) and Wong Ting Chew ( Chew in Foochow means State or country).
Thus the three boys' names together mean New Foochow State or Sing Hook Chew.
Actually they already had a daughter whom they left behind in China. Her name was Lu Tei, which is Ruth in Chinese. They had named her after Ruth in the Bible because of their recent conversion to Christianity. They later had a second daughter called Liang.
Life for the women ,and the first Mrs. Wong in particular, must have been even tougher as they had to nurse their babies and farm at the same time. They had to fight against diseases and the hot climatic conditions. In the first few years they were living in fear as the mortality rate was high. In fact according to records in the first year the Foochows were dying like "flies" falling down at the rate of at least 3 or 4 people every day!!How they managed to contain this was indeed a miracle. Many younger men went back to China too and never came back.
Tragically Mrs. Wong's life was cut short. And eventually Wong Kah Yu took a second wife. They did not have any children. It was legendary that the second Mrs. Wong was a very good step mother,,capable,hardworking and God fearing. She was very active in church work in the Methodist Church . The photo (albeit blurry) is a very old photo taken in 1950. The second Mrs. Wong is the third from the left. She was one of the two ladies in the Central Committee of the Methodist Church in Sibu.
Wong Kah Yu and his children and grandchildren built a lovely mansion in Sungei Merah situated fairly near the river and the point where the pioneers first stepped on. I once visited this mansion,as a child, to pay respects to Mrs. Wong Kah Yu with my grandmother as she wanted to see how orchids were grown. And another memory I have of the house was the lovely sitting room they had. Today you can visit the memorial to Wong Nai Siong and the First Pioneers. I think this might be part of Wong Kah Yu's land.
When we got connected through email ,Ruth Wong (therefore the second Ruth in the Wong Family) was happy to share some extra information and a funny anecdote regarding her great grandfather.
There is a lovely anecdote about her great-grandfather's name, Kah Yu, which sounds the same as "kayu" (wood) in the Malay language. Apparently, one day, when her great-grandfather was taking a walk in the jungles, he overheard someone asking a local Malay carrying an axe where he was going.
The local Malay man replied, "Potong kayu."
Thus her great grandfather, with his limited Malay at that time, and in a new country reputed to be the "land of the headhunters", ran for his life because he thought the Malay man was out to kill him!
I totally agree with her that many old people in Sibu can still recall this incident.
Actually I am very impressed by the naming of the three boys. They had so much hope in them at such a time of tribulation and hardship...New ...Hope..prosperity, blessing,and land....Remarkable. Remarkable.
The Wong family continues to be a very prominent part of the Sibu society today. Johnny Wong Sie Lee, the owner of the Sarawak Hotel,Sibu ,is one of the grandsons of Wong Kah Yu. Ruth and James' father is the late Wong Sie Kong,owner of the Far East Supermarket, who was another grandson.
My other famous friend's father is also one of the grandsons of Wong Kah Yu and therefore he is cousin to James and Ruth .
In retrospect as I write this article I remember the lovely and friendly sisters of Johnny Wong who went to the Methodist School with me in the early days. Recently I met up with one of them. And James' brother Wong Diong Sing was my classmate from Primary one until Form Three!!
It is well known that almost all the descendants of this particular family are very fair,good looking and highly intelligent. Good gene pool!! Look at the coloured photo of James and family again!
More interest should be paid to our Oral History which will not only give more meaning to our culture and social development but also help to consolidate our Foochow community.
For more details you can ask me personally if you wish .
I would like to thank Ruth for being so forthcoming in the sharing of her precious documentation and historical records. And of course I also like to thank James and family for not only providing academic help but also spiritual strength and good food always. He and his wife Roselind are ever ready to spend time with a sister in need.
1) The Sibu Chinese Historical and Pictorial Collection by Sarawak Chinese Cultural Association,1992.
2) Wong Nai Siong and the New Foochow,, Lau Tze Cheng.