About visiting villages of my emigrant/immigrant ancestors in Hoiping 开平 and Toisan 台山, and other sights in Guangdong Province 广东省, China.
Deciding to take the trip..
I first heard about the 2018 Overseas Chinese Genealogy Workshop tour from my parents. They’re really into genealogy (me, not so much) and have been going to various genealogical conferences and workshops for years. When they forwarded me the email about it last February, I read it but didn’t really picture myself going. It seemed to require both more money and time than I was willing to expend. I enjoy traveling well enough but China wasn’t necessarily on top of my wish list. I had already traveled to China (on a package tour in the late 80’s with my parents, my brother and my dad’s mom— we went to Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin, Xian and Guangzhou) and we had even visited one of our home villages (Sui Nam, where my dad’s dad was from). While going to the village had been a remarkable experience, i recalled also feeling that it had taken a lot of time and effort and i didn’t necessarily come away from it with any sense of connection to the place.
Once my parents announced they wanted to go, i did start to consider taking the trip— it would be more fun and meaningful with them, and i figured if nothing else i could be helpful. In subsequent discussion, my dad offered to pay my way. His generosity impressed me, as well as the sense that my folks really valued having me there with them. It started to seem plausible to me that I might go. I was kicking the thought around for a few weeks, during which time I had a conversation with a co-worker about it.
I work with a lot of people who were not born in the U.S. and had to leave their home countries because of war, religious persecution, genocide, and other phenomena limiting their opportunities to survive and thrive. They’re far away from most of their family members and don’t get back to visit them very often, if at all. When I was telling my co-worker, a guy from the Kachin state of Burma/Myanmar, about how my dad was offering to pay my way but I wasn’t sure i wanted to take the time off work to go, he looked me straight in the eye and very seriously insisted, “You need to go. You need to see where you are from. If you don’t go, I think you will regret it.”
I was pretty surprised by my co-worker’s intense response. He’s usually a goofy dude, bit of a joker, and I was like, “Wow, okay then, I’ll see if I can do it.”
When I got home that night, I logged into my employer’s online scheduler to make the vacation request. It turned out that, by the time the trip came around in November 2018, I would accrue just enough hours of paid time off to cover the entire trip. Amazing.
I didn’t have a current passport, hadn’t been to any other country besides Canada in 20 years, and i made the decision to go to China.