Ouyang Homecoming

This group blog tells the first person story of an extended Chinese American Family who reunited online and organized a trip to their ancestral roots in China.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Cultural Revelation --Douglas Owyang, M.D

Our trek to the Owyang ancestral village of Da Ling in November was a time of discovery and revelation for me. I had a desire to visit many years ago with my father, Edwin Owyang, but he became too ill to travel. He told me his father, Owyang Com Hin, once brought him there when he was a child, probably around 1920. He hardly remembered anything about the village. He did mention he still had a cousin in China. My grandfather lived with us for many years, but he never told me any stories of his childhood in Da Ling, any tales about his life in China nor his role as secretary to the Chinese Consul General, who was his father, Owyang Gum Tong (roughly between 1890 and 1913).

My father did possess a yellowing paper document, which he called the “Owyang Book”, that had the Chinese names of his grandfather, his father, his brother (Eric), his own name, and of his six sons (I’m the third one, and my parents had no daughters). There are many other generations of Owyangs included as well. We brothers all thought that was interesting to see our names, but I did not appreciate the significance of this record until recently.

My family (wife, son and daughter) had an opportunity to pass by the outskirts of our village in 2001, when my wife’s extended family (Chin/Chan) toured China and visited their village in Doumen province near Zongshan. We stopped just outside Da Ling and took a picture by the wall and pagoda. We did not venture in at that time.

It wasn’t until my son, Jeremiah, had a second opportunity to explore the village in 2002 when he went to Zhongshan with his fiancée’s family (another story). He excitedly brought back news about the village, our grandmother’s burial site (Dr. Faith So Leong-Owyang), and how the Owyangs/Ouyangs in China anticipate the “return” of overseas Owyangs/Ouyangs to the village. He encouraged my brothers and me with our respective families (and Eric’s adult children, my cousins) to visit the village someday soon.

Now the time finally came in November 2006, when “cousins” and “uncles and aunties” and relatives, whom I never met, came together at the San Francisco International Airport to start an adventure of discovery. Others joined us in Tokyo and then in Guangzhou. What a big happy family. We’re finally going to the ancestral home.

Owyang Family Portrait

It was suggested that we bring pictures of families and ourselves to the village. I didn’t have any that were appropriate, but I did have in my possession an original professional photograph of my grandfather with his mother (circa 1900) probably taken in Canton after his father had died. There were others in this sitting, but the identities of the others were always a mystery to me. My grandfather is seated on the left and wearing a white suit, and a small child dressed in white is sitting on his lap. To his left is standing a boy who also is wearing white. His mother is sitting in the center wearing dark clothes as well as the gentleman seated to her right. There are three women standing in the back row. My father told us his father had a previous family in China (hence, his half-siblings in the picture), but they all had died. I thought I could get some more answers in the village.

We finally arrived in Da Ling. (Others have given their account of their experiences in this Ouyang blogsite.) After our arrival, we gathered upstairs in the meeting room. There were many portraits on the wall, the first one on the left was that of my great-grandfather, Gum Tong. At first there was a little confusion: English and Cantonese needed interpretations; many people were in one room and there was excitement in the air. Finally, the village official asked who represented our group. My brother, Norman, was the senior member. He was asked to come forward with his wife. (Norman is the first son of Edwin, who is the first son of Com Hin, who is the first son of Gum Tong.) Following his introduction I was asked to come forward with my wife. Since we were descendents of Edwin (Owyang Yet Wing), I thought it was appropriate that I introduce the daughter of Edwin’s brother, Eric (Owyang Yet Lik) who also was present. I was certain I was heard. I anticipated the same invitation for my cousin to come forward…but for a few seconds there was an awkward period of silence. Then, as if nothing had happened or as if I had said nothing, the official greetings and speeches went on. Hmmmm. Something happened, but I wasn’t sure what.

The formalities ended and we all began to look at the genealogy book, find out who was related to whom, share stories, laugh and just have one big family reunion. I finally had a chance to ask about the picture I brought. It turns out the gentleman sitting to the right of my great-grandmother is her second son, my grandfather’s brother (He had two sons, one of which was in the room. He’s my father’s cousin!) The three women standing in the back row are my grandfather’s sisters!! His sisters? We never knew our father had aunts in China.

We later took a walking tour of the village and entered the Owyang sector. There was my great-grandfather’s home: A humble dark brick house with four walls and a few rooms inside. That’s where my grandfather grew up and played with his brother and sisters. It was now my father’s cousin’s home. There were many family pictures on the walls, some formal portraits, some old photographs. We went to my grandmother’s gravesite (another story) and paid our respects. I believe the site is recognized by Beijing as a historical site and is not to be moved as other gravesites have been moved to make way for redevelopment.

What did I learn? The bond of family is always strong, even if separated by a vast ocean or by many generations (“vertically or laterally”). However, the female gender is treated differently. I always was aware of that, but it was not personal until now.

When we were young, our father showed us our names in the “Owyang Book”. All our names were there. We checked. We were happy we were all included. I didn’t realize at the time that if I had a sister, her name would not be there. Later when the book is updated, my son’s name will be listed, but not my daughter’s.

We never knew our grandfather had three sisters. Their names are not in the Owyang genealogy book. If I didn’t have their pictures, it would be as if they never existed.

The only female names in the book are those of the wife. She takes on the Owyang surname. She can live in the Owyang home after her husband dies (or leaves), because she is an Owyang now. Apparently, in the genealogy book, she is recognized to be part of the pair that brings in another male into the Owyang lineage.

I approached my cousin later that day, and I related how disappointed I was in her not being recognized as her father’s representative. She said, “It’s O.K., Doug. This is China. That’s the way it is here.”

That’s the way it has been for thousands of years. This is China. Although China is a developing country and has a role in the global economy, the recording of Chinese descendents will be male dominant for a long time. Changing a culture that has been present before the existence of the Western civilization will be slow.

I really enjoyed my visit to Da Ling. I probably will go again. I probably will contribute to various projects for the village. It was and is my great-grandfather’s and my grandfather’s home. It is my roots.

However, I believe my son and daughter are thankful that their great-grandfather decided to stay in California and not go back to Canton. I believe we have a responsibility as “affluent” Americans to help the needy and not just help ourselves. Like many of you, I have helped locally, nationally and internationally. Now I still can help internationally and “home” at the same time.

I look forward to another Owyang/Ouyang reunion in California. There’s lots of untold stories yet to share about the group’s experiences. We sought answers and had personal experiences; but at the same time we wanted to be ambassadors for all the Owyangs in America. I believe we did a good job. Hopefully, we opened the door a little wider for communications and relations between our two countries. That is China and this is America. There are differences, but we are still family.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Proud of My Dai Liang Heritage --By Sharon Fong

"Warmly welcome Overseas Chinese to the hometown Da Ling" were the words in both Chinese and English on the red banner strung above the street. What a pleasant surprise for our group of 22 Owyang cousins and families as we disembarked the bus! For the majority of us, this highly anticipated trip was a first visit to Dai Liang. For me it was my second "return" to my grandfather Owyang Gon Sing's village. In 1991 my mother Marion, my daughter Stephanie, and I visited my first cousin and his family in Dai Liang. Fifteen years have passed and I now entered "hometown" Dai Liang, anxious to see the changes that have occurred since my visit in 1991. This time I return, not with my mother and daughter, but with my extended Owyang family to visit our common ancestral village, to learn more of our roots, visit ancestral gravesites and possibly meet relatives still living in the village.

Ouyang Heng Hua and other Owyang officials greeted us, escorting us upstairs to the second floor of the Ouyang headquarters. The elder Owyang of our group, Norman Owyang (my third cousin) and his wife Jadine was asked to join Hua Sook at the main table. Introductions were made, we and other interested village residents clapping with enthusiasm. The familiar blue "Big Book", The Historical Facts and Genealogy Data of the Owyang Family for 4700 Years", became the focus as Hua Sook and Norman joinly held the book, Norman locating his branch of the Owyang tree. We were formally and warmly welcomed. We have returned to hometown Da Ling(pinyin spelling). I have come home to Dai Liang from America.

Dai Liang is about 8000 miles from the Sacramento Delta, where my grandfather and grandmother had spent the majority of their lives. Grandfather Owyang Gon Sing had left China close to 100 years ago to seek a better life in America for himself, his wife, and future generations. Here we were, in Dai Liang, about to stroll along the paths, between the homes, among the locals where my grandfather had called hometown. I reflected back to 1991 remembering the formal entrance to the village, an archway with large large inscription "Daling" flanked by the Chinese characters. The archway was no longer there as I later asked of the village elders. It was possibly dismantled with age and need for land to build new highways, new factories, new buildings.

While at the Ouyang headquarters I was approached by a family friend who had access to my first cousins' modern home, built on the site of my grandfather's original home. My first cousins who left China, one in 1976 and another in 1992, are the sons of my grandparents' first son who was left in China to care for grandparents. I was eager to show my first cousins Arnold and Cheryl the 3-story home which was built in 1989, a few years before the elder cousin and his family left for America. The house is now empty and cold, old photos still remaining on an upper floor, those of my grandparents, my uncle and his wife, another uncle who came to America with my grandmother, reflective of their spiritual presence. An ancestral altar still remains, we cousins pausing to burn incense and paying respects to those departed. We climbed the stairs to the rooftop. I noted how different the view was, remembering what I saw in 1991. More modern homes as my cousins' had been or were being built, the rice fields surrounding the village were invisible, the hogs covered with mud and roaming freely within the village were non-existent. More cars than bicycles traveled the surrounding roadways. The progress and prosperity of China have surrounded the village of Dai Liang.

Steps away we visited the ancestral home of Norman's great- grandfather, brother of our great grandfather Chang Tung. The homes are adjacent to each other. I recall, from a photo taken in 1987 by an uncle, that my great- grandfather's original home was similarly built in the early 1900's, a modest, one-story stone house, the entrance marked by tall, double doors, a separate kitchen and a front courtyard.

In the afternoon we continue to explore the village, people curiously peering out of their doors to see the "overseas Chinese". A game of Mah Jongg was in progress in one of the homes, the double doors open to the road. My curiosity and keen interest in MJ led me to investigate further. We discovered a close relative among the players. He was the grandson of Owyang Gon Hee, younger brother to our own grandfather Gon Sing. His grandfather had not immigrated to America as ours. Here was my grandfather's grandnephew, our second cousin, a relative still living in the village. I asked him to write his name on a piece of paper, later I was to locate his name in the Genealogy book. Naturally we asked that he join us in a photo to bring back to America, to our mutual family in America. We strolled deeper and discovered another cousin further down the road. He and his wife were outside their home as we approached. He too was the grandson of Gon Hee, possibly brother to the first. He was tall as my grandfather, bearing a distinct, facial remembrance to one of our cousins in America. Another group photo was taken. We were second cousins. I regret I did not ask more of his grandfather, to learn of the life of my grandfather's brother in Dai Liang. I regret that I did not speak the Zhongshan dialect more fluently.

What I shall remember most of my return to Dai Liang were the feelings of family, community, and pride shown by the elders and officials of Dai Liang. I remember the red banner with gold letterings, both in Chinese and English, warmly welcoming us to hometown Da Ling (Dai Liang). I remember the elderly grandmother searching anxiously for her grandson from America, reaching out with open, loving arms. I remember the lone gravesite of Faith So Leong, first Chinese woman dentist in America and wife of Com Him Owyang, her legacy left for future generations, undisturbed among newly-constructed buildings.I remember the pride of the Owyang elders and officials in showing us their village, the village from which our ancestors came. I remember the celebration for the 300+ Dai Liang seniors, the elaborate, delicious banquet in which volunteers spent enormous numbers of hours in preparing and cooking, the beautifully-precisioned, colorful dances of the Dai Liang women, the burning of firecrackers to ward off evil spirits at the finale. I was not born in Dai Liang. I am proud of my Dai Liang heritage.

by Sharon Wong Fong
daughter of Marion Owyang Wong
granddaughter of Owyang Gon Sing

Friday, November 10, 2006

Moments to Remember---By Norman Owyang

Julius Caesar said,” I came, I saw, I conquered.” Paraphrasing this, I say we came (to China), we saw (our ancestral village), we conquered (the uncertainty of meeting our relatives). After fighting off some jet lag from yesterday’s long flight to California, I reflected on one scene. It was the huge red banner with gold lettering in Chinese and English, declaring a family welcome to the overseas Chinese back to their hometown, Dai Ling. It was strung over the main street to greet us as we marched in from our bus. Village officials came to welcome us. This was the beginning of the moments to remember.

The village officials led us upstairs into a large assembly room in an administration building. After we were all seated, we were officially greeted by the mayor and elders in Cantonese. For us Chinese language challenged ABC’s (American-born Chinese), there were 2 English-speaking ladies who were interpreters. We also had the great fortune of having my sister-in-law, Annie, with us. She is fluent in Chinese and was invaluable throughout our entire trip, not just in the village and sight-seeing, but also in bargain-shopping. But that’s another story. I had the dubious honor of being the senior Owyang among us, so I was automatically selected as the elder of our group to address the audience. On the fly, I managed to get my introductory remarks out with my limited Cantonese (American dialect), but fortunately had Annie help me with the rest of the greeting. Then we broke up into small groups with various elders to trace our roots through pictures on the wall and Dai Ling’s official book, “The Historical Data and Genealogical Table of the Owyang Family for 4,700 Years.” That was my second moment to remember.

We then walked through the village and visited the various homes where our forefathers lived. Other writers in this blog will tell you of their experiences in meeting relatives still living in the village and in seeing their ancestral homes. For me, seeing the small 100 plus year old house where my great-grandparents lived was awesome. And seeing pictures on the walls of my grandparents, father, uncle, my brothers, nephews, nieces and me added to the excitement. The villagers actually tried to stay current with their overseas cousins. This was another moment to remember.

Then we walked a ways down the road to my grandmother’s tomb. It was on the shoulder of a busy street in the midst of apartment complexes and next to an old shack. Grandma was the first Chinese woman dentist in America and was killed by an erratic car driver in San Francisco. She pushed her youngest son, my uncle Eric, out of the way and saved his life. Kathy, Eric’s daughter, and her family, were on this trip. Jeremiah came to visit his great-grandmother’s tomb several years ago and his story so touched the vice general secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Zhongshan, that she pleaded with the government bureaucrats not to move or destroy the tomb with new developments. They listened and the tomb is now an untouchable landmark. A moving story, but one that comes close is what took place later. Kathy’s children, Erica, Christine, Carlito, and Erica’s husband, Tony, came to my room and asked my OK to go back to sweep up the debris around their great-grandmother’s tomb. They took a taxi, borrowed a broom, quickly cleaned up the gravesite, bought oranges, gave their respects, and were back in time for dinner. These were all moments to remember.

Finally, the village dinner celebration for us combined with honoring the senior citizens. And a grand one it was, as you can read and see from the other articles and photos. Annie helped me write my speech in Cantonese to address the crowd. With my overseas family standing behind me for support, I managed to do it with my ABC dialect. On behalf of all of us I then presented the mayor with a gift of appreciation. The celebration finally ended with bursts of firecrackers. We paid our respects and thanked all our cousins for these moments to remember. Some of us are already planning another village reunion.

By Norman Owyang, son of Edwin Owyang, son of Com HIn Owyang, son of Gum Tong Owyang.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Family is wonderful --By Annie Owyang

Family is wonderful, to travel together and visiting our ancestral home has been just a most heart warming experience! Uncle Norm led us in a moment of silence before dinner last night to remember Pop Owyang as it was his birthday. I remembered how he had expressed to me so many times that he wanted to visit his village and now his dream is fulfilled through us.

Our relatives in the village were so hospitable and welcoming. They postponed one of their planned banquet to honor the seniors in the village in order to have us joined them in the special celebration and it was quite a celebration. We found a granduncle’s son and his son. They were as surprised as we were! We also visited great grandpa’s house with his and great grandma’s portrait hanging on the wall as well as our grandpa and grandma Faith So Leung’s portrait. We went by grandma Faith So Leung’s graveside to pay our respect. We come back with many treasured memories and hope to return soon.

Chuck said, “ Away, we are ready to man! Lead on, O Master of the Caravan….”

Written by Annie Owyang, wife of late Gregory Owyang, son of Edwin Owyang, son of Com Him Owyang, son of Gum Tong Owynag

Pictures of Daling and China on Flickr --by Jeremiah Owyang

Family Portrait, Reunited

I've been posting quite a few pictures about the trip on Flickr, a photo sharing site. I guess I'm known for snapping my camera constantly. Many of the pics don't make the cut and never get uploaded, some personal pictures of family and friends don't get set to public, so you won't be able to see them unless you know me well.

For my family, I plan to share the more personal photos when we have the next reunion.

I've also been publishing on my 'career' blog about this trip, which as an internet twist to all the content, it has some pictures embedded, which you may also enjoy. Part 1, 2, 3, and pictures of China.

We had a wonderful welcome in Dai Liang --By Grant Din

Hello cousins and others-

It was a fantastic and exhausting day in the village. It was everything I expected, and much more!

We had a wonderful welcome in Dai Liang (Da Ling in Mandarin) village from village officials (the mayor is an Owyang) and got to walk through the village. The group of about 22 of us Overseas Owyangs and our families along with some local residents walked through the village and stopped at three families' homes in the Owyang cul-de-sac, including my step-grandmother' s (more on that later). We walked on through the village and stopped at Jeremiah and many of his cousins' grandmother Faith's gravesite – the cousins and their parents paid their respects there. After a very nice lunch in town (the village is surrounded by a much more developed area but fortunately the village remains full of tiny streets and old and new homes), some of our group went back to the hotel and others explored on their own, visiting relatives and the "ghost houses" that overseas Chinese left behind.

Norman Owyang spoke on our behalf in Cantonese at an evening event honoring the seniors of the village - there were performances by local groups plus a wonderful ballroom dance by our own Jeremiah and his wife Shirley! We all went to the front to wish the seniors well.

My personal highlight was meeting my step-grandma and her family. My maternal grandmother died in 1934; my grandfather remarried around 1946 but was never able to bring his second wife and their daughter to the US before he died in 1963. My step-grandmother is slightly hard of hearing, and she came to the welcoming event and thinking Jeremiah was her grandson, very loudly told him she was his grandmother! Of course, that wasn't true, but eventually with Sharon Fong's help she found the right person - me. Sharon had given a list of the ancestors of those who were to visit to John Owyang of Sacramento, who faxed it to the village, so my step-grandmother must have seen the list.

Shirley helped me immeasurably - translating and helping me show my step-grandmother and aunt (her daughter) whose son I was, using the pages I'd copied from the Big Book of Owyangs. Later I got to visit their house and catch up a lot. In the evening I also got to meet my aunt's two kids -my first cousins! It was a very emotional afternoon and evening for us.

After lunch, one of our terrific volunteer translators accompanied me to their home where I got to hear their sad story of how my grandfather was never able to reunite with them after he returned to the U.S. in 1949. My step-grandmother and my aunt had seen my Aunt Mary in 1985, and my late Uncle Bill in 1991 and they were wondering if my aunt was still alive, since they hadn’t heard from her for a while. I was happy to tell them that Aunt Mary is still alive, although not feeling too well so that’s why she hasn’t been able to call them. The family said that they are doing better now than before, getting peanut oil and many kilos of rice from the government, and that my step-grandmother eats three bowls of rice every meal. She seems very strong for 84 years old.

My aunt was very happy to see photos of my kids and later at the village dinner was very motherly – giving me more of the fungus that was served to keep me more healthy and offering a coat since it had cooled down (I was still quite warm in the 70 degree evening)! Her daughter and son rushed back from work after their mother called them on her cell phone to tell them their Meigwok cousin was visiting. When I left, the family said to come back next year! I probably won’t be able to for a while, but am hoping some of my first cousins can visit the family in the village and experience the warmth, love and sense of family that I did.

Michael Ho and I asked some officials about the Dai Liang-Mah Jee link and they showed us on a page Michael had copied from the Big Book (if you haven't seen it, it's a genealogy of the Owyangs from Dai Liang since the first Owyang came to the village, I believe, and many of us in this group figured out how we're related from Michael’s ability to interpret the charts).

The Big Book shows in the fifth generation (I think it was the fifth) of Owyangs in Dai Liang, around the 1200s A.D., there were five brothers. One of them went off to found Mah Jee, they said, and I'm guessing the subsequent descendants in Mah Jee come from that brother. So if I'm figuring it right, Mah Jee Owyangs like Steve O. and Don Mar would be about the 20th generation of Mah Jee Owyangs. Most of us on the trip are 24th-26th generation Dai Liang Owyangs, so we'd be connected about 20 generations ago, making us 19th cousins, possibly some generations removed! If others have corrections on this, please add them!

So today we have a visit to Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Zhongshan)'s birthplace and museum and other travels. It's been a wonderful tour (I took the first day off to see my dad's side's ancestral village and that was also terrific) and I really recommend a visit for others who are thinking of searching for their roots. Another great benefit of the trip for me has been connecting with my fifth and seventh cousins, in various degrees of removal (generations), some of whom I knew before the Owyangs started to search for each other, but most whom I had never met. The bonds of extended family have been wonderful and everyone has been very welcoming.

Folks have wondered about extended cousins and what “removed” means. People who have the same grandparents, of course, are first cousins, and those with the same great-grandparents are second cousins. I’m seventh cousins with Edwin Owyang, I believe, the grandfather of Jeremiah and his first cousins. So Edwin and I have the same great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents! The next generation, Jeremiah’s dad Doug and his five brothers, are seventh cousins, once removed, of mine (and my first cousins, of course). The following generation, their kids like Jeremiah, Jessica, and all of their first cousins are my seventh cousins, twice removed. My kids are eighth cousins of Doug and his brothers, and they are eighth cousins, once removed, of Jeremiah, Jessica and their first cousins! Got that? There will be a quiz later!

Grant Din
grandson of Owyang Koon Cheung/Hoon Owyang and Gee Chew Lin, former
residents of Courtland, San Diego and Oakland, CA

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Success at Da Ling --By Jeremiah Owyang

We did it! This was really an incredible day. We piled into the bus (over 22 of us) and went to Da Ling (the pinyin spelling) and our distant family greeted us! There was quite a bit of excitement from folks as we exchanged family trees, pictures, and stories. Later, we visited the ancestral homes (where my great great grandfather lived) and saw some important landmarks such as the Pagoda, the tree planted by my great great grandfather, my great grandmothers grave, and attended a large outdoor banquet in celebration of the elders and our homecoming.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Assembling in Zhongshan - By Jeremiah Owyang

The family is all here at Shangri-La hotel in Zhongshan, which is the main city hub of Dai Liang. We're all getting our gifts together, preparing pictures to donate, and know the village is prepared for us tomorrow.

We just heard that they're having a banquet tomorrow night and it will have 30 tables! In Chinese tradition that could mean it's over 300 people. I understand that our arrival coincides with a traditional day to honor elders, so that works well.

Everthing is coming together well and the energy level is high. in short we're excited for tomorrow!!!

Jeremiah Owyang

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Just Landed -by Jeremiah Owyang

10 of us just landed after leaving SFO, and one meeting us in Narita, Tokyo our stopover. We're currently at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. Tomorrow folks will continue to arrive and we'll meet and prepare for our trip to Zhongshan and Dai Liang the day after next.

Whew, that was a lot of time spent traveling, nearly 24 hours from SFO to the hotel. More to come soon.

I'm posting my pictures on this flickr stream, this set of photos will be updated as I move forward through the trip.