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.

hong may collage

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.

san duo collage

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.

san duo collage_2

Sharing the Journey

Meditation? Ghosts? Genealogy? Co-Creation? What do these topics have in common? Although they might seem disconnected, I will share how all of these became my spiritual journey at the April meeting of the Central VA IONS Community.

IONS, Institute of Noetic Science, was founded by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, after a profound experience on his trip back home from his voyage to the moon.  In that moment, he “knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes.”

I had the same kind of experience on my journey to China to my father’s ancestral villages and in writing my book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium.

You don’t have to go to the moon or to China to embrace your spiritual path. I will share some easy exercises to assist the journey to consciousness. I hope you can join us.

You can sign up at  Meetup.

IONS APRIL 2017_x

 

 

Celebrating the birth of a book – Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium

There is a Chinese proverb about a red thread of fate that connects us. I felt that red thread pull me to my ancestral villages in China, and through the veil that separates most folks from the spirit world. It played such a huge part in my life even before I knew anything about anything. So, naturally, it graces the cover of my book that I just released on Amazon. I hope you’ll check it out.

Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium.

Through the course of writing my story, I am no longer a reluctant medium.

 

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Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Doors of Guangdong

 

I had no idea when I started “rooting” that it would be so much more than finding my father’s village and honoring my ancestors in their homeland. It will take me years to fully process the experience. As a student of architecture, I was fascinated with the doors and windows. They became the symbol of my journey. So, here is my ode to the doors of Guangdong.

doors-of-guangdong

 

The journey to our ancestral villages in China,

thousands of miles away from our birthplace,

began with a single step.

Like knights on a heroic quest,

we’ve overcome many obstacles.

We’ve slain dragons of ignorance,

learning how our forefathers and mothers

were treated on the Gold Mountain.

We’ve unearthed records from the National Archives.

Some have been fortunate to learn the oral histories.

I was not one of those

because my father and my older brother

could not,

would not

speak about their lives in China,

and yet,

I persevered as we all have

until,

at last we stepped through

the doorways of Guangdong,

where the past and the present collided.

We touched the hands of the villagers

knowing that

the red thread of fate

pulled us together once again.

We know our quest is about so much more

than dots on ancestral tablets

even as we honor our ancestors.

We know it was our choice

to make this journey

and to take from it

whatever we choose.

Where will our next step take us?

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Coming Home

 

Coming home: I knew today would be miraculous, but I have no idea how exactly it would play out. The trick is to get out of my own way.

Today was the first day we hit a road block in the village, Sam Dor, where my father and two uncles were born. Only two elderly women in their eighties, and their memories were fuzzy. I knew the chances were slim because my father was born 106 years ago.

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I set out on my own following a hunch, sure that I would be able to “feel” the energy of the house. Elsie followed at a safe distance. Down a lane where an empty lot stood between newer houses. Two tractors stood guard on the lot. Suddenly, I was pushed from the front and also from the back at the same time, squeezed by two bookends of an invisible force. Unafraid, I stood and took a deep breath. Chills coursed through my body showing me that I was on the right track. As a medium, I listened for the message which clearly said to go to Gong Ye.

hong-may-village

However, we headed to the next village which was very close by. It was where my great-grandfather was born, but we did not find a structure to go to or close enough relatives to give me clues about this cosmic puzzle I’ve been working on. Instead, the village chief showed us where my great-grandfather’s house once was. What we found were piles of rubble and yet, I stayed open to what was meant to be.

So, I performed the ritual on the overgrown plot where my great-grandfather was born in Hong May Village. It was an organic ritual, less ceremonious than the previous ones. It was perfect! I chose the spot and knelt on the ground where I placed my uncle Don’s poem on the ground to create a makeshift altar. Next, I placed three pieces of incense into a crack formed by a stack of rocks. I bowed three times to honor all my male ancestors as I said a Buddhist prayer and read my Uncle Don’s poem. I felt his hand on my shoulder as if to confirm my mission on this trip and the story I am writing.

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Then, as if a movie played in my mind’s eye, I saw the walls of the house form around me like a 3-D printer. I heard sounds of joy and knew it was my great-grandfather’s naming day. I knew that he was fated for success as a sojourner, that he would have many sons and a good life. (The records I found a NARA confirmed that he was a handsome man and was indeed successful at the shops in San Francisco owned by the Louie clan.)

I created another alter in the opposite direction but this one was for all my female ancestors, especially the ones who stayed behind when the men “went out” to the Gold Mountain. I felt them standing around me, tears flowing down their cheeked for being honored. I felt a special connection with my great-great-grandmother, who had bound feet.

Several more altars and the mission was complete. Then, as if to affirm the new beginnings I saw a su gum (squash) at the last place where I put incense. More was growing in another corner of the plot. It’s blossoms dotted the space with bright yellow. I picked one of the blossoms. A village lady wanted me to take one home with me so I would have the seeds. I found a fragment of roof tile to remind me of the next part I want to explore when I come back again: the Lei (putanghua for Louie) family architects, as well as the town of Gong Ye, where my family settled after they moved from Sam Dor.

keng_wei_hong_may_village_ceremony_2-1

Village women brought some wonderful pastries to us which were being made for a wedding to take place in three days. We joined the ladies in the community building where I passed out red baskets that I had crocheted to each of the villagers. The red baskets represent the ancient Chinese belief: An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet; regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or twist, but it will never break.” I gave lucky lai see to the bride-to-be and also to the chief of the village, who I hope to see again on my next trip because I know this was just the beginning, and I will be back again.

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As if to say, “Now, go and share your gift with others,” I was guided to give a reading to the village chief, to our local guide, and to one of our guides from the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Vocational School. With each reading, the message was clear “We are not meant to do everything ourselves. Be open to help from others, and magic happens.”

I am grateful to our Friends of Roots guides and my fellow Rooters, our guides from the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Vocational School, to the local guides and the people of the villages, and to my ancestors who guided me home to the source.

When you drink water think of its source.

keng_wei_hong_may_village_group-photo

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 – First Day

Our first rooting day gave us an opportunity to experience two of Albert Cheng’s adages: 1. Be flexible (which means “we think we’re going to one person’s village, but we might end up at another’s) and 2. Be open to miracles, aka divine intervention from our ancestors. As our bus rolled into the village, we were greeted by the head of the village at the gateway flanked on the village by a pair of trees. We learned about Barbara, Cindy, Amanda and Diane’s connection with the famous red-faced General Guan Yu from the “Romance of the Three Kingdom’s” era (almost 1800 years ago).

guan-yu

A short walk down an alleyway brought us to a house once owned by Barbara’s ancestor and then further down the alley and a left turn took us to her relative’s house, where she performed the ceremonies at several altars and fireworks were set off to honor her predecessors. Barbara’s Chinese helped her communicate with her relatives enough to verify details about their stories and to know she was offered a chicken – make that a live chicken – to take home. One more turn down another alley way took us to the newer home of her grandparents, where the plaque on the left showed her grandmother’s name. As if to signal the joy of the reunion, a pair of dragon flies mating flew overhead.

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We hopped on the bus, went a very short distance and this time it was Cindy, Diane and Amanda’s turn. The walled courtyard appeared ominous, especially with its glass shards at the top, but as soon as we walked through the gate into the courtyard, we knew this was a wealthy family’s home. Although the house was barren, its spaciousness and remnants of stained glass hinted of another time. This house had its wood bars across the entrance door in place. Lacy iron corbels buttressed the overhang at the front side of house.

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The excitement of the two finds was topped off by a visit to Chikan, a town nearby where Cindy, Diane and Amanda’s ancestor had a noodle shop and overseas Chinese again brought their experiences in the new world to their homeland. Albert told us to look for Elsie Lam, one of our guides, and the peanut brittle vendor. We did not have to go far as we crossed the bridge over the Tanjiang River. A photo of former Rooters including Elsie graced the post and the packaging labels of the peanut brittle, which we got to watch being made. The best part was sampling this delicious treat. I knew my Lebanese family would enjoy every morsel. Chachkies galore, dried fish and chickens, Chinese sausage and bacon as well as a calligrapher tantalized our senses and memories of our youth. While Cindy, Amanda and Diane explored the Guan Library, I peeked through the gate and wondered what the Hotel Paris was like back in the day and people-watched in this town created over a hundred years ago.

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