The Root to Discovery

When I first heard Dad’s plans to go back to his hometown in Hainan Island in 2010 during Qing Ming (tomb sweeping festival), I asked to tag along without hesitation. “Time to connect with my roots!” came to my mind and I thought it would be a good learning opportunity for Matthew as well to experience village life.

The time finally came to make the journey to Hainan province. On 2 April 2010, Matthew and I set off with my parents to visit Dad’s birthplace.

Safety first: Matthew read the flight information guide from cover to cover, asking me to explain every symbol and picture to him. This was then followed by 10 minutes of him repeating sentences like  “MaMa, where is the accident?”. I almost died of embarrassment, for fear of others hearing such inauspicious things before the plane even took off. I almost died again, being stuck in mid air for 3 hours with a restless kid, who demanded attention and entertainment every other second.

After touching down in Haikou, we spent 1 and a half hours travelling on the roads at 110km/hr, before reaching the village where Dad was born, and spent the first 9 years of his life in before coming to Singapore.

The Food:

Although we spent the entire trip closeted in the village because everyone was busy with preparations for Qing Ming, and didn’t eat out save for dinner when we first arrived, the food was one of the best enjoyments for the trip. Lunch and dinner always consisted of several dishes, and the vegetable dishes were especially tasty. Best of all, all dishes were non-spicy.

Dinner at a famous restaurant on our way to the village. My impressions of the place: smoky with oil-slicked floors. But they served good tasty food, so no complaints.

Lunch at a relative’s house. I love the long beans and soup especially. The poultry on the other hand, took some getting used to. The free-ranging animals had tougher meat than the succulent and tender ones we’re accustomed to in Singapore.

Seafood as part of lunch, after a trip to the sea port for fresh prawns and flower crabs. The Hainanese stewed pork with black fungus (right-most dish) was just heavenly.

The Banquet. Because it was our first visit (Mum, Matthew and I) to the village, Dad got relatives to throw a banquet for the entire village. About 100 people turned up to feast on the specially prepared food.

Area 1 of the feasting, with another table out of view. There were another 5 tables in the other house’s courtyard.

Farewell lunch, before Mum, Matthew and I journey back to Singapore after spending 6 days in the village.

Breakfasts were much simpler compared to lunch and dinner. Dad missed the foods he had as a child, so he had these prepared for us. These potato-yams hybrids had the crumbly-strandly-powdery texture of yams but were sweeter than yams. They are known as “Diaam Du” (translated as sweet potatoes/yams) in the Hainanese dialect. At least that was how it sounded to me, the Hainanese who could neither understand nor speak the dialect.

“Bua” – Glutinous rice cakes coated with grated coconut.


The 6 days we were over at the village coincided with Qing Ming. Everyone was busy preparing to pay respects to the ancestors. While Mum and I had limited things to do, Matthew enjoyed the outdoors. Other than the fever and mild diarrhoea he developed, he was overall full of energy.

The one and only shopping we did;  happened on the first night on-route to the village. Their big-scale supermarket, which disallowed shoppers to bring any bags into the place. We had to deposit our bags in their lockers, which were fully automatic. With a press of the “Store” button, a locker door will open. After you’ve placed your belongings and shut the door, a ticket with a barcode will be issued from the machine. To retrieve belongings, press the “Retrieve” button and scan the barcode. The locker door that belongs to you will automatically pop open.


Matthew had no lack of sticks to play with. Alone, 


 with his 4yo uncle,

or with his young grand uncle. 

Feeding and chasing after live chickens,

watching the culling of poultry from a safe distance,

and curious during the chopping of cooked chicken complete with all the innards.

Paying respects to his ancestors.

Visiting the village temple.

Watching firecrackers go off everyday because of Qing Ming.

Because Matthew is the youngest relative to visit the village from overseas, everyone doted on him. These extra fireworks were bought specially for him the next day after the first batch was set off the night before.

Matthew’s first attempt on the hammock. As with his personality, safety first!

Last day at the village. Are we really going back to Singapore already?

Although life in the village has improved considerably over the years, it was still tough working in the paddy fields and plantations. The lines on the weatherbeaten faces that crinkled up with pleasure at meeting us at last couldn’t completely conceal the tough goings in life. Which makes me appreciate all the comforts I derive with a city lifestyle in my hometown, in Singapore. A memorable trip for all of us indeed…


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