Visiting my Father’s home village in Chung Saan

By Rev. Norman Fong

November 19, 2018

norman fong

I loved going to China to visit my dad’s home village in Chung Saan called “Ho Chung”. In fact, I went with over 40 others, mostly from Chinatown San Francisco to see our “home” villages in China. Five of us were from Chinatown CDC and we had one of the best times in our lives. We went with the “ROOTS” program (Friends of Roots) that help families try to reunite with their past and ancestry. There were so many of us, we had to split into two groups and our group visited 20 villages. Most of us had never been to our home villages ever before as we were raised in Chinatown. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was the “best” trip in my life because I could learn about my dad’s culture and history and see family reunions that brought tears to my eyes. I also enjoyed hanging out with the many villagers whether it was singing Karaoke or playing basketball with the kids. Some of our group even played Mah Jong with the villagers we met. In the next few weeks, I will share many stories of visiting different villages but let me start with my dad’s home village.

chinatown cdc, winston lee, norman fong, gordon chin, phil chin, jane chin
From left to right: Winston Lee, Board Member; Rev. Norman Fong, Executive Director; Phil Chin, Board Chair; Gordon Chin, Founding Executive Director; and Jane Chin, Board Member

My dad’s village is Ho Chung located in Chung Saan. Unlike other villages that were far away from the city and new developments, Ho Chung was near the city. Luckily, it is a village where a lot of the old homes were still there – like my dad’s. I first met the Ho Chung village leader – of course, a Mr. Fong (Fong Gwai Meen) who was 87 years old who welcomed all of us. He and I got along just fine as he reminded me so much of my dad. Really! He started off with showing us his muscle and showing off his martial arts skill, just like my dad always did with me and my friends when I was younger.

ho chung gate
Ho Chung Gate

kung fu stance
Mr. Fong, Ho Chung village leader, and I doing a Kung Fu stance

He showed us where my dad’s home was and explained how my family donated the house to help the Ho Chung Village forever. It was my dad’s older brother who owned the house and the family decided to let the village rent out our family house where all the money from the rent supports the Ho Chung Senior Center. Isn’t that cool? I was so happy to know that our family did the right thing and gave up our home to help benefit the community and others’ who need housing. I thought immediately about the housing work we do in Chinatown to help our seniors.

norman fong dads home
Standing in front of my dad's home

basketball ho chung
Playing basketball

I learned that there are many overseas Chinese in America and other parts of the world “Hua Que” whose families still own homes in their ancestral villages. Many of them are just sitting there vacant for decades… When one of the fellow travelers learned about what my family did, he said he would talk to his family to try to do the same.

Mr. Fong showed us the senior center that my family’s support and also the New Center being built in Ho Chung that he asked all the Fongs around the world to contribute too. They only need about $70,000 to complete this huge new center. I donated some money but will ask other relatives to contribute as well.

Mr. Fong also took us to see the Fong Shrine where there were pictures of famous Fongs that grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I was so happy to see Chief Heather Fong’s picture there in Ho Chung too. I guess we are both related! Wow! Mr. Fong said he would hang a picture of me as well – we’ll see. The trip meant so much to all of us who went to “heurng ha”… and I wish I had gone sooner before my father passed away. I promised my dad that I would visit his village before I passed away and I’m so glad I did. As a child born here in San Francisco, I didn’t know how much my dad sacrificed to give us a better life. China was very poor when he left and for him to come as a teenager to start life in America – he sacrificed so much.

Ironically, the Ho Chung leader that showed us around the village told me he had lived in San Francisco too for 2 years. He lived by the Cow Palace and got so lonely not being able to socialize with anyone here – so he went back to Ho Chung to live! We need to do more for the seniors both in China and Chinatown – they deserve it! I am so proud of history and roots in China. I wish more people would have the chance to go back to their ancestral villages. Although I have never been back before, I felt so welcome. There are 30 million Chinese “Hua Que” who live in over 160 Countries around the world. They worked so hard to build the railroads, construction and agricultural work. We need to appreciate their sufferings and contributions to the world. Next week, I’ll write about Toisan villages.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on November 18, 2018

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