A Falling Leaf Returns To Its Roots (落叶归根)

by Patrick Liew on September 19, 2016

As a result of societal unrest and prolonged famine, Mr Liew Fei Ru (刘辉如, 广东省, 梅州人), my grandfather left his beloved family and home in Gongzhou (公州) village in Dapu (大埔), Meizhou (梅州), Guangdong (广東) in 1903.

He took a long drive to the port in Guangdong and set sail to seek for a better life in Malaysia.

In his heart of heart, he wanted to find the “pot of gold” that the human traffickers promised him.

“Someday,” he promised his family, “I’ll be back to give all of you a better life.”

After that day, my grandfather never made it back to his village. He never saw his family and other loved ones again.

My grandfather died a tragic death.

As a physician, he was once called upon to provide medical treatment to guerillas in the tropical jungle of Malaysia. These soldiers were fighting the Japanese who were occupying Southeast Asia at that point.

My grandfather was betrayed by one of his men and he died in an ambush. His dream was buried with him.

About 89 years later, my family and I decided to go on an expedition to visit my ancestral home and village.

I wanted to find out more about my grandfather and discover his home and his past life. I hoped to have a better understanding of our ethnic group.

The Chinese has a saying that a falling leaf will return to its roots (落叶归根).

In essence, it means that we have attachments in our life, especially to our home and our family.

After being away for a long time, we long for our family and want to return back to them.

That’s how I felt when I went to see my grandfather’s house and visit our ancestral village.

My grandfather’s old house was still standing but it was abandoned and left to derelict and ruin.

As I walked from room to room, I could feel the presence of my grandfather. I could feel what he had to go through to bid farewell to his loved ones.

I felt like I was eavesdropping on different conversations that happened more than eighty years ago.

Tears were flowing down my grandfather’s cheek as he assured his wife and his family that he would be back. “Wait for me.”

There was a room with two candles and a table facing a window. I stood at the doorway staring at the scene for a long time.

In my mind, I could see my learned grandfather writing farewell letters to his former classmates and friends.

“We would meet again and share many more stories and laughters.


The window looked out to a hill that my cousin told me belonged to my grandfather’s family.

Our ancestors were buried in that hill, some of which tombstones oversaw the house and the village. It was like my ancestors had never left and were watching over their home and descendants.

For the next two days, my family and I walked around the hill and the village.

Although we do not believe in ancestral worship, we paid our respect to those who came before us.

Without our ancestors’ sacrifices and contribution, where would we be? Could we have what we are enjoying today?

My family and I visited the school, the town, the sights around the village.

We tasted Hakka food and spoke with the people who lived and worked in the village.

As I reflected on the trip, I can’t help being inspired by my grandfather and various experiences.

I was reminded that what matters in life may not be made of matters. What counts may be not be counted.

This is a paradox of life.

As you travel on the journey of life, you seek all manners of wealth and riches. In the final hours, they matter little to you.

You pursue personal achievement and success but you cannot carry them beyond your grave. Who you are and what you have accomplished cannot extend another minute of your life.

What you strive and fight for will not matter. Vengeance, hatred, and resentment will become meaningless in the grand scheme of life.

Failure and success will not be important anymore. I’m All your dreams and aspirations will disappear.

Everything that you have acquired will be passed on to some other people. Whatever you carry with you will be buried or cremated together with your body.

The things which you hold dear will eventually be buried by the sands of time.

What really counts in your life is not just your capability but also your character. It’s not just about your tenacity but also about your integrity. .

It’s not just about the image you portray but also about what others perceive of you. It’s not just about recognition you seek but the respect you earn from others.

It’s not just about what you have done but also what became of you and the others after you have done it. It’s not about the quantity of your possession but the quality of your contribution.

It’s not just about the position you hold but also your compassion for people. It’s not about having more power but whether you care for the people around you.

It’s not just about what you have but also what you gave. It’s not what you have achieved but what others have received from you

It’s not about prestige but the privilege to serve a wider community. It’s not about the pleasure of life but the treasure that will outlast a lifetime.

It’s not about what you will miss in life but whether people will miss you when you are gone. It’s not about just about making a living but about living a life that makes a positive difference.

It’s not about the kind of world you are living in but whether you will leave the world a better place than when you first came to it.

It’s not about what you know but how you use what you know to turn the world around you into a better home.

That’s the kind of roots you want the leaves to return to for generations to come.

This leaf is returning back to its roots…


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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