Chong Quinlem – my grandad, circa 1946.
I feel like I’ve just met my grandfather (on my dad’s side) for the first time. Which is a bit strange, since he died long before I was born. It may be a bit odd, but my dad’s never gone in much for sentimental stuff, and it’s taken this long for me to get a picture of grandad, courtesy of an uncle and my sister.
So for the first time, I’ve seen what he looks like. It’s an eerie feeling, seeing a close relative for the first time, even if the picture is over fifty years old. He’s suddenly an actual human being, rather than just a name I’d heard mentioned a few times over the years.
Sure, there’s photos of other family members that came with this one, but somehow this one really got to me. I think it’s because he looks like he was about the same age as my grandad on my mum’s side, who I have met. Plus it’s something to do with the way he’s looking at the camera. Somehow it seems like he has something he wants to say to me. But of course he can’t.
What would he say if he were here now? I don’t know – I don’t think he even spoke a lot of English. And even I understood Cantonese, he’d probably be looking in bewilderment at the computer I’m typing on, and asking what the heck is it.
His name was Chong Quinlem. Family legend has it that his name was meant to be the other way around, but it got mixed up by a government department. The fact that it never got changed back probably indicates where I got my "Ooh, can I really be bothered? No stuff it, that will do" attitude from.
In fact, I was a Quinlem for a while. It was good in that anybody could find you easily in the phone book, but bad in that nobody but nobody could spell it (which in turn lessened the likelihood of being found in the phone book). The change from Quinlem to Bowen is a long (well, medium length at least) story involving parents divorcing and my mother taking back her maiden name, and us kids following suit.
Okay, it was actually quite a short story.
Anyway, so now people can’t find me in the phone book. But at least they can spell my name.