I’ve never been close to my paternal grandfather. While I was growing up in Singapore he lived in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Canada. We visited him occasionally, and once in awhile he would make a rare trip to Singapore. Conversation was always limited to “how are you” and idle chat about school and health. There is much I don’t know about him and his life.
Which is why it was such a surprise when we were rushed to the public library in Haikou for a meet-and-greet session featuring my grandfather less than hour after our flight landed in Hainan. The small room was packed with fans, including children. Everyone had come to meet the respected French horn players who had originated from this little island: my grandfather, and his two sons.
In honour of my grandfather’s 80th birthday, a commemorative book had been produced, and copies were being presented to the library. A concert – a proper sold-out one, not a little family one, as I had envisioned – had also been organised for the evening.
It was only then that I realised that my grandfather had been the first French horn player to have been trained in China (he graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he later became a professor). He’s also one of the first in China to have won medals at international music competitions. His sons – my dad and my first uncle – have taken after him. A pretty big deal for a tiny island off the coast of south-east China, especially for the family’s ancestral village in Wenchang.