My first writing assignment at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong is about a father-son-grandson story of a man who celebrated his 60th anniversary with his wife this year, for an article on Father’s Day (Sunday). They were married in China in 1949, and he’s 87 years old. I called his son and arranged to go to his apartment at 4:30. This is the first time I am going out on an assignment alone. His son said the apartment is “in Central,” and gave me an address, so I figured I could walk from the station.
I end up walking in circles for 20 minutes. Finally I flagged down a taxi; only to look left, and see a long line of glaring people at the taxi stand whose existence had evaded me. I waited on the line, got in a cab, and gave my directions. The streets surrounding the area reminded me of San Francisco, but with much higher buildings. We went up a hill, down a hill, up a winding path, until I was at an apartment building I could never have reached by walking.
I was more nervous than I have ever been on a reporting assignment. What would they be expecting? Certainly not a tall Indian-American with vague Mandarin abilities and no Cantonese ones. What if the man only spoke Canto, and I was left with a useless taxi fare and no way of getting back?
The apartment was absolutely beautiful, and the family welcomed me, giving me slippers, green tea, and forcing me to accept pastries. My interviewee’s Cantonese was translated for me by his daughter. Though he and his wife are in their late 80s, if I had to guess how old they were, I would say 60, 65 at oldest. He had a full head of jet black hair and very few wrinkles, and was dressed impeccably. She had careful makeup, a perm, a fashionable suit, and a strong but sweet air about her. He even voluntarily told me, “many people think I have a toupée but they are wrong, I just do this exercise where I massage my jugular on each side of my neck with two fingers,” he said, demonstrating. It kind of reminded me of my grandpa and his unwavering belief in a morning breathing routine..
I was trying to keep the focus on the “Father’s Day” angle, but he kept wanting to talk about how lucky he was to have his wife as an “ideal companion.” It was really adorable. When I left, after almost 2 hours, they gave me a box of chocolates. I tried to refuse it, but they absolutely insisted, to the point where it would be rude if I refused. Funnily enough, it was See’s Candies. So now I have a box of California chocolates to share with the newsroom in Hong Kong. Needless to say, the interview was fun.
HONG KONG–The exact date To Hoi-hung and his wife married is now lost in the 60 years that have passed since. But it was during the summer of 1949, in Guangzhou, at a time of immense change as the People’s Republic of China was formed.
Since then, the To family has grown in size and wealth, with the couple raising five children in Hong Kong, managing to send them overseas to study in good times and lean, and now the Tos are the proud grandparents of eight.
Like many successful Chinese families, the Tos are scattered across the world, but on this Father’s Day, they have gathered together in Hong Kong to honour their patriarch.
Mr To, 86, says the secret to success as a good father is having a good wife. And his children attribute their own success in life to the advantages provided by learning from their parents’ ideal partnership.
May To, the youngest daughter, appreciates her father for encouraging the diverse interests of his children. She says he and her mother formed an inseparable team of support from an early age, and that both parents were the key to her pursuing her dreams.
When Ms To performed folk dancing at secondary school, both parents would be there to show their support, taking photographs that Ms To has now passed on to her own children. ‘They would alternate – one holding the camera, the other cheering. We came to expect that kind of support as children, but looking around at my friends, I would see they didn’t always have somebody there like that.’
Mr To, a stock broker, says he recognised from an early age that parental support is a rare gem to be treasured. In 1934, when he was just 11, his father died of heart disease. Having grown up with his elder brother serving as father figure to six siblings from his father’s five wives, Mr To treasures his six-decade marriage and sprawling but close-knit family.
As a team, the couple continue to work wonders. With a long and happy marriage and now a successful extended family gathered around them to celebrate it, they plan to extend their arms to those with fewer opportunities; they will donate the gifts received on this anniversary to help schools on the mainland.
‘Their children are now well-established,’ says Grace To, wife of second son Henry To. ‘They have given so much to their family, and now they want to give back to society.’
It is not his wealth or his success as a father that Mr To focuses on. He long ago achieved the most important factor in a happy life – it is all about finding the ‘ideal companion’, what he calls ‘the No1 step towards happiness’. As a father, he hopes his children recognise the value of that companionship. ‘I thank my wife,’ he says. ‘Without her, I would feel lonely and lost.’
Originally published: June 21, 2009 by The South China Morning Post (link)