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howtomaketea

Since becoming a father I think a lot about what it means to be a man. I also think about the very short list of things I wouldn’t do to protect my family. Sung Be was a Chinese father I knew. ‘Be’ is pronounced bay, and means ‘horse’ in the Teo Chew dialect. People say Mr Be lived three lives in one. He was the quintessential man of few words. He knew how to grow vegetables. He taught me how to make Chinese tea. And he let me marry his youngest of eight daughters.

Mr Be’s first life was in China. He was born in Swatow in 1931. This was a time of great political unrest in China. It was a generation before the founding of the People’s Republic, but only a generation since the fall of the Qing Dynasty’s two thousand year rule. His mother died when he was 5 and his father migrated to Cambodia in search of a better life. He was left behind in China and raised as the youngest child in his Grandmother’s household – the wrong side of the family tree in Chinese culture. He was last in line to be served at the dinner table, was beaten by his uncle and forced to work long days in the rice fields. He tried to better his circumstances by going into the countryside and buying eggs, selling them at a small profit and investing the money in rice, which held its value better than the hyper-inflating currency. Imagine that, a 14 year old starting a business to lift himself out of poverty.

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