A Lesson Taught in Many Teochew Families
I was born in Teochew (Chaozhou city). My paternal grandfather and grandmother died early. Ever since my first awareness of things around me, my parents never stopped emphasising in my education at home to “always be filial”, as this is the greatest of all virtues. “Always be filial” is a lesson taught in many Teochew families.
I have six younger brothers and sisters. With my own eyes, I witnessed how my parents raised all of us to adulthood with their meagre incomes from teaching and sewing embroidery under the dim light of the kerosene lamp.
In autumn of 1960, I enrolled into university in Beijing as a 19-year-old. In autumn of 1965 I was assigned to the Guangdong office of the Xinhua news agency and thus began my life as a journalist. I recall my first pay-cheque was a half-month salary advance of 30 yuan, of which I immediately sent 20 yuan to my parents. Subsequently I remitted part of my pay home every month. Some time later I was transferred to the “frontline” (of the mainland China-Taiwan conflict) of those days, at the Xinhua news agency in Fujian.
Just to See My Parents
Even though l was constantly on the move, I never forgot the three words “always be filial”. Every Chinese New Year was a 600 kilometre trip for my wife, daughter and myself for reunion with my parents and siblings, before I returned to work a few days later. Whenever there was an assignment in Fujian’s Zhao’an county that is close to Teochew, I would quietly “sneak through the borders” just to see my parents.
In 1997 – when my parents and parents-in-law were at a combined age of 320 years, I was finally allowed back to Swatow, falling just short of my sixties at 56. After retirement, I was invited to begin a second career at the Teo-swa (Chaoshan) Historical Culture Research Centre. Life became busy once more, and I was torn between service to society and being filial.
When second retirement arrived at the age of 70, my wife and I moved from Swatow back to Teochew and there we rotated weekly “shifts” with my three younger brothers to stay with my parents. On 21 April 2014 my mother passed away at 92 years. My father was then 95. He was still clear in his thoughts, but physically weak due to old age. Although he is looked after by a caregiver in the evening, a family member was always needed nearby.
"Used only in the Hour of Need”
My father insists on living in the old house, there are only two rooms, including one taken up by the caregiver. As such, whenever my wife and I are on duty, we stay in a hostel nearby. Every morning we would set off at 7am, walking or taking a “three-wheeler” to the market, reach father’s house at 8am and remain there to chat with him. For his meals, bite-sized food is prepared. Because he has weak digestion and has lost his teeth, the normal portions for meat and rice are too big. Each day my wife and I have to ask what he wishes to eat to plan for the following day menu. And as he cannot eat dry rice, we cook porridge twice a day. He likes bean porridge best, along with soup noodle and dumplings. For the dumpling fillings, we ask the butcher to mince the meat twice, and we then do once more at home.
My father feels sorry that my wife and I, two septuagenarians (past-70 years), have to take care of him a nonagenarian (96 year-old). But we will jokingly remind him of the Chinese saying that “an army is kept for a thousand days, and used only in the hour of need”. Now that you need the care of your children most, we as your children are only fulfilling our filial duties.
About the author 关于作者:
Heng Ui Tong (Wang Weizhong) was born in Teochew in 1941. He graduated in the Renmin University Faculty of Journalism in 1965. He held various senior positions at the Xinhua news agency, including being Deputy Bureau Chief of Fujian Province. After retiring from the press, he served as chairman of the Teo-swa (Chaoshan) Historical Culture Research Centre and contributed to the successful inclusion of The “Qiaopi and Yinxin Correspondence and Remittance Documents from Overseas Chinese” documentary heritage in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The archival collection has 160,000 pieces of artefacts, of which over 100,000 originate from the Teochew region.
You may be interested also to read earlier submissions for The Teochew Store "My Teochew Family Story Sharing"
- "潮州一家人" by Elizabeth Koh
- "Trivia Tales from Shatin 沙田人琐事 - 介绍" by Ben Choi
- "My Special Teochew Family 特别的潮州家人" by Harada Ryotaro 原田燎太郎
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