At the entrance to Mr Han Ming Yuen’s home hangs a traditional Chinese signboard engraved with three golden words that symbolise Gratitude and Remembrance. It serves to remind Mr Han of the hardships that were endured by the previous generations that have contributed to making him who he is today.
Filial piety is one of the most important virtues in the Chinese culture. While some may think that it has lost its sense of significance to the current generation, Mr Han firmly pledges his commitment to this principle on his front door, so that “he doesn’t forget.”
This gives you a small insight into the type of man that we are featuring.
Mr Han’s home exhibits a great sense of cultural heritage. Stepping into his house feels as though you are transported into another place, in another time. The whole experience was made even more exceptional when we engaged in a deep conversation about life, about value, and about the Chinese culture over a cup of tea. Listening to the thick Hainanese-Chinese accent reminded me so much of my late grandfather.
If a picture can paint a thousand words, to me, this experience would be equivalent to one showing a student attaining enlightenment from a great master on a mountaintop.
I had the pleasure of spending two hours with Mr Han, the Chairman of Hainan Association in KB, who migrated from the province of Hainan in China in the 1950s. A man who has a deep rooted understanding of Chinese philosophy, is a self-taught scholar in Chinese literature and is also a great philanthropist in the Chinese community in Brunei. We were privileged to have the opportunity to interview such a gentleman at this auspicious time of the year. When asked about what Chinese New Year means to him as an 80 year old man, Mr Han couldn’t help but respond in a philosophical way. He was adamant that there are only so many years that we will walk on the surface of this earth, and New Year serves as a time to slow down, to reflect and to celebrate. Which is why according to Mr Han, “the ancient Chinese households would cook up a feast during New Year, regardless of their financial circumstances, because we all need to be reminded about what it means to be alive.”
Mr Han also talked about the Chinese legend that says that New Year is a symbol of the triumph over demons, so this is also why we gather together to celebrate. While the ‘demons’ were illustrated in the form of the lion dance, it is my belief that what the ancient Chinese were really referring to, was the triumph over the demons of “challenges and hardships” during the year.
To Mr Han, one of the highlights of Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the ability to unite with his three children and grandchildren who are all working abroad. Each year during the eve of Chinese New Year, Mr Han would write calligraphy, and hang it on the front of his house. He would also dedicate some of his work to his close friends and family, and make up poems from the inspiration that he had derived from his yearly reflections.
Among his many notable achievements, Mr. Han is most proud of his contribution to the Hainan community in Brunei. He has held the position of the Leader of this association for the past few decades. Today, Hainan Association is proudly located in the nine storey building in KB (the tallest building in KB), with over 400 members and growing.
Each year, the association gives out thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to recognise the children of members who have achieved outstanding results. The association also serves as an extended family to many, especially when it comes to important life events that require support such as weddings and funerals.
There are only so many years that we walk on the surface of this earth, and New Year serves as a time to slow down, reflect and celebrate.
On a larger scale, the association forms part of the alliance of the global Hainan Association. Just last year, the association organised an international Hainan cultural event in Brunei hosting over a thousand Hainanese people from 20 different countries with the sole objective of strengthening relationships with all overseas Hainanese people, so that they can help each other in times of need.
The community stays as relevant today, as when it was when founded 76 years ago. Even though it began as a group of strangers who came together to speak in a familiar dialect and to support one another, it has continued to foster a close knit sense of belonging for overseas Chinese.
While Mr Han has traveled thousands of miles and has no doubt endured an unspoken amount of hardship during his journey, he continues to live by his values every day. Mr Han’s life philosophy reminds us of the importance of reaching out to others and of giving back. Just as the words prominently displayed on his front door, it is a timely reminder especially during this festive season, to practice gratitude and to never forget, those who have come before us.