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Finding Our Chinese Kin
By Elson T. Elizaga

Tan Tiam Po, our grandfather from Fujian, ChinaSometime in the 1930s, a married man from Quanzhou, Fujian province migrated to the Philippines. He met a teacher from Dulag, Leyte named Jacinta Tupa Congzon, who became his second wife. They bore four children; Allen, Henry, Gonzalo and my mother Belen. The couple lived in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, and managed a trading business.

After some time, Tan Tiam Po returned to China to visit his original family and bring some goods. There he gave a photo of himself. Weeks later, his wife became pregnant. But he came back to the Philippines before she could deliver the child.

Eight years later, on Feb. 24, 1949, he left for Quanzhou again but his plane crashed. His body was never found.


The plane that carried my grandfather Tan Tiam Po
The crashed plane that carried my grandfather. Photo provided by my niece Pearl Chin Yiping.


In 2007, my brother-in-law Greg Marten Lao, who became interested in our continuous search for our relatives in China, met Zhuang Tao of Shandong Province. Zhuang was a supervisor of teachers from China in Cagayan de Oro. He was accommodated by Oro Christian Grace School.

Chen Yang Sheng saw a photo of Tan Tiam Po on CCTV4
  Chen Guo Liang saw a portrait of Tan Tiam Po on CCTV4.
Chen Yang Sheng   Chen Guo Liang

Zhuang and Greg, whose hometown is Xiamen City, both speak Mandarin. During one of their conversations, Greg told Zhuang about the search. Luckily, Zhuang said his sister-in-law was the chief editor of a program about Chinese migrants in Chinese Central Television Channel 4 (CCTV4). Greg gave her a photo of my grandfather, which was then broadcast twice only for one day in January 2007. CCTV is a large network with 16 channels, and my grandfather’s photo could have been easily missed. But fortunately, it was seen by two men: Chen Yang Sheng, 68 and Chen Guo Liang, 69. They were neighbors of our relatives and their past time was watching television.

The image was familiar to them because they had seen the same enlarged framed photo hung on the wall of the house of my grandfather.

Jacinta Tupa Congzon Tan, wife of Tan Tiam Po in the Philippines; maternal grandmother of the author.

Jacinta Tupa Congzon Tan

A few months later, my mother and other family members went to Quanzhou -- an emotional meeting. There, my mother saw his half-brother -- who, when he was still eight years old, had waited to see his father for the first time but failed.

In February 2008, our relatives returned the gesture by coming to Cagayan de Oro. They also went to Balingasag to see our ancestral house -- owned by the Goking family and now rented by someone else.

If it were not for the pictures that we had kept all these years, we would probably have never met any of our distant relatives. We have three pictures of our grandfather, one of which is a painting. The photo that was the same as that in China was selected for broadcast.

A mystery: My grandfather spoke English, unlike other Chinese immigrants of his time. He was an informal ambassador and translator. His children and grandchildren in China, however, do not speak English at all -- except for one, but his vocabulary is quite limited.

I suspected that he might have studied the language in school, possibly in Xiamen. When Greg and my sister Alma went to China again in April this year, they were told that Tan Tiam Po learned the language not from an institution but from his father, who used to manage a post office. Where his father got the skill is a more intriguing question. End

Family gatheringOn February 15, 2008, eight members of our relatives in China came to Cagayan de Oro on a one-week visit. We held a party at the house of my parents. Leftmost in white is Greg Marten Lao.

House rented by Tan Tiam Po and Jacinta Congzon in Balingasag, Misamis OrientalLater our relatives went to Balingasag, to see the house where my maternal grandparents used to live. The house is being rented by another family.

See more photos.

See CCTV website. | An older, shorter version of this article was reprinted in tsinoy.com, now defunct. | Updated June 10, 2008. Updated January 21, 2011. Errors corrected January 28, 2016 . Updated October 18, 2018.

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