|Built by my father's parents', our ancestral house in Longmen, China, more than 200 years old (you can see from the woodwork and stone below).|
Copyright: Roger Pe
What if I died and never met Chin Yan, Lin Qin, Jian Zhong, Chen, Lin Qing, Bin Bin, Yu Yu, Huang Kai and the rest of my closest relatives?
From the start, verifying the news was like passing through a dark underground highway, an emotional rollercoaster even when you see the light at the end of the tunnel. "What if it was a joke?" was a question I didn't want to entertain. But it kept ringing in my ears.
And then I actually heard Lin's, (my sister) voice on the phone.
That very Tuesday morning, I mustered enough courage and dropped everything, even if it meant not spending Christmas in Manila, an occasion I have learned not to look forward to. I rushed to the mall, found myself looking for the nearest airline counter. The day that I decided to book a flight to Xiamen was the beginning of an adventure, a journey of a lifetime fraught with mixed feelings. Fright. Curiosity. Hope. Excitement.
Looking back, everything is now immaterial. People who label people, people I struggle with every single day don't matter anymore. They are now irrelevant to me and have no part in my story. Who cares what people think when you have a loving family?
Today, I have learned that no matter who you are, what you are, where you came from is not important. What matters most is what you have become and learning to know what is essential and inconsequential. I have found my family.
NAIA 3, Manila, before my plane took off for China:
I will make this less melodramatic. Advance Merry Christmas, to all of you, my FB friends. Thank you all for your good wishes. I am dropping everything, yes, everything, even spending Christmas in the Philippines - for something special.
In a few hours, I will be in Xiamen, then to China mainland, and finally to Anxi, China's tea capital where my relatives live.
Inside my luggage are two disposable winter jackets hurriedly bought from a Makati Square Ukay-Ukay store (cheap, 200 pesos each), boxes of Philippine dried Mangoes, pastillas, other pasalubongs and some bundles of newspapers, hahaha!
How will I get by in China? Adventure. But it's nice to know that my two nephews will fetch me at the airport and will hold a banner with my name on it. That makes me a little less anxious.
My father left a wife and two young children in China when he and his cousins left Amoy, (now Xiamen) China after the war. Perhaps, he promised them that he would return. He never did. He died when I was 11 years old in the Philippines.
|My "Kuya" (Brother) Chin Yan|
As they continued to talk, the stubborn rule breaker in me anxiously sneaked inside. A pre-war bike caught my attention. A padlocked room gave me the chills. A feeling of serendipity, I reckon.
Further right, as I strayed, I came close to an enclave that looked like an altar gathering dusts with mounds of ashes from burnt sticks of incense. Moving closer to the centerpiece, three pictures came to my view. The one in the middle made me choke. It was my father’s. At this point, I can hear everyone’s footsteps and I rushed outside, only to reemerge after about two minutes. What happened next? What happened in the village stays in the village.
|My precious, loving family in Anxi.|
|Two Journalists in the family, Bibby, my super-busy grand nephew, |
and that's the sleepless, tired and haggard-looking me (ugh). Am so proud of this boy
honor graduate of Journalism from Xiamen Tan Kah Kee University.
|1,000 year-old river moat, just across Jian's apartment |
in Anxi. A stone marker names it "Millenium" because of such.
A beautiful park frequented by people from all walks of life to jog,
stroll, sit around or watch the world go by.
|Anping Bridge, a national landmark and major tourist attraction in China.|
|Bin Bin (Bibby)|
|Chen, (Jian's brother) and his growing family, taken from the family album.|
|Bibzy, taken at the foot of Yuzhamgshan Mountain Reserve|
|His calligraphy pens in his studio in Nan-An City. Below are his other paintings.|
|Christmas Eve dinner, meeting my family was indescribable.|
|Surreal. My happiest Christmas ever. First descendants of my Father and brother|
(beside me, with his wife Su Shulian).
|A bunch of nephews and nieces, I am so proud of what they have become,|
all achievers at young age.
|The French family side of a niece who got married to a Frenchman (the guy with a backpack).|
Taken after Christmas Day lunch.
|Bibby, Lin, Jian and (fat-looking me) before my flight back to Manila.|
|Gorgeous sculptures infront Anxi City Hall building.|
|Sketching session at the house of Lin Qing's brother, taken after our Longmen trip (natural hot springs foot spa).|
|I am not a selfie-person and seldom want my picture taken. |
Just preparing to meet and mingle with the nephews.
Taken at my hotel in Anxi, China whom they all paid for.
|My brother's modest home in Anxi. It may look old from the outside,|
but very nice and comfortable inside.
|Christmas Day Lunch, here is my sister Lin Qin's family in separate table.|
I wasn't able to chat and linger with them for a little while because of language problem.
|Anxi City Hall. It was freaking cold when I took this photo.|
People meet on its big frontyard every single night.
|Stonemarker to the gates of Yunzhangsan mountain tea plantation, |
with Anxi Tea Master Chen Liang Gu.
|My brother's wife Su Shulian. I like this sketch because I think I captured|
the way she smiled. She spoke a little all throughout our meeting.
I loved the slices of Guava she served me while doing this portrait.
|Jian's wife Lin Qing, on top of a pagoda we visited overlooking Anxi on my last day of visit.|
|Flower of a Tea Tree, very sweet. That's Bibzy's hand.|
|They won't serve you tea in China if they don't feel that you are a friend and there's|
romance to the tea ceremony, cup after cup after cup.
|China's finest, highest-grade tea is grown in Anxi, no wonder |
it is the country's Tea Capital. That's Bibzy in the photo.
|My brother's other son, Chen.|
|China's complex of mountain tunnels, jaw-dropping.|
|World's biggest Tea Cup, photo taken in an Anxi park.|
|Duck farm beside the ancestral house.|
|Lin Qing, my nephew's wife. Done in an Anxi restaurant. One of my happiest dinner moments with the family, not because of the food, |
but the way they made me feel part of the family.
|Lin and Jian, I will never forget them.|
|The Longmen ancestral house.|
|View from Jian's house.|
|Inside my father's house, shocked to find my father's photo in the altar. |
I broke down when I saw it.
|Bibby, my translator, treated me like no other. She cried at the airport|
and almost went past the airport check-in counter just to say goodbye.
|Where my nephew Bibby works. Me and Bibzy went up the 12th floor to take a peek at the glass window of his office. I am proud of Bibby. I'd say it again and again.|
|In the lobby of Anxi Municipal Hall. This area is so big it can occupy two|
To be continued.