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.

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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.

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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.

For more information about my book launch, appearances and, of course, a Hungry Ghost Festival, go to my Events Page.

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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?

 

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We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

Before I sat down with the files in the research room at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), I had no idea what my grandfather or great-grandfather looked like or that they had a birth name and a marriage name. I had no clue about the challenges they faced, the obstacles they overcame, and their tenacity to rise above every challenge and obstacle to create a successful business.

Not only do I know more about my ancestors but I have now walked the streets of their villages in China. I have knelt at the altar of those whose shoulders I stand on.

family-collage

My great-grandfather came to the “Gold Mountain,” the land of the beautiful flowery flag, in 1881 on the SS Gaelic.

He became one of the partners in the Fong Sang Lung & Co. store on DuPont Street, ships-collagewhich is now known as Grant Avenue. In 1907, my grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps even though the Chinese Exclusion Act created more hurdles. He helped the store rebuild after the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. And in 1928, my father made the same trek across the ocean and faced a new generation of discrimination. Discrimination that haunted me for many years.

I felt sad and elated at the same time as I read the files; sad to read the interviews that were more like interrogations, to witness the difference in the way the sojourners were treated as opposed to the way their white witnesses, amazed to think about the vast amount of information they remembered and communicated during those interviews. I am in awe that the information held clues for my search for truth in villages half way around the globe and painted a picture for me of those whose shoulders I stand on.

Now more than ever, I understand the words of Martin Luther King, 
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Like King, I too have a dream of a nation, a world where we honor, love, and celebrate our uniqueness.

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.

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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.

keng_wei_hong_may_village_wedding_preparations-35

 

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 About The Red Thread of Fate

Rooting is like the Chinese legend about the red thread of fate 姻缘红线. According to this myth, the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. The two people connected by the red thread are destined, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but will never break.

I feel that way about my ancestors, even the ones I have never met. And I have that same feeling about my future mate, who I have yet to meet. I know, it sounds silly. It’s the stuff of myths.

“One story featuring the red string of fate involves a young boy. Walking home one night, a young boy sees an old man (Yue Xia Lao) standing beneath the moonlight. The man explains to the boy that he is attached to his destined wife by a red thread. Yue Xia Lao shows the boy the young girl who is destined to be his wife. Being young and having no interest in having a wife, the young boy picks up a rock and throws it at the girl, running away. Many years later, when the boy has grown into a young man, his parents arrange a wedding for him. On the night of his wedding, his wife waits for him in their bedroom, with the traditional veil covering her face. Raising it, the man is delighted to find that his wife is one of the great beauties of his village. However, she wears an adornment on her eyebrow. He asks her why she wears it, and she responds that when she was a young girl, a boy threw a rock at her that struck her, leaving a scar on her eyebrow. She self-consciously wears the adornment to cover it up. The woman is, in fact, the same young girl connected to the man by the red thread shown to him by Yue Xia Lao back in his childhood, showing that they were connected by the red string of fate.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_string_of_fate)

During my Rooting experience,  I have made many connections with people from all over the world and as a medium, I am not limited by the physical reality, or by time and space. I have been blessed to reunite with lovers, family, and even enemies from past lives because we all have one connection, and that is love. Unconditional love. I have yet to meet that person who I want to share the journey with, but until then, I will carry my red threads to China and wherever I go as I root for truth with love.

red-thread-connection