I was on a mission.
The land of the Ho family’s ancestral home was being developed by the Chinese government. The village no longer exists. Only a few old structures remain. An enormous shiny new university campus already teeming with young students sits in its place.
The government compensated landowners allocating an equal sized lot somewhere else. All the other families received their share. Except us. The matter dragged on for years. We don’t live in China, so my mom relied on a family member who represented us over there. He could not explain why our case was stuck in the system.
My mother was unhappy. It was important to settle the issue, to honor my father’s name and legacy. I decided to do something about it. I felt it was my duty.
It was a difficult decision since I had to request a sabbatical. But, it had to be done. And off we went to China. My mother, my youngest brother, and I.
After a grand tour of government offices, we learned that our case was in standby. The legal process will continue only when we submit a signed letter from the entire family stating our instructions on how the land should be distributed.
That complicated matters a bit. I have an older sister from my father’s first marriage. But, she had cut ties with the family. The search for her took us through a couple of cities, many calls to family and friends, and a lot of leads that led to dead-ends.
At one point, someone who knew someone got her mother’s neighbor’s phone number. Suddenly, the phone was thrown on my lap. Literally. My face said it all. “Why me?” My mom and a distant cousin replied, “It has to be you. No one else here can do it.” I took a deep breath and prepared myself to speak in a language I haven’t used since my grandmother’s death over 20 years ago. Dead-end again.
My sister’s story is not for me to tell. Our family’s story is one of so many Chinese people during that time in history. Separated families that resulted from WWII, the Revolution, and all that followed.
I was six when I first met her. She came to live with us for a short period of time. She was a grown woman by then. I was slightly scared of her. She was full of rage though she didn’t seem to mind me as much as the others. Considering the age difference, we got along ok.
When she left, and as I was growing up, my parents never stopped reminding me that I have a sister. That we have the same blood. That no matter what, I have to seek her out. That if I ever go to China, I must find her. Even though she didn’t live with us, she was very present in my mind.
Until my father’s death, I never questioned that responsibility. It was painful to see him suffer. Cancer was killing him. However, he was at peace with everything, except the relationship with his daughter. He needed to say good-bye. I watched as his hope faded a little every day. I felt impotent. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t convince her. I couldn’t take her place and make things better. I became angry. Very angry. I decided I didn’t have a sister.
Suddenly, that task entrusted upon me for years resurfaced. We eventually found her. An auntie took me to her shop. It took her a moment to recognize me.
It turned out well though. She invited us in. The lady who took me there discretely left us alone. We did some catching up. As I was sitting there, I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. All of a sudden, I understood what she must have gone through. I tried telling her that our father loved her very much. She clammed up on the subject but was content to talk about other things.
Seeing that she was receptive, I jumped at the chance and told her that our youngest brother was close by and asked whether she wanted to meet him. Before she could say no, I was already on the phone.
We spent the afternoon together. She introduced us to her husband and her two children. I was happy to see that things have turned out well for her. She has a good life, a loving husband, children, grandchildren, a successful business.
I went on a mission and ended completing a different one. Or maybe, that was the one all along. I set out to close a chapter for the family, thinking it was a matter of the physical world. It turned out that it was our souls that needed resolution.
Who knows whether we will get our plot of land. It doesn’t matter. What needed to be done was something else.
I delivered the message. What she does with that information is up to her. I introduced her to her youngest brother. He gave her a big hug.
I kept my promise. Heck, I even over-delivered.