Wong Yin Sen’s story

Wong Yin Sen’s story (circa 1858 – 1941)

Uncle Vivian also wrote about my great grandfather, his grandfather. This is what he said.

My grandfather Wong was a kind and loving soul; a gentle man whom I loved dearly. We called him ‘Papa’ and everybody else called him ‘Ole man’ but his real name was Wong Yin Sen. He was born in 1858 in Mexing, which lies between the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien. He was a member of the Hakka speaking community whose origins in China seem to be quite unknowns. Like the Jews they appear to have been wanderers across the land. They seem to have settled in small communities in different parts of China, speaking their own distinct brand of Chinese and exercising their mercantile skills.

He told me that his father had been a rich merchant who lived in a large home where there was a large fishpond from which they obtained fish for the table. I cannot remember too many details of the things he used to tell me about his life in China as I was only very young at the time Iknew him. I did gather that he had been a young university student and his father had arranged for him to get married to a certain young lady. He had boalked at the idea of the arranged marriage, having more modern ideas on this subject. However, to challenge the will of his parents was unthinkable, so at the age of 18, he had run away from home and gone to live with his uncle in Port Louis, Mauritius. There he married and had a son called Edgar. My uncle Albert at one stage kept up a correspondence with this half brother of his. My Pa’s uncle was merchant also and he set his young nephew up in business. Why or when my grandfather came to settle in Port Elizabeth I do not know.

He spoiled his son Albert (my grandfather) in every possible way. The young Albert had everything of the best as he grew up. There was nothing his doting father would deny him. When he became an adult and I was born as my grandfather’s number one grandson, this same treatment was transferred to me, together with oodles and oodles of pampering and affection. My grandfather loved to show his love of us by feeding us with all kinds of delectable tidbits.

When he became frail in his old age he used to take me, and sometimes also my younger brother, with him to the Moi Yen Chinese Institute – an exclusive Chinese club – where he met his compatriots, drank and gambled a bit. But first he would take us to a restaurant, give us a good meal, buy some food to take away and then settle us in with the other boys in the cinema which is part of this complex. Later he would collect us and we would go home. We had some strange experiences in Chinatown, where we sometimes wandered around when we did not feel inclined to watch the movie.

He did not speak English very well but, in our own way, we did fairly well in communicating with him. That he did not even teach his own son to speak Chinese sitll puzzles me. He was held in high esteem in the chinese community because he was very highly educated and he was the oldest person among them at the time. I believe he was a Buddhist.

When I was only 11 years old he died of bowel cancer just one week after my mother had died in the late stages of a pregnancy. As he was so very weak at the time of my mother’s death and because he was so attached to her, he had not been told of her passing away. But just before he died he said, “I know that Queenie has died; she came to see me”.

As Papa’s eyes were wide open in death my grandmother told me that he had not closed his eyes because he had wanted to see me first. She asked me to close them and place pennies on them. I did this for my grandfather because I loved him dearly. I remember vividly the colour of those unseeing eyes. They were a grey green – rather unusual for someone of Chinese descent, I should imagine.

He was 83 years old when he died in 1941.

Charlotte Smith’s story

More family history stuff. Dad recently helped my uncle move most of his worldly goods up from Texas to Toronto. While packing something like 20 years’ worth of stuff, they found this document from their cousin, Vivian Dawson.

Uncle Vivian was the son of my grandfather’s sister, Queenie. He several years older than Dad and Uncle Clive and worked as a teacher and head teacher at schools in South Africa and Australia. He and his family moved to Australia in the 1960s and have been living there ever since.

This is his account of my great grandparents, Wong Fi Yen and Charlotte Smith. It differs a little from my grandmother’s oral history, but I’ve no reason to believe that it isn’t true.

I’ve left out the preamble where Vivian talks about his home in Emmanuel Street, Port Elizabeth, and we’ll start with Charlotte.

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Days like these?

Sarah Slade:

I got invited to review “We Are Many” a documentary about the anti-war demos of 2003, though looking back to my blog posts at the time, I think I was more concerned about the death of my cat. Anyway, this is what I thought of the documentary…

Originally posted on MostlyFilm:

Sarah Slade watches We Are Many – a new documentary about popular opposition to the Iraq war – and she can’t help noticing what gets left out.


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Been a bit busy…

… honest.

So, I had my last day. Decided not to have a leaving do because…I’m not very good at leaving dos, and there is a possibility that I might (one day) be back as an associate.

There were a couple of days left to that last week, so I spent them developing an idea for interactive textbooks (still technically in development, but…hmmm). Then on the following Monday I started a three-month contract working with a virtual team for an e-learning agency. Its a bit odd, this working at home lark. It took a couple of attempts to rearrange my work area (in the back living room) and it still isn’t quite right. But after two months I’ve worked out a daily routine and all I’ve got to do now is build a little more time in for exercise and fitness.

Pepe We all did a house swap in Cornwall for Easter, looking after the lovely Pepe for Lone, who looked after the guinea pigs, cats and goldfish in Nunhead. Our usual approach to Cornwall is to load up with the wet weather gear and plenty of reading matter for rainy days but the climate decided to pull a fast one on us and give us more than two warm sunny days in a row! We actually got out for plenty of walks (minus Pepe, who is feeling his age a bit and just about manages a toddle around Loe Bar before getting homesick).

Our trips included a walk around the Lizard Peninsula, which was busy but absolutely gorgeous. We did our usual thing of getting lost on the way back, but I really didn’t fancy chancing my dodgy hip on the cliff path again. But it was fun and we ate pasties and took photos and muttered at the prices charged by the National Trust cafe.

Funnily enough, I was expecting to see more UKIP posters, like the last time we were in Cornwall, but they weren’t much in evidence. One estate we drove through had a street-full of Labour posters, but there were fields of Conservative posters and a couple of LibDems. Think Cornwall feels abandoned by all the main political parties. There were a lot of Independent councillors and a few Kernow-style nationalists. Still, it was good to get away from London for a few days.

When we got back, it was back to work in the study and a visit from my baby cousin Chanelle. She needed to get some shopping out of her system after a month in the middle of nowhere.

Charlie also got into her first choice school: Deptford Green. It’s a modern comprehensive with fantastic facilities, nice teachers and umm…improving…exam results. I think she’ll flourish there and the school will give her plenty of options. She’s pretty clever but she’s also got a real head for business that I’m not sure would be encouraged at a more academic school.

Hey diddley dee…

Remember I told you about that job where I worked on a tiny team, doing lots of projects? Well, as of 25 February, I will be working there no more. I won’t go into the messy detail, but after a lot of soul-searching, I decided that the time had come for me to cut loose and try contracting/freelancing again.

I’ve set up the portfolio and my LinkedIn profile is up to date. I’ve registered with some agencies and I’ve got a couple of applications in progress. On top of that, a contact has an idea about iBooks which could prove very interesting indeed.

Thinkstock ref 515071361

Arsing about with Thinkstock again. I hate these backwards writing pics.

I suspect that a number of factors will make work slow to begin with, but I’m fairly confident that my skills and experience will net me a set of interesting, intriguing jobs in the future. I’ll have to be more careful about budgeting and get my admin organised, but I think the payoff will be worth it: more time with Martin and Charlie, and maybe even a chance at finishing my MA .

In other news, Charlie sprained her knee while we were  rearranging her bedroom a couple of days ago. It meant a trip to A&E in an ambulance, but by the time the doctor got around to seeing us (two hours…not bad, considering) the swelling had gone down and she could almost walk normally. She’s still got a swollen knee but she’s not in much pain.

And…I am now a committee member of Nunhead WI. We had our inaugural meeting last night. We expected around 20 people to turn up, but to our surprise nearly 80 women squeezed into the upstairs room at the Old Nun’s Head. I was very cold-ridden and trying not to die but we were all bowled over by the wealth of talent and enthusiasm of all the new members. We’ve got a political lobbyist turned artist, several fundraisers, teachers, civil servants, researchers and marketeers, not to mention lawyers, project managers and crafters. Our next meeting is Monday 16 March and I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it’ll be fun finding out.


Charlie’s Birthday

I remembered the camera for our usual Sunday potter up and down the river while Charlie gardens at Surrey Docks Farm. Later we took her and four friends bowling, and a slightly anarchic time was had by all…



Still haven’t blogged

There have been a number of reasons for this. One is that the new job turned out to be very full-on and intense (it still is, but at least I’m not crying with exhaustion at the end of each week). That led to me dropping most of the things that interest me in life, apart from the family, the cats and the odd knitting project. I even gave up the choir, though there were other reasons for that (let’s just say “musical differences”).

So, a brief summary.

  1. I work in a tiny team, doing more projects than I care to mention (though it’s relatively quiet right now) for a big training company.
  2. I dropped out of my MA for a year or two because I didn’t have time to devote to the study. Since then I’ve been looking at the Allotment movement and pondering a change in subject. There’s a lot in there about land rights, working class organisation/agitation and the management of leisure time.
  3. We acquired a rabbit called Smokey.
  4. We lost a rabbit called Smokey to our friendly local fox. Charlie found a small mammal’s digestive system neatly arranged on the lawn and we worked out that that was what he left of Smokey. She was a lovely rabbit.
  5. Charlie is in Year 6. This means looking at SECONDARY SCHOOLS. So, here are our choices:
    1. Deptford Green
    2. Harris Girls Dulwich
    3. Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham
    4. Addey & Stanhope
  6. Martin is still playing with Konni Deppe, and he has a new trio called The Neighbours Trio, made up of a couple of excellent young local musicians (they have beards) and a grumpy balding guitar player. They’re playing at the Ivy House in March sometime.
  7. Errr…
  8. That’s it.