When we signed up for this trip over a year ago, we were drawn to it by the itinerary that went to Hong Kong, Kaiping, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, and the involvement of Dr. Henry Yu. As I said in the last post, Henry and Warren had worked together a few years ago on a series of Chinese Canadian stories, with Warren and his cousin and her children highlighting the story of their grandfather, CD Hoy, his mother’s father, who immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s.
About a month before we were to leave on the trip, Warren got to thinking about where his grandfather was from, and the facts that he had was that CD was from a village called Sui Soon Lee in the county of Hoiping, Guangdong Province. So he did what we all would do, he googled it. Turns out Hoiping is the Cantonese version of Kaiping (Mandarin), one of the places on our itinerary where we were scheduled to visit the World Heritage UNESCO Diaolou sites. Emails ensued, Henry pursued it with his contacts, put us in touch with these contacts and voila, it was proposed that we would possibly try to visit the village while we were there. We didn’t have a long time in Kaiping… only 1 night, so it would be a tight squeeze if we could fit it in.
The morning that we were taking the ferry from Hong Kong to Zhongshan, the port city for Kaiping, we met Wanda Huang, a Chinese educator with local knowledge of the area and diaolous, who grew up not far from Sui Soon Lee and spoke the local dialect; as well, she lived in Canada and spoke perfect English. She would be accompanying us on this 2-day excursion.
So it wasn’t really until that morning on the ferry that we realized that visiting the village was a real possibility, but we still weren’t positive that we’d find the village and what we would find if we did!
We picked up another local woman along the way who works for the government and was familiar with the village and its connection to CD Hoy. So there is our coach/bus following this woman on her scooter down narrow country lanes and voila, we pull up into the village. This is it!
We were told that the writing on the gate said it was Sui Soon Lee. And off we go, gathering attention and interesting looks!
The first man we meet, as translated by Wanda, tells us that he had known CD as a little boy. We’re not sure about this since he left the village in 1901 and this man, while elderly, was certainly not 100+ years! We made mental notes to ourselves to check what years CD made trips back to the village. But regardless, he told us the house still stands and would we like to see it?
As we were following him down a narrow lane, I’m snapping photos along the way and it was starting to hit me what was happening. I’m wiping tears while trying to take pictures and look totally normal. Hard to do. Believe me, I stood out!
We were shown the house which is now uninhabitable and is used as storage, started to take pictures of it when a few more people showed up and started talking to Wanda.
Incredibly, Wanda tells us, this little grey-haired woman says she is related to CD Hoy. Her grandfather and Warren’s great-grandfather were brothers. That would make her a great-aunt or great-great aunt, not sure, but it doesn’t matter! It’s a family connection!
What ensued after was lots of chatting, laughing, photos, more people, a cute baby, more people… Our fellow travellers were incredibly patient and I think were just as touched that this connection was made.
We stayed a bit longer but then said our goodbyes and we were off for our scheduled itinerary visits. But this was a truly amazing experience!
This would not have happened without the hard work of many people: Amanda Butler with Worldwide Quest, the UBC Alumni Travel Club, Dr. Henry Lu, Wanda Huang, Dr. Selia Tan. We are so grateful and are very excited to share this with the family and see about making a return visit!
Lastly, as I was getting back to our coach, I saw this woman sewing in an open storefront, a beautiful gold cloth.
Yes, I think we need to go back so I can investigate this further…
More photos on my Flickr site in this album.