Monday, January 26, 2009

To the lands of my ancestors and Chinggis Khan.

Today is the start of the Chinese Lunar Year - it's the Year of the Ox. Gung Hay Fat Choy to all my Asian friends. I wish you much health, prosperity and happiness in the coming year.

I figure that this first day of the New Year ought to be an auspicious day to start this travelogue - my fourth in as many years.

This time around, I am travelling to a place that I've always dreamt of going to - China. Technically speaking, I have been to China numerous times - Hong Kong on more occasions than I can remember and Tibet in October 2007. But I've never been to the land of the Han Chinese - the land of my ancestors.

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents emigrated from China to Malaysia. Both my parents are first generation Malaysian and although I am Malaysian by birth, I am very much Chinese by heart.


My maternal grandfather emerged from very humble roots to become one of the first millionaires in Malaysia. My maternal grandmother was one of 10 wives - a life that she lived, to some degree, with very mixed emotions as she was essentially "sold" to my grandfather when she was just a teenager and he was already a very wealthy man. More about both of them in a separate posting.

My mother is one of 26 children and I am in a generation that I don't think anyone has ever taken a body count of though I think it's somewhere near a 100.

In contrast, my paternal grandparents led a very modest life. My grandfather sold tires for a living and my grandmother was a "stay-at-home-mom" who looked after each of her 13 children. My dad is the 11th in the pecking order.

My mother's side of the family is Cantonese - having left from what was then known as Canton but is now Guanddong province. Cantonese is my mother tongue. Mandarin may as well be a foreign language to me and I neither speak nor write in Chinese. As Lei would say, I am a useless Chinese :-)

My dad's side of the family was originally from the Hokkien province which is today known as Fujian. I don't speak a like of Hokkien and it might as well be another foreign language to me. I know, useless Chinese. Luckily, Dad always spoke fluent Cantonese - something which he picked up only after having met my Mom (which by the way, happened when both were attending classes at Cornell University).

Even though I've lived in the US for nearly 40 years now, I still feel very much a product of a Chinese upbringing and I am very proud of my roots.

Ás with all my other trips, I will prepare for my trip to China by researching the places I will see and learning as much as I can about the Han Chinese culture. I will go with the mindset that I know absolutely nothing about the country, the people or its culture. That way will get the most out of this journey. This will only be a short three week trip to China but I am certain it will be the first of many trips to my ancestral homeland.

Mongolia is another place that I've always wanted to go to. It's on my list of travel destination that I go to in hopes of satisfying my aching need to savor the *untouched* spots on earth - places where electricity and running water are not necesarily common household commodities. It will be the basic living that I yearn for whenever I get tired of computers (which I make my living off of) and the modern conveniences that make my life tolerable. It's also the type of place that really makes me grateful for all that I have in life.

The Mongolians still revere their nomadic days which stretch back in time to well before Chinggis Khan ruled the land. I read somewhere that the vast majority of the population still lives that lifestyle - roaming the steppes and setting up gers (canvas tents) when they need to set up temporary *housing*. My trip will take me to those places - I want to see endless sky and not buildings.

I am planning my trip to Mongolia to coincide with the Nadaam Festival which is a 3 day festival, held in Ulan Bataar, that celebrates the Mongolian love of sports that are rooted in the nomadic culture. Aside from doing a bit of perusing the web to learn more about Nadaam, I've not yet done my research on Mongolia - should be interesting reading!

I am really looking forward to this trip. Now, the planning and research work begin!