Moon Bin's house near Toisan

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Bruce Comfort on October 15, 2011

This is the photograph of Moon Bin Gin's house in the Toisan general area which set me off on discovering who he was. My wife Joyce, one of his daughters, had no real idea because as a girl child she was never permitted to interrogate her Dad and conversations, particularly conversations about the past in China were a no-no in the family. Time together was spent cooking eating and working and communication between Moon Bin and his daughters (particularly) consisted almost wholly of instructions directions and reprimands. so when we married and apart from the fact that I knew that the old guy was a lot more capable and a lot more worldly-wise than he let anyone believe, we all knew little about him and his life either back in China or afterwards, in New Zealand.

This picture changed everything for me. Taken in the 1970s we think and sent to NZ with a letter that found its way into Joyce's hands - I was immediately aware that this was no ordinary house in a rural subsistence village and landscape.

By sheer coincidence, UNESCO held its Annual Conference in Christchurch NZ that year (2005 I think) and at that conference Inscribed a group of these unusual buildings near Kaiping as a World Cultural Heritage site.

So I knew what the house was and by reading learned how they were built and by whom. The whom being sojourners from Canton. men who left home and family in the millions between about 1890 and 1920 to earn money overseas and thus return wealthy - and during that time, remit money back home to their ancestral villages. Many such as Moon Bin had a bit left over too, and were able to build these houses.

This Wikipedia link will tell you more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiping_Diaolou

and so we had a start - he was a sojourner, and he ended up staying here in Wellington New Zealand instead of going back home to Toisan as he had planned. Then it became clear that many of the Diaolou in Toisan and Kaiping also were abandoned and never lived in by their builders - and the world had a huge population of first wave Chinese immigrants living in Canada the USA, Australia and New Zealand. How did they all get here at once and why dis they stay instead of going back.

The story unfolded over a short period and has been established in Moon Bin's case by some recollections dragged out of some of Joyce's siblings who took a lot of convincing it was worth having a hunt through their memories and when that ultimately succeeded in making them too curios, off we all went to Hor Dai Chun to see the place for ourselves.

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  • Uploaded on October 15, 2011
  • Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
    by Bruce Comfort

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