What Sur­vives

My great-grand­fa­ther ex­ists now only in mem­ory, un­ac­knowl­edged even by his tomb­stone

Geist - - Contents - Car­men Ti­ampo

My great-grand­fa­ther was born Chua Tiam Po in the first few years of the twentieth cen­tury to a silk farmer in the Fu­jian prov­ince of China. He was not the first son, and be­cause of this he was sent away from home to find for­tune else­where. He would never see his birth­place again, and per­haps that is why the name that he was born with was not the same one that he died with—jaime Chua Ti­ampo.

One story, which I learned only this year from one of my dad’s many cousins, says that the boy who be­came Jaime Chua Ti­ampo was sent to the Philip­pines at around the age of eight with an un­cle, and that his name was mis­recorded by an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial at the bor­der. In this story, he may not have taken on his Chris­tian name un­til many years later. Whether any­one called him Jaime as an ado­les­cent, I do not know.

The story I learned as a child was that the boy born Chua Tiam Po was sent to the Philip­pines to be the in­den­tured ser­vant of a gro­cer in Iloilo. The gro­cer did not have room for him to live, so he boarded with Span­ish monks or mis­sion­ar­ies. These men were the ones to give him his name and his ed­u­ca­tion.

Which­ever story is true—per­haps nei­ther of them—the first known record of his new name, Jaime Chua Ti­ampo, is in a note from Fa­ther Mathias Boo­nen on the oc­ca­sion of Jaime’s bap­tism, Fe­bru­ary 24, 1922.

From pho­to­graphs I can see how much Jaime loved chil­dren; how de­spite re­strained pho­tos with busi­ness part­ners, he was a bit of a goof with fam­ily, cy­cling around a drive­way in a full suit, chased by his grand­chil­dren. I never met him; his death pre­ceded my birth by more than a decade. Still

I meet him some­times in un­ex­pected places: the shape and shade of my brother’s eyes; the short knife-edge of my great-aunt’s nose; my fa­ther as he lets my young cousins bring him to his knees.

My great-grand­fa­ther died in Canada in 1980, an ocean away from where he was born. Po, the boy who left China, ex­ists now only in mem­ory, un­ac­knowl­edged even by his tomb­stone, which calls him Jaime and is marked with a birth­date that may not be cor­rect. Of his seven chil­dren, twenty-two grand­chil­dren and thirty great-grand­chil­dren, four bear his new first name or some form of it; twen­ty­nine bear his new last name; thir­teen bear his old sur­name.

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