Family History Part 5 - "Give Me This Mountain"

"Give Me This Mountain" are the words that ring in my ear as I start writing a bit about this current trip I am now on. I am in Hong Kong island for the past two days in preparation to visit my ancestral village in mainland China. These words came from President Spencer W. Kimball of our Church whom I had mentioned in is same spiritual blog of mine for a trip to Australia that I made roughly the same time of the year in November month of 2014 shared here. If in that trip of mine to Australia was symbolically considered a visit to my 'Holy land', this trip to China would aptly be considered symbolically as a visit to my 'Motherland'.

On this trip to Hong Kong in Nov 2015, I am with my former mission companion, Wu Yuk Choi, on the right of the photo above i.e. Elder Wu. He not only offered me a place to stay in Hong Kong but would also accompany me to find my Ancestral village. In the middle is Sophie, a person whom we taught the gospel and baptized in Petaling Jaya over 30 years ago when we were volunteer missionaries!

He took me down town to check out tour packages to mainland China as well as helping me talk to some contacts on the mainland recommended to assist me in finding my ancestral village.

By 19th of November, it is confirmed the places we would leave the next day for our adventure. It would be the places my ancestors have walked together with millions of other Hakka people, the clan that we belong to in the history of China. This would include Chaozhou, Shantou, Meizhou, Xiamen and others. Interesting that his ancestry and mine share similar ancestors higher up in the tree as he is also a Hakka. He is free to do this trip with me as he had also recently officially retired from his service to the HK Marine Police and is happily looking forward to travel with me in China and will come visit Malaysia again to meet up with more friends from our mission days too!

He even guided me in Hong Kong to find some lost relatives I had lost contact after years of not keeping in touch due to distance and time. These are my cousins and spouses where I had only met one previously, Stephen Cheung on my left in a dark blue shirt. One cousin 3rd from the right, who is married and living in the UK, happened to be in town to make to make it for the impromptu reunion dinner meet, an occasion to be remembered. She is the oldest of the 4 children of my uncle and carries the middle generation name of Sow as had been named for the 20th generation of female descendants from the time our ancestors moved to Song Kou  (松口) village in Meixian (梅县) which I am planning to visit. (Song Kou had different names previously such as 'Chung Kow' and others to be mentioned here later.)

Her father had sent me hand written mails following his visits to Kuala Lumpur and that of my father to Hong Kong, to include a type written two page brief history of our ancestry that stated in the opening paragraph, "In our genealogy book, those ancestors living before the date-line of Leong Kung (Chinese characters to be provided later) who migrated to Chung Kow (松口) are entirely not traceable. Our original clan known as Hakka race lived, because of their nomadic nature as wandering group in Hopeh Province in North China three thousand years ago."

Stephen had followed his parents in a trip to Kuala Lumpur where his father met mine in a special reunion of 2 brothers with the same father but different mother, seen in the above photo taken on 20 April 1984.

Stephen is seen seated on the far right in green.

Stephen subsequently came to visit Kuala Lumpur again with his wife in July 1987.

The details of the first reunion of my father and his half brother and the passage of time required for it to happen only after several follow-ups in my family history research is described on this post. After both his and my parents had passed away only did we meet up again on this trip after a further jump start in 2013 of getting more information about our great-grand father and the Chong 张 ancestry shared here.

I promised them I would meet again before I left Hong Kong and did with Stephen and his older brother Man Hin and wife in the pic above.

I was given a family tree chart by Man Hin and we would collaborate together to complete it as wide and high up as possible based on records and knowledge we have today and more that may come.

Within a few days, as I transverse the island, I am reminded of how mountainous Hong Kong is and this led me to remember the words, "Give me This Mountain" and the talk of President Kimball which you can read, listen and watch him speak by clicking here.

The figurative 'Mountain' in my adult life to trace the roots to the ancestors of my earthly family seems similar to follow up with the 'Mountain' during my younger life to trace the roots to a spiritual 'Father in Heaven' that took a long time as I had only discovered it when I was turning 21 shared in the beginning of this same continuing blog. My father had been just as silent talking about a father in heaven as he was silent talking about his father on earth. Interestingly that as I write this paragraph about my father about 5am in the morning in Hong Kong, preparing to leave for the mainland to follow the trail of my ancestors, starting by meeting my good friend and guide Wu Yuk Choi (who met my father when we were missionaries together in Kuala Lumpur) at 7am in Yuen Long town nearby,  I just realized the date of 20 Nov 2015 on this day is the anniversary of his passing on 20 Nov 2009.

The Journey of finding my Hakka ancestral trail begins with the Chao-Chow Swatow Railway

Hong Kong became a base for us to leave from and return through Shenzhen, the border town on mainland China to our targeted destination.

We would want to visit the cities of Shentou and Chaozhou as this was where my great grandfather, Tjong Yong Hian (Indonesian name) and also known as Cheong Yuk Nam or Zhang Yu Nan (Chinese names) had invested large sums of money to built a railway that was to run between the region of Chao-Chow (Chaozhou)and the City of Swatow (Shan Tou)

Heading to Shentou and Chaozhou was easy from Shenzhen. Some history about the railways and my great grandfather's involvement is seen below :

Pages 34 and 35 of the book, Legacy of a Great Leader - Tjong Yong Hian

Opening day 25 Nov 1906 of the Chao-Chow Swatow railway. Tjong Yong Hian(a.k.a Cheong Yuk Nam) is standing in the front row second from the right.

In the above given wiki link, it is written, "In late 1903 a group of affluent overseas and Hong Kong Chinese, headed by Cheong Yuk Nam (pinyin: zhāng yù nán, 张煜南), invested a total of $300,000 and registered the Chao Chow and Swatow Railway Company with the Chamber of Commerce in Peking (Beijing) and also under Hong Kong laws. Cheong, who was Director-general of the company, had amassed a fortune from sago plantations in Sumatra and from other enterprises in Penang and South China.

Construction commenced in 1904 under the direction of a Japanese railway engineer Kennosuke Sato (佐藤謙之助). The 39 km (24 mi) line to Chao Chow was completed and opened to traffic on November 16, 1906. In 1908 a short branch line of just over 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) was extended beyond Chao Chow to the river frontage at I-Chi, a.k.a. Yee Kai (pinyin yì xī, 意溪), in order to earn revenue from freight traffic when the low river prevented navigation by boat.

The railway’s senior operations staff, including the drivers and guards, were all Japanese employees, with Chinese staff engaged on less important functions. This situation endured until the railway was eventually taken over by Chinese National Railways in the 1920s. The railway company imported three 2-6-2 tank locomotives from the American Locomotive Company (Brooks plant) and 24 carriages of corridor plan were manufactured in Japan."

More about the History of Rail transport in China can be read by clicking here.

We found an abandoned railway station in Shantou

Standing there on the railroad track brought some sensations from the memory of my research on China and it's history at the time when foreign powers were trying to get a piece of the vast country, bringing with them their latest technologies which included gunships besides the railways. My feelings was about the difficulties encountered in the past to build the railways in China due to the resistance of the Chinese people caused purely by superstitions! They believed that the smoke and noise of the steam engine was a bad omen like a dragon crossing over lands that were formerly burial grounds of the ancestors to disturb the spirits!.

Where I was standing which was an abandoned station could be at any point of the railway line marked in red above, probably closer to Chaozhou side where our hotel was that we stayed for 2 nights to cover both cities and the abandoned station was closer to our hotel.

Empress Dowager Cixi, unlike her husband Xian Feng and her father-in-law Dao Guang(1821-50) who passed the reign as Emperor to her husband both did not like foreigners, was in favor of modernization and accepting foreigners openly into China for trade. After her husband had passed away, she became the shadow ruler of China as their son was too young to reign as an Emperor. My great grandfather had a connection with the Empress as revealed below :

Quoting from the above book received from Chang Huin Kuin (Budihardjo Chandra), my "Cousin" in English Western terms or my 'Clan brother' in Chinese Eastern terms who is from Medan Indonesia, in Pg 42, it reads : 

"Tjong Yong Hian received several awards and accolades from the Qing rulers for his philanthropic contributions in China. In 1903, he received an imperial decree to have his official headwear adorned with a precious stone on top. The colour of the button indicates the rank of official. In some of the old photographs of Tjong Yong Hian, his headwear button had been painted red.

See the painted red dot on his headwear of this old photograph?

That same year, he was twice received in Beijing by Empress Cixi and the Guangxu emperor. First to discuss China and later to put forward his plans for the Chao-Chow Swatow railway. He received their support and went ahead to build the railway. The Empress was impressed with his contributions. In October 1903, she bestowed gifts of calligraphy scroll with word 'shou' meaning longevity inscribed, (Chinese character to be included later) a Chinese painting of peonies and a piece of jade (Chinese description to be included - an S-shaped ornamental jade which symbolises good luck) to congratulate him on his birthday.

To find the ancestral village, SongKou

My anticipation of finally visiting the village my fore-fathers came from was like a dream come true. It was a dream kept for 33 years since I started with the presence of my wife when we were dating in 1982 recorded here, where as I plodded step by step to find my roots, the closer I felt I was getting towards fulfilling it. It took years as I was busy with a large family, running businesses and volunteering time for Church service. After my wife passed away in Nov 6 2012, I posted the page of her favorite dream song here.  I believed she would have returned to a world where she could meet with all our ancestors and being together for 30 years, I felt her spirit close to me whenever there was something I felt she wanted to communicate to me. This was strongly felt in my room while in Kuantan as shared here. Other spiritual experiences related to family history can also be found in a blog as this one.

Singapore seemed a conducive centre for my ancestral research when I was somehow inspired to walk into the Nanyang Khek Community Guild (南洋客属总会) office by chance in Singapore one day in August 2013 to meet the secretary-in-charge Theresa Lew. Since that day, she had indeed quickened my journey to be at SongKou village on this day of November 2015!

Through messages Teresa passed on from her office in Singapore, Mr Tang, the Vice-Chairman from the Meizhou City Returned overseas Chinese Association could meet us when we arrived to take us to the hotel booked for us in advance.

After we were checked into our room to freshen up, Mr Tang arranged for two ladies and a driver with a car to take us to the Meixian District to meet Mr Huang Xiao Man, Vice Chairman of the Meixian District, Returned Overseas Chinese Federation Meizhou City. This view of the mountains in the background above is seen from where we stood in front of his office for a photo below.

Mr Huang is in the centre with the two ladies from Meizhou that led us here on his left. We left in 2 cars to visit the old mansion of my great grand father where we had to walk past a Pomelo orchard. 

Driven there in a convoy of two black government cars with dark tinted shielded glass and blue number plates reminded me of old action movies of secret agents or the KGB!

The man holding the hat 2nd from the right is a relative whose genealogical line is to be confirmed through his son as he apparently had an accident that affected his mental memory.

His name and where he lives is written in the paper above.

Here is a photo of two of us taken infront ofthe old mansion that is in the process of being restored

We met his youngest son at the hotel in the evening named Kwok Wah. He brought his only son to meet us named Tsz Ming. He informed us that Hung Meng was his father's name and his grandfather's name was Tung Yen. However he could not establish who his grandfather's father was or under which of the four sons of Tjong Yong Hian was his grandfather the son of.

He stated that his father Hung Meng who was about 67 years old had one older sister and one younger from him. He also mentioned he was 37 years old and had one older brother named Kwok Hung who was 41 years old at this time of writing, giving us his contact number as well as his brother's. The information are all summarized in the photo above.

The mansion is very wide at the front seen from this angle.

Major restoration work is being done inside.

Massive roof restoration work


The rear section of the house has the familiar semi-circular curved Hakka defensive designed wall structure

Behind the red temporary construction wall  is the mansion of Tjong Yong Hian by the pomelo orchard with the mountains in the background

Post-dated events:
October 2018

While my family was having a family reunion in Kuala Lumpur, I received a WhatsApp message from my friend Wu Yuk Choi who traveled with me when I first found my ancestral village in China. He was in my great-grandfather's home again and sent me this video with other photos seen below:

You can hear my friend calling my name and naming my great-grandfather's name Tjong Yong Hian with his Cantonese accent as he is from Hong Kong. The video shows the outside and inside of the home looking different from the above photos when renovation to the home was just starting in Nov 2015 when my friend and I first found the village and home.

End of post-dated event.

I looked above and could see the moon in the day light!. Everything seemed so perfect as if the stars and the moon were all present to rejoice on this moment of unification. It was this exact moment that I began to feel the emotions of the reality of where I was. It took me a long time to get here. Along the journey, there were many hills to climb and some times mountains too but no matter how difficult it was, I just remember like riding my bike or running up a hill each time, I just had to keep moving one leg at a time to push or move forward until I reached the final destination.

Step by Step is all it takes for anyone like myself, to reach whatever goal we have set our sights on I like to believe. However I cannot deny that along the journey, besides my own strength or determination to carry on, there was a kind of motivation from above. They were spiritual moments where I felt I was being helped or guided in the way to go, with a shining light when I felt lost in darkness, the same way I started my unique life from age 21 recorded at the start of this very blog that carried on to this post today!

Two maps provided above to locate the Mansion. Left is the larger map while the right is more detailed

Google Earth gives the coordinates of Songkou (松口) village which can be viewed by clicking here.
(One can match the photos below the map with the photos of Songkou by the riverside found below to pin point the village by moving the cursor to touch on the matching photo.)

(Click here to see google map)
Map that shows Songkou town(highest tick mark) by the tributary Meijiang that flows into the Hanjiang river that passes Chaozhao(lowest tick mark) to Shantou(out of map south-easterly) for the open sea in the south. (In the direction of the red arrow markers)

(Click here to see google map)
Map that shows the name of the tributary Meijiang (circled in red) that flows through Songkou (marked with a red tick) from Meizhou (out of the map at the bottom left)

Hakka dinner with Zhu Xiaoyun, Director
Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau of Mexian District, Meizhou City
Returned Overseas Chinese Federation of Meixian District, Meizhou City

The beautiful village of Songkou (松口) at the riverside. 
A Chinese Baidu search description of Songkou in Chinese with translation to English can be read by clicking here.

I found Songkou after my years of focused research as shared in this post.

Hakka style curve walls or corners and circular buildings

From the research I made about the architecture of the Hakka homes, I've learnt that narrow slit like windows on walls or corners that are curved to allow maximum view on the outside of a home as protection against enemies was a common feature.

On this trip, my eyes were focused on this feature of the Hakka architecture to snap old and newer buildings with it. The following pics were taken in Meizhou, the Hakka Capital of the world. :


After going back to Hong Kong when we finished our first trip that got us to Shentou, Chaozhou and Meizhou, we left Hong Kong again to take a fast train to Xiamen, a port in between Shangai and Shentou. 

We crossed over from Hong Kong to Shenzhen on the mainland to find Futian Checkpoint.

The journey would take about 5 hours by the speed train to Xiamen. From the link of Xiamen, one can find historically interesting information that the former name was Amoy and was the port the British forced China to open up for trade at the end of the Opium war. Under the Qing, both before and after the war, there was a large-scale emigration of Chinese from southern Fujian who spread Hokkien-speaking communities to Singapore, Malaysia (especially in Penang), Indonesia (Medan and Riau Province) and the Philippines.

We were brought to an observatory tower where we could have a 360 degree view of Xiamen city.

Walking to the observatory deck above, we were treated with a display of art work made of sea shells beneath our feet as we walked to the top floor.

Click the Map to see Xiamen's relative position to Taiwan. The city looks like Singapore or Hong Kong with rapid modern development and skyscrapers. 

Gulangyu Island

Click this link to appreciate the interesting history of this island and it's location map before enjoying the photos and videos of our exploration shared below:

Outside Xiamen in the mountainous region is where we can find the Circular Hakka homes.

Chengqilou (承啟樓) nicknamed "the king of tulou", of Gaobei Tulou cluster 高北土樓群 at Gaobei Village (Gaotou Township) of Yongding County was built in 1709. Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site 1113-003 in 2008. It is massive round tulou with four concentric rings surrounding an ancestral hall at the center, the outer ring is 62.6 metres in diameter and four storeys tall, 288 rooms, with 72 rooms on each level, circular corridor on 2nd to 4th floor, with four sets of staircases at cardinal points connecting ground to top floors. A large outward extending roof covers the main ring. The ground floor rooms are kitchens for family branches, the second level rooms are grain storage rooms, and the 3rd and 4th floor rooms are living quarters and bedrooms. The second ring of 80 rooms is two storeys high, with 40 rooms on each level, the third ring served as community library, one storey with 32 rooms; there are 370 rooms in all. The 4th ring is a circular covered corridor surrounding the ancestral hall. If a person stayed for one night in each room, it would take him more than a year to go through all the rooms.[12] The ancestral hall is at the centre. Chengqilou has two main gates and two side gates. 15th generation Jiang clan with 57 families and 300 people live here. At its heyday, there were more than 80 family branches lived in Chengqilou. (Source : Wikipedia)

I was outside the Chengqilou...where the map location in China is seen here.

.... then I got to go inside. 

See little me above?

Video of the inside of the Chengqilou with a part that has a tour guide speaking in Cantonese.

I even got to spend a night in a Hakka styled home or 'tulou'...

Feeling of euphoria, on top of the world for climbing this 'Mountain' and await yet another...

It was 5.30am in the morning when I woke up in this smaller 'Tulou' where I had spent a very peaceful night, on a harder than normal bed duet to it's hard board below with a thinner mattress, but with the usual good sleep that I've enjoyed all my life. My former mission companion who has been with me throughout my China adventure, sleeping on the other bed, was surprisingly still asleep as he would always be the first to arise early in the morning to do his run. This time I was up first to feel the euphoria on realizing where I was and appreciating how well the whole trip had turned up to be. I got into my shorts and shoes to go out for my run, looking for the nearest mountain or hill to run up!

I came out of our 'Tulou' to see the moon still up above it on the top left of it.

I saw some lower hills near by amidst the mountainous landscape that surrounds us in the valley below in the direction of the moon.

I started heading towards the direction, running pass some women up early doing their laundry...

... passing by vegetable garden plots among the houses...

...and seeing some ducklings further up stream from where the women were.

I followed the moon to find a path uphill ...

... that led me to get up higher and higher.

I found rows of planted shrubbery...

...where on closer observation had flowers I recognized in the flower tea that was served in the area different from the Chrysanthemum tea I am used to drinking elsewhere.

As I looked around me, I noticed the trees were getting taller. 

I realized I had climbed the hill to quite an elevation to enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains and hills.

The 'Tulou' where I had left at dawn was now quite a distance away down in the valley below where the village is located. Then came the surprise!!!

 For some reason I took a side unpaved path...

...away from the main cemented paved path that continued uphill

Lo and hehold, the side path ended in an open area with a large tomb stone!

It was overlooking the valley I had started my hike from.

Flashes of questions flowed through my mind... Why was this tombstone hidden here from the paved trail?... Who was the person buried there?...Does this have any meaning on my trip?

I needed to run back to the 'Tulou' as the bus would be leaving soon to take us back to the fast train station in Xiamen for us to return back to Shenzhen where we started our journey from Hong Kong. There was no more time to think or find the answers to my questions.

I soon got back to the village and had to take this photo of the well fed chickens I was passing by.

I had my congee breakfast back at the 'Tulou' and up loaded the pics of the day.

From the highland area, the bus took us down to Xiamen city to catch our train.

Thumbs up and thanks to all who have helped me climb this mountain to find my ancestral village!.

Thumbs up to the CRH (China Railway High-speed) fast-speed railway service operated by China Railway.

Is there a significant meaning of my China adventure trip in seeking my ancestral village that began in this earlier post by following the the railway history of my great grandfather to find the Chao-Chow Swatow railway tracks? As now I get to take a fast-speed train back to the base I started in Hong Kong, making me feel as if the past is closely linked to our future.  

Back to Hong Kong

At the highest Peak in Hong Kong, Tai Mo Shan.

It's always misty at the top as it is close to the clouds in the sky

When wind conditions change, the peak is more visible

Here is the two of us again at the end of our China trips, on the  last day before I would fly back home. Not bad some would think for a couple of men in their mid 50s to make it up to the peak?

Not such a feat really to realize when we met this 'Ah Poh' or Auntie at the peak who is close to 80 years old! She was seen jogging up the peak with her mature son who ran up and down ahead of her! I am simply inspired by her to continue in my life to say, "Give Me This Mountain"!

Postdated Event :

The following video was created with inspiration to remember how the Mom of our family, or my late wife Geok Lee, contributed to achieving this milestone trip in the journey of discovering our Family History

Was inspired to open my steel storage cupboard to take the pics below and to search my old videos when the toy train was running shared in the link in the facebook post below :

A pleasant surprise to discover in 2017, a year plus later after my China trip of Nov 2015 that China had completed the building of a magnificent modern Hakka styled circular building('tulou') in our Malaysian state of Melaka :


Jeff Yam Cheng Koh said...

Please say hi to Wu Yuk Choi for me and tell him to enjoy his retirement years.
He was my companion when we were working in KL as well. Good and humble guy!

Dad the KL city kid said...

Yes I will Jeff. We just got back and while in mainland China, I couldn't access Google sites which includes blogger, youtube and other sites like Facebook. So I just read this message 3 days later after I posted the post before we left Hong Kong and will convey your greetings!