Relative Finder: Saga (Last of five parts) — A grandson’s gift

Our story now focuses on the return of Chan Bon Kheng’s cousin, Eleuterio “Terio” Alosos (曾榮旋) back to the town of his birth. While still very young children, they, along with many other Filipino mestizo cousins, were sent to China to stay with Chinese relatives. Most, like Terio, never returned. His homecoming is not the original intent of our long story. But neither is it an accidental sideline. Indeed, Terio’s story is the highlight of the entire series of finds.

And while the journey home is very important for him, it also deeply touches the lives of his extended family both in China and the Philippines, especially his grandson who accompanied him home. In fact, the trip is a very special gift of the grandson for his grandfatherTerio.

The grandson

I’m Sam Tsang (曾曉曄). I was born on Aug. 1, 1990 in a small town called Anhai, near Quanzhou City, Fujian province, China (福建省泉州市安海市). I am the second child in a family of four. I have close relationship with my mother’s family. My maternal grandparents treat me as their son; they never had a son and have much hope on me.

My grandfather Terio first moved to Hong Kong in 1984 and worked as a security guard to send money to grandmother and our family in the mainland. A few years later, grandmother, mother and their eldest child also moved to Hong Kong. In 1999, I moved to Hong Kong to stay with my mom and receive better education as well.

Eleuterio (standing, second from right) and younger brother Pedro (right) with their Chinese step-family in China – their Chinese stepmother, first wife of their father, and half-sister (seated, left and right, respectively); their Chinese half-brother (standing, second from left) with his wife (standing, left) and their children.

Philippine heritage

I learned that I have relatives in the Philippines when I was still very young. Grandma Ong Li Giok (王麗玉) showed me old pictures of grandpa’s family in the Philippines and told me the story of his roots. However, I did not take it seriously.

The first time I really realized I have missing relatives in the Philippines was when I was about 12 years old. My grandparents gave me a plastic bag full of English letters which grandma said were all sent from the Philippines.

Then, they told me grandpa’s full story and how they tried unsuccessfully to contact our relatives in the Philippines, hoping that I could read those letters and bring them to the Philippines one day. During this talk, I got a strong feeling that grandpa really wanted to visit his place of birth.

Biggest surprise

Feb. 4, 2015 was the day we found out that our Philippine relatives were found through Uncle Chan Sian Eng (曾仙影), son of grandpa’s younger brother who remained in China. We were shocked. There were lots of questions in my mind, and I was really excited! I think it was one of the unforgettable moments in my life. I don’t know how to describe it but it was not just a simple feeling of excitement and pleasure – it was a wonderful moment. I also don’t know why I had such feeling, maybe I was happy that grandpa’s dreams came true or I have new family members!

Online meeting

Uncle Chan Sian Eng gave me the Wechat account of my newly-found Filipina aunt Evita. I successfully messaged her on Feb. 7, 2015 and we kept in contact via Wechat since then. On Feb. 8, my grandparents and I had our first video chat with Aunt Evita and her father Lolo Enio, grandpa’s lost brother.

Rendezvous in China

On Feb. 19, we met Aunt Marites in person when she visited China. We had lunches and dinners together, and nice conversations during meals. We also hiked and visited some famous scenes in Quanzhou City. We talked about our relatives in the Philippines and I saw pictures from there. Although it felt a bit strange when we first met, we later became close. Grandpa always smiled, which is the most important thing.

During this reunion, I learned about my grandpa’s childhood in the Philippines and his separation from his family when he was sent to China. Only then did I fully understand my grandpa’s sadness. I realized I really have to bring him home to the Philippines. The journey is important for my grandpa for three reasons. He left his hometown when he was a 7-year-old boy; after 70 years, he will be going back a very old man. He always said his dream is to go back to his place of birth and visit his home again.

Also, he has many memories of his parents. It is a painful experience for a 7-year-old boy to leave his parents. Through his return, he can visit his parents’ tombs and talk with them.  Last but not least, my grandpa wanted to reunite with his brother and two sisters. He never met his youngest sister face-to-face.

As for me, I now have new family members: an additional 30 plus family members in the Philippines! More importantly, I thought it is my responsibility as his beloved grandson to help him achieve his dream.

Preparations

This would be my first visit to the Philippines, so I needed to consider transportation, accommodation and dining. Accommodation and dining were no problem with my Philippine relatives’ help, but transportation presented some challenges. Grandpa’s hometown, Pagsanghan in Tacloban, is far away from big cities and I couldn’t find a proper route to travel there online. Fortunately, Aunts Evita and Marites taught me how to get to Tacloban from Manila.

My cousin Eunice (顏榕榕), a secondary school teacher in the mainland, also thought of accompanying grandpa to the Philippines when she heard the story during the reunion.Eager and excited to meet our Philippine relatives, she agreed to join us and we planned the journey together. I was happy and excited because Eunice can also speak English, and was thankful for her help and support.

Grandpa’s younger brother, unfortunately, cannot travel with us due to poor health. So, he sent one of his sons to represent him. It would be Eunice’s and Uncle’s first time to visit the Philippines. It was the second time for me to celebrate Chinese New Year in a non-Chinese territory. The first time was in Singapore when I had my college exchange program. It felt really nice because I will be celebrating the big festival with my newly-found family members.

Touchdown Manila

When we arrived in Manila on Feb. 4, 2016, I was very happy to see my Filipino cousin Christian Ceracas at the airport. He was there to accompany us to Pagsanghan. At the Tacloban airport, I recognized Lola Nelia, Aunt Evita and especially her father, Lolo Enio, who was easy to identify because his face and even his head, which is entirely without hair, is just like grandpa!

During the travel to Pagsanghan, I pondered how hard it must have been for grandpa to be separated from his parents since 7 years old. I thought about all the sufferings he went through growing up without his parents. I also recalled the long process of how the Philippine relatives reconnected. It was not easy, but it was finally achieved.

Eleuterio (third from right) with his half-siblings (from left) Antonio, Bonifacio, Charlie, Nelia and Fe with his third mother Susana (right photo).

Memorable meeting

Finally, we arrived in Pagsanghan safely.I was very excited to see my Lola Nimfa and Lola Nenita there. I recognized them easily as I had seen their recent pictures. I didn’t recognize the other relatives, but fortunately, Aunt Evita introduced them to me. My grandfather gave a loving hug to his siblings and to his more than 90-year-old stepmother. It had been his dream to meet his brother and sisters. He was really happy to see them again and know that they were doing fine. However, he regretted that he could not communicate with his brother and sisters well because he could not speak English.

It was very touching. Nothing can be better than brothers and sisters meeting with each other after they have all become elderly. He was very delighted to see his town of birth, and tried to find a place which was still the same when he left. Of course, he failed: a lot had changed since then. I am delighted that I helped grandpa to achieve his dream. When I saw how excited grandpa was to meet his relatives, I realized I made the right decision.

Visit to parents

He was really happy because there were his memories about his parents and meeting his brothers and sisters again. At the same time, he also felt sad because his parents have already left this world. The following day, we visited my great grandfather’s tomb. Grandpa looked in silence at his father’s tomb for a long time. Then, he took out a tissue to wipe his father’s picture. Finally, he kowtowed to his father’s tomb…and cried.

Afterwards, we went to visit his mother’s tomb. He cried loudly and said he really missed his mom. He kowtowed to his mom’s tomb and used a broom to clean his mom’s tomb. He said he missed them a lot.  I was touched because I seldom see my grandpa cry.

Eleuterio cleans the tomb of his father Chan Chuy Kong

Making up for lost time

My relatives conducted an unforgettable family trip for us. We went to a coconut grove to try the fresh coconut juice and we went to Macalpi Beach. We enjoyed delicious food, swam in the beautiful sea and took many photos. We had a karaoke night where we enjoyed my relatives’ singing, especially Uncle Dondon’s and Aunt Evita’s. Of course, language was a big communication problem. Fortunately, my cousin Eunice and I were there to help translate. Most of the time, they talked about their daily life and about their parents.

The town of Pagsanghan is a peaceful place. The air is fresh, the river is clear and the stars bright in the night.

Extended family

During the latter part of our stay, we met other Chan families in Samar, including Ed’s wife and parents. It was a wonderful time.  Although we are living in different countries and cities, all of these barriers did not hinder us from getting to know each other.

Maybe it’s because we are from same the ancestor, so I feel comfortable being with them. Some of them spoke Minnan dialect. I think all of them were excited and happy to welcome us. Some of them knew my grandpa’s father Chan Chuy Kong (曾水廣) and were very delighted to see grandpa. They said it is a very rare chance to find one’s missing relatives, more so to be able to return to them after 70 years. They asked my grandpa to visit again.

New distant cousin

We are really thankful for the help of Eduardo. Without his efforts, we would still be separated from our Philippine relatives. And we are happy that Eduardo is not just from the same ancestral village of Eni but from the same Chan sub-clan within the village!

In fact, all the miracles came from my friend, now my own distant cousin Eduardo, as it was he who went to China and found my granduncle Pedro Alosos (曾榮華).  It is unbelievable that my grandpa’s dream was finally achieved after 70 years.

We had a farewell party, filled with talk and singing, on our last night.My relatives stayed until midnight. We gave each other have a big farewell hug, and they said that we must meet again in the near future. In the meantime, we use Wechat or Facebook messenger to chat maybe three to four times a month.

Reflections

I think it is the most valuable trip of my life. I not only helped my grandpa achieve his wish but also helped myself to understand the importance of family. “Don’t separate with our family” is the first thing that comes to mind during my trip. Family separation is not only a dark moment for a child – it is also the same for the rest of the family members. The loneliness is without measure, without maternal and paternal love, which are the basic needs for a child.

For parents, they will miss the child very much and feel guilty that they are not with you. I think their pain is much deeper than their children. We must strive for the ideal of a family staying together, having breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same table. Moreover, I also saw how strong a family bond can be. Family can still reconnect with their lost kin, even when they are separated in faraway countries for a very long time.

So, we should not give up seeking our relatives and have faith in our hearts.

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