“Villagers Welcome a Humble Chinatown Guy with 200,000 Firecrackers!”

By Rev. Norman Fong

December 3, 2018

norman fong

As mentioned in my last 2 columns, I got to go with 40+ others who grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown or Los Angeles Chinatown… to visit our ancestral villages. We all learned so much… but when we got to Winston Lee’s village, I couldn't believe what happened. The villagers greeted Winston Lee with flags all along the pathway and then lit 200,000 firecrackers from the gateway all the way down the road to the village's community center. It was amazing. So I interviewed Winston to explain why his family was so special!

firecrackers to village gate
Firecrackers to Village Gate

Norman: Now I know you Winston Lee as an old friend and a very humble Board Member of Chinatown CDC. I never knew you were a big shot in China! Then he explained to me:

Winston: My paternal grandfather, Li Shi Nan (李是男)and ancestors came from Toishan Nam An Village (台山南安村. Li Shi Nam was part of Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s KMT team based in San Francisco that raised funds in the revolutionary efforts against the Qing Dynasty. Li Shi Nan is second from the right in the first row of the enclosed photo taken with Dr. Sun in San Francisco in July 1911.

winston lee grandpa and sun yat sen roots plus
Winston's grandfather pictured with Sun Yat Sen

Norman: “So your grandfather played a Big role in helping Sun Yat Sen personally?”

Winston: Li Shi Nan helped in the KMT’s fundraising efforts as the Treasurer of the agency which issued the war bonds that he signed as 李公俠. See the included photo of bonds with Li’s signature on the left and Dr. Sun’s signature on the right. Though Li Shi Nan passed away in 1937, a memorial was erected in his honor in Guangzhou City in 1949 - see included photo.

winston grandfather war bonds li shi nan
Grandfather's signature on money

memorial in guangzhou
Memorial in Guangzhou

Norman: You were treated like royalty when we got to the village. I’ve never seen anything like this. When did you first go to Nam An Village?

Winston: As Li Shi Nan’s grandson, I, along with my wife, younger sister and two cousins were enthusiastically greeted by 200 villagers in our initial visit to the village in May 2017 with the Friends of Roots Plus. My recent visit to the village in November 2018, also with the Roots Plus program, was to pay my respects to my ancestors and to remind myself of our family’s roots in China.

winston lee at gate
Winston greeted at the gate.

winston lee with villagers
Winston with villagers

winston lee roots plus
Winston in front of grandfather's house

Norman: What was the most impressive thing you appreciate most about visiting your Grandpa’s Home village and the Roots Trip in general?

Winston: The villagers were so welcoming. Not just my village but the villages we all visited really were so glad to see us “Hua Que”. That sense of “Welcoming” was so apparent in my village with the flags & firecrackers, but all over Toishan & even Guangdung it felt so good to feel welcome. I do worry about the people in the villages as they apprear to be destined to live their lives in what I see as harsh conditions, some still with no running water, bathrooms, and many conveniences that we take for granted.

Norman: Good point. I noticed that most of the villages we visited had a lot of Seniors and little kids & babies as their working parents worked in the big cities. It’s hard to predict the future. Working in Chinatown, I remember in the early 1990’s a reporter from the Far East Economic Review ago saying to me: “Why waste your time on an old Chinatown that’s going to die anyway? There’s Ranch 99, newer Chinatowns in the Richmond & Sunset…” And I said: “You’re wrong. San Francisco Chinatown is here to stay forever as long as people can afford to live here and there’s good restaurants, shops, stores , & bilingual medical services… and as long as the next generation helps us to keep Chinatown going”. I hope there are people who care about those old villages in China…

(Note: Winston’s Chinese name is 李福 靈 (simplified is 李褔灵).

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on December 2, 2018

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