Veronica Needa interviews the Reverend Guy Shea – London April 1997
V: I just feel that you are a treasure in very many ways!
V: You are! And not only do I want information about what you know of my family which I know you know lots that I have no clue about, but I am also interested in your own story too. I would like to offer some oral history – real stories and memorabilia and old photographs etc. It’s an opportunity to affirm and make visible a community that for all sorts of reasons has been invisible. Hidden for all sorts of reasons, as you know, because it was a very painful thing to be in generations before. Not now of course, but in the earlier generations of Eurasians.
G: Well basically the whole thing really started when European merchants and European seamen came to the Chinese waters. In those days it was all travel by sea and by sail, so it took ages and was awfully dangerous. And by and large the men came on their own. Well, the human being is a sexual creature. They may not have their own mates but they still need to express their sexuality. It all started with the boats being met by the local Tun Ka population. This is how we get the term cum shaw. In Cantonese it sounds like golden comb, but it isn’t that. Its English! Cum shaw cum shaw, daai baan cum shaw – come ashore. And of course they went ashore for one thing and one thing only – for sexual liaison. And in the old days, one of the things Eurasians were called were haam seui – salt water – because it was a short hand way of saying you are the product of the Tun Ka people who lived on salt water and the Europeans. So haam seui jaie, haam seui mui – thats where the term came from.
Then the next stage, you have European merchants and European officials settling in China proper – particularly in the South China coast and even more so in Sha Meen, in Canton. Again because they had no mates they very often set up temporary cohabitation situations, where the women concerned were Chinese. They were not necessarily Tan Ka people. They were shore people sometimes and they never really married anybody. The term that they used was Kow See Tow – Seeking for a Master. The set up was such that they used to carry on all the Victorian social things of calling on one other and giving dinner parties – with Mrs Smith or Mrs Jones being a Chinese woman who couldn’t speak proper English. And the way they communicated was by Pidgin English.
There is one story of a particular woman who spoke to her husband and said Tomor eat meh meh which translated was Tommorrow we are eating lamb. Here is another story which illustrates this Pidgin English. There was a woman who had a Eurasian son who was sent to DBS (Diocesan Boys School) as a boarder. The headmaster, the Reverend Featherstone, asked if she would permit the boy to go on a school expedition to Macau. Her reply was my son Chong Dai belong go San Tung Daai Laam Deng belong go Ma Kow maai ju tsai ngoh do no saa be – lo! m’ bay heui And she was understood! My son Chong Dai whether he goes to Shantung province in the north or the place called Daai Laam Deng or Macau – I am afraid of him being sold into indentured labour – I wouldn’t know about this. No! He is not to leave.
And by and large thats how we communicated – turn of the century 1900s. And very often these liaisons produced families. They were what we call high class Eurasians because the husbands were not soldiers or ordinary seamen. They were officers, managers of firms and things like that – people with education and with middle class backgrounds by and large, and some even superior backgrounds. And the result is that this group of Eurasians later dominated the colony. People like Sir Robert Hotung came from that background; my grandfather George Tyson, my grandfather Paul Samuel Shea both came from that background. And there are many many more families too.
The next generation had proper marriages between people who were working in Hong Kong for the government like your grandfather. Mr Broadbridge was in the Public Works Department and he married your grandmother and it was a proper wedding. Like Auntie Katie marrying Mr Frith, and Auntie Bolt marrying Uncle Tom Bolt. They were proper marriages – they were not Kow See Tow and they brought up the next generation of Eurasians. Even later still, we started getting other sorts of Eurasians. They were the products of prostitutes and soldiers and sailors – one night stand johnnies, no permanent liaisons. So when we talk about Eurasians, we are really talking about quite a large contingent, coming from very diverse backgrounds.
The original Eurasians Sir Robert Ho-Tung and that lot were all brought up by their mothers because their fathers left them when they left the colony. Therefore they had a Chinese upbringing and Chinese education. They were very often baptised originally at the cathedral and then slipped into Chinese paganism because thats what mother practised. They were mainly born in money and when they married they married Chinese style – and they would have sun ju paie Ancestral Tablets and everything. They spoke Cantonese very often and they could both read and write Chinese. In the main, culturally speaking, they were Chinese.
The next generation was less Chinese and more English. Your mother and Auntie Doris, Auntie Grace, Kath Seymour, Eva Leonard – they are more English than Chinese. And then the generation after that you started getting people courting, meeting foreigners abroad and meeting foreigners in the colony and marrying. They were usually educated, university educated, and they were accepted by the families. So thats the current generation, and thats quite different.
But the old style Eurasians, were the product of Kow See Tow and because of that they were wealthy, had advanced socially, they had good jobs – they thought it was beneath them to marry any Chinese who were willing to marry them because usually it would be for their money. They didn’t want that, they didn’t want the poor Chinese, the boat people. If they wanted to marry somebody with education and superiority, the Chinese wouldn’t look at them twice because of their European blood. Then there was the problem, of course, of the English who wouldn’t want them either. The end result was that they married within their own community and thats why we are all related. Its the old Eurasians who are related, the younger ones are less so.
The first and second generations are all tied up as a knot – mainly within five different families…the Hos, the Los, the Zimmerns, the Halls and the Choys – who are completely tangled up together. And other families would be tangled up with individual members of those five – like your family. We are all connected. It’s a clan.
Its easy for me to talk about all this because of three reasons: the first important fact is that I don’t have a feeling of shame.
V: Very important!
G: A fact is a fact.
V: What happened is what happened.
G: The second is that I have a very good memory. And what I have been told I remember. The third thing is that I was brought up using only the Chinese titles. I was never allowed to say “Good morning Uncle Edward I had to say Jo sun Say Sook – 4th paternal younger uncle by birth. So I know exactly how they fit in. Now Tonie can’t do that. She has never called Auntie Grace anything but Auntie Grace. Whereas if I had been brought up in her position, I would address Auntie Grace as Ng Yee – 5th maternal younger aunt by birth. She is not an aunt by marriage, she is an aunt by birth. And she is the fifth one on my mother’s side! It sounds terribly complicated but if you know it its very clear. As my father once said to me, “If you were to say ‘Auntie Rose’ – you’ve got four of them, which one do you mean?!”
V: I was always under the impression that my grandfather was a Master Mariner.
G: I have no idea, and even if he was, I thought that he worked for the government, but I may be mistaken there. Anyway, he was English.
V: From Everton!
G: And his wasn’t going to be a liaison, a Kow See Tow , it was a regular marriage.
V: Do you know anything about my granny’s adoptive mother? I think she was called Anne Hunter. Is that correct?
G: I don’t know what her name was, but I do know something about her.
V: I do have a photo of a grave stone. She died in 1937. (this might have been her daughter by marriage with Mr Hunter)
G: As late as that! She was a Eurasian women, and she had a proper Chinese name, but I can’t think of it now. She made a living by buying young girls, and bringing them up.
V: Like courtesans?
G: No! They were not courtesans, they were adopted, brought up and then married off for a daaih lai see – big money packet. Thats why your mother had so many so-called ‘Aunties’!
V: My grandmother was first a Wong, and then became Lily Hunter, first adoptive daughter of Anne; and then Lily Broadbridge when she married Alfred Cyrus Broadbridge. You don’t know anything about my Dad do you?
G: Nothing. I knew him as a person but I know nothing of his background. I hear he had some connection with the Portuguese community.
V: Yes, well he had many Portuguese friends.
G: He was in with the Jockey Club.
V: He rode, he was a Champion jockey – in those amateur days they were called Gentlemen Riders – first in Shanghai in the 20s and 30s, and then here in Hong Kong. But his mother, my grandmother, was Japanese and his father, my grandfather, probably French Syrian – Damascan maybe.
G: French Syrian, that makes sense.
V: Yes, doesn’t it, because French Syria had interests in Japan at the turn of the century – shipping and engineering. It was very much Madame Butterfly. He married his Japanese lady, had two children and then dissappeared, whizzed off.
G: That was the normal pattern in those days. You see the difference in Hong Kong’s ‘Kow See Tow’ was that it was known to the women concerned that this was not a permanent liaison.
V: …but that they would be financially catered for at least to the end of their lives.
G: Not necessarily. They were catered for while the man was there, and some were catered for later, some were not. And very often what they did was find somebody else.
G: For instance there is one Eurasian family by the name of Altman. Their Chinese surname is Lee, and my aunt married one of them, and another aunt of mine married the son of one of them. Auntie Vi married Uncle Ling’s son, Auntie Winnie married Ng Yee Po’s 5th maternal great aunt by birth son. But if you go farther back you will find that number one, number two and number three all had different fathers.
V: So this was the Altman family.
G: No. The Altman name came on with number four. Number two was a child of Sassoon, and you could see the Jewish blood in her face.
V: So the children took on their father’s name.
G: Not necessarily. In her case yes, she became known as Miss Soon, the Chinese version of Sassoon. And to the moment she died, the Sassoon family from Shanghai looked after her – they recognised her without recognising her, if you know what I mean!
V: How much of what you know is not found in Peter Hall’s book?
G: Quite a lot probably. Peter’s book In the Web (ISBN 9781906205836, updated 2012) really concentrates on his own family, the Hall family, whose Chinese name is Sin. You weren’t in DGS were you?
V: No I wasn’t.
G: Well there was a teacher at DGS called Miss Sin, who was Peter Hall’s tenth aunt. Their family is one of the well known families of the senior generation of Eurasians. The eldest son married a Miss Shea.
V: So he’s related to you.
G: The second son married a Miss Tyson.
V: Oh! Also related to you!
G: The first one I called Yee Gu Jeung Gung – 2nd paternal great uncle by marriage. The second one I called Daaih Yee Jeung – eldest maternal uncle by marriage. Because the first one married my grandfather’s second sister. The second one married my mother’s eldest sister. The wives were from two different generations, but the husbands were brothers. In actual fact I am connected to the Hall family four times over. Twice on my mother’s side and twice on my father’s side. And Peter Hall is similarly connected to me. Twice on his mother’s side and twice on his father’s side.
You see Peter Hall’s mother was a Gittins. Auntie Mabel, his mother, was a daughter of a Miss Altman – the sixth one. So on Auntie Mabel’s side…my father’s youngest sister, Auntie Vi, married her first cousin Uncle Charlie (who was an Altman, though by that time they were known as Lee). My mother’s tenth sister Auntie Winifred married Jimmy Wong, who was the son of an Altman, again a first cousin. So that was twice over with the Gittin’s connection; and twice over with the Hall connection was the eldest brother and the second brother. One married a Miss Shea and the other a Miss Tyson.
V: This is an example of the tangle!
G: Now this story again illustrates this: it was my mother’s 60th birthday. As it was Baai Daaih Sau – Big Birthday and I am the only child it was incumbent upon me to greet the guests coming in. I had no trouble with most of the guests, I knew them all. In came a couple where the woman was obviously Eurasian and the man was obviously Chinese. I took one look at them and thought to myself I am sure these are chun chik’ relations.
So I immedately approached my mother’s first cousin Emily Moraes, and asked her Look Yee Ma – 6th maternal elder aunt by birth (notice Look Yee Ma, not Auntie Em) Look Yee Ma, been go lai ga? – who are they? She said Go go mai Ah Luen lo! – thats Ah Luen! I said, Ngor chee la – I know now!
V: Nay chik kaak chee la? – You knew immediately?
G: Ngor chik kaak chee la – Immediately! I remembered my Dad calling ‘Ah Luen’ and referring to her as Yee Goo Tse go Yeung Nui – the adopted daughter of Yee Goo Tse 2nd paternal younger aunt by birth the oldest of Sin Jaak Daaih Siu Naie – eldest daughter in law of the Sin family. So my next question was, Keui daaih ding haih ngor lo douh daaih? – Who’s older? Her or my Dad? And Look Yee Ma said to me Nei Lo douh daaih – Your Dad. So I went straight up to her and welcomed her as Biu Goo Tse – cousin by paternal younger aunt by birth. A hole in one, gave her the right title you see. And she said Ahh, nei sut haih Guy ne – You must be Guy. I said Ngor haih – Yes I am. Gum ngor tung keui king gay geui ne, kung hei kung hei a etc. Then we chatted and so on.
Now they were always talking about Ah Luen go Kwok Ping; and in Cantonese when you refer to Ah Luen ‘go’…, it usually means one generation down. So I turned to the man and said, “Biu Go” cousin elder brother (Biu Goo Tse go tsai mai haih Biu Go lo)
V: He was her son?!!
G: No! keui haih keui go Lo Gung a….her husband!
V: Oh dear that was a mistake!
G: That was a mistake. So I came back and asked Look Yee Ma ngor gum ching foo keui deh ngaam m ngaam a? – Did I address them correctly? And she said Nay giu chor yun a! – Wrong! Keui haih keui ge lo gung a – he is her husband not her son! Nay ying goi giu keui Biu Goo Jeung seen ngaam – you should call him Auntie’s Husband – but gwo do m paa – but don’t worry – nay gun lo douh gor been jow giu Ah Luen jo Biu Goo Tse – if you follow your father’s side to call her Auntie – jow ho goong do – thats fair. Daan hai nay giu Kwok Ping jo Biu Go – but if you call him cousin – douh hai toong – thats OK too – yun wei nay go Daaih Yee Ma gor neui – because your eldest maternal Auntie by birth’s daughter – haih nay go Biu Tse – is your cousin. Nee gor hai nay gor Biu Tse gor Tse Foo – this is your cousin’s brother in law – giu duk Biu Go – so you can call him cousin. I addressed him from the Chan connection and addressed her from the Shea connection. Saved my bacon.
V: They understood it!
G: Well they accepted it. They didn’t try to correct me or anything.
V: That’s extraordinary.
G: We are connected like nobody’s business. Now recently I did a wedding. The bride and groom were living in Hong Kong and they wanted to be married in England and the groom is Roman Catholic and the bride is Anglican. They were originally going to have a Roman Catholic wedding but when the groom’s father made enquiries, he found that they have to reside in the parish for three months before they could qualify. Working as junior lawyers in Hong Kong, they couldn’t get three months leave; so he approached me. I said well you can get married by Archbishop’s licence. So I sent them down to Number One The Sanctuary. Back came a letter asking why can’t they get married in his parents parish or her parent’s parish? Besides that what connection was I? So I wrote back a letter saying, unfortunately both of them had been living in Hong Kong for the last three years. The groom’s father resides in Paris, France, and there is no question of a groom’s father’s parish. The bride’s family comes from Devon, and there is only a maternal grandmother left alive, so they can’t apply to the mother’s parish either.
V: They are both Eurasian?
G: No no. He is, she is English. As to my connection with the family, we have been connected for five generations. The Wong family and the Shea family were brought up together. In fact my great grandmother and the groom’s great grandmother went through the Chinese pagan ceremony of becoming blood sisters. Because she was a dipsomaniac, her son was brought up by my great grandmother! He was brought up in my family and he and my grandfather also went through the same ceremony to become blood brothers. In the next generation his father’s sister married my mother’s brother. His father’s first cousin married my mother’s first cousin; and his father’s brother married the sister of the sister that married my father’s brother; so I share two sets of first cousins in common and all my life I have been referred to by the groom’s grandfather, as ‘my nephew’, and I have always introduced him and his wife as my uncle and aunt. And there has never been any question of it. And the groom’s father and myself refer to each other as ‘my cousin’. So in actual fact there is no blood connection but we are related through 5 generations! So they said OK to the couple to get married in my parish!
Wong tzaak di yun ching – gifts for celebrations and occasions, ngo gung jo – I must do it, yun wai gum chun – because we are so close. I mean if you take the Chinese line, laam gwo chong tau see foo mouh – going over the bedhead becomes family, then all those are really all my cousins, and my mother’s cousins. You don’t even need to lie on the bed, all you need to do is to climb over the bed head and you become a father or a mother. In other words, you may be a concubine – you are not connected by blood – but gone over the bedhead, you are my mother or father.
V: Its lovely, its about community. Just because you have no blood link, doesn’t mean you are not family!
G: You see a concubine has very little in the way of rights but thats one of them – that she belongs and theres got to be something major for you to get rid of her. Like adultery or equivalent before she loses the minimal right of claiming allegiance and belonging to a family.
V: I think some of the younger generations of Eurasians, don’t have this sense of community – this alliance network.
G: By the time we come to this generation, the old tradition of concubinage has died out so nobody’s been taught the meaning of relationships.
V: What would my relationship to you be then..?
G: It would be what one would call say moon tow yun chun – and its four doors of relationship by marriage. There is your wife’s side of the family – thats the first door; the in laws of your wife – thats the second; the in laws of the in laws of your wife – the third door; and then the fourth door is after that, an extension strictly by marriage. You preface the term with word yun so you would say yun bak foo, yun bak mo Matrimonial connection uncle and aunt. Sounds very awkward in English.
V: So how would I call you?
G: You will probably follow Brian who is your cousin and call me Biu Gor – cousin
V: I have become a lot more aware of family connections since my mother died, but its also probably something to do with age! and I am an only child – yat lup neui – with no one left – no children, no mama, no papa.
G: “No mama, no papa, no club whisky soda, daih baan cum shaw”
V: So whoever is connected to me by marriage or blood is precious!
G: Have you ever heard of Reggie Fox?
V: Now he is very familiar, I think Brian has claimed him as, is it uncle?
G: Cousin. In their case its real cousin. Reggie’s mother was a Miss Lyson, cousin to Auntie Leander but Chinese style – a sister. And Reggie calls Auntie Leander Say Yee – 4th maternal younger cousin by birth. You see Reggie, is again a cousin of my cousin Margaret, Look Yee Ma’s 6th maternal older aunt by birth daughter. Because Look Yee Ma’s mother was a Miss Orr, and Reggie’s maternal grandmother was also a Miss Orr, they were sisters. See what I mean.
V: So thats another connection with Auntie Leander!
V: Tell me that wonderful story about how the Eurasian families got their names.
G: It varied from family to family. I mean with us, my family, my great grand father was a Norwegian and he came out to act on behalf of the Chinese government as a Customs Inspector. Up in the north, might have been Tianjin. But he had had a Kow See Tow who was Cantonese. The unusual thing about him is that though he was a pure bred Norwegian. a) – he could speak the Chinese language, and b) – he could read and write Chinese. And because of him working in customs & excise, he rose to the Mandarincy of the third rank – that is three from top. Thats very very high. He was called Fredrick Christian Schjote. And because he was appointed a Chinese Mandarin he had to make reports, and he also had to have his name put down on the list of Officials to receive his Pay etc etc. So they gave him a Chinese name Se Duk which in Mandarin was what is as close to Schjote as possible, and this was granted by Imperial Edict. So unlike other Eurasians in Hong Kong, our Chinese surname was Se …. its official, granted by the Emperor.
V: Where does Shea comes from?
G: My grandfather got fed up with people not being able to spell the name when they heard it and not being able to pronounce it when they saw it. He was even further fed up with being called Mr Shit! So he decided to change his name to a common variation – Shea. And to this day they still don’t know how to spell my name! I have had it spelt Shae, Shay, Sheigh. I have been called Father Shen, Father Shan, Father O’Shea. And I have thought Ah yeh paternal grandfather your changing your name by deed poll was a waste of time! That was my grandfather, first generation Eurasian.
V: There must have been very few Eurasians at that time.
G: Oh no, his wife was Eurasian, a Miss Cunningham. Her mother was Chinese and she rejoiced to the Chinese surname Leung – how she got that I don’t know. But I can tell you how the Tysons became Chan. The old lady went to the Miu Temple to Kow Cheem – consult the oracle – and out came the character Chan. She wanted a Chinese surname for the children. She was Mrs Tyson. She was half Spanish and half Chinese. She was Eurasian married to a pure bred American called Tyson. Her maiden name was Lum, her Spanish name we think is Bardoo or Partoo, we don’t know what it is. And she can’t give her Chinese maiden surname to her children, so she gave the Chinese name of Chan to her children in addition to the English name of Tyson. My grandfather was known as Chan Kai Ming, he was also known as George Tyson.
My mother went to school as Gertie Tyson and she was also known as Gertie Chan. Auntie Fanny was the sixth concubine, thats why she is my grandmother. And Ossie was her son. Thats why he is the youngest brother of my mother, a half brother. And you see Aunt Victoria, the oldest, was something like 50 odd years older than Uncle Ossie, although they are the same generation – they were brother and sister.
Chan Kai Ming, my grandfather, had a first wife who was a Eurasian girl who was brought up in one of the villages in Dai Leung which is one of the outer suburbs of Canton, and came out to Hong Kong on a Fa Kiu – wedding sedan chair. Now for a Eurasian girl to be found in one of the villages there is very unusual, and the reason she had to come out to Hong Kong to marry, was because she needed to marry a Eurasian – the Chinese wouldn’t want her. So she came down to Hong Kong and married my grandfather and she died after giving birth to Auntie Victoria. My grandfather then married again, his own first cousin. Thats how Joyce Symons is related to me – she is the daughter of the sister of the second wife! And my second grandmother produced a son who died at the age of 14.
Then grandpa, when she reached a stage when she could no longer receive him on the marital bed, went outside and had number two. Through her he had Auntie Agnes Sam Yee Ma 3rd maternal older aunt by birth, another son who died at child birth called Say Kow Foo – 4th maternal uncle by birth, and Auntie Annie – Chat Yee Ma – 7th maternal elder aunt by birth, and another son called Gow Kow Foo – 9th maternal elder uncle by birth, who died very young, and then Aunt Winifred who married Jimmy Wong.These were all by number two. Then when the wife died, he took in a number three but she had no children. So my great grandmother got very agitated when number two couldn’t produce any sons that could be brought up, and also died; said to her son, ‘you’re not going to have one of these courtesan types, I am going to let you have my slave girl and so the slave girl married my grandfather as the number four concubine and produced a son who survived, Kenneth, and my mother Gertie, and then she died. So by that time number three says, “one come in one die. My turn (might be) next. Either you don’t bring anybody in or if you bring anybody, bring two!” So Five and Six came in together. And then Ossie from number six. Seven children survived.
Why is it that my mother was the number twelfth sister? Living with my grandfather was his brother and his wife. And Chinese style you’re not first cousins you are brother and sister. And because there were so few men, grandfather said “Count them all together!”. So Aunt Agnes is number three, number four died and didn’t count, and then his sister in law produced a son which was then number four, lived for about four or five and then died. And then produced another son called Norman, who is number five; then came Emily, Look Yee Ma, who is number six. Meanwhile, concubine number two produced Annie – number seven; and then great aunt Mary produced number eight – Carrie; and then grandma number two produced Uncle number nine, and Aunt Winifred who was number ten, and then my mother’s mother produced Uncle Kenneth who was number eleven and then my mother who was number twelve. And Uncle Ossie was number thirteen. And in the Chinese set up this is absolutely normal, and they all grew up in the same household. Their household was very heavily within the Chinese culture.
We are the products of Hong Kong and its not generally known within the Hong Kong population.
V: My uncles were all prisoners of war in Japan. When peace was declared, Uncle Reggie, who was the most gwailo of them, apparently ran out of the compound and relieved a passing Japanese person of his camera. Whether he pinched it or made a barter for it, I don’t know! But he used this camera to take photos of the POW camp. My Uncle Norman has kept an album of all these pictures of the camp and the POWS who were incarcerated there. And to this day, my cousin has this camera. And these photographs show some of the many Eurasian volunteers who were taken prisoner defending Hong Kong.
G: Well they are always getting at me to write things down, and its such an esoteric thing. I don’t think many people are interested. I do have a book in my stomach but I can’t write it till one of my cousin’s dies. I don’t want to embarrass her. My family had three mui chais maidservants in the family – switch your machine off!…….
When I last went to Hong Kong in 1987, it had so changed that I felt completely alienated and pushed out. I was born there and brought up there. I had always considered it my home. And as a Eurasian, I had always been proud of my Chinese heritage. I have never been ashamed of it. Yet when I go now, I feel I have been pushed out. I just don’t belong there anymore – which is understandable. I have been away since I was 17. The other thing that alienates me is this constant changing of the scenery. This constant digging up of hills, filling up of the harbour, and every building is replaced. This dairy farm building, not many of these left! In fact I wrote a poem about this.
Yow jee lay ga The travelling one has left home
Saam sup joi For thirty years
Yee cheung yee taap The carved window has collapsed
Mui but hoi The plum blossom no longer blooms
Dai ho teen yuen The great fields and good gardens
Gum hor joi Where are they now
Do chu yee san Everywhere they have shifted the hills
Kay do hoi And emptied the sea
And its true, its all gone. I can express myself in this kind of thing. I can’t do it in English! And yet English is the language I use all the time. Chinese is the language of my poetry and feeling and it all comes out in classical verse! and English is my working language. I eat with it, sleep with it, but when it comes to poetry I can’t do it. I studied with my Chinese teacher, three times a week, from the age of ten to 17. She taught me the Chinese Classics. Leem ging. Bui suu. My father, John Shea, being a scholar, he would have me repeat it all to him. He wrote in the classical style when he wrote letters. But my father wanted me to be a barrister – he was a frustrated lawyer – so he was very disappointed when I became a priest.
No there are no Chinese in my congregation. I have always been in an English parish. In fact I find it very difficult to preach or teach in Chinese. Its the technical terms! My theological studies and early church experiences have all been in English. My Cantonese experience hasn’t been in these terms. So once in Hong Kong I was asked to preach at St Paul’s in Glenealy by the vicar Go Mook Si. So I said to him “Lo lo sut sut, nay giu ngo gong see, nay jow yiu wun yun tung ngo fan yik” – If you want me to preach here you will have to find someone to translate for me He said “Aiyaah Guy deem guy nay yiu yun tung nay fan yik, nay di chung mun gum ho” – Why do you need translation! Your Cantonese is so good. And I said “Ngodi Chung Mun hai ho, my Cantonese is good ngo m hai m sik gong – It’s not that I can’t speak – daan hai ngo di Chung Mun may chung yoong gwo lay gong Gow Wui leui been di yeh – but I have never used it for teaching the scriptures – Nay giu ngo gong toi see ngo jow gow m deem -I can’t teach or say my prayers in Cantonese!” So it was arranged; Cheung Mook Si came and translated. and before we started I said in Cantonese – “Ngo m hai m sik gong – its not that I can’t speak – daan hai ngo haih gor been yung lai yung heui do haih yung Ying Mun – but over there I only use English in the church – ngo yup Sun Hok Wui yik do haih yung Ying Mun – when I was in the seminary school I only used English. Ngo Ngau Tsun dook Sut Hok yow yung Ying Mun – when I studied at Oxford University it was in English. Nay jow yiu yu su ngo – you’ll have to forgive me. Ngo m haih saa ch’un – I am not being arrogant, ngo m haih wa ch’oong – I don’t want to distance myself – daan haih leh, ngo gun boon seung jow haih mouh gum go hor nung – its just that I can’t do it!. So I then started in English and he started translating and at one point he gave the wrong translation, so I said ” wai wai wai wai, hey hey hey hey! ngo mouh gum wa douh a!! I didn’t say that! And the whole congregation burst into laughter.
That is the situation, all my life I have used English. This is why I find it so peculiar that when it comes to writing poetry it always comes in Classical Chinese. and when I recite it, my cousin Jasmine, who speaks perfectly good colloquial Cantonese, can’t understand a word I am saying!
She’s never had any classical education. m sik teng a! I remember my cousin Veronica – the artist one, told me she was doing a painting for my cousin George. So I asked, “whats the occasion?” And she said “Oh its the fortieth anniversary of his wedding” So I asked “What are you painting?” She said, “I am painting a pine forest, and there are two people wandering in it”. So that was that, you see; and I went away and had lunch. I was talking to my friend Graham Palmer and I suddenly said “Have you got pen and paper?” It was as sudden as that. An idea had come into my head and I composed a poem then and there based on the painting. And I rang Veronica and asked if she minded, and she said, “No, I think its a good idea!” and then got somebody to write it as I dictated it over the phone to her.
Seung seung kwai sow yup chow lum
Chu chu ch’ing yeep fa wong hoong gum
Ga bui see yuen ch’un siu duen
Tung haai bahk faht yow jee yum
It talks about the painting, its two figures walking in the forest, and its an autumn forest. Everywhere the green leaves have turned red and gold, which is autumn again and of passing time – aging. When we exchanged toasts, we were then complaining that the Spring evenings were too short. To be together with white hair, I now have a companion who knows my music.
I never never never once tried to pretend that I don’t know anything about it (being Eurasian) or its not part of my background or anything like that. I hate it when Eurasians pretend. I hate it when they pretend they don’t have any European blood, I hate it when they pretend they don’t have any Chinese blood. I am a Eurasian, I am born a Eurasian, and I am glad to be one, and no hang-ups about it at all! I can go to the Covent Garden and enjoy a good session of Ballet and Grand Opera and I can go to Po Hing the Cinema and sit down and chor gerk jee rub toes and tai daaih hay watch Cantonese Opera, ngun ngun gerk swinging legs. I can sit down and discuss novels and literature in English, and I can similarly discuss Chinese writing. I mean how wonderful to enjoy haam yu salt fish on the one hand and equally enjoy caviar, to eat cheese and eat dow foo bean curd at the same time! Ngo Ch’ow Haam Daan do yow sik
I also eat stinky smelly eggs!