Stories, thoughts, observations, rants and dribble. Just another of my attempts to keep the interested people informed ...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Eulogy of Wong Chan Lai Sheong

The following is a slightly-modified version of the eulogy that was read at my grandmother's funeral on July 12, 2008. I'm pretty sure it made more sense in the original Chinese, so that's the only reason I've edited the English version.

I don't really expect anyone to read it, but she was an amazing woman who led an inspiring life, and I wanted to share her story.


Mrs Lai Sheong Wong (nee Chan), 陳勵嫦, was born on the 16th of June, 1917, according to the lunar calendar. Her home village was 下基, in the city 増城, in Guangdong province. Her father was Kim Chor Chan and her mother was Ping Yee Wong. She was the younger of two daughters.

勵嫦's grandfather migrated to New Zealand over a hundred years ago. He was the eldest of seven sons, who were all doing business in New Zealand. Like many Chinese men in New Zealand, 勵嫦’s father went back to China to get married. As her parents only had two daughters, he adopted a boy from one of his younger brothers. So 勵嫦 had a younger brother but he lived his whole life in New Zealand.

As 勵嫦’s father was doing business overseas, the family in their home village was rich and open-minded. Even though 勵嫦 was a girl, she still received a very good education, which was rare in those times. She studied in Guangzhou city and graduated from the faculty of Library Management at Guangzhou Technical Institute. When she was 19 years old and hadn't yet graduated from her studies, her parents arranged her marriage. She married Mr. Lai Chow Wong. Her husband was also well educated and encouraged 勵嫦 to finish her studies.

The political situation was very uncertain by that time. When Japan invaded China in 1938, her family escaped to Hong Kong. 勵嫦’s eldest son was born on the way there. The family stayed in Hong Kong for five years until Hong Kong also fell into Japan’s hands. The family then went back to their home town. Their second son was born in 1944, during the Second World War.

The family moved back to Guangzhou city when the war was over. 勵嫦 taught at a secondary school, and later the couple planned to do some business together. They opened a dairy shop, a barbecue shop and later a dairy farm which supplied milk to the local residents. The farm was still running when China was taken over by the communist government. 勵嫦’s father and mother were also back from New Zealand to have their retirement in Guangzhou. It was good news to 勵嫦, as her parents were finally reunited. However, the dairy farm had to be joined-ventured with the government in 1957 under the new policies. The couple lost control of the company and 勵嫦 became an accountant for the company.

Furthermore, her husband was marked as anti-revolutionary during the political upheaval and was sent away for ‘re-education’ to a place that was essentially a prison, and he lost his freedom. 勵嫦 had to look after the whole family on her own, taking care of her four children as well as her parents. 勵嫦 and her husband were forced to separate for 16 years. During the Cultural Revolution, their home was searched three times in total. Nearly everything was destroyed and no furniture was left intact. Times were harsh, but 勵嫦 never lost hope and kept waiting for her husband to come back home.

In order to see her husband, 勵嫦 had to take a long train journey and then walk for several hours. However, the visit itself was very short, and in less than a few minutes her husband was taken away. The only thing they could do was to write letters to each other. Her husband wrote many traditional poems in the letters which were full of implicit passion. Their love for each other grew stronger and stronger. Their marriage was arranged and they did not know each other before the wedding, but their relationship was very successful. 勵嫦 always said she really fell in love with her husband after they got married. So, during this time of political deterioration where the traditional virtues were destroyed and moral value was low, the love between 勵嫦 and her husband was like a precious diamond that shone in a dark sky.

The second son and eldest daughter of 勵嫦 went to Hong Kong in 1970 to seek a new life for their family. There they met their uncle, who was taking a holiday from New Zealand. With the help of their uncle, they migrated to New Zealand in 1975. 勵嫦’s husband was released in 1976. When the Cultural Revolution was over, the door of China was opened again. 勵嫦’s youngest daughter moved to New Zealand in 1979. Together with her mother and husband, 勵嫦 arrived in New Zealand in 1982. Her eldest son and family joined them the next year.

勵嫦 was very glad to meet so many relatives again in New Zealand. She and her husband enjoyed the lifestyle there, as well as the air of freedom. They spent their retirement in peace and contentment. Besides taking care of their grandchildren, they would look after the garden and also grew some vegetables. They liked to be financially independent and sometimes grew alfalfa to sell at the market. When Mr. Wong passed away in 1990, 勵嫦 was very sad, but she was very strong and got through it quickly. She knew playing mahjong was a good way to cheer herself up and she enjoyed playing it. She also liked to do morning exercise and Tai Chi.

勵嫦 had a very high level of literacy, especially in classical Chinese literature. Even while getting old, she still maintained her reading habit. She was also a good cook and often prepared delicious meals for her family. When living in New Zealand with less Chinese food to buy, she learnt how to make dim sum and seasonal Chinese food to celebrate different kinds of Chinese festivals.

勵嫦 had a very happy retirement in New Zealand. She had many enjoyable and memorable occasions with her relatives and friends. 勵嫦 was a devout Buddhist, and although she could not drive to go to the temple often, she would read the Sutra and prayed every day. She regularly took vegetarian meals six days each month and eagerly gave donations to the Buddhist temple. She was a kind, respectful and gentle person who was full of compassion. When the earthquake struck Si-chuan, China, 勵嫦 was very generous and fully supported the fundraising activities.

Over the past two years, 勵嫦 had been getting weaker. Her two daughters took very good care of her. Unfortunately, she was admitted to hospital on the 29th of June, as her condition was deteriorating, and she passed away peacefully on the 7th of July.

勵嫦 lived a life of 91 years. She witnessed wars and the takeover of governments in China. She and her family were also the victims of political movements. But we can see the life of 勵嫦 shone in a dark era. Her love for her husband, her parents and her children never changed, even in adversity. We are glad that 勵嫦 had a rich life. She also showed us her virtue and selfless love. Her love for her family and all those loving memories are always in our hearts.

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