When I was a little girl, I loved stopping at those mini-kiosks in malls where you can look up your coat of arms and get it stamped or embroidered onto a souvenir. No variation of my last name–Shu, Hsu, Xu or Chu–was to be found among the Sandyfirths, Hinchclifs, Xaviers or Charltons, but that did not stop my six-year-old self from flipping through the huge alphabetized binders of surnames and wishing that one of those badges, with their bright colors, funny animals and enigmatic symbols, belonged to me. Oh, how I longed for a crest of my very own to slap onto a coffee mug or golf club cozy, but the inaccessibility of my family records and my inability to read Chinese made finding one a near impossibility. Eventually, I figured that genealogy was something just white people did and moved onto other hobbies.
In hindsight, I could have just asked my mom and dad about my family’s history, but as a kid I hated making things easy for myself (I still do). Anyway, I found out over my Chinese New Years vacation that I have a family crest of a sort. In fact, I have three of them:
Last Friday, I went to the Liu Dui Hakka Culture Center near Kaohsiung with my relatives, where I found out that Hakka people can trace their roots through their surname. Each family name has a 堂號 (tang hao), or ancestral hall, attached to it, which in turn points to the province that the clan originated from. This article at Radio Taiwan International explains everything clearly:
Hakka people have a special way of remembering the area from where their ancestors came. It is known as the “tang hao,” or “building name.” Basically it is a name that appears over the front doorway of a Hakka home or ancestral shrine, which indicates the native area of a family’s ancestors. For example, Western River Hall. They do this even when building a new house. It is a way to remember their roots and to respect their ancestors.
The museum has sixteen Hakka surnames that you can pick up souvenir cards for and my uncle found the names that are associated with our family for me. They are 陳, 徐 and 吳 or Chen, Xu and Wu (or, as I like to call it, the Wu Tang-Hao Clan). 陳 is also the name of Taiwan’s current president and, as you can see in the above photo, my hand is covering half of that character. I wasn’t making a covert political statement, I swear! Each card introduces the name of the family’s building name and its history, but I haven’t finished translating them yet. Once I’m done, I’m going to go out and get all three characters monogrammed onto a hoodie. Woohoo!
The cool thing is that any offspring that Ron and I produce will be able to find crests at those mall kiosks and trace their tang haos. I can’t even begin to imagine what their personalized baseball caps and tie clips will look like. Woo-hoo! Go miscegenation! I’m kidding. I do not actually routinely refer to my relationship as miscegenation. Well, not in mixed company anyway (rimshot!).
Anyway, I bet you are wondering what else I did on my vacation. Well, I spent half of it huddled in front of our NT$500 heater with The Dollmaker and the other half visiting my relatives. On Chinese New Years Eve (Feb. 5), Ron and I took the train to Miaoli, where I met up with my uncle, aunt and cousins and went to dinner with my great-aunt (my mom’s aunt), her son and his family. After that, we went to her house and looked through some old family photos:
Here is my mom doing a traditional Chinese dance. My mom is 27 years old, so this would have been in about 1986 or 1987.
This is the paint store my grandfather owned on Heping E. Road. The former location of the building is now in the middle of the street.
My grandfather with my mom (on the right) and a couple of my cousins.
On Chinese New Years, we visited my other great-aunts and had lunch and dinner with my relatives. I then continued down to Kaohsiung with my Uncle Youn Yuen, Aunt Monica and cousins Christine and Hazel while Ron returned to Taipei because he had to work. Here are some more photos from Kaohsiung:
Me, Christine and Hazel enjoying our New Years sparklers of doom.
Traditional Chinese lollipops (棒糖, bàng táng) for sale in Neipu.
Here is Ron taking a photo of me in front of a field near my grandmother’s childhood home. My uncles and mom used to play in this field when they were little. By the way, see how low Ron has to stoop to take a photo of me? Sigh.
This is my mom’s childhood home in Miaoli, before her parents sold it and moved to Taipei. One day I will Photoshop the power wires out.
Here is my cousin Hazel hitching a ride on her big sister Christine’s back.
This is the high-speed rail train I took back to Taipei from Kaohsiung. It took only one and a half hours to span the entire country from bottom to top. If you want to take it, check out Lin’s entry about her visit to Kaohsiung last month.
A couple months ago I blogged about traditional Chinese puppets. Well, here is what one looks like in action.
The character is Zhū Bājiè (豬八戒), whose name is also used as an exclamation of irritation or disgust at someone’s stupidity (“Zhū Bājiè!”). Or at least it is in my family.
If you want to see more photos from my Chinese New Years, check my Flickr. And thanks to my uncle, aunt and cousins for giving me a chance to escape from three weeks straight of non-stop cloudy weather in Taipei! I had a lot of fun.