The Journey Back Home
The trip to Moiyan was only really possible once I had answered a few questions:
- Where in China is Moiyan?!
- How do I get to Moiyan?
- Can I find relatives in Moiyan?
- How will I communicate with my relatives?
- How will I get about in Moiyan?
1. Where in China is Moiyan?!Throughout my childhood, the name 'Moiyan' had popped up from time to time, but I had no real concept of where it was located. It was an almost mythical-sounding place; I sometimes wasn't sure if it was real!
When I was a teenager, I started getting interested in Moiyan. I remember asking Ah Yee No. 3 whether she knew where it was. A few weeks later, she sent me a photocopy of a map showing the location of 'Meizhou':
It was quite a wonderful
thing, to finally be able to put 'Moiyan' in some geographical context. I
had not really been able to find out any information at all up til that point. Of course,
this was probably around 1999, when our home computer accessed the
world wide web via dial-up and there were only 73 pages on the internet
2. How do I get to Moiyan?
Both Google and Kitty the travel agent helped me find a route to Moiyan. Flights to Hong Kong were simple enough. Then the question was - plane, train or coach? I opted for crossing the border into Shenzhen and taking the train from there. The train on the East Rail Line from downtown Hong Kong to the border crossing at Lo Wu was also straightforward, thanks to the well-organised Mass Transit Railway.
On passing through immigration, I was now in the town of Shenzhen. Thank goodness, I was able to buy a train ticket for the next day, from Shenzhen to Meizhou. At this point, my Mandarin skills were only basic and I felt rather safer asking for my ticket via a crumpled scribble passed over to the salesperson!
I got sold a ticket that looked about right and, more importantly, was accepted for boarding the train I wanted the next day!
Thanks are due here to the site that helped me find out which train I needed: http://www.chinatrainguide.com/ which, despite not being official, was surprisingly accurate.
3. Can I find relatives in Moiyan?
I knew that my mum had real first cousins in Moiyan, the children of an aunt who had been left in China as a baby. Many Hakka-Mauritian families will have a similar story. A few of my relatives had even visited them in Moiyan, including my Ah Kiew No. 3 and his wife from Montreal, who dug out an email address for me. This, apparently, was the email address of a cousin's child who could understand some English, so I duly wrote them an email in both Chinese and English, hoping that they would understand.
The girl who replied seemed a little confused. She didn't have any relatives overseas and certainly had no idea who I was! Luckily I had a photo of my Ah Kiew from his visit to Moiyan and after I sent it to her she realised that I was not related to her, but in fact related to her colleague! She had only given her email address to help out because she understood English.
Having established communication with my second cousin, she invited me to stay in her home during my time in Moiyan, demonstrating the 热情 rèqíng, the warmth, that I found very characteristic of her family. During my stay there she and her mother also gave me invaluable help by phoning around, trying to track down my father's side!
4. How will I communicate with my relatives?
I had always imagined that I would visit Moiyan with my parents and trail along behind them, waiting for them to tell me stuff in English. But, having acquired a very basic level of Mandarin during lessons in Beijing and Chengde in 2011 (more on that later), I was now in a position to make the trip alone (my family would join me at a later date).
Although only a few of the older family members spoke Mandarin, it was still nice to be able to share the odd word here and there. Conversing with the younger generation was much easier as they had all learned Mandarin at school and a few were keen to practise their English too!
5. How will I get about in Moiyan?
Being lucky enough to stay with relatives, this was not too much of an issue. Various members of the family had cars or mopeds. I also used the buses with my aunt but would not have attempted them alone as I had no idea where they were going or how to really ask for help if I got lost!.
If you want to catch a taxi be sure to have your destination written down in Chinese, unless you know how to say it in Hakka.
Walking around town was the best mode of transport in my view, as you can stop on a whim to look at anything that interests you. I had a good map that I bought from the Xinhua bookstore and it served me very well.