Personal tales

      Born in a rural village in southern China, Mei-Mei and her family immigrated to Chicago when she was 7. Like so many courageous pilgrims, her parents left all that they knew in order to build a better life. Mei-Mei often says, "I am the American dream come true."

The older tales were columns originally published by The News-Press, based in Fort Myers, FL, where Mei-Mei was the President and Publisher from 2010-2015.

With appreciation to The News-Press.
Generations Mak Fung Ho, Lee Fung Cheung (Tommy's mom), Soo circa 1957

Three generations: my mom, grandmom and great-grandmother.

Generations MM three months

Three generations with me

Grandma 1955

Mom as young adult

Grandpa around 1950

Dad as teenager

Chans Yuen as hunk circa 58

Dad as handsome hunk

Chans 1964 immigration photo

Immigration photo 1964

Grandma and MM in HK circa 1966

With mom as seamstress in Hong Kong New Territories

MM fam coming to america Feb. 27 1967

Coming to America on Feb. 27, 1967, with grandmother and uncle, who stayed behind.

Xmas early years

Among the first Christmases in Chicago

Grandpa at work showing off

Dad showing off as mechanical engineer

Grandpa at work A

Dad became a specialist in nuclear power plants as a mechanical engineer (foreground left)

Grandma at sewing station

Mom worked as seamstress sewing pockets at Hart Schaffner Marx

Chans first car

First car: Pontiac Le Mans, which Dad left parked for weeks because he was afraid to drive it.

grandma welcomes her mom Mak Fun Ho to america

Mom welcomes Grandma to America in 1970

MM fam grandma sees grandpa for first time in decades_edited

Grandma Mak Fung Ho arrives in America, seeing her husband for the first time in 30 years in 1970

Chans

Chan family with Aunt Wai Yok middle top who sponsored us to America; on Chicago's Lake Michigan

Grandma may 1977 graduates english class

Mom graduates from English class 1977

Family at MM U of I graduation 1981

Mei-Mei becomes first in the family to graduate college at University of Illinois in 1981

Family at Chirk wedding 7.82

Mei-Mei marries Randy Kirk July 25, 1982, to the dismay of Mom (he's Caucasian, divorced, with a kid). From left to right, Dad, mom's dad, me and Randy, mom's mom, mom.

Generations 8.87

Three generations welcomes the fourth as Regan Kirk is born July 26, 1987. Mom now endorses the marriage.

Generations Regan with grandma and greatgrandma around 1991

Three generations

Grandpa and Regan circa 1991 (2)

Regan with her grandpa

Gramps in Bellevue sunroom 2001

Mom and Dad thrived in their Bellevue, WA home with its lavish vegetable and flower gardens

Grandma best gardens 2002

Mom and Dad thrived in their Bellevue, WA home with its lavish vegetable and flower gardens

Grandpa in green beans

Mom and Dad thrived in their Bellevue, WA home with its lavish vegetable and flower gardens

Gramps with Seattle skyline 11.02

Mom and Dad in Seattle 2002

Gramps in China b

Dad visits China and his mom and brother

Gramps in China Q

Dad checks out the rice processing machine he funded for his relatives in China

Gramps with Regan surprise grad 2003

Regan with parents and grandparents at surprise party in 2003

Yale family

Celebrating Regan's acceptance into Yale Law School

Regan Yale Law grad family 5.23.11

Regan graduates from Yale Law School May 2011.

Apex MM and mom 9.13

Looking good 2013

Grandpa turns 80 4.12.13

Dad turned 80 April 12, 2013. He passed away Nov. 17, 2014.

Retracing family roots in Hong Kong and southern China

In June of 2016, my daughter and I traveled to Hong Kong and China for a month-long adventure. (See our top highlights.)

The first eight days were an homage to my roots. I was born in Canton, now called Guangzhou, in 1959. When I was two, my mother and I smuggled out of Macau to Hong Kong in a false-bottom boat to join my father. I was 7 when we immigrated to Chicago in 1967, 50 years ago as I write this!

I had been back to Hong Kong once, on assignment with USA Today. But I had never been back to China. My mother declined to go, so my daughter and I were on a mission to flesh out my heritage, armed with fragments of addresses and descriptions in Chinese.

 

What a fascinating journey of discovery! 

 

 

In Hong Kong, we went to:

  • Two places I had lived--one was still intact, and one was a high rise that, ironically, featured the "English Excel School of English" on the first floor.

  • The sprawling campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, formerly the HK Technical College, where Dad got his mechanical engineering certificate after attending classes at night for three years while working and living in a laundry.

  • Nam Hang,  the village in New Territories where we moved because I was sickly in the city and of which I have the clearest memories, including of my dog, Whitey.  

In Guangzhou, a glistening metropolis, we found:

  • The hospital where I was born, now a medical center of a large complex

  • The house we had lived in, now a bustling retail area

In rural Taishan, we were guided by cousins we met for the first time, and visited:

  • The village where my father grew up

  • The village where my grandmother grew up, as well as my Uncle Fong, who later married my aunt and sponsored us to America

  • The former school where my husband and I had funded scholarships to help buy supplies 

  • The village and house where my mother grew up, built by my great-grandfather in 1935, and now occupied by mom's first cousin and his family

Walking on the roof of mom's house, eating peanuts plucked from the field in front of their village, admiring the community center that we had contributed to, listening to my daughter sing in the living room where my mother grew up--it was all surreal, and vividly real. 

The most memorable heritage experience was going to “Bai San” or "honor the mountain." The graveside rituals to pay respects to our ancestors involves providing them with a feast, wealth and good fortune.

 

I had done this many times in America, carrying a few plastic bags of flowers and snacks. But mom wanted to make sure we did it right back in her homeland.

So, as we trudged through the wild hillside to the grave of my great-grandparents and my mom's older brother, who died as a youth, we were carrying a giant whole roasted pig, geese, chicken, wine, eggs, cakes, paper pictures symbolizing money and cars, and firecrackers.

In the oppressive heat, we kowtowed, poured wine, burned incense, ate some of the food, then lit the firecrackers. In yet another surreal moment, my uncle Ah Chiu used his cell phone to call my uncle in New York so he could be part of the ritual.

Then we packed everything up, and went to two other locations! One was my great-grand uncle's grave; the other my grand aunt's grave, which had not yet been transformed into a cement marker.

Afterward, the pig was carved up and enjoyed as a snack and as part of the feast we hosted for the village on our last day there. 

Come back soon, they said. You need to spend more time here. This is your home country.

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© 2015 by Mei-Mei Chan Kirk