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