The Singing Elder 老伯的歌聲


Leaves & Petals

I had a dating partner that once told me I was a good listener. I do not disagree, but I’m not that of a good talker. Perhaps talking with our mouth is just one way to get our messages across, and I believe we were really talking with our eyes. Not sure if that gives me an edge to observe and explore.

I was exploring Tsuen Wan while doing my photography after work. Tsuen Wan was one of the oldest new towns that government decided to develop in order to solve the over crowded/rapid population growth in Hong Kong. It was nothing but just farming villages. 50+ years later, here we are a town that has nothing but concrete. A lot of people’s life stories, history, remains disappeared.

I always question how does family history pass on to the next generation, how can we learn about our grandpa/grandgrandpa/grandgrandgrandpa? What were they like? How they have lived? Either somebody in the family there’s a good story teller or a historian, or the past of our ancestors would really stay in the past forever.

Kwan Mun Hau Village 關門口村

From across a highway in far distance, I saw a group of cluttered houses behind an arch-like gate, it’s very common in the ancient Chinese villages. I bet there should be some cool material. Few minutes later I was there at the gate, wondered what’s up there up the hill. Stairs after stairs, I found what seemed to be an ancestral hall which is like a monument of a village. It’s been renewed/renovated, many of the structure has been restored. Just that the hall was closed. I thought it was a museum that opens but I did not see a sign with opening hours. It must be a private place that opens for the villagers.

Ancestral Hall   Lantern

A couple snaps and I was about to leave. Just when I was about to go in a minute, an old man came out from nowhere.

He asked “Are you photographing the trees from behind?”
I answered “No, I’m photographing this hall. I like historic remains in Hong Kong”. He then opened the doors and allowed me in.

So, what seemed to be an ordinary day had become an extraordinary one. 🙂

Ancestral Hall

Inside the hall, it’s clean and free of the jot sticks smoke. There weren’t much decorative details, with just the regular ancestral tablets, and not even the statues but one – a guardian dog. The old man introduced himself – Mr. Chan. He said this ancestral hall is over 200 years old. The family was originally from Fujian, China (福建), a Hakka family (客家). He’s in his early 80s. In fact, he walks like a 40 year old. Don’t even think of a walking stick!

Photo memories

Mr. Chan told me some of his recent life, how he rescued a couple folks near the village. He then brought out a recent photo album of his. He likes travel, volunteer for the Tin Hau Festival and Lion (Unicorn) dance. He then started singing Hong Kong Classic songs.

The Singing Elder

There are songs from the 70s to 80s that many of our younger generations have heard of but not ever try singing. Mainly because they were not sung by the idols of our times. I think that’s what magically about music. They really won’t go away even the singers themselves were passed away. I think the songs from that era also represented the growth of a society. The melodies are so unforgettable, lyrics are meaningful like poems, and were even written from the stories of many Hong Kong people. The classic music represented the earlier generations.

Door god

Mr. Chan loves singing. He told me to have a seat right outside of the hall and we had chat. He kept singing choruses of songs. I became his listener. Listening was all I do.

Elder's Tree


Finally he told me, nothing is more important that the harmony with friends and family, and a healthy body. That’s the way of life. I made my way out of the village and thought about the singing elder Mr. Chan. . .

9 thoughts on “The Singing Elder 老伯的歌聲

  1. Amazing how people will open up and tell the stories of their life – but most of the time no-one asks! Think you must be a good listener – fine gift to have. Enjoyed reading – used to live in HK so brings back memories 🙂

    1. It was definitely a bonus to my photography experience. Normally people here are just too busy or perhaps people always think everyone is too busy and forgetting the meaning of life. I think life stories from the older generation can tell a lot about the things happen before I was even born. The miserable urban development can take away everyone’s home, they can’t take away our pasts, our memories. Traveling to Macau and Southern China had helped me understand that. 🙂

      1. It reminds me of a book of short stories i read, by two Chinese students i think. They were travelling around China, interviewing older people about their lives – one woman used to be a bandit, a man who used to do calculations, another who worked in a bank in the old days. Fascinating. Everyone has strange stories to tell.

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