by David Bell
|Ang Chay Ham; 1936 ~ 2016|
A much loved and respected member of the Ang family passed away on Monday at 4:39am, 25 April 2016, after a long illness. His name was Ang Chay Ham, also known to most of us as Samsuk, translated into English as Third Uncle (sam meaning third and suk being uncle). The Chinese have an interesting and effective method of identifying the positions of relatives. The title 'Suk' (pronounced sook) denotes an uncle on your father's side. Prefix it with the appropriate number and you have the order of birth. However, the eldest brother has the special title of Ah-baak meaning 'the eldest'. The simple charts below illustrate how it works.
Child ....... 1. My father, Ang Chay Pek (Dad to his children but Ah-baak to others).
2. My father's younger brother, or Yihsuk (second uncle)
3. My father's next brother down, or Samsuk (third uncle).
4 And so on depending on how many brothers are in the family.
The same system applies to the sisters on the father's side but with the title of Gu instead of Suk.
Child ....... 1. Daigu, the eldest sister in my father's family (dai is big, gu means aunt).
2. Yihgu, the next sister down (second aunt).
3. Samgu, the third sister down (third aunt).
4. And so on depending on how many sisters are in the family.
The same applies for family members on one's mother's side but with different titles: Kau for the brothers and Yi for the sisters with Kau-fu as the oldest brother and Dai-yi the elder sister. It should be noted that some personal variations pop up from time to time, like the many pet names we use for our grandparents and parents in western culture.
Variations aside, this method, once you are familiar with it, is excellent for immediate recognition of who you are referring to when discussing an uncle or aunt because you know exactly which side of the family he or she comes from and his or her position in the family.
Ang Chay Ham, therefore, is the third and youngest brother in a family of three boys and three girls. To my wife, Winnie Ming Ling Hung (or 'Ang' in the Fujian dialect because after the family moved from Fujian to Hong Kong in 1951, some used the Cantonese 'Hung' while others retained 'Ang') he is Samsuk, or Third Uncle.
Growing Up in China
He was born in Fujian Province, China, 19th December (by the Chinese lunar calendar) 1936 and grew up in the city of Xiamen. There is nothing to suggest that his early childhood was anything but normal for the times, in fact, the signs are that he lived more comfortably than most in China in those days. His father's business in the Philippines was prospering and provided enough wealth for the family to own a house, some property and a stash of gold, the favoured currency of the more affluent Chinese.
The picture shows from left to right: Ang Chay Ham (about 12 years old), Ang Hui Lan, Ang Hui Ying, Go Lea Hua, Him Que, Ang Chiu Shui. Seated: Ang Hui Kim and Ang Ming Ling.
Xiamen was once commonly known as Amoy, the European version of its historical Chinese name E-mui, meaning Mansion Gate, or more grandiosely, The Gate of the Grand Mansion.
It is actually a large island looking across the Taiwan Strait on the south-eastern coast of China's Fujian Province. There are many other smaller islands surrounding it, Gulangyu being the largest and more populated of them. It is also the island the family lived on for many years. Gulangyu translates as, Drum Wave Island because of the drumming sound of the waves rolling onto its shores. Today, it is one of China's showpiece cities and a popular tourist venue with spectacular parks, hotels and a host of tourist attractions. in 2006 it was designated China's second best place to live and in 2011, its most romantic leisure city. It also boasts a feature that makes Gulangyu unique in China; combustion engines and their polluting smoke and exhaust fumes are banned. Consequently, electric cars and bicycles are the norm there.
The climate is monsoonal and considered sub-tropical with average annual temperatures hovering around 27 degrees Celsius. Winters are short and dry with average temperatures of around 13 degrees Celsius. The days are generally sunny and humid all year round and the place is subject to typhoons in late summer.
Xiamen has always been a prosperous port city which made it attractive to both traders and plunderers alike. It has seen its fair share of boom and bust throughout its history. It was especially prone to attacks from Japanese pirates resulting in the necessity of building a significant fort there in 1387.
It was also the scene of many periods of political unrest throughout its early years, the most significant being when the Manchurian Qing dynasty overthrew the incumbent Ming. Xiamen was one of the places most contended for.
It was also a city heavily involved in the opium wars where the Chinese confiscated the British stockpiles of opium and closed the port to further opium shipments. This infuriated the British and the infamous opium wars broke out. The British prevailed (winning the Battle of Amoy) and forced the Chinese to sign the notorious 1842 Treaty of Nanking. Xiamen was quickly taken over by the British and reopened to resume the lucrative drug trade.
The British control of Xiamen opened the city to a new invasion of British settlers and Christian missionaries. As a result Xiamen came under heavy European influence. The British settlers built European-styled mansions for themselves and introduced such English institutions as organized sports and European music, especially the piano. To this day the piano is a traditional part of the city. There are so many pianos in peoples' homes that it is referred to as China's piano town. It even boasts China's largest piano museum.
European architecture is also evident to this day with the old colonial mansions and public buildings still standing, especially on Gulangyu, the settlers' preferred place of residence. Two such houses were purchased by the Ang family; one on Xiamen and the other on Gulangyu. Ang Chay Ham spent his childhood in the Gulangyu house.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries it was common for men to travel offshore to work, leaving their families for years at a time. I suppose the people of Xiamen, because of their history of European contact along with their business acumen as traders and merchants, had no fears of going abroad in search of better opportunities to improve the living standards of their families; China in those times being plagued by grinding poverty. Chay Ham's father went to the Philippines when he was a boy to work in an uncle's fabric shop.
Others, however, went all over South East Asia and beyond to countries such as Viet Nam, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, to mention a few. Smaller groups even ended up in the Pacific Islands and other isolated places like New Guinea. With them they spread Hokkein (their language) and Fujian traditions to nearly every place in Asia and the Pacific. It is not surprising just how many overseas Chinese today trace their ancestry back to Xiamen.
The 1940's were bad years for Xiamen with the outbreak of World War Two and the resulting Japanese invasion and occupation. Ang Chay Ham was a young boy during those trying days and can still remember the horrors of the occupation.
The Japanese considered Chinese inferior Asians and treated them with disdain. The result was cruelty and atrocities. He said he still remembers hearing the continuous cries of people being tortured in the Japanese held police station not far from their house. Everyone lived in great fear of the Japanese and if you did not bow whenever a Japanese soldier or official passed by, you would at least be severely beaten or at worst shot on the spot. Women lived in fear of being raped and young men were routinely taken away to prison or executed on the grounds they might join the Chinese army. Chay Ham was too young to be a threat so he was ignored.
Left: Ang Chay Ham as he appeared early 1948 at about 12 years old. He would have been about four when the occupation began and seven when it ended.
Chay Ham remembered the great relief and happiness that swept through Xiamen when the Japanese were defeated and fled. No doubt all the Angs were likewise hugely relieved to have escaped ~ relatively unscathed ~ the four fearful years (1941 - 1945) under brutal Japanese rule. The Japanese actually invaded China in 1938 and occupied much of it. However, Amoy was still under British control and because, unlike Germany, Japan was not yet in conflict with the Western Allies, they kept their distance. That all ended with the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour which resulted in an all out declaration of war giving them the excuse to forcibly add the city to their list of Chinese conquests.
The relief, however, was to be short-lived. No sooner had the Japanese gone the Communists and Nationalists ~ who had put aside their differences to fight the common foe ~ resumed the war they were waging before the second world war. This civil war for the control of China was to have even more devastating consequences for the family.
The Communists eventually won that bloody struggle and set about confiscating all private ownership of land and property. The Angs soon realized it was only a matter of time before they and their holdings in Xiamen would be targeted. Ang Chiu Shui, Chay Ham's father and family Patriarch, quickly set about laying plans for the family to escape the dark clouds of danger gathering over them, for it was known that the zealous communist cadres were going about beating and abusing land owners, landlords and anyone else they deemed anti-state.
He was in Hong Kong when alarming news reached him; news that set the family's exodus from China in motion earlier than planned. His son, Ang Chay Ham was the catalyst that set things off. The following is what happened in Chay Ham's own words:
"When the communists took over many people were very happy, especially the poor. The communists promised them land and a better life. The young people were the easiest to brainwash. The communists told them that they could be part of a new start for China, that together they would build a new and better world. Everyone believed it. I was one of them. I was a high school student at the time and the communist officials came to recruit young men into what they called their military academy. They made fiery speeches about the good things we could all accomplish if we were united for the common good. I signed up. When we got home my sister rushed in and told my mother what I had done. My mother quickly got word to my father in Hong Kong and he got very angry and worried. He said, 'Don’t let him join the communists and don't let him go to that academy. Before you know it he'll be sent to goodness-knows-where and like so many others already we'll never see him again. The communists will brainwash him and our other children and turn them against even their own family. You are to all pack up immediately and come to Hong Kong. I'll organize it and pay for it from here. You must be ready to leave as soon as I get word to you. Leave everything behind and carry only what you need for a week on the road. Bring as much of our gold as you can safely carry and hide the rest; it may be possible to go back and get it later'. He was very stern about it and he was the head of the family so we had no choice but to obey him. Also, we were getting reports about rich people in other provinces being beaten up and publicly shamed by the communists then having all their money and property taken away. We kind of knew it was only a matter of time before it was our turn which made it easier to obey Grandfather's orders. We made preparations straight away."
Ang Chiu Shui ~ whom I shall from here on refer to as Ah-yeh, the favoured family title ~ was the recognised family patriarch and his word being pretty much family law meant that the exodus began post-haste. Chay Ham was fourteen years old at the time.
The Exodus to Hong Kong
The flight from Fujian began on a September afternoon, 1951. It was, ostensibly, a holiday trip to Hong Kong; the new communist government had not yet totally closed its borders and people with a certificate stating they were visiting relatives were still free to travel. Soon, when the communists shut their doors to the outside world and kept their own people locked up in China, such 'holiday tours' would be forbidden. Therefore, it was a case of now-or never.
In retrospect the family was very fortunate that Ah-yeh had such foresight. It was also fortuitous that they responded to his charge to leave China without hesitation. Had it not been so, their family history would have gone down a completely different road and where that would have taken them is anyone's guess. One thing, however, is sure; life in Hong Kong offered the kind of liberty and opportunity that would soon be closed off in Fujian.
The exodus started with a 10 minute sampan ride from the island of Xiamen (formerly Amoy) to the mainland. There were no jetties or ferry terminals in those days, the boatman simply chose the shortest route between the island and mainland and went for it, the boat powered by a small single-cylinder outboard motor. They spent one night at Xiamen waiting for others to arrive who were booked on the same journey. In the morning they boarded a rickety old 'tour bus' with hard wooden seats and a top speed of about twenty-five miles per hour. As Third Uncle said, a bicycle was faster. The whole trip was prepaid with the bus fare and basic accommodation and food stops along the way all included, like a package tour.
The family included Que Him (the Matriarch), her two daughters Ang Hui Lan and Ang Hui Kim, her youngest son Ang Chay Ham, her grandchildren Ang Ming Ling, Ang Yan San, and Ang Ming Lung. Two daughters-in-law, Tan Shuk Hui and our own Go Lea Hua were also in the party. There were about twenty others on board all with the same goal; escape to Hong Kong.
The old bus bumped and ground its way over rough roads which at times were nothing more than dusty tracks. The route took them along the coast to a small village called Yuen Shiao where they gratefully disembarked to refresh themselves. Being evening they dined on rice, fresh vegetables, roast duck and other foods prepared by some local villagers glad to make a few dollars, the meal taken in a small, basic, but adequate dining hall. They spent the night at Yuen Shiao and continued their journey early the following morning.
It was a long, tortuous drive to a small village called Yun Zhio, then Zhao An and then on to a bigger town called Shan Tou where they dined and rested for the night before continuing to Hui Zhou, another small village.
They reached Hui Zhou late afternoon on the fourth day since leaving Xiamen. Hui Zhou was a small, impoverished fishing village on a sluggish river that ambled lazily into the sea. The river was set between them and the village. An unsafe looking ferry was waiting to transport them across to the village. The ferry was nothing more than an old motorized barge with a flat bottom. The passengers were all ordered off the bus and the ferryman laid down two well-worn planks from the stern of the ferry onto the greasy river bank. The driver then proceeded to drive the bus onto the planks and onto the ferry, the planks just wide enough to take the wheels. Once safely on board the bus was taken across the river, which was not too wide, and offloaded. The ferry then returned for the passengers.
Chay Ham's most vivid memory of Hui Zhou was the children; they all swam about in the river unashamedly naked. Additionally, they were much darker in complexion than he was accustomed to seeing; their skins toasted from running about naked all day in the hot sun. He was fourteen at the time and the sight of naked boys and girls running about so publicly startled him. He thought that the place must be very primitive and poor.
Poor and primitive as it appeared; Hui Zhou had one thing that impressed him, a beautiful lake. Although his stay in Hui Zhou was but an evening and part of the next day, he took every opportunity to visit the lake and take in the fresh air coming off its clean, cool waters. At Hui Zhou the driver happily informed them that they were nearing the end of their journey, much to everyone's delight.They spent the fifth night at Zhangmutau, a seaside village. From Zhangmutau it was but a short drive to Shenzhen, the village right on the border.
About mid-morning on the sixth day the long awaited moment arrived; the bus was ready to leave for Hong Kong. The passengers, with more than a little apprehension mixed with a good dose of heady excitement, clambered aboard and took their places on the crude wooden seats. Within half an hour they were at the border.
The bus clattered to a stop at the gates and a big, ferocious looking man with dark skin and a thick black beard stomped out of the guardhouse and marched up to the bus, ordered the door opened and clumped up the steps to stand in the aisle like a giant. He was dressed in a uniform and carried himself with an air of stern authority. Others like him spilled out of the guardhouse and stood around the bus appraising the occupants. The passengers had never seen such alien looking people and were petrified.
"Where are you all from?" the man on the bus shouted menacingly in heavily accented Cantonese. They were all so afraid of him they were speechless. He repeated his question, more gruffly this time. "Where are you all from and where are you going?"
His already huge black eyes grew even bigger as he began to grow impatient at the lack of response, and still everyone sat in silence staring wide-eyed with fear at the huge Indian border guard filling up the bus in front of them. As Third Uncle explained, 'All of us small Chinese had never seen such people before and they were so big and ferocious looking. We were very scared and couldn't say anything.'
It was just before the guard opened his mouth for the third time a woman cried out in perfect Cantonese, "We are all from Canton and we are going to Hong Kong for a holiday and to visit relatives." She was a middle-aged Cantonese woman who had married a man from Fujian and like the rest was leaving to escape living under communism.
The Indian guard looked hard at her for a moment then said, "OK, you can go!" and clambered off the bus and ordered the barriers lifted and waved them through. After a period of stunned silence, and when they realized they were safely on the other side of the border and away free, they let out a collective cheer and hailed the Cantonese woman as the hero of the day.
It was a joyous moment when the old bus from the Mainland - battered, dented and covered in dirt from its long trip across two provinces - rattled onto the streets of Kowloon. While the bus was a curious sight chugging and smoking among the more modern vehicles, it was not uncommon and brought only stares of curiosity from people on the streets. These holiday tours had become a frequent sight in the city and everyone knew that the holiday-makers on board were planning a very long vacation indeed.
Hong Kong was a technological world away from their former home; the streets seemed crammed with traffic, new buildings were sprouting up everywhere and the whole city seemed alive and vibrant. The energy of the place was not the energy of revolution or political change, but the energy of people engaged in what the Chinese do better than anyone in the world; trade and business.
The great differences between this place and the war-torn and poverty stricken mainland still reeling from the aftermath of two decades of war and caught up in the turmoil of political change, was not lost on the young Ang Chay Ham and he felt his communist leanings quickly leaking away as he stared, wide-eyed, at the sights around him. The life and energy about the place was breath-taking. But, despite all these wonders it was the double-decked buses that astounded his young mind the most; he had never seen anything like it. 'Why don't they tip over?' was all he could say.
The old bus, overheated and coughing smoke, finally reached the end of the road; an old depot of sorts where it had offloaded 'holiday makers' several times before. The owner-driver, a Fujian native now resident in Hong Kong, was doing a roaring trade. But he sensed from the changes taking place in China that his tour business was doomed. He was, therefore, making-hay-while-the-sun-shined. After dropping off his passengers he would rest for a day, do two or three days shopping and load the carefully selected items onto his bus which he would sell back in Xiamen for a good profit, meet with his contacts about another 'tour' and then drive all the way back to repeat the journey. If he was lucky he might pick up a few passengers heading back to Guangdong or Fujian. These he considered 'lucky money' as the flow of people to the east was not as brisk.
Ang Chiu Shui, or Ah-yeh to his grandchildren, was waiting at the depot. Word had already got to him of their safe arrival and he was visibly relieved to see them all in good spirits. Old Ah-ma, keyed up with excitement and bossier than ever before, barked orders to everyone around her, even the other passengers who, seeing her bound feet and in respect to her age, submitted to her commands. As a result her whole family got off the bus first. Others were also at the depot to meet their families and the din of reunions was deafening. The Ang family, nine in total, accounted for most of it as they shouted and laughed with glee.
The family lived for three months in a guesthouse above a shop owned by Ah-yeh's brother. In December, 1951, Ah-yeh leased a large apartment on Kings Road in Northpoint on Hong Kong Island for $HK300.00 per month. That apartment became the family home from 1951 into the 1990's when it succumbed to progress and was demolished. The Northpoint Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station now stands in its place.
Below are pictures of today's Kings Road, the location of the family home for over forty years, now an MTR station. These pictures were taken in 2013.
The new apartment had four good sized bedrooms, a kitchen, running water and toilet facilities; all pretty basic but adequate to the family's needs. The space was the main factor because it had to immediately house ten people and perhaps more later on. When they moved in they had no furniture and only a few personal belongings so the first task was to purchase some cheap beds and drawers and other essentials like a table and chairs. Bit-by-bit it all came together and the family settled in. Only then had they the time to start thinking about what they had left behind in Xiamen.
The two apartment blocks they owned on Xiamen and Gulangyu were substantial and profitable buildings and they hoped that despite the communist threats that the law would prevail and the ownership would remain in their hands. Before he left Xiamen Ah-yeh had paid some relatives to oversee the buildings in their absence and entrusted some of the family valuables, including small gold bars, to those he had confidence in. And the family, before their exodus, hurriedly concealed more gold bars and valuables under the floorboards and behind the walls. At a more opportune time Ah-yeh would make arrangements to return and reclaim them.
There was to be no opportune time, the communists were true to their policy of total state ownership of all property and wealth. He lost the houses and all the valuables and gold secreted in the walls and under the floors. The gold and valuables he left with relatives also mysteriously vanished.
It was true, everything in China was lost. At least the business in the Philippines was still there and most importantly his family was together and free. Surely, that was what really counted and worth more than all the gold he had lost. Nevertheless, the Chinese love of gold and valuable things is strong and the loss of so much was a bitter pill to swallow. A bad taste has lingered in the family mouth that has never completely gone away, even long after Ah-yeh and the other old folk had passed on.
They did manage to bring some of their gold from Xiamen; the old dowager stuffed her bags with smaller items and tied a thick, pure gold cord around the waist under the shirt of the young Chay Ham, thinking that if they were stopped along the way by robbers or communist officials, they would be less likely to search a young boy, focusing more on the adults. The cord was worth a small fortune and Chay Ham was instructed to guard it with his life. Other valuables were scattered about in the bags and on the persons of the other family members.
As it turned out there were no robbers or communist officials. The journey was long and uneventful.
At this point in the narrative I will change direction a little and talk of Third Uncle (Samsuk) on a more personal note. In other words, enough history and more about the person.
I am married to his niece, Winnie Ming Ling Hung and while I have known of Samsuk for many years, I have only had an association with him for the past three years from 2013 to his passing in May 2016. Short as that may be, it nevertheless seems to have been long enough to form a friendship and respect that is intimate and enduring. Somehow, and for some reason that I can't adequately explain, we just 'clicked'. The actual time we had in each other's company was rather minimal but somehow we became as brothers.
He has gone now but I think of him often. I will miss his good nature and the talks we had on my recent visits to Hong Kong. It was through these talks I gained so much knowledge of his life in China and Hong Kong. I know I didn't get it all but I'm grateful for what I have and take much pleasure in recording it. I hope it will be of value to my whanau (extended family on all branches) now in in the future.
There are many things I remember about my good friend, the main ones being his great intelligence, his immense generosity, his keen business mind, and the quiet love he had for his family.
I first became aware of how smart he was in 2013 on a family visit to Hong Kong. In the beginning I spoke in rusty Cantonese and, sensing my struggle, he simply replied in English. I was mildly surprised thinking he knew a smattering of my language. However, mild surprise turned to amazement when it became apparent how fluent he actually was. He perfectly understood everything I said and could reply with a more than adequate English vocabulary. I immediately dropped Cantonese and thereafter we freely conversed in English. Later, I sat with him and interviewed him on his life story, all in English. He replied to every question effortlessly and I came away with enough information to write the portion of his life history as he gave it.
He told me he began learning English as a young man from an Australian missionary who became his great friend. The missionary taught him English lessons and in return Samsuk was an enthusiastic and model student. He said, "The missionary wanted me be to believe in the church and I said I did, but actually I didn't, I only wanted to learn English. I really liked that missionary, though. He was my good friend."
While he learned a lot of English, he never did become a committed Christian. This is not to say he didn't have good values and principles. On the contrary, he was, I believe, a man of great honesty and integrity, the only exception being his lie about joining the missionary's church. He said he didn't want to offend his friend and end the relationship and the English lessons. He and the missionary continued their friendship until he finished his service and returned to Australia after which they frequently corresponded.
I am left with the opinion that if life had dealt him a different hand, one where he could have gained a more formal education, he would have excelled. This I base on not only that he taught himself to speak very satisfactory English, but on everything else I have observed and learned about him in the few short years I have known him. He had a sharp brain, of this I am quite convinced.
While I was never around to see it first hand, I have seen second hand his business acumen. He obviously had a good eye for business and knew how to broker a deal. He must have been fair and honest because he made a good living doing deals for people for a lot of years. It should be noted that making a living in Hong Kong is not for the fainthearted. It's a pretty cut-throat environment and one needs to have their wits about them. Connections and timing are also important in doing business in Hong Kong and Samsuk managed to master them both. He made some good money by brokering deals for clients buying and selling property. This would have required a sound knowledge of the property and market environments. He must have done well because by the end of his life he had accumulated enough wealth to leave his family comfortably situated to survive the rigors of Hong Kong living. There were other smaller business ventures throughout his life but the property one was the most profitable. Not a bad effort for someone with no formal education.
As mentioned earlier, my first real connection with Samsuk happened in 2013 when Winnie and I took a two week vacation in Hong Kong. Since our retirement we have made an informal commitment to visit with Winnie's sister and relatives as often as possible; hopefully, at least once a year. We have, in these our twilight years, come to realize that God and family are the most important things in life; the only true absolutes. Lots of people have been dying around us in the past few years and it has become clear that when it's time to be called home nothing else matters but family and loved ones. All those things we toil and struggle our whole lives to obtain, be they wealth, social status, worldly honours, properties and so on, account for little as we approach the end of our days and suddenly understand that we can take none of this stuff with us. We come to understand what we knew all along, that it is faith, family and our own characters that endure forever. This is why Winnie and I have determined to spend this season of our lives doing as much as we can building love and unity in our family. We don't want to 'miss-the-bus' and leave here with regrets. Visiting Hong Kong is an integral part of this understanding and the reason for our determination to connect with Winnie's Third Uncle and his family. In doing so I have won a great prize; I have gained an eternal friend and brother and added another branch of loved ones to my family tree. We had some good times in the few short occasions we were together, the most memorable being the 'king crab saga'.
On one of our visits he strongly insisted he take me to the fishing town of Sai Kong to eat his all-time favourite; Alaskan king crab. I was quite agreeable to this but when we all arrived at Sai Kong and found out how extraordinarily expensive these crabs were, we (meaning Winnie and I) balked at the idea; we just felt too guilty about the cost. Winnie and her sister managed to convince me to inform him that I would be more than happy with a smaller crab and he reluctantly agreed. The meal we had - minus the king crab - was magnificent, but he was far from happy. He must have stewed on it for a long time because when we returned the following year he was adamant that this time nothing would prevent him treating me to a king crab at Sai Kong. He said, "This time we won't listen to those two girls!" That king crab I'm holding, I must admit, was by far the best crab meat I've ever eaten. More importantly, I was happy to see how content and pleased he appeared.
Samsuk always took great pleasure in dining out with guests. He had several favourite eating establishments and I was the happy recipient of his extraordinary generosity on several occasions.
I truly love visiting what little remains of Winnie's family in Hong Kong - most having moved abroad or passed on - but it invariably puts kilograms on my waistline. Eating out seems to be Hong Kong's national sport because just about every second shop on any street is a food outlet of some kind and
restaurants are always crowded with diners no matter what time of day. Samsuk opened his wallet for some memorable dinners in the few short years I knew him.
My great friend and brother died in the early hours on Monday, 25 April 2016, in St. Paul's Hospital, Hong Kong. He had been battling cancer for many years, teetering on the brink of death more than once before miraculously pulling out and making some remarkable recoveries, his doctors referring to him as the miracle man. He was a tremendous fighter, but it couldn't last forever.
Winnie and I had hoped to be there before he passed but with these things it's very difficult to time it right. So it was with us; he died before we could get there - it's a long way from New Zealand to Hong Kong. As it happened it was as well we didn't get there earlier because dying is not a straight forward affair in Hong Kong. It can take up to a month before the family can hold their funeral services. So many die each day, you have to wait until a slot at the crematorium is available. Cremation is preferred over burial simply because a plot at a cemetery could cost more than we would pay for a basic three bedroom home in New Zealand.
We delayed our departure and timed our arrival to three days before the funeral.
The Memorial and Funeral Services
A Hong Kong funeral, I discovered, has a few differences from those I'm more familiar with, the first being the lengthy time lag between the person's passing and the cremation - you can only have the services when the cremation date is fixed. Additionally, the funeral parlour is quite different than in New Zealand. The one we used in Hong Kong was, ironically, the very same that Samsuk's grandfather, Ang Chiu Shui, had his funeral in February, 1967, this being the Hong Kong Funeral Home on Kings Road.
It has about six floors; the lobby with a couple of big rooms for extra large funerals, three floors housing multiple smaller funeral rooms, one upper floor of offices and the whole top level stacked with empty coffins for sale. The other big difference is in the nature of the funerals themselves. With Hong Kong being such a cosmopolitan place, it's not unusual to see secular, Christian, Buddhist, or any other services being held in their respective rooms simultaneously; especially in the weekends when the whole building can be a great bustle of funerals all happening at once.
The forecast for the day was for rain but it was wrong; it turned out to be pleasant and sunny. The memorial service was scheduled for 7pm Saturday 14 May. The family expected about 30 people but as the time drew nearer the room began to fill up and more chairs had to be added. At the start the attendance was more like eighty. The following pictures will give a good overview of Samsuk's memorial.
The picture to the right is a hallway view of the third floor where Samsuk's memorial service was held. Notice how several rooms open out into the hallway. Each room holds up to 80 or so people or a few more in a pinch. A reception desk is set up outside the room where programs can be distributed, people welcomed, and 'lucky money' in red envelopes given to the guests. It is also usual for other funerals to be going on in the neighbouring rooms which can be a bit noisy - a Buddhist funeral includes a lot of loud chanting, drum beating, flute blowing and movement. Fortunately, each room has doors thick enough to block the extraneous sounds and allow privacy.
To the left is the view from the entrance into the room. Behind the podium is a small sealed stateroom with a large window through which the bereaved can view their loved one.
When we looked at the room the day before it seemed worryingly spare and cold but once the podium, screen, flowers and chairs were in place it was much more presentable.The flower arrangements were spectacular and very fragrant with green and white the dominant colours.
I was asked to give the eulogy so the picture to the left shows me rehearsing my speech. I determined to do it in Cantonese in respect to my old friend, his family and the funeral guests. It took a lot of preparation; I wrote it in English, Winnie and Lina helped to translate it into good Cantonese (my own Cantonese being rather rusty after over forty years of minimal use), and then I rewrote it into 'pingyin' or romanisation - Cantonese in English lettering for want of a simple description.
The eulogy was followed by a truly heartfelt and tearful reading by Cynthia, Samsuk's and Samsum's only child. She wrote a letter to her dad and read it to him over the podium. Earlier, she had written a private daughter's letter to him and sealed it in his coffin. The contents of that letter are known only to Cynthia and one might assume, her beloved father.
Cynthia's partner, Lawrence, took the responsibility of Master of Ceremonies and did an exceptional job by keeping the service flowing and smooth.
It was a beautiful memorial service, the result of the efforts of several people and a fitting sendoff for someone who has been a big part of many peoples' lives.
Right: The memorial service was held on Saturday, 14 May, 2016 and the funeral and cremation on Sunday 15 May.
This picture shows people waiting for the coffin to be wheeled from the viewing room where it had been formally sealed. Once out, everyone stood and under the direction of an official from the funeral home, bowed three times in unison to farewell the deceased and three times to the family and then the pallbearers came forward and wheeled the coffin along the aisle and to the elevator where it was transported to the hearse outside the
funeral home. From there we all bused to the big crematorium.
Left and below: The pall bearers wheel Ang Chay Ham from the funeral parlor.
From the funeral home everyone proceeded to the crematorium, a large building up in the hills among the trees. It took quite a while to reach it in the buses hired by the family to transport us there. Upon arrival we all filed into the building where the coffin was waiting on a table in front of a small curtained opening. When all those present had assembled the attendants led a short ceremony, and, as is
customary, a family member was invited to press the button to start the conveyor belt to take Samsuk on the final part of his earthly journey. This was particularly hard on Samsum who later remarked how hard it was to see her husband reduced to an urn of ashes. After the crematorium we all went to a restaurant for the luncheon.
Left: Cynthia leading the procession from the funeral room on the third floor to the hearse outside the Hong Kong Funeral Home.
The luncheon was held at a restaurant that was one of Ang Chay Ham's favorite dining places. The food ordered were also some of his favorite dishes. It was a fitting conclusion to the day and one I'm sure would have pleased him as there nothing he enjoyed more than a good celebratory feast.
Right: Ang Chay Ham's coffin makes its final journey.
His Ashes go to Kai Ming Ji
1. The eulogy
2. Cynthia's reading
3. The life of Hung Joi Ham: video presentation
4. And This is Dying: video clip
The Eulogy: by David Bell
Welcome everyone to Ang ChayHam's memorial service. We are here today to remember and farewell Hung Joi Ham. He is the husband of Lei Sau Gam, father of Cynthia, and a brother to us all.
He is also many other things to those here today: jeifu, samsuk, samsukgunggung, Yijeung, Yijeunggunggung, kaufu, kaufugunggung, Gujeung, Saibaak, and friend. He is indeed our man of many titles.
My name is David Bell - Jung Dai Wai in Cantonese. I am from New Zealand not India (many people in Hong Kong think I look Indian). My wife is Winnie Ming Ling Hung, Ang Chay Ham's niece so I also call him Third Uncle.
I feel very grateful to his wife and daughter for giving me this opportunity to talk today about Third Uncle.
Now, I very much enjoy listening to stories - especially family history stories - and I have always believed that everyone has a great story to tell no matter how long or short their lives. Life is like a novel, every day a new word, every week a new page and every month a new chapter. Our lives are like novels being written and end only when we pass on. Today I want to share Third Uncle's story with you all.
Two years ago when I was in Hong Kong I asked Third Uncle if I might talk with him about his life. He was very agreeable so I took the role of a reporter and interviewed him using my cell phone to record his words. Today I share these words with you all.
Third Uncle said he was the youngest in his family. Above him were two brothers and three sisters. He said he seldom saw his father - known to the family as Ah-yeh - because he was always in the Philippines working. He said that to this day he so admires his father's tenacity and determination to support his family. With nothing but his bare hands and years of long hours and hard work he brought financial security and prosperity to our family so that by the time he came along the family situation was very good. In fact, they owned a large house in Amoy city and another on Gulangyu Island, all due to Ah-yeh's 'hakfu loihlou ge singgwo' - long years of hard work.
When Third Uncle was a young lad, a new person joined the family. It was Ng Lai Wah (Go Lea Wah) my mother-in-law and Third Uncle's daisou (sister-in-law). He said his new sister-in-law really loved him and he remembers to this day three special occasions.
Firstly, when the Japanese occupied China he remembers clearly these troubled times. There was often nothing to eat because the Japanese took everything for their soldiers. Also, if you didn't immediately bow when any Japanese approached you would be beaten or shot. The Japanese were very cruel and night and day you could hear the pitiful cries of people they had captured being tortured in the police station they had commandeered not far from the house. He especially remembered the several times when his daisou threw him onto her back and ran with him to safety when she saw trouble brewing.
His second memory was when, as a boy, he suffered an outbreak of boils on his scalp. Medicines or drugs for such things was non-existent so his daisou took him to the beach each day and washed his head in the sea hoping the salt water would cure the boils. It worked and his head soon cleared up.
The third occasion was when he was about eight years old. One day he went out onto the river near their house in a small rowboat. While he was paddling about a big fish leaped from the water right into the boat. He was so surprised, he wasn't even fishing and one jumped into the boat. He was so excited he quickly rowed to shore and rushed home to show off his prize. Only daisou was at home, everyone else had gone out for the day. His sister-in-law immediately killed the fish and cooked it with a big bowl of noodles. She told him to hurry and eat it all because he was a clever boy to catch such a big fish. He said he now believes she quickly cooked it for him because if she waited until everyone else came back he wouldn't get much of his fish to eat.
After eight years of war the Japanese finally surrendered. Everyone was overjoyed, especially when the Japanese left China. They all thought there would be peace at last. But it wasn't long before an even greater struggle began; the communists and nationalists resumed the civil war they were fighting before the Japanese occupation. At that time Ah-yeh told the family to prepare to move to Hong Kong. But it was something Samsuk did that hastened those preparations and caused the family to leave sooner than planned. The following is how he told it.
"When the communists were victorious everyone was very happy, especially the poor. The communists proclaimed, "Yatchai gungchaan, yahnyahn pingdahng!" which translates to, "Together as one, peace for all!" We all believed we would now enjoy a good life. The young were the easiest for the communists to brainwash and I was one of them.
One day some communists came to my school to recruit the young people into the communist academy. I immediately signed up. It was this incident that caused my family to bring forward our plans to leave for Hong Kong. By the time I got home from school my two older sisters had told my mother what I had done. She immediately got word to my father who was in Hong Kong at that time. He was very angry and worried and told my mother to prevent me from joining that academy because I would become like so many other youth who are brainwashed to go against their families and leave home never to be seen again. Because of these fears, Ah-yeh told mother to store up their possessions and leave immediately.
The first thing was to get a travel permit to leave China then we were to take only what was necessary for a week of travel. I remember that we hid much of our gold in the walls and floors of our house before we left. We took only small things like jewelry and everyone was responsible for a few valuables. I was given a valuable gold chain wrapped in a cloth belt to tie around my waist. My mother told me to guard it well because sometimes there were robbers on the road. This made me very scared all the way to Hong Kong. But we got there safely and when we finally arrived in Hong Kong Ah-yeh rented a big house in Northpoint where our whole family lived for many years."
Samsuk's nieces and nephews all say that he was an excellent uncle. Every weekend he took his nephews to White Sand Bay or Sai Kong to swim, boat and fish. On each of these outings he would buy some special bread for them to eat. Also, at the end of the day they would stop at a noodle stall and he would buy them a big bowl each. He said it was fun to see those hungry boys wolf down the bread and noodles after a long day at the beach.
He also loved to find ways to help his nieces and nephews earn a little pocket money. He would pay them a few cents to either putsin (fan) him on a hot day, dahpgwat (thump his bones) or ngau buijek; scratch his back with a backscratcher. Another novel way was to take all the loose change he had accumulated over the week and gather the kids together then throw it all over his back for them to scramble for. A few pennies here now and again could buy a few nice treats in those days.
I would now like to tell you of some of Samsuk's life achievements.
When he was a young man he spent a few years working in New Guinea. He liked the life there, particularly trading with the locals. After New Guinea he returned to Hong Kong and embarked on a lifetime of interesting and varied business ventures.
I was impressed and astonished at how intelligent he was. When I interviewed him we did the whole thing in English. He fully understood everything I asked and replies fluently. This reminds me of something else. When he was in hospital the doctors often spoke to Lina in English when discussing his condition. The nurses would whisper to the doctors that he can understand everything they are saying. Looking across to his bed they would find him smiling back at them. They didn't think an old Chinese man like him would know English so well.
And another important thing; not only was he clever but (pointing to his picture on the screen behind) he was also extremely handsome. It's no wonder Samsum quickly snagged him before any other girls could get the chance! But just look at Samsum (pointing to the screen behind showing Samsum as a pretty young woman) and how incredibly beautiful she is. It was definitely love at first sight for both of them. They married in 1967, forty nine years ago. What a pity he couldn't have held on for just one more year to make it fifty, their golden wedding anniversary. But he tried really hard.
They had a very long and happy marriage but he did tell me that Samsum could be very Ngok (bossy, grumpy). i had to tell him not to feel so bad. He should see Ling (my wife) and Lina, her sister. They are really Ngok!
Actually, Samsum treasures him and has always worried and cared for him, and even though her own health was not good, she caught the bus every day to care for him at the hospital. Even those times when she was exhausted she still cooked different things for him to eat at the hospital to cheer him up.
The most precious and treasured moment in Samsuk's life was the birth of his daughter, Cynthia Sing Pa (Bright Star) Ang. This (pointing to the screen showing a picture of Cynthia as a chubby, funny looking child of about five) is his little treasure and I must tell you it's the face that only a father can love! But love her he did. Samsum said that every time she went to him in the hospital his first words were always, "Ah-pik ne? Ah-pik ne?" or, "Where's Cynthia? Where's Cynthia?"
I first met Samsuk many years ago but it was only the past three years I got to see him more often and form a great friendship with him. In fact he is like an older brother to me. And I know he is also fond of me because he likes to be with me and invite me to eat. Actually, I'm like a puppy; give me food and I'm instantly your friend. Samsum said that when he couldn't get up he always said, "If only Jung Dai Wai was here he could easily lift me up." I truly regret that we live so far away because when I finally got here it was too late to 'lift him up'.
Two years ago when we visited Hong Kong he was determined I we all go to Sai Kong to eat his favourite dish, Alaskan king crab. I had never eaten this kind of crab because in New Zealand we cant get them, but I knew it was the best crab in the world. When we went to Sai Kong and found out how expensive it was we became concerned about spending so much of his money on a crab. Winnie and Lina tried to talk him out of it and then made me tell him I didn't like big crabs, I preferred small ones. Actually it was a big lie, I really wanted to eat it. In the end we never ate king crab and settled for a smaller, cheaper one to go with all the other food. Samsuk was not happy with the outcome and stewed on it for a whole year.
After I returned to New Zealand and phoned him he always mentioned the king crab and said next time we will definitely have one, adding, "And this time we won't listen to those two girls!"
We returned a year later and this time we ate our king crab. It was every bit as delicious as he said it would be. He had spent a lot of money but we could see he was extremely pleased. I was also pleased because a little while before he said to me, "This time we must go because it's likely to be our last opportunity."
I will forever remember Samsuk. I will never forget his love for his family and how he fought so hard to stay with them as long as he could. He 'gwai mun gwaan janjahtjo gamdo chi'...struggled at the very gates of death so many times and came back because he was so reluctant to leave Samsum and Cynthia.
We all know Samsuk was a kind, generous, hospitable and sharp individual. But in he was also very fortunate to be surrounded by good people who blessed his life. If I were to ask him who to thank I think he would say:
1. My business partners Isaac and Miss Choi (I acknowledge Miss Choi in the audience. Isaac was in Canada) for all their help and kindness.
2. My wife, Sau Gam, and my daughter, Cynthia. Thank you both for your unwavering love, support and care over the past few years.
3. My niece, Lina Li for always being at my bedside and devotedly caring for me. Samsum said, 'if not for Lina I don't know how we would have managed'.
4. My puiyeh (night nurse) Choi Guleung. I was very blessed to have you accompany me through my final hours. You helped me to peacefully and quietly leave this world.
5. Lastly, to my little angel Christine, our housemaid. You were my twenty-four-seven private nurse. I truly thank you. (At this point I conclude by speaking to Christine in English)
To Christine: All through Sir's illness you were constantly by his side. You went above and beyond your duty as his employee. You became his constant companion and nurse. Your devotion and kindness will be forever remembered. We all thank you. Maraming salamat. No wonder Sir called you his little angel.
One week before Samsuk went he asked Choi Guleung, "After I'm gone will I see my family again?" She replied, "Yes, you will."
I also believe that life and family are eternal and no matter if you believe or not, or worship in this church or that church, one day we will all be together again as a family.
In conclusion I wish to speak English and say a few personal words to Samsuk.
I miss you, Samsuk. I am both sad and happy. I am sad because you are gone and I won't see you for a long time. But I am happy because I know you still live in spirit and one day I will meet with you again and perhaps we can have two king crabs, one each.
Yes, we should be sad you at losing you but we can be sure it's not forever. You are now with generations of loved ones and you are happy and well. It is us who are grieving. But when our sadness passes, we will celebrate and be happy that we were blessed with your company for eighty years. You have gone away for a little while, but you will still live on in our hearts and minds until we meet again.
I ask Heavenly Father to bless and love you and keep you by His side. I ask Heavenly Father to comfort and bless Samsum, Cynthia and all your family. we will always remember how good you were to all of us, Ang Chay Ham.
Dojeh Gwokwai, Dojeh...Thank you everyone, thank you.
A Letter to my Dad: read by Cynthia
星珀這名子很特别, 這是爸爸精雕细琢想出来给我的美麗名字, 見証着爸爸您~ 為我開啟了既特别又充滿了愛的人生。
在我面對人生第一個大考試 - 會考期間，你不但沒有給我壓力，還時常叫我放鬆心情，盡力就可以。但因為我給自己太大壓力，以至造成情绪問題，當時你不知怎樣開解我。
前兩年，我在收拾東西時發現社工回覆你的信，信中提到她很欣賞你對女兒的付出和愛…。這才了解當時你有多麼擔心，所以後來找了香港家庭福利會的 社工幫忙… 但你一直沒有告訴我這事。
當我面對人生第一個打擊 - 失戀，你心裡清楚知道作為爸爸沒有什麼可以幫到我，你就想盡辨法，還打電話比我一位朋友，拜託她好好開解及照顧我，此事是之後朋友 Man 告訴我的。因為怕我睹物思人，你竟然傾心傾力，傾家盪產換了間新屋，為的是要我可以有個新環境，重新振作。