Which Village Are You From?

I was in Kuching last week but now I’m back, though I haven’t really gotten into the work mode. Not yet anyway. Still a bit lethargic. Maybe it was all the CNY festivities and going about visiting my in-laws’ friends and Nic’s relatives!
Visiting and reciprocal visits is a big must in Kuching. Kuching is still a very community-minded place whereby everyone seems to know everyone and someone is always related to someone one knows! It’s even “smaller” than Penang. I thought Penang was bad enough – often I know someone who is someone’s cousin, uncle, friend, sister or what-not. Soon enough, I can trace their family tree back to one or two generations who may be some far off relatives of mine.
But Kuching… it can be a good and a bad thing. Like we were introduced to a guy who worked for a Kuching business magazine last week by a client of ours. Next thing we knew, Nic starts looking at the namecard and tells me, “Eh, the address looks familiar. I think I know who the boss of this outfit is.”
Sure enough, the “boss” of this magazine turns out to be Nic’s relative! In Kuching, there are many people with the surname Sim and this particular Sim is of the same clan as Nic.
Apparently these Sim people go way back – they can trace their roots to some kampung in China, a district or province (don’t know which) called Chao An! So these Chao An folks came by ship to Sarawak years and years ago (Nic is the 2nd generation Sim in Kuching – his paternal grandpa really came on a slow boat from China! In terms of lineage, he proudly proclaims that he is generation number 29 if he counts the starting generation from China).
I am ashamed to say I don’t know which generation I am although I do know my paternal grandmother came to Malaya at the age of 9. I do know that I am Toi Shan Cantonese and this dialect is only now spoken by geriatrics. Not many young people know this dialect anymore (damn, I am proud to be part of the ‘dinosaurs’).
Even in my family, only my dad, my younger sis and I speak this; it’s a convenient secret language between my sis and I whenever we want to bitch about people in public! My youngest sis has never picked up the dialect though she understands it well. She plain refuses to speak to me in that dialect, turning instead to regular Cantonese. My cousins don’t speak it either. But the funny thing is, it is such a beautiful familiar dialect but it’s dying out because no one bothers to teach their children. My uncles are guilty of this crime. They speak to their kids in English and Mandarin with smattering of Hokkien but no Toi Shan! A bigger shame!
My late maternal grandpa came from China too – I used to gawk at his red IC when I was a child and wondered why he never had blue ICs like us. Like most Cantonese, my maternal grandpa was a goldsmith in Penang for a number of years before he stopped working. My paternal grandpa (also deceased) is also Cantonese and was a tailor of fine suits at Leith Street. But that is all I know.
Which brings me to another issue: family roots. I’ve recently begun to ask more questions of my 88-year-old paternal grandma, or at least trying to ask her when she is in her more lucid moments. She floats in and out of senility but she is one happy senile woman. So most times I am left putting pieces of stories together, culled from recollections of my aunts and uncles, like a badly made jigsaw puzzle.
My aunts and uncles are all in their 50s and beyond so I had better ask them more before they start turning senile too. Many stories are stories of childhood years, in those days before TVs, handphones and the Internet. Many are stories of the early post-war Malaya, when people did not worry about locking their doors at night. I remembered one story where my 4th uncle as a child often sleptwalked! He’d walk right out of the double-storey house, but not before opening the grille door. He’ll sit himself down at the metal swing in the garden! Amazing.
But is it me or that the older I grow, the more I need to find out where I came from? It seems that way. Especially when I see 4 generations under one roof in my grandma’s home, and I think to myself, hey, I don’t REALLY know all their stories. I must start documenting them. I must.
So, do you know which village you are from?

9 thoughts on “Which Village Are You From?”

  1. My great-grandpa’s from Chaozhou. But never been there though…
    My mum’s ancestors from Fujian. I was there bout a year ago,
    but can’t find my favourite “Hokkien Mee” lah, hehe..

  2. Before my paternal grandpa pass away, he always tell me about some story of the family. So, we are from Guang Dong in a town call Phun Yu (there is an association in Penang) and our village is called Theang Karn. When my paternal grandparents were here, they run a roast duck restaurant in Taiping which were very famous during that time.
    My maternal great grandpa is from China too. He is a Hainanese. Came to Malaya and married another lady. You remember the kopi tiam you visit? They are the 3rd generation doing that business.

  3. Hi Jack: Wah, looking for Hokkien Mee in Chaozhou? Even if you find it, it might not be to your liking since our tastebuds are so Malaysianised! Just like how we turn our noses up at Singapore bak kut teh!
    Erina: Good that you know all the family history stuff! I wished I knew more indepth about my own background. At least we can say we both belong to the same place in China – Guangdong!

  4. emm, since u ask, my lineage brings me to a village call mui yin in guangzhou. i m of the kahyin dialect. my mom’s a toongkoon kwangtung and some relatives of mine r toishan too and i hv heard highly of this dialect.
    i admire cantoneses so much that i use them as a yardstick! lol.

  5. I know which village my clan originates from. My maternal grandparents are from this place called Soon Tuck in Guangdong provice whilst the paternal side hailed from Kou Yew of the same province. The million dollar question now is “Where should I claim my village to be?” Should I follow the paternal or maternal? Importantly, I am Malaysia-born Chinese and have my roots here but my DNA from there

  6. HI Kate, my paternal great grandparents were from Soon Tuck and my maternal grandparents were from Phoon Yue. I can’t wait to visit these districts in Guangdong province when I have the opportunity in the near future, hopefully soon. BTW, my surname is LOOI (means thunder in chinese). Do you know the surname of your maternal grandparents? I was talking to an elderly chinese man yesterday who mentioned he was from Guangdong. When he learned that I am from the Soon Tuck clan, he said the district has rich people. I believed he was right since my great grandparents seemed to owned many shops, houses, lands, a farm and petrol kiosks in Taiping. I am sure it is the same for your grandparents. My maternal grandfather was a chinese physician and he owned a chinese herbal store after he brought his family from China. Unfortunately, he died when my mom was 12 years old. I never have the chance to know him at all. My grandma passed away when I was around 6 years old. Still too young to ask questions about her origins. Kate, you should follow your paternal side since your surname comes from your dad. My parents are living in K.L. with my siblings and they are in their 70’s. I am going to get more info about my ancestors from them. Gook luck in your search for your origins.


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