Reminiscence of Grandfather Liu Jui-san (Majestic mountain)

By Liu, Teh-yung (劉德勇)   

May 22, 2003    Bethesda, Maryland, USA

Cousin Ko-hsin (革新) has written an excellent life story of grandfather(祖父) Liu Jui-san.(劉瑞山) This essay that I am writing is to describe my own memory and impression of grandfather as a child growing up in his household.  

Grandfather is a legendary figure in my life. I grew up in his household. When I was born (1932), grandfather was 65 (b. December 18, 1867). He passed away on January 3, 1947, at age 81, I was then 15. I spent my childhood watching, listening, talking and at times doing things with him. He had a great impact on my life. My outlook for life, ideals, thinking, planning, ways to deal with people, problem solving, management of household finances, and last but not the least, dealing with my own wife and children has been greatly influenced by grandfather. What I am today reflects what I learned from my grandfather.  

Growing up in his household, I had the opportunity to observe him daily. He woke up at 5:30 in the morning and went to bed at 8:30, taking a short nap at noon. In the morning he strode around the house at dawn, accompanied by a youngster who was sent by his father right after graduating from elementary school, to work as an apprentice with grandfather.  Together they surveyed the back, the side, the center and the front courtyards to tidy up for the day. Water was sprinkled from a bucket to the plants and leaves collected and disposed off. They then boiled water tapped from the well in a large kettle. Boiled water was transferred to thermo-bottles for making tea for the rest of the day. At 6:30, he took his breakfast; two bowls of rice porridge cooled to the right temperature, with peanuts and pickled vegetable to go with it. He finished breakfast in less than 10-15 minutes and walked around in the front yard where his office was, to signal that it was time for everyone to get up and get ready for the day. He never read a newspaper in his life. 

He began his office work at 7:30-8:00 AM. Unlike most other business people in town, he very rarely conducted his business outside of his office at home. In fact, I cannot recall he ever visited public places such as, park, theater, or restaurant either by himself or accompanied by others. He did attend church regularly on Sunday afternoon. His home was his castle and he was perfectly content and happy to spend all day at home working and relaxing there.  

In 1984 as I was visiting aunt Chuan Chai-hong (M.D., 莊彩芳;Mrs. Ching-hong Liu劉清風夫人), mother of my steady childhood playmate cousin Chung-ming(俊明), she told me the story of grandfather. Grandfather grew up with his widowed mother, his sister Tau Kim(到金), young brother Shek Guo (錫五,b.1.11.1874). As a young man, he worked in a retail store as a clerk earning 20 cents a day. He kept 3 cents as his expenses, 5 cents for his brother's tuition to learn to read and write and the rest he handed over to his mother for safe-keep. An opportunity arrived in 1891 when his stepfather Guo Deh-yaw(高德耀) provided a fund for him to start his own business. With his brother, my granduncle Shek-guo as a partner, they opened their retail/grocery store, Ho-Hwa (和發)later changed to Ho-Yuan(和源). Their business prospered and expanded into import/export businesses between Amoy(廈門) across the Taiwan Strait and Tainan. By the time Taiwan became a Japanese colony in 1895, their business had grown considerably and around 1910 turned into real estate. By the early 1920s, the two brothers became the largest landowners and top personal income taxpayers of the city of Tainan. In 1926, they divided up their holdings, grandfather taking 60 % and his brother 40 % as agreed upon at the onset. The two families continued to live next to each other harmoniously as one family.

In his real estate transactions, grandfather almost always bought and seldom sold what he already owned. He conducted his business on the cash basis. He never owed money to others. Contracts were drawn in-house under the expert direction of his office manger Mr. Kuo Chu(郭註). Mr. Kuo (b. August 25, 1900) came to work with him at age 16 and stayed on after grandfather's death to help manage businesses for his children. I used to talk to him while I was growing up at home and on home leave after I went to college in Taipei. Afterwards, each time I returned from the US, I visited him.  Mr. Kuo passed away on February 26, 1991at age of 91. He was the family-historian. He knew everyone of grandfather’s children and their children. We all had a very high respect for him and regarded him as a member of our family. For each child, he had a story to tell. When I went to see him in 1989, Mr. Kuo asked his daughter with her family he was then living with, to fetch dishes of shrimp roll, fried eel, sticky rice cake and a bowl of milk-fish ball soup (Sat Bat He Yuan Tang) to go with them. As we ate, he said, as a child, you used to like these stuff. Living all these years away from home, you must have missed them. I then asked why was he able to work with grandfather all his life. And this was what he said: "Working with your grandfather, I never had a dull moment. Every week there was at least one transaction, each transaction was followed by preparation of lease-agreement with tenant, assignment of a clerk to look after the property and the lease.  I admired the skill, persistence and wit of Raw Tau Ke (老頭家,Old Boss). He had a rare talent for business, only one of its kinds. He knew how to make a deal. He bought properties at prices that often I never would have thought possible". He smiled and then added, " Besides, the meals provided by your grandmother were too good to give up!"  Whether living outside with his own family or inside in the Liu compound, an employee had the option of taking his meals at home or at the Liu's, all three meals. Many of them chose the latter. Years later, Mr. Kuo himself accumulated a fortune for himself and he gave credit to his learning from Raw Tau Ke.  

Before grandfather bought the property, he would usually pay a visit to the property. That required him to make many trips. He took train to the station nearest to the property and walked the rest of the way. In these trips, he was often accompanied by one of his young staff. In later years, when I was in high school and college, I trekked some of the country roads grandfather had journeyed through. I encountered many who had met with grandfather. They all seemed to regard grandfather, Papa Ke-Hong, as they called him, a unique personality. They were eager to tell me their story about him. The story they told me about him was more or the less the same.  Papa Ke-Hong always wore a straw hat and carried an umbrella to avoid exposure to sunlight and heat. He carried a lunch bug with a bachan (marinated sticky rice rapped up in bamboo leave) and a banana in it.  He did not ride a bike and no one had ever seen him in a taxi or on a rickshaw. He took train and walked.  As a rule, he never accepted invitation for lunch from his host. He did accept a cup of tea to go with his lunch. When asked, he would talk about the whereabouts of his children and in return would urge his host to send their kids to Chang Jung Middle School, which he helped to build. He judged the value of the property not necessarily by the kind of crop it raised and the yearly yield of the crops, but somehow he had the foresight of their potential, judging by their location. He knew the value of the property by heart before he arrived and offered cash to get the best deal. At times, he bought farmland that had poor yield of crops, and real estate property that was in bleak condition at bargain prices. As a rule, he avoided purchasing properties at prime location for premium price. As years passed by some of these properties became commercial or residential property. Half a century after his death, a number of properties had gone up significantly in values either because they became the center of the expanded city parameter, or a new high way was laid in front or through it. A number of his descendants who inherited the property and others who learned his business philosophy are forever grateful to their grandfather.

It is apparent that grandfather did not invest in equities (stocks). His basic philosophy was that money dose not come easily and one cannot depend on others to make a fortune. He avoided taking risk. There was one exception. In the early 1940s, he was persuaded by a close business friend to invest in a predecessor of a commercial bank, which later became the Hwa Nan Commercial Bank(華南商業銀行) in the late 1930s.  Thus, he avoided the worldwide economic depression of the 1928-30. If anything, he increased his holdings in real estate during that turbulent period of time.

No one can recall that grandfather had a habit of indulging himself in luxurious comfort. For instance, after a long day's journey from visiting farmland, while his younger staff grumbled about sore feet and exhaustion requiring perhaps a good massage, grandfather would recommend a soak in hot bath instead. He himself, I recalled, had never had a massage. 

Every afternoon, grandfather was the first in the household to take a bath. I took bath with him. He sprinkled his body first with a small amount of warm water from a pail, patted his hand lightly over a soap, and rubbed his hands over his body, from chin down to his feet. He dipped his towel (1x2 ft) into the pail of warm water, squeezed out excess water, stroked the soap gently over the towel and then pulled it back and forth over his shoulder and back. Finally, he flashed down his entire body with a few pails of warm water. He beamed and declared clean and finished.  Never wasteful of water, soap, time or anything. A piece of soap, 3x2x1 inches, lasted for a year or longer for him. 

Afterwards, I followed him to the dining room. Grandmother brought out a dish of peanuts fried crispy with onion and garlic, several pieces of processed merlot fish roe (O Hi Chi,烏魚子), sliced leek, and a bottle of wine soaked with pieces of sliced medicinal woody looking stuff in it. What was the stuff soaked in the wine? Grandfather poured out a jigger of wine into a tiny cup and sipped. He smiled, took another sip and picked a couple of peanuts to go with it. It was followed with the fish roe and leek. He beamed with pleasure. Two small drinks and he stopped. His dinner consisted of a few dishes of vegetable, meat and fish to go with two bowl of rice. He never got drank and never overate. I cannot recall he ever got sick while growing up with him. It seemed to me he ever complained for headache or stomachache. He looked lean and healthy to me all the time. 

Although he seldom or never used medicine for himself, grandfather kept a few recipes of medicines that he distributed to whoever came to ask for it. Medicine for stomach upset, for sore throat, quinine for malaria and carbolic solution for wound dressing. As a young man, he was among half a dozen young men chosen by Dr. James Maxwell, the first Scottish Missionary doctor in our town, to be a physician-apprentice to work with him in the hospital. One day when he was attending a surgery, he saw blood gushing out from a patient, and he fainted. This ended his dream of becoming a physician. It was then that he decided to become a businessman. With much pride and joy, he would tell " his patient" that the medicine he was dispensing were from "the Dr. Maxwell". 

After supper, grandfather often visited one of his son's families who lived on the compound. When he came to see us, he sat on the tatami floor with his legs crossed, held the youngest child Masao(正雄) on his lap and talked with gentle whispering voice to us. Time after time he expounded on the same theme; how should we cultivate the good habit of diligence, hard work and be economical (frugal).  Do not be lazy and never ever be wasteful. He had worn the same Japanese wooden thongs (geta下駄) as long as I had been with him, so it appeared to me. When the bottom of the thongs worn out, he attached a replacement wood piece and continued to wear it. I saw him mending his undershirt with a needle and a thread and when grandmother tried to urge him to wear a new one he firmly refused. When she tried to take over the mending, he insisted he could do it himself. I was about ten and he was 75 at the time. This had left a deep impression on me and even today, the picture of him mending his undershirt flashed back to me. My closet is packed full with my old undershirts; I simply cannot dispose of them.  

Grandfather liked to give us little boys hair cut. With each cut, he gave us a dime and a pack of locally made caramel milk candy, which he always kept in his office. In those days, a hair cut for a boy in a barbershop cost 25 cents and a pack of brand name milk caramel, such as Morinaga or Meiji cost twice more than the local brand though they taste the same. We could not taste the difference. 

In the morning of March 1, 1945, at 9 AM, I was taking the entrance examination for the middle school when the US warplanes raided our city of Tainan for the first time. The raid caused a considerable damage to our city and the middle school was severely hit. When we emerged from the air shelter, there were causalities among the students with several deaths. On the way back to home, passing over Tainan Park, which was then converted into a military hospital, we saw devastating destruction of buildings and casualties. Upon reaching home, I found our home had not been hit and everyone was unharmed. That night, the elders of the family called an emergency meeting. The following several days, our household evacuated to the countryside in accordance with the plans previously made. Grandfather and grandmother went to Sam Shia(三舍) with the eldest son's family and our immediate family moved to Nan-chuan(南莊) in the mountains.  Shortly after, I was notified by the middle school to report to enroll as a first year student. I moved back near the city, Tai-chu Miao(太子廟) to stay with a relative and commuted by bicycle every afternoon to the school. 

On August 15, 1945 Japan surrendered. We moved back to our home. Grandfather was saddened to see his office complex destroyed by the bombing. But fortunately, the rest of the residential areas were not significantly damaged. The house was repaired and grandfather's office moved to the residential part of the house. He resumed his activities. Within the next several months, his children returned from Japan and China some with newly added spouses. Grandfather's household was now complete with all of his children and grandchildren, missing none.  

On December 18, 1946, grandfather celebrated his 80th birthday. He started to show sign of physical weakness. Gradually, he walked slower, talked less and spent most of his time in bed. December is a cold month in Tainan. It can get quite chilly. On one such a morning grandfather put on his cap and coat that he had worn for so many years and stepped slowly into his office. His staff rose, greeted him with a warm "Raw Tau Ke, good morning". He nodded his head in return. It was to be his last visit to his office and his last venture out of his bedroom. Shortly after, one evening, grandmother noticed grandfather was kneadling his undershirt with his fingers on his stomach. I overheard grandmother talking to Mr. Kuo Chu; it was an omen that grandfather was tidying up himself for the eventual. She instructed Mr. Kuo Chu to have his casket made ready and his burial place prepared. Not long afterwards, grandfather passed away in his sleep without any sign of suffering, in the early morning of January 3, 1947. At his bedside were grandmother, his brother business-partner granduncle Shek Guo, his eldest son, second son, third son, fourth son, their spouses and his first daughter, second daughter and a nephew, Chin-hong (Fresh Breeze,清風) who together with the second daughter and a Dr. Shi Yuan-shen(石遠生), a brother-in-law of my mother were his attending physicians. Granduncle Shek-guo offered a memorable long prayer recounting his brother Jui-san's life and how much he appreciated his brotherly love. Immediately, grandfather's body was moved to the main living room by his four sons to lie in state. Early the next morning, I saw his eldest son, Ching-yung(青雲) kneeled to give grandfather his last shave, kissed his forehead gently and whispered " my everlasting respect and love for my father" echoing the sentiment of us all.  On the day when he was placed into his casket all of his 7 sons, five daughters, their spouses, his brother Shek-guo and his son Ching-hong were present. None was missing. Grandfather looked peaceful and at ease as if to pronounce  "Thy blessings have been abundant on me, my cup is full and over flowing".   

It has been more than half a century since grandfather had passed away. Today, most of his descendants reside in the US and Canada. When we get together our conversation naturally goes back to the good old days in Tainan, our ancestral city, where we grew up together in the household of our grandfather. Although grandfather never uttered a word to us about his faith in God and his contribution to charity, he showed it by his own example. He was frugal to himself but gave generously. He saved so that his descendant could have a decent secure life and he gave generously to the cause of Christ and charity. He was totally unselfish. He wanted each one of us, his descendants to be a responsible father and mother. Even now, I can hear the echo of his gentle voice  " work diligently, live prudently, never ever be wasteful, and give what you can to charity". This story of grandfather Liu Jui-san is written by the second son of grandfather's second son, Teh-yung in the hope that his grandfather Jui-san's heritage will indeed be transmitted to future generations.    

A footnote. In 1915, grandfather purchased a property and donated it to the Board of Tainan Presbyterian Church for establishing Chang-Jung Middle School and supervised its construction. In appreciation for his contribution, the school had his portrait displayed on the wall of its administrative building. This portrait was removed for an unknown reason shortly after the Second World's War. When I leaned about this, I paid a visit to Mr.Tai Meng-fu(戴明福) the then Principal of the Chang Jung High School. Mr. Tai himself was an alumnus of the school. We had a causal conversation and in the end he promised to take the matter to the Board and suggested to move the portrait into the Principle's Office. In 2001while I was on the phone with Professor Tai Hsing-shiung(戴信雄0 of the U. of Kentucky, discussing the future of biotechnology and in particular, methods for raising antibodies by injecting cDNA into animals, to follow gene expressions, we discovered to each other's surprise that we were from the same town of Tainan, attended the same high school, and graduated from the same department from Taiwan University. And to my further surprise he is the son of Principle Tai Meng-fu. Our conversation then turned into Chang Jung High School and grandfather's portrait! We had a lively time reminiscing the old time, and in particular each other's father. While his father was the Principal of the Chang-Jung Boy's School, my father Liu Chu-an was the Principal of its counter part, the Chang Jung Girls' School.