I was born in Malaysia in the 70s but my grandparents were actually originally from mainland China, migrating to Malaya during the gold rush era in the mid-19th century. Being the second generation to live outside of China, my knowledge about my own heritage was utterly limited. I envied my parents who used to go back to China regularly to visit a little village in Fujian province where our ancestors came from. They made connections with our long distance relatives who actually still live in that village. I remember them bringing back a stack of family history records from which we could trace our Chinese ancestry back to the Qing Dynasty in the 1600s.
Just like most younger generations, tracing family history had never been an interest of mine. My childhood was highly westernised and I always dreamt about visiting western countries instead of tracing back to my own roots. I have only recently started showing an interest in learning more about our family history and heritage. Apart from tracing my roots and rediscovering my own identity, I also wanted to experience China before all its rich culture and history vanishes from us – economic growth brings the rapid change. So a trip to China was the right thing to do.
As soon as I landed in China, trudging the tarmac where my ancestors used to trudge soil, there was a sense of familiarity, but also an awareness of how disparate so many things were. We were all speaking Chinese yet I found myself tongue-tied in many of the local dialects (there are more than 200 individual Chinese dialects). I instantly felt at home wandering down the crooked streets and narrow laneways of Beijing, and yet so insignificant squeezing through a sea of humans on the Great Wall of China.