My Hainanese Heritage

What does it mean to be Hainanese?

I recently came across an article on this subject matter in a local magazine in Penang, which did not answer this question to my personal satisfaction. So I decided to ponder on this question and sought advice from my parents. This piece explores what that mean to me, apart from my Chinese heritage; perhaps as you read this you may discover what makes being Hainanese different from the other dialects or clans.

I wonder if being an overseas Chinese makes a difference, as in I was not born or raised in Hainan. Would another Hainanese person answer this differently, whether born in China or in another Asian or Western country? This may be very interesting to know.

I know that this piece does not cover much in detail, but I hope that this would give you an idea from my own musings. If there is a fellow Hainanese reading this, I would love to hear your thoughts and own tales.

ANCESTRY

I have often been reminded growing up that I am a “purebred”, as my parents are both Hainanese, as were their parents. This is said with great pride, although I do not automatically identify myself with this label, nor being Chinese or Malaysian for that matter.

I believe there is a family secret about the purity of our lineage, one which my paternal grandmother refused to discuss and took the secret to her grave.

My parents have visited their family/ancestral homes in Hainan several times, and I hope to go there one day. My family came from the north east region of Hainan Island. There is a particular way of identifying which specific village one hails from, so I have recorded it here for reference. For my Mom: Hainan Tau; Boon Sio Kuai Wen Chang; Hou Wan See (head garden); Seh Tua Sui. According to some research, my father’s family originally from came from Henan province in China but later migrated south: Hainan Tau; Heng Tua Kuai; Wui Boon See; Au Lia Sui (back of mountain)

TRAITS

When I was in my twenties, my mother used to tell me how wonderful it would be to have me marry a Hainanese man. Match making brought my parents together, so I relented to their request to look for a suitable husband for me within our community. I went through with it to honor my parents as a filial daughter and had thought, why not? Hainanese men as supposedly known to be good husbands – and by good I mean obedient, which greatly appealed to my dominant side *grin*.

Well, as it happened, this guy’s grandmother or mother, who knew my grandparents, had enquired around about single Hainanese girls, so lo and behold, a meeting was quickly set up. I endured a lunch meeting where I met a potential candidate with his parents and made some effort to talk to this man, even though I knew at first sight he would not be The One.

Hainanese men are considered “liang chai” or handsome/fair as in the old days (i.e. hundreds of years ago) they would just study, “kia kia” and not really work or do manual labor. Quite the pampered lot I imagine.

One common trait about Hainanese is their ‘flat’ head, where the back of the head is flat. This comes from being placed in cradle as babies when mothers are working in the paddy field and to prevent the baby from tossing and turning in the cradle to escape, they would be secured with bamboo. After a long time without being able to move and on its back, a child would thus develop a ‘flat’ head.

LANGUAGE

I have grown up speaking Hainanese at home with my parents and grandparents. I am relatively fluent despite being able to read or write only a handful of Chinese characters. Speaking Hainanese at home is (and was) a necessity as my grandparents could only communicate in this dialect. In family gatherings, it was considered polite to speak in dialect to have inclusiveness, so that my grandparents would understand what we were discussing, and to have them join in the conversations. Nowadays with my grandmother, particularly during meals, if I struggle to say what I want in Hainanese, I would speak in Mandarin or English, and my mother would translate the sentences or words for my grandmother.

I think Hainanese dialect has many colorful phrases, and many lose its nuance when translated. Here are some examples:

“Bo jung beh cheh. Bo teo meh”.  Do not be argumentative (to disagree and to stir things up, but not in a heated way). Do not be quarrelsome. And yes, there is a distinction between the two.

“Bong kang. Sor chai.” Two kinds of stupid or crazy/mad. But the meaning is not vicious and is often said with a smile. Or smirk, like when you call someone an idiot.

A lesser used term for ‘be careful’ is “chee teng” instead of “toi tiem”. For instance, you say that as a cautionary comment when you see someone handling a hot kettle.

When you meet someone, you comment or ask them if they are “ngeh lang” or healthy. Another version of “how are you?”

FOOD

The major factor is our cuisine. Oh, glorious food. Chicken Rice automatically comes to mind! My grandparents cooked this well and my father’s chicken rice – both chicken and rice – is considered to be the best, as attested by friends and family who enjoy this treat on many occasions. He is such a master at it, and claims there is a science to choosing the right chicken, which still eludes me to this day. To me, home cooked chicken rice (with its condiments of dark soy sauce and specially prepared chili and ginger sauces) is the ultimate comfort food. Whenever I feel homesick, I go out to my favorite places to eat chicken rice, along with the delicious side dishes of ‘char siew’ and ‘siew yuk’.

As with all dialects, the look or names of select dishes are meant to evoke prosperity, longevity, etc. My mother recently cooked a special dish during my last visit home – stir fried pig skin (which was soft and chewy like fish maw) with pineapple, so overall it looked golden, like gold “kiem” – in Mandarin this dish is called “pien ti huang jin”, which means to cover the ground in gold; and when you add leeks, it is to represent jade –“ jin yie man tang” – a room full of jade mixed with gold, i.e. with all things precious.

Purple is considered good luck, or for attracting good fortune; perhaps that is why during celebrations like Chinese New Year we eat brinjal or eggplant. Eating “keng woon” or glass noodle is also considered delightful – there is a saying: “keng woon liang pi”, which means to have laughter or a sense of humor.

TRADITIONS

For Chinese New Year, our ang pows must be different, “sut how” so to add a bit more, as it cannot be an even number, for example RM11 or RM10.10 instead of RM10.

To wear purple or “keo kueh”, is to signify to have a year ahead better than the last, or in another general sense is to be better than others.

COMMUNITY

The sense of community, in having the need to belong, is universal. Like other clans, we would tend to help support others from our own clan first. For example to buy from Hainanese businesses or regularly patronize cafes or restaurants owned by other Hainanese.

Often when we meet other Hainanese, there is an extension of generosity or a sentiment to help more readily. I remember when I was in boarding school, after I spoke Hainanese to the cooks dispensing the food, they would slip me extra treats, such as extra lychee or serve me bigger portions, when other students would be given baleful looks.

Hainanese Associations are formed in many cities and towns all over the world and the purpose (among other things) is to have a common place to gather, share, and to help those from the clan. In the past such as during the migration waves in the 19th century until the 1950s when Hainanese migrated from Hainan island to other countries, for example in South East Asia, Hainanese Associations would help these migrants, particularly the poor, to provide them with a place to stay, to feed them, to provide scholarships for their children’s education, and even to help bury those whose families could not afford funerals. When I was in primary school, I remember receiving small monetary rewards from our local association for doing well in school, along with attending their annual Christmas parties and large prayer celebrations at our “tien how kung”.

My parents actively serve our local hometown Hainanese Association, following a tradition of service. My paternal grandfather was the founder of the Hainanese Association in Kuala Belait, Brunei. I served our local Hainanese Association as an officer in the Youth Section during the few years when I lived and worked in my hometown. I remember my time there fondly, as many friends were made, and the experience of fundraising during Chinese New Year when we followed our own association’s  lion dance troupe (visiting from house to house in the heat for days), made me realize at the time, of the pride, dedication and purpose we have for our community.

My Hainanese Heritage

My Future Life Partner

I was recently advised by a dear childhood friend and happiness coach (ML) to list out the feelings and emotions I would like to have when being together with my future life partner, as a way of sending forth my desires to the universe, with the faith that the energy from my thoughts in this message shall be emitted and thus will be answered by Her, in order for me to meet him (if I have not done so already) and eventually be with him.

Another friend had referred to the Law of Attraction, while another reference “An Open Letter to My Future Husband”. In any case, this is me articulating my desires in this post; I am optimistic there is at least one man out there with a similar desire and with a wish list that fits me during this lifetime.

Dear Universe,

These are the following attributes (in no particular order) of feelings and emotions I would like to have when I am with my life partner: loved, safe, cherished, blissful, confident, proud/pride, happy, adventurous, joyful, passionate, secure, sated, accepted, relaxed, awed, interested, satisfied, comfortable, serene, tranquil, gratitude, hopeful, kind, affectionate, pleasurable, cheerful, euphoric, inspired, valued, respected, treasured, amused, beautiful, desirable.

I would like to have the above be reciprocal for him towards me too.

There are other secondary items in my predilection/wish list, such as a preference that he be tall (at least 5’11” and above), while in connection to me that he be kind, intelligent, dependable, generous, patient, understanding, appreciate art & literature, like dogs, enjoys traveling, is sexually compatible, does not snore too loudly and most importantly, able to get along with my parents (and family).

Last but not least, that both of us be in good health and able to enjoy a meaningful life together for a lengthy amount of time.

I express my desires to you, dear Universe, with love, accepting the outcomes you deign to bless me with. Thank you.

With humble gratitude; I believe!

VLSS

My Future Life Partner

Blessings for the new year

Last year, I had set about to fulfill Neil Gaiman’s New Year Wish, which was:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

I realized all elements of the above, and for this I am very grateful. I look back at 2016 with immense gratitude, pride and joy. I will set out to accomplish this again for this year and I look forward to continue my journey in enriching my mind and life, surrounded by loving family and friends.

I spent 2016 enjoying the good company of my ever supportive and uplifting family, strengthening friendships and made new friends along the way. I was surrounded and enriched by affection and love, and deeply felt God’s magnificent love and mercy, along with an abundance of blessings bestowed by the Universe. I feel truly blessed and am ever grateful for the myriad of beauty, experiences and opportunities which have come my way. Many wonderful souls have touched my heart and made a difference in my life; I hope I continue to contribute towards a positive difference in others and in this dynamic world in which we live.

I completed the first year of my Masters degree and will be working hard to conclude the final 3 terms in school by the end of this year. While I want to finish with an excellent CGPA, at the end of the day, I would like to be able to absorb and apply what I learn towards my next career. Along the way, I managed to find good work with generally kind people, and look forward to complete a rewarding project this year.

This year has started out well and is already passing by quickly. I recently attended a lovely wedding of a delightful young couple as well as the birthday celebration of a brave little girl who inspired me to write my first blog post – she has just turned two and is growing up to be a healthy, sometimes solemn yet delightful child. My observance of young love and budding youth inspires me and further augments new hope for the future.

Chinese New Year is approaching next week; we transition from the year of the Monkey into the year of the Rooster on February 28. I would like to add the following addition to my personal aspirations and share with you another of Neil Gaiman’s New Year Wish, which is:

“…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.”

Blessings for the new year

Love Songs to Drift into Dreamland

There may be nights you are cuddling with your lover, with fingers trailing across cooling skin. Or when you feel his/her touch on you bare skin that elicit goosebumps in anticipation of more loving. Or moments when you want to remember or savor those feelings and sensations from that afterglow.

There may be nights when you are alone and miss the one you love, and all you can do for now is to hug the pillow tight.

Here are a few of my favorite songs I like to listen to, when I am in a mood to drift on a dreamy gentle wave of love in the moonlight on starry nights:

Now and forever by Anne Murray

Cool night by Paul Davis

I go crazy by Paul Davis

Sexy eyes by Dr Hook

Love is the answer by England Dan & John Ford Coley

Look what you’ve done to me by Boz Scaggs

Someone like you by Van Morrison

All I want is you by Carly Simon

Baby come back by Player

Room in your heart by Living in A Box

I believe in love by James Ingram & Sally Yeh

One more time by Kenny G feat. Chante Moore

Don’t make me wait for love by Kenny G

Crush by Yuna feat. Usher

The only one by Lionel Richie

Stargazing by Daiyan Trisha

The moment you were mine by Anne Cochran

Dancing on my own by Calum Scott

When we were young (cover by Adele) by Calum Scott

Say you won’t let go by James Arthur

Only love can hurt like this by Paloma Faith

Love Songs to Drift into Dreamland

King of My Heart

I met a man who made my soul dance on clouds in the moonlight, and in my complete submission, ruled my very being as I “crowned him with my heart”. I cannot help but to reference two songs by Sade, “Kiss of Life” and “Your Love is King” for the way I felt (and continue to feel), and a song which I have been listening to lately by Daiyan Trisha, called “Stargazing”, in which the lyrics are so poignantly perfect.

I never expected this to happen and yet it did, and this has made me grateful to God and the universe for the opportunity to meet this gentle, beautiful soul, whom I spent a total of forty-four consecutive hours with, and I want the world to know that D will be forever in my heart and mind.

I marvel at how we even met, how our paths crossed; such was an unconventional encounter that there were instances when I was doubtful to proceed for weeks and yet there was an inner voice in me that whispered, why not? I allowed myself to open up and trust this person completely, which is very uncharacteristic for those who know me well. In doing so, he shared much of himself, more so than I did him. There was no judgment between us, only tender understanding, passion and love.

My heart was heavy when I had to say good bye to D. We were on the sidewalk outside of my home, where his friend was waiting to drive him to the airport. He enveloped me in a tight hug and lifted me up so I could bury my face into his neck, to inhale his scent for the last time, and for one last kiss. He said that he would never forget me and my heart felt like it was going to burst into a million pieces.

How could I forget the aqua of his eyes, especially when they were burning into mine, dilated with desire? He has an easy smile, which deepened a dimple with a scar on his right cheek. Skin so firm and smooth, with parts textured with scarification and tattoos of mantras and mystic symbols. D was so matured and wise for his age, and with his newfound beliefs and yoga lifestyle, his calmness and self-possession infused into my own equanimity. It is hard to believe that he was born during my last semester in college. I wonder what he saw in me, and what effect I had on him.

If only he knew the depth of the impact he had on me. I did tell him how beautiful, sexy and incredible he was, and how he made me feel – something I consciously did often while we were together. Yet there were things left unsaid, like how he made me float on clouds of happiness for days after, how he managed to impart a deep sense of peace and serenity, and completely satiated an ardor beyond compare.

I wear his gift as a pendant, a vertebra of an unknown sea creature, which he had found a series of on the beach. To be honest, I am not sure how long I would wear it for; it will always remind me of him. Thank you, God, for the gift of D in my life, however brief and intense a time it was. I wish and pray for God to continue to watch over D, and Bless him abundantly always.

King of My Heart

Fabric of Life

A friend of mine (PL) recently gave me a keychain with a cute fabric elephant, a souvenir from her trip to Phuket from the Mayagotami Foundation. The tag said, “Saori weaving is pure improvisation from the heart, with no premeditated pattern in mind. Saori is profound inner journey yet we can enjoy it socially, working alongside Weave & Give”.

This led me to think about my own life, or rather myself as a piece of fabric, which is still a work in progress, so to speak. We go through life making choices on a daily basis, some big, some small. These choices impact our lives and others either directly or indirectly. Choices somehow shape who we are in terms of our character, and make us unique individuals. With every choice, we weave another string into the fabric of our being. I believe that the people we meet and let into our lives also contribute to the strings of our personal fabric, through experiences, shared memories and the way different people make us feel  – soft, hard, textured, sequined, beaded and in different colors.

At the core of it all, we are all special. Some of us are more quirky, creative, analytical, pragmatic, optimistic, sociable, fearless or reserved. I would like more of us recognize our own unique personal traits, accept them and embrace them. I have found greater acceptance of myself in the past few years; it took some time to build up this level of self confidence and I must admit that having a childhood in a loving, secure environment probably helped blessed me with this innate state of being. There have been times of adversity in my life; it is all relative when I compare what I have been through with so many others who have had to or are struggling with difficulties and challenges. However, looking back at how things have come to pass, I am grateful for these lessons in life and the opportunities they presented to make me assess who I am and what I capable of. Many of these experiences have reassured me that you are what you make for yourself, particularly in taking charge of your own happiness and self worth.

During difficult times, it may be very challenging to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many times I had asked myself whether it would get harder, how much more would my psyche or heart be able to take? I remember it felt like I was drowning in a pool of mud and there was no possibility of pulling my way out, when it just keeps sucking you in deeper. Screaming in an empty room for a sign. For some relief. Some miracle. Then the roar of silence and feeling that crushing weight of emptiness. Time would tick by. Hours would pass. Then days, then months. All this has tempered my own fabric; adversity had stretched it, but it was never torn.

I examine my own fabric of life and remind myself to be grateful. I am very grateful for the life that I have, for the family that I have, for my health, for all the blessings God gives, and for the friends who give so generously in friendship and touch my life in ways they may not realize, whether they are near or far. With the bad, there is good, and I have learnt to appreciate the latter and actively seek to weave more happiness, joy and love into my own fabric, and hopefully into the fabric of others.

What does your fabric look or feel like?

Fabric of Life

A Date to Remember

Today (in a month’s time) marks the date that could have been my 15th Wedding Anniversary.

May 17 was brought up by my mother and aunt during their recent trip and it came up by random surprise during our dinner conversation at a popular noodle restaurant last week. I nearly choked on my fish ball and managed to retain my composure. I did not remember the date at all, to my own shock, and admitted this fact to them. While my Dad continued eating in benign amusement, Mom rolled her eyes and my aunt simply stated “It must have really meant nothing to you.”

Oh my.

I remember that A had kept quite a few of my CDs, including one of my favorites at the time, a Julia Fordham album, which was also greatly loved by my closest friend, W, whom I shared the ‘I Forgot The Date’ story with during dinner earlier tonight. Her husband, Y, quipped, “You dodged a bullet there!” and chuckled, while my friend grinned with soft knowing eyes. Even his mother asked, “Didn’t you meet him at a book store?” to which I meekly replied, “Yes, at Barnes and Noble,” as I sat there, bewildered on how she could remember that detail.

I decided to play some of Julia’s songs as I write this, after returning home and opening my closet and staring at the top shelf, where I know my wedding dress, made of white French lace gifted from my Mom, is kept rolled up in layers of tissue in a bag, tucked deep in a corner. I decided not to look at it or try it on. I now recall getting the dress custom made by a talented young local designer, who was just starting out at the time. Getting a similar dress made by him now would probably cost a small fortune. Come to think of it, there are several lovely outfits made by this designer that I still keep, yet avoid wearing.

If I had gotten married 15 years ago, it would have been a simple ceremony in Miami, followed by a dinner reception at a charming French restaurant that had big trees with magical fairy lights. And we would have had our first dance as husband and wife to “At Last” by Etta James, selected by my then fiancée.

I barely remember the diamond engagement ring in great detail – I think it was a decent sized solitaire, with French baguettes on either side – which was returned to A, and our matching wedding bands were supposed to be pavé diamonds… or was it channel cut diamonds? Again, my memory fails me and I’ll be damned to ask my mother for these details, which she would surely remember.

I somewhat recall going through dozens of beautiful wedding invitation samples, brought back from a trip to Miami, all of which were discarded with the final chosen design, along with the many heavily earmarked bridal magazines, years ago. I recall feeling relieved that the wedding invitations had not been sent out when I decided not to go through with the wedding, although many of my extended family and closest friends had been asked months prior to save the date. I recall some of the many disputes A & I had, along with having to mediate with our parents, during our clash of Chinese and American cultures, related to wedding arrangements, dowry and other expectations.

Where did the time go? What happened? Why did I not marry A? These are questions that swirl around me.

If I had married A, would I still be married to him now? Would we be entertaining our friends like W&Y, who would visit on holiday, at our beach side place in Miami, or on a yacht in the Caribbean? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? I refuse to speculate or dwell on the What Ifs.

“Love Moves in Mysterious Ways” per Julia Fordham.

A Date to Remember