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《Lessons for Elementary School (16)》 __ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Hakka Heritage

“Grandpa, are we Hakka’s?” Nancy asks as she greets Grandpa at the door.

“Yes, we are.” Grandpa answers.

“Mr. Shaw said today that Hakka’s are proud people, with superior resources and ingenuity. He said that he was proud being a Hakka.”

“That is very interesting. I’ve always suspected that he must be of Hakka descend, being such an excellent teacher.”

“He said that there are about 40 million people of Hakka descend living outside of China, as estimated in a 2010 survey, more than the population of Canada. They are so special that many institutions in Japan and France made Hakka studies in order to find out the secrets of their successes in foreign places all over the globe.”

“That should be very interesting. Has Mr. Shaw told you their findings?”

“He said they were academic studies more than real. But, he told us about this great novel by James Michener called Hawaii. It describes how the various groups of people sailing to settle in Honolulu and the islands.”

“Yes, I know that novel too.” Grandpa is quick to respond. “It was very popular in the 1960’s and on. I read the Chinese translation of it. There is a chapter describing how the Chinese went there to work in the pineapple and sugarcane plantations. They were Hakka’s. The author gave a lively account on how the Chinese came to work as laborers, and their sons and daughters did well in school and ran big businesses.”

“Mr. Shaw told us that his grandfather was one of those immigrants. Then, after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor with their Divine Wind bombers, he took his family to Canada. Grandpa, why do people move about to far away countries? I am happy here and I will never move away.”

“Well, there are two possible reasons why people migrate. One is to seek for a safe and better life. The other is because life conditions are bad at home, like being driven in war by strong invaders, or being very poor because there was not enough land to grow food for everyone. The Hakka people migrated over thousands of years because of one or both of these reasons. It took a lot of courage to leave home and settle in an unfamiliar place. For example, when your father first came to Canada to study, I had only enough money to pay for his airfare. But, he was confident that he could work and attend university to get good education.”

“Wow, I did not know that. How did Dad do it, Grandpa?”

“You can ask him for details. All I know is that he was studying in the University of Manitoba. He did all kinds of work on weekends and during holidays. Once, he had a job driving a small truck at the Winnipeg Airport during the Christmas holidays, when the temperature was 40 degrees celsius below zero. But he overcame all difficulties and saved enough money to get married after graduation. I came to join him just before you were born.”

“Thank you for the family history, Grandpa. I shall go to work when I grow up. Mr. Shaw told us that the Hakka people consider the family to be most important. It is a tradition that began some two thousand years ago. In every family, parents teach the children to work and to study hard. Grandpa, what is tradition?”

“Well, a tradition is a way of life, usually based on habits and beliefs. The tradition is passed from grandparents to parents to children. The Hakka people believed in hard work and trust. They had good relations with others. They also believed in learning, so each generation would know more and ascend to high positions in the community and the government. It was because of this tradition that we did well in any place we chose to settle in.”

“Grandpa, I am a good friend to everyone in my class. Would that make me a good Hakka?”

“You surely are, dear. And you also study well.” Grandpa praises.

“May be I will tell Mr. Shaw tomorrow that I am also a Hakka. I think he will be pleased.”

“He surely will. May be you can tell me what else he taught you.”

“He spent a lot of time telling us about the Hakka culture. He also told us about the leaders in modern history who were of Hakka descend. He was especially proud of Dr. Sun Yet Zen, the father of modern China, because he also grew up in Honolulu. Other prominent leaders were Zhu De, Ye Jianying, Dang Xiao Ping, Hu Yau Bang, and Lee Guan Yew, the distinguished Prime Minister of Singapore. Grandpa, do you know these people?”

“I know who they are. But, Grandpa is only an ordinary man. Those great men made huge efforts to change China and the world around. I am proud to share the same heritage with them. I would like to hear what Mr. Shaw said about the Hakka culture.”

“He said so many things that I can’t remember them all. He said the Hakka culture is just the Chinese culture, which developed from the Qin Dynasty until now. He said culture had two sides. One side was written in books and records. The other side was carried by people in their daily lives. He also said the Hakka language was the same as the Chinese written language. But, the spoken language had evolved into varying dialects, depending on where it was spoken. For example, Taiwan people speak a Hakka dialect so different from people in Guangdong that people in these two places could hardly understand one another. Grandpa, can you sing some mountain songs for me? Mr. Shaw sang a couple of these songs for us in class. They sounded so beautiful.”

“I will definitely sing for you, dear, even though my old voice would not sing well. I should tell you that Hakka mountain songs are love songs, sung by folks when they were working out in the wild. They were usually duets between a young man and a young girl who did not know each other. But, these songs could work wonders. I will sing you this duet which brought your grandma and me together. The first was by me, the second was responded by your grandma:
1/ Ai Moi, across these hills to you I sing
It is now beautiful spring,
Birds build nests to bring up chicks,
Together you and I will have wonderful kids.
2/ Across the hills I hear a voice,
Summer will follow spring not a choice,
If rice grew plentiful in your fields,
In a bountiful harvest I might yield."

“Grandpa, you are so romantic! I love you!” Nancy applauds heartily.

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