Ancestors and holiday thoughts

There’s a Black Friday sale here for Ancestry/DNA testing, which is weird. For one, Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Australia.*

I suppose clever people in various Marketing Departments have done the research to show these sales boost revenue around this time, even in countries Down Under. But to me it makes about as much sense as, say, a doctor offering buy-one-get-one-free blood tests during the week of Valentine’s Day.

A friend warned me to think about the privacy concerns around DNA testing, which I did consider.

My reluctance to share information is probably better described as pettiness than true cautiousness. For example, since I got a new phone, I have refused to re-download WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram just to have the childish and inconsequential delight in the fact that Facebook (whose track record re: ethics make me cross) will never know 100% what happened to me after the old device started failing.

But I still use a smartphone, and Google, probably eighty times per day, and so the inconsistency would border on hypocrisy if I said it was anything about data protection. Also, the idea of sending a company my own DNA sample doesn’t faze me… much.

No, what really put me off is apparently the tests aren’t super helpful if you’re not of European descent.

One reviewer of his genealogy test gave his experience 1 out of 5 stars. He’s Korean, he said, and his pie chart of his ancestry came back as one single-coloured circle telling him he was 100% Asian. Wow.


Sounds like getting an graph that looks like a flag of Japan when you ask for your ancestry is $80 well spent.

And so, I will fall on the good old-fashioned method of just beleaguering my family across the globe with questions.

Dad says that the cousins can only check for the names of Great-Great-Grandpa and Great-Great-Grandma on the Eve of Chinese New Year. I.e. Around February.

I have literally never heard of such a custom. I wondered if there was a cultural significance/superstition, such as only disturbing the ancestors during festival-time, when everyone is thinking about cultivating kinship values, filial piety etc. Or maybe it’s so damn noisy everywhere with people that all the spirits can’t sleep anyway.

Seriously, Dragon Dances are LOUD

But Dad said he didn’t know, so maybe he just didn’t want to keep pestering his cousins, courtesy of his nosy millennial child.

*I still wish everyone a happy weekend with lots of food, contentment and reasons for gratitude!

Images from


Earth beneath the family tree

According to the New York Public library there are 20 reasons why people should write their family histories.

I’ve literally never probed about my own ancestry. I did always think I should probably get round to it before everyone dies and then the story is lost. This week I finally got to asking about it. Here’s a tiny bit of that history:

Once upon a time, when the Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was around, young men traveled across the sea to make their fortunes.

My Great-Great Grandpa at the time was 17 when he made his trip. He traveled, without family, from Fujian Province in China from a city called Nan’an, to an island with the Portuguese name Formosa.

Source: Getty images

I would assume it was by boat, and that he didn’t swim, because:

a) it was before 1895

b) the trip was about 161km/100miles

c) Great-great-Grandpa carried with him a Taoist statue at the time, no doubt to bring him blessings. The statue was of Tudigong (土地公 “Lord of the Soil and the Ground”).

It’s not explicitly said on Wikipedia but the association of Tudigong is with wealth – I mean, the earth is the means by which farmers and land barons get rich, so it makes sense.

Great-great-Grandpa most likely didn’t bring a girlfriend with him. Women weren’t allowed to travel across the sea on such expeditions at the time, so the travellers went out with the local girls instead. My family thinks he likely got married this way, to an Indigenous lady. It sounded like he did find his fortune – I wish I knew more about her.

He had at least one son, Great-Grandpa, who grew up and became something called a Dàishū.

It’s funny because a Dàishǔ (note the different inflection) translates to “Kangaroo”.


There’s no proper word in English for the actual job title and the translation apps I’ve tried have been a little bit off.

(By the way, despite what the above image looks like, if you ever need to translate anything from another language, is always far more accurate than Google Translate. Would gladly shout this from a rooftop.)

I am sure that for his career, Great-Grandpa did not choose to become a book or a professional marsupial. The closest description I could get is a sort-of-lawyer who deals with documents and transfer of property ownership. The level of responsibility is greater than that of a bookkeeper, less than a magistrate. Anyway, he became a community leader, and so he did sufficiently well for himself and the fam.

I guess Tudigong enjoyed the boat trip across the strait and smiled on father and son.

That island, by the way, is present-day Taiwan, where Great-great-Grandpa’s Tudigong is still housed. He’s looked after by a distant cousin.


(… Before anyone thinks we became Crazy Rich Asians – I’m a child of immigrant parents, and shouldered my own rent and student loans.)

Thanks for reading this personal stuff! Depending how it goes, I’ll leave this blog post up.

Other interesting finds:

The Indigenous people of Taiwan share similar DNA to the Māori people of New Zealand, tracing back 60,000 years. After NZ and Taiwan discovered they are sisters from similar misters they now want to be BFFs, which is cool.

When Han Chinese people emigrated to Taiwan, the Indigenous people were assimilated and sinicized (a new word I learnt, which means to become like-Chinese) so much so that most people have lost this very specific aspect of language and cultural identity. Sad times.

At least, with growing awareness and sensitivity, there are concerted efforts to revive the culture in schools.

What’s awesome is that on Spotify, you can find Indigenous Taiwanese songs and voices – thank the miracles of the internet. Some of them are very pretty.

Here’s one by artist Ilid Kaolo.

And another by the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe:

And one by Sangpuy. The beginning reminds me a little bit of the music from the film ‘Spirited Away’.