Retracing the past

1940 - My granda was already a widow, raising my uncle (Tan Tjeng Hoey) from the first wife (far right), Tan Koey Lian (second from the right), my dad - Tan Tjeng Hoa (far left) and my uncle Tan Tjeng Liang.


In Sleeping Beauty, when Princess Aurora is born, the Three Fairy Godmother each gives her a gift – beauty, song, and a wish to undo the curse that a wicked fairy gives her. In my case, I don’t have any fairy godmothers who bestowed gifts on my birth. I know that my gifts come from God who created me unique but I can’t help thinking that my ancestors who are mostly unknown to me, are also responsible for making me the person that I am.

Being a migrant here in Australia, on top of growing up as a second-generation migrant in Indonesia has given me a sense of disconnection to my past. I may have mentioned it here that I am slightly envious when I hear stories from my friends that they have heirlooms that have been in their family for generations upon generations. Of course, some of my friends also have disconnected past so they may have a similar yearning as mine. Because of this I have always been interested in TV programs such as Find My Family, Who Do You Think You Are? or any documentaries that trace back personal lineage and history. Maybe it’s that need to create a connection to my past and to build my heritage that makes me so interested in genealogy and personal history.

Tonight I watched a documentary called Faces of America on SBS ONE where a Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. traces back the lineage some of well-known people in the United States – Merryl Streeps, Yo-Yo Ma, and Eva Longoria among others. A quote from Streep strikes a chord with me – she says along the lines of “I am my people”. It’s true, each gene in my body has been passed generations upon generations. I’ve got my father’s stubborness and determination while I receive my mum’s love for gardening, music and the arts. I have my maternal grandfather’s love of adventures and my paternal grandfather’s love of traveling. How else can you explain the urge and courage that made him take that voyage to the Dutch East Indies all the way from China in the early 1900’s? How can I explain my need to explore different parts of the world and my lack of fear in exploring them alone?

I wonder what else that I inherit from my unknown ancestors in China – it’s just too bad that I can’t trace back my lineage beyond my grandparents. I wonder if there are offices in China that keep our family history – I doubt it. My ancestors weren’t rich – they were mostly peasants in the Fujian provice in China. I wonder if I inherit my love of languages from an ancient great great grandfather or grandmother; or whether any of them were a poet or a writer … Each one of us in our family inherits those genes from our ancestors, but each with a different combination that makes us unique. My eldest sister is blessed with a sense of dignity and strong enterpreneurship while the second one is blessed with the wisdom of smart risk-taking and a clever mind, the third one is blessed with the quiet determination, compassion and humility, while the fourth one has the combination of being calm in the middle of a storm and a great sense of leadership. My fifth sister also loves to write but she is also blessed with a sense of courage to fight on through. My older brother also inherits my dad’s stubborness but he also has a sense of congeniality from my mum. My late brother was always ready to help and could create with his own hands. Each one of us is unique, although the ingredients may be the same from one gene pool. We represent our “people” – our ancestors – uniquely.

I am thankful of the person who I have become – I just wish someday in the eternity that follows after this life, I will get to ask God to share about my ancestors here on earth. Even if none of them are famous, it would be good enough for me to know that they were the kind of people who did their best with whatever that was given to them.

Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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