Rooting for Truth: A Legacy Lives On

“There is something in all of us that thrills to this experience of touching the past. It could be an old letter, a genealogical record, a battlefield, a cemetery, or fragments of an ancient text.” (James Tabor)

Those words touched me deeply as I pondered how to share the story that I’d unearthed as I searched for my roots. I had hit many walls when it came to my immediate family, but as they say, “When one door closes, another opens.” In this case, it was the door to the Forbidden City, the world’s largest palace complex, and to Yangshi Lei, the architectural family who played a part in its creation. In fact, Yangshi Lei designed and built one fifth of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and was recognized by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Register.

As the 400th anniversary of the birth of Lei Fada, the progenitor of Yangshi Lei approaches, I am honored to fulfill a promise I made recently to Lei Zhangbao, the tenth-generation descendant. That promise was to share the story of Yangshi Lei with the Western World. I am pleased to announce that “The Legacy of the Lei Family Architects Lives On: The Story of Yangshi Lei” is now available on Amazon.

The Legacy of the Lei Family Architects Lives On_cover_XXXMy sincere thanks to  my sister Florence Louie Bass, who joined me on the journey in 2018 even though rooting is not her cup of tea; to my guide Liu Hao from My China Roots for her assistance with my research including finding Lei Zhangbao and arranging our meeting; to Zhangbao and his family for meeting with a distant cousin from a far away land; to Friends of Roots who helped pave the way in 2016 for this journey; to all of the Louie/Lei clan; and to my ancestors who guided me to share this amazing story.

Carole Louie, aka Lei Bao Ling 雷宝玲

 

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Rooting for Truth – A sojourner returns to the family villages

For two years, I looked forward to taking my sister Florence to our family’s villages. After much planning, we finally arrived in early November 2018. I remembered the way after studying my notes from the trip in 2016 and Google and Baidu maps on-line. However, as we drove to San Duo village, road construction blocked our path. In just two years, the expansion of S273 meant that the rickety signage to San Duo was torn down and the entrance closed. No matter, we headed to Hong May village and the timing was perfect. san duo (4)

I wondered if the girl who was getting married in 2016 moved to her husband’s village and if I’d see any of the ladies who shared goodies they had made for the wedding. I hoped to reconnect with the village chief but learned that he was in the hospital. After touring the usual spots in China, here we were in a small village in the Taishan District of Guangdong. The village where our great grandfather Louie Fat was born. We walked down the narrow path to the plot of land where his house once stood. Someone had erected a make-shift brick wall to circle a patch of green onions. Jiegua/zitgwaa節瓜(fuzzy squash) still grew on the south side of the plot.

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With the help of a village lady, I paid respects to our ancestors by burning incense. Maybe because of the brick circular wall in the middle of the plot, I did not feel my ancestors’ presence this time the way I had in 2016. What a powerful moment that was for me. One that had affected others in my Rooting group almost as much as it did me.

This time I walked around the village taking it all in because it was surreal for me in 2016. This time I wanted to smell the earth, touch the grey brick walls that had stood for over a hundred and fifty years, and imagine what it was like walking through the narrow alleyways from house to house, house to field, village to village.

img_4072I met several elders who welcomed me even though we could not speak the same language. Did they sense that I “belonged” here? Their smiles and gentle hands held me with delight. I wanted to know their stories too. Did they or their parents know my great grandfather and grandfather? Whatever they experienced in their eighty-ninety years of life in Hong May, in this moment they were radiant. I watched as their children came to their home to prepare their meal with simple yet elegant filial piety.

You can imagine my surprise when a man came up to us and said in perfect English, “Hey. Where are you from?” After we recovered from our shock, we asked him where he was from. Peter Louie said, “I was born here, but I live in San Francisco now. I come back to visit my relatives every year.” Was he like our ancestors who came to San Francisco to create businesses and sent money back to their relatives in the village? Observing him with his family at the village and later at the restaurant where we went for lunch helped me envision what “homecomings” must have been like for Louie Fat in the late 1800s.

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As we drove out, I noticed the banyan tree and an altar at the front of the village. We stopped and got yet another perspective of the village. Even though my great grandfather’s house was torn down for reasons unknown to me so far, the people of the village and the new buildings speak to the vitality and prosperity that has returned to Hong May.

After our lunch, we headed back to S273 to figure out how to get around the construction at San Duo village. Thankfully, we were able to jump the ditch and left the driver who found another entrance.

I wondered if the lady with the pink chair was still there and was delightfully surprised to find her. She was shy at first and she probably did not remember me, but after a few explanations from a young man, she perked up; and when I gave her the photograph of her from 2016, she smiled ear-to-ear. 30878114637_25ab16fa1b_zShe’s ninety now and still spry and still has her pink chair. I wonder if she will be there on my next trip back to the village and if she is, next time, I will ask her name, but she will always be the “lady with the pink chair” to me.

This time, I followed the directions on my map that I’d created from the notes I made from the files at the National Archives. This time, the village chief was there to open the door to my grandfather’s (Louie Mow) house. This time, I climbed the rickety wooden ladder up to the altar where tablets for the twentieth and nineteenth generation still stood. san duo (9)

Too excited, I didn’t move the incense bowl to get a better photograph, one that I could use to translate their names to add to my genealogy records and I forgot to pay respects with incense and paper money much less firecrackers. Somehow, I know my ancestors understood. Instead, I took in the view of the doorways below as I climbed down the stairs. I noted the sophistication of the designs even if not well made. Even though there was little furniture in the room and the house was obviously used for storage rather than for living accommodations, I knew back-in-the-day it must have hummed with activity when my father and his two brothers lived there.

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As we left San Duo, I noticed what must have been the old entrance. A factory invades the space now, but as I looked back toward the village and noticed the rice drying where two years ago construction equipment was strewn about and the renovated community building, I knew that I’d be back again to learn more about the people, my people and the stories of their lives, reflections of my ancestors.

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Rooting for Truth – A Legacy Lives On

Rooting for truth has taken a new dimension for me. Two years ago, I found a nugget that turned out to be a gold vein. The veins grew and grew until I traveled to Beijing in October where I was able to meet Lei Zhangbao and his family. He is a direct descendant of Yangshi Lei, eight generations of architects for the last eight emperors.

Thanks to Liu Hao from MyChinaRoots for helping me with the research, setting up and translating for me at our meeting, and 20181028_132338-1helping me at the Tsinghua University Library.

You can imagine how excited we were to visit the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace, places that Yangshi Lei designed and built. I can hardly wait to write a book about this branch of the family tree who is listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Registry. You’ll have to read my book to find out why.

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Next, back to Taishan and what we discovered at the villages.

Rooting for Truth – patience and persistence pays off!

Another day at NARA (National Archives) and digging through more files, I hit pay dirt. The ratio of Chinese women to men in the early days of Chinese Sojourners to the Gold Mountain (U.S.) was very small. So, I cannot help wonder what motivated my grand-uncle to bring his young wife, Toy Shee, to San Francisco in 1928. I cannot help wondering what she must have felt as she birthed three children in this strange land. However, I have a feeling that my uncle Don (Louie Hung Don) would have cherished that young family as much as he loved spending time with me and my siblings in the 40’s and 50’s because he was one of the “bachelors” (the thousands of men alone).

What a difference it was reading Toy Shee’s interrogation versus her husband’s! And what a treasure trove of information painting a picture of her life in China. She must have come from a family of substance because ten servants accompanied her as she rode a sedan chair to her wedding. No doubt they were loaded down with gifts for the Louie family as well as all her worldly possessions. She proffered her husband (my paternal grand-uncle), a man she had never met, a cup of wine and paid respects to his ancestors at the family altar. Then, he went to the men’s celebration while she stayed at her new home with the women. A home she’d share with her in-laws and their servant, a young girl who fetched water from a river a few blocks from the house.

How did she feel when her husband returned to the Gold Mountain before their first child was born? How did she feel when he returned, decided to take her back with him but left their first-born with his parents?

A note to fellow genealogy researchers who are new to the Chinese traditions: Toy Shee means that she was from the Toy clan. I do not know what her birth name was. I do not know if a woman took a “married name” as her husband (Louie Kaow/Louie Qiao Wei) did. Her confident gaze speaks volumes to me even though she could not write or even sign her name.

I hope her spirit and/or the children’s will tell me more. Until then, I will enjoy MY grand-nieces and the memories of the day we shared exploring the Korean Market, snacked on fermented blue crabs, baby crabs, ramen, glass noodles and more. I’ll enjoy my extended family (new ‘cousins’ I met while doing research at NARA) as we dig through the documents, the Jiapu, and of course more food.

Thank You, Universe!

Do you ever talk to the Universe? I not only talk to it but I also listen to, you know, that still, small voice that whispers in your mind’s ear. The one that teases and  coaxes, hints and downright pushes me towards those “pieces of the cosmic puzzle.” The one that reassures me that everything is in Divine Order no matter how crazy things look on the surface, that “this too shall pass,” and the sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

Today, I am especially thankful that I  listened as the Universe guided me in the direction of dreams – to China last year and to the completion of my book this year.

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I’m grateful to all the folks who have bought my book, read it, asked amazing questions, and even reviewed it. It has been so much more than the journey to China and the process of writing and publishing; it has been a spiritual journey that I will never forget.

I look forward to what lies ahead. Shhhh  . . . I think I hear the Universe calling.

Memoir of a Reluctant Medium

 

Thanks to Central VA IONS Community for inviting me to share my stories and some fun meditation exercises today. What a fantastic group! If you are not familiar with the Institute of Noetic Science, you should check it out: IONS

I am reluctant no more!

In celebration, I am offering a FREE e-book of Conversations with a Hungry Ghost:Memoir of a Reluctant Medium now through Monday. Click on the photo to go directly to Amazon and then, join the conversation.

 

What the hell!

Have you ever wondered what Hell is like? That’s where I journeyed the first time I saw my father’s ghost. Here’s a preview of his hell:
 
____Here I go again. A familiar tug at my third eye, a tingling sensation spread from my forehead pressing against my eye sockets and down to my upper lip as the music of Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting filled the meditation room. My spirit rose above my body as the veil between the meditation circle and the Tenth Hell of the Buddha disappeared. Before I could question what, I saw in my mind’s eye, the music pulled me deeper and deeper until I felt as if I’d slipped through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole.
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My vision blurred around the edges, but before me, an intricately carved kang sat in an alcove adorned with painted panels depicting the seasons.
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Butterflies danced around spring white peonies, followed by ducks swimming by white lotus blossoms heralding summer. Balls of white chrysanthemums announced fall’s arrival while white plum blossoms created lacy patterns against a winter sky.
 
A Buddha-like man sat crossed legged on silk brocade cushions of saffron and maroon on the wooden kang used as a sofa or a bed. He propped his left elbow on a pile of pillows to his side, and his right arm rested on the scholar’s table that filled the middle of the kang during the day. Embroidered silk slippers sat at the ready on the saffron and maroon wool and silk rug with a classic shou/longevity medallion in the middle, and eight Taoist symbols of immortality adorned the border. Incense from bronze tripod incense burners strategically placed on each side of the kang wafted about him.
 
I recognized the man who sat folded up into a ball at the foot of the kang’s platform. I saw his white chef’s jacket pulled down exposing his flimsy undershirt. He sobbed as he pulled at his hair and slapped his exposed bony shoulders. Sweat dripped from his hairline and followed the curve of his back. He lifted his head. If I entertained any doubts before, they melted away when I saw my father’s face.
 
“Lord Buddha,” Dad said. “I am ashamed. I know what I did wrong.” Looking around at the others who writhed in agony in their corners of this hell, he knew his sins had caught up with him. “Will I be in the Tenth Hell forever?”
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