Ann Kit Suet Chin-Chan/Chen Jie Xue, 2013, From China to Borneo and Beyond.
Ann Kit Suet Chin-Chan with the blessings and assistance of her eight siblings, set out on a journey of discovery when she wrote an account of the lives of her paternal and maternal great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and her siblings and their children. This account follows the Chan and Kong families as they migrate to Sarawak from China, their trials and triumphs, journeys and homecomings and, finally, their worldwide Diaspora, with their father, John Chan, always the central point of reference. The account starts with the great grandparents of the two families and finishes with the passing of the author's father, John Chan Hui Fei, on February 18, 2006, exactly 18 years after their mother's (Kong Wah Kiew) death. For the most part, the Chan and Kong families' histories are related chronologically with personal anecdotes and recollections, as well has historical events woven into the account. This is a work of love and is a vital record of one family's history.
Family members included are identified according to their relationship with the writer. For example John Chan is always referred to as "Father." Personal names are also used, but the complexities of the relationships of aunts and uncles in Sarawak, China and around the world become confused for a reader who is not intimately tied to the family. A family tree might have been useful to help sort out these relationships. It might also have helped nieces and nephews of the writer better understand their relationships to the people they meet in this account, if nothing else, by providing a visible the framework on which to hang family stories and historical accounts.
The first of the 24 chapters sets the context by describing of the arrival of Chinese in Sibu, Sarawak. The Chan and Kong families were part of this exodus from Mainland China. The Chan family moved back and forth between Sarawak and China. Eventually their Grandmother remained in China with her children, while Father and Grandfather returned to Sarawak. Grandfather Chan married a second time to Step Grandmother Wong Sam Ying, Say Bo (small wife or concubine). Her story as a pioneer woman is recounted in Chapter 5, "The story of Say Bo," with surprising detachment considering the difficult situation she encountered.
Like the Chan's, the Kong family was a family of scholars. Great Grandfather Kong opted to migrate to Sarawak and he settled in Durin (approximately 45 minutes by boat from Sibu) in the early 20th century. However their Grandmother Kong, who was a young widow, through hard work and business acumen became a wealthy and highly respected member of the community. The Kong and Chan families were joined through the marriage of their father John Chan and mother Kong Wah Kiew during World War II. John was trying to escape conscription and Mother, Wah Kiew, to escape becoming a comfort woman. They were married for 43 years and yet they agreed if it were not for the war, they probably would not have married.
The chapters are chronologically ordered or are about Father's education and career or the homes the families occupied. The book pays special tribute to Father, John Chan, and his life. We follow him to Singapore, to his posting in various government schools, to England for more studies, to postings in the Sarawak Teachers' Training College, his promotion as Divisional Education Officer and finally his retirement and migration to Australia. Anecdotes and brief stories bring us closer to the present and personalize the account. Most of these center on Father.
It was in Australia that Mother died in a horrific car accident on February 18, 1988. The remaining chapters talk about the family until John Chan passes away 18 years later. John Chan was loved by the family and touched all who came to know him; he was the center of his children's lives of no matter where they traveled, studied or lived. His sense of justice, moral fibre and passion for learning molded all his children and contributed to their success.
The Chans and the Kongs have lived and continue to travel the world and for the reader to understand the global nature of the families, maps, too, would have been helpful, particularly ones locating Sibu, Pulau Keladi, and Durin, plus the villages in China from which the two families originated (and returned).
This book records with humor the life of a busy and active family through World War II, the formation of Malaysia and Confrontation. It is a personal reflection of a way of life that has moved on and provides insight into a family and its relationships. It is most of all a work of love and respect for the Chan and Kong families and for Father and Mother.
(M M Ann Armstrong
Lodge International School
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia)
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|Author:||Armstrong, M.M. Ann|
|Publication:||Borneo Research Bulletin|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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