The Teacher - 50's
Xiamen to Manila
In his own words. Excerpt from the Book, My Incredible Life Journey.
Early 1948 in the Philippines, my father, Ong Siong Tua (Antonio Lima) fell ill. He was desperate to see me, by then his only living son. I was then 20 years old. I was in sorrow, yet partly scared and excited. For I have never traveled outside of our own village. My Visa application with the Philippines Embassy took several months to process and complete. I finally sailed for the Philippines on June 21, 1948. It was unfortunate, that my father passed before I can even travel. He passed away on January 26, 1948 at the age of 59. In today's standard, that can be very young.
Arriving in the Philippines, homeless and without a father nor a mother, I was overwhelmed with sorrow and agony -- helpless and hopeless. My only inheritance was my father's will, which I have read repeatedly, over and over again. I treated every sentence and every word as the golden rule and precious laws of life, with the exception of one sentence my father wrote - "Life and death are predestined, riches and honors are Heaven-willed." I took all my father's words seriously, with the single exception (which I do not completely agree), to my belief, riches and honors may be Heaven-willed however, I am duty-bound to chart my riches and honor. The challenge and struggle led me to uphold my self-respect, and with my vow and commitment I must work harder to achieve my life's goals. This entirely new life that I come face-to-face with was a turning point of my life.
In the next five years, I have worked in the streets of Manila. I was a driver, helper, a tutor, and finally landed a job as a typesetter with the newspaper company "Gong Li Bao." Through the years, cultivating friendship and pursuit of knowledge were my most important goals in life. In the supplementary section of the "Gong Li Pao" newspaper was a board called "Friends of the Morning Light". This section serve many readers, most of whom were young Chinese youths. The writings created a fervor and passion and became an emblem of motivation for the young and intellectual overseas Chinese youth. My greatest regret, looking back, was the abrupt termination of my studies due to the ongoing war.
I jumped at every learning opportunity presented. With the little money that I earned doing odd jobs, I enrolled at the Pei Yuan High School, and further extending my knowledge by attending a night school that taught the English language. My yearning to learn was boundless. During the very short "night school" stint (1 month more or less), I met a friend. He asked me where I lived, and I confessed to him that "I do not have a place to stay, and I am homeless." The new friend, Lim Yu-Kun, offered me to stay with him. He was renting a small "Imitation Jewelry Booth Spot" from a small store in busy Quiapo, Manila (around 1 meter x 1 meter). The dirty ground, covered with greasy used cartons was our bed, and old newspapers became our blankets and pillows. He was, in fact, literally another homeless kid from China. It is just that he was better well off with a tiny spot he can call his home. We became very close friends.
In 1950, I took and passed the "Teachers' Entrance Exam" given by the Taiwan government. This qualify me to start my career as a teacher in the Philippines. I applied to teach at the Guang Ren School and was hired. Later I was appointed as the Dean of Studies. By 1954, I was hired as an elementary teacher at the Surigao Chinese Elementary School. There were eight Chinese teachers and ten English class teachers, for over three hundred elementary pupils. Surigao is further south of the Manila. During that time, Surigao is considered to be remote and rural.
It was during this term that I met a newly hired co-teacher, Yuan Sui Ha (Juana Lima), who was to become my partner in life. We got married on May 8, 1955. (We have often hear Papa saying that Mama is the the most wonderful woman, and we all agreed.)
By the late 1955, I was hired as a high school teacher in the southern-most city of Julo, Sulo. While working during the day as a high school teacher, I was, by night a correspondence student of the Taiwan Overseas Chinese Education. It was during the year 1955, that I submitted one of my writings as my entry to the yearly essay competition. My entry was entitled "On Festive Occasions, more than ever, One Thinks of One's Dearest Ones." The essay described my innermost feeling about the love my older sister showered upon me. Part of the writing was an illustration drawn by my friend and colleague, Ang Kiu Kok (an art teacher). My entry won the top place! The second place went to an entry from Hongkong, and the third to an entry submitted from the United States. Who would have ever thought that the art teacher, Ang Kiu Kok, would later be my brother-in-law. He becoming the husband of my wife's sister, Mary. Ang Kiu Kok, would later be conferred the honor of National Artist of the Philippines by virtue of a Presidential Proclamation by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001.
By 1958, my cousin, Ong Tin Chiong, who owns a shoe store and bakery in Manila, advised me to start my own business. He generously offered me a loan of P2,000 Pesos (at the time, the amount would be equivalent to USD$992), a gesture of such generosity that I will never forget.
We started the business in Manila as a garment factory. It was actually a two-man factory, I was the tailor, designer, salesman and driver, while Juana, act as cashier, cutter, packing and accountant. From 1959 until 1964, we slowly expanded and hired a number of employees but since we do not have a store front to sell to, I regularly have to travel to different cities around the Philippines to sell our garment products. Some of the better buyers are from the cities of Cebu (the Gaisano's White Gold) and Davao (House of Magno and New Life), Although the business expanded, the margin was not enough, in fact, we were barely surviving. I thought long and hard. I realized that to survive, we have to move out of Manila and expand in smaller cities where competition is less. Two cities came to our minds, Baguio City, where the weather is cool all year long and much like a vacation land, or to a southern city - Davao, a large "emptiness", with not much to offer, with little competition. My wife, who is so used to living in working hard choose the latter.
[Walden -- More than a few times, I hear my father spoke about "500 Miles," Many times, I actually heard him humming the song. I guess, he must have been very homesick. Here is one of Papa's early favorite song. by Peter, Paul and Mary..