Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mystery of the Disappearing Great Grandpa

Any family reunion is always a time ripe for intense interrogation, intimate interviews and the eventual spilling of clandestine secrets.

Though my taciturn grandmother has proven remarkably hard to crack, despite my best Russian spy techniques. Bribing her with roasted peanuts or plying her with sweet wine doesn't seem to work at all.

Till now none of us have been able to unlock the secrets of her surprisingly mysterious past. With conservative Confucianism still prevalent in China back then, for a mere girl to receive such a surprisingly accomplished, well-rounded education back in the turbulent 1920s certainly hints at a relatively comfortable liberal family. Yet my enigmatic grandmother hardly speaks of her murky past - and never of her family - even after being persistently prodded for answers.

Even on her frequent visits back to China, she never ever returns to her hometown, not even in passing.

What shameful secrets lie in the pictures from the past?

What we know of her only begins when my hopeful grandfather came knocking on the door for her hand in marriage. And even so what made her family desperate enough to send her so far away to what must have seemed a plague-infested tropical hell with an unlettered country bumpkin with very little to recommend him?

Highly suspicious. I've always wondered myself. Would have asked my far more pliable grandfather but the only way of contacting him is through the ouija board.

So several weeks back, one of my more enterprising aunts put up a picture of my grandmother holding up an ancient red-lacquered plaque detailing the innumerable exploits of her presumably eminent family. Most importantly the commemorative stele bore the words 三代五尚书,七科八进士 which means that her illustrious ancestors managed to pass the imperial examinations with flying colours and were frequently promoted to state ministers.

Aunt : I have finally found the family secret.
Paul : We're secretly descended from princes, pirates or paupers?
Aunt : Neither. Grandmother's family. Take a look at this picture. 
Paul : That's it? Was hoping they were a village of secret ninja-like assassins, or perhaps an ancient royal family betrayed and hunted down by their enemies.
Aunt : You do have a great imagination.
Paul : If not, why is grandmother keeping her illustrious family a secret? What bad times came upon the family? Why hide all this? Why has she never returned even once to her village? I bet she killed someone.
Aunt : No la! Anyway if she wants to know, she'll tell us!
Paul : Better tell us soon! What if she left behind a secret family in mainland China! We could intermarry with them in the future!
Aunt : Choi!

That wasn't the family secret. We already knew she came from a relatively distinguished reputable family. It's what happened after that which is kept hidden from the rest of us.

Ashamed possibly of her father - our missing great-grandfather? Or maybe her indolent ne'er-do-well father gambled the dwindling family fortunes away? Or he was the overly enthusiastic royal executioner who chopped off one too many heads? The possibilities are endless. 

1 comment:

Ash Godiva said...

perhaps can found out about your grandmother's family on the state ministers list:D