Noki Seekao - Maternal Grandfather’s Village: 中國廣東省揭陽市普寧縣梅塘鎮石鳥鄉 興仁里0019號

These letters share my rooting experience to my future kids, my mother and my grandfather.


Hey kids,

One of the most important life lessons I can share with you, is you have to know where you came from to move forward in life. On July 11th 2015, I walked through your maternal great-grandfather’s home located in Shiniao Village of Chaozhou city within the Guangdong province, and I finally understood our ancestral origin. I cannot begin to capture the surreal and emotional experience of searching for our ancestral roots. Confucius stated it best, “I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” and I finally understood this quote. I hope to plant that seed for you to one day pursue your own journey.

My story started in 2009 when your mom posed a simple question, “What do you know about your grandparents?”. This question was like opening Pandora’s box, with the biggest revelation was learning that I was not just Thai but rather half Chinese and half Thai. How is it possible for someone to spend a majority of their life not knowing they were half Chinese? Quite simple, I didn’t ask. Thank goodness for your mom!

Kids don't ever stop being inquisitive and curious.

For the next five years your grandma mailed me letters sharing stories and anecdotes of her personal and family life. She told stories about her journey to the US during the Vietnam War as a nurse, falling in love with your grandfather, and her relationship with your great-grandfather. Those letters played an important part of my understanding of our family and especially your great-grandfather.

This year the stars aligned and I seized the opportunity to trace our ancestry with the In Search of Roots Program. With a photo of our great-grandparents’ tombstone, your grandmother’s letters, and a group of like-minded folks, I went in search of your great-grandfather.  Looking back I needed those years to truly hear our family stories so I could understand our family’s values and appreciate their sacrifices.

This was an auspicious trip for me.

●      Not only was it your great-grandfather’s 90th birthday but it was also the 25th anniversary of the In Search of Roots program.

●      With only a photo of your great-grandfather’s tombstone, we were able to find relatives in a village of 8000 people (this is huge by village standards!). You now have extended family in Thailand and China because your great-grandfather had two wives. Ask me about them later.

●      Your great-grandfather immigrated to Thailand to start a candy business, I was given dessert at his village temple, and unknowingly, I had brought chocolate to give as gifts. Who knew our family has such a sweet tooth.

●      I walked through your great-grandfather’s original home which had been empty for over 20 years.

●      When praying at the temple, I did not pray alone but as a family, just like going to the Thai temple at home. I want you to watch my video of my rooting experience so you can see it for yourself. If anything you’ll be entertained by the many awkward faces throughout my visit.

I am proud of our family’s fortitude, fealty, and spirituality that has transcended countries and generations. Your great-grandfather immigrated to Thailand to seek a better life for his family, your grandmother shared a similar journey to the U.S., and I had come full circle to search for and pay respects to our ancestors. This ancestral journey was made with you in mind, I deepened our roots so you can have strong branches to grow from.

Love you,


P.S. Our ancestral village’s name translates to stone bird, how’s that for symbolism!



Hi mom,

After all these years of sending me handwritten letters, it is my turn to send you one. Your letters about your life and our family made me feel like I was getting to know you for the first time. I'm eternally grateful that you took the time to preserve these memories and our history so I can pass it on to my children. I took your letters with me on my adventure to find our ancestral roots in China and I often found myself re-reading them during our long bus rides between villages. By reading the letters in China it put your words in context. I could hear the distance between you and your father and how little you knew of him. I now understand why it was so important for you to share about your life and history all these years.

While you knew I was going to China to trace our ancestry, I didn’t tell you that finding our relatives was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. The village our relatives are from is the size of the San Fernando Valley and all I had to go on was a photo of grandpa’s tombstone. My expectations were really low. That morning of my rooting, I was anxious, so I meditated for the first time in a long time. My meditation became prayers of gratitude for you, dad, our family, and the sacrifices your father made so that I might have this fortunate life.

You’ll be glad to know grandpa heard my prayers!

I not only visited our village and his home but I also met living relatives! I couldn’t help stare at them as we entered the temple, trying to see if we were truly related, I was met with strikingly similar features, chubby cheeks and wide noses. While you heard whispers of grandpa having a wife and son in China, I confirm that he did. Your brother passed away 7 years ago however his legacy lives on through his brother’s wife, her four children and their kids. Your sister-in-law served us a local and delicious dessert, I learned your father was quite the entrepreneur. In hopes of a better life, he set out to open a candy business in Thailand, leaving his family in China. It was a bittersweet experience, eating dessert from the family he left. Yet they were warm, welcoming and eager to have our family come back to visit them.

Grandpa's original home was a simple two room building. No one had been inside for over 20 years and the dust and cobwebs on the furniture reflected it. I kept thinking about your father smiling, crying, laughing, having life moments there. Two generations later there I was. I walked the hallowed rooms like a visitor in a museum delicately savoring this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted to bring you something that belonged to him, something real to remember his past and a life he never shared with you. On top of the red cabinet there it was, an abacus belonging to a brother you have never known. My gift to you.

Later we went to your brother’s home. There it was photos of my Thai relatives hanging from the wall, confirmation that we were related. I learned your oldest brother’s sister-in-law once visited and gave them those pictures. We really need to improve our communication with each other.

We wrapped up our time together by praying and giving respect to our ancestors at the temple. Unlike past rootings where folks prayed by themselves, I looked back and found my newfound relatives praying beside me. I was deeply moved and comforted that our communal spirituality crossed generations and even countries.

I take comfort knowing that you are your father’s daughter because of the similarities of your journey. You both had the courage and faith to immigrate to a new country, the strength to pave your own way with limited knowledge of the native language, and the willingness to make sacrifices for the betterment of our family. I am truly fortunate and I promise to hold to those familial values and beliefs, which also including eating plenty of sweets!

Love you mom!

Surasak Nong Seekao



Dear Grandfather,

After all of these years, I can't believe I finally got to meet you, at least in the spiritual sense. You've always been an enigma, my mom and the rest of the family in Thailand knew very little about you and your past. Given how little I was able to learn about you on my own I was surprised when the folks from the In Search of Roots program found you with only a picture of your tombstone!

You’ll be glad to know, I was warmly welcomed by my aunt (your daughter-in-law), cousins, and their kids. I felt a bit awkward that our kinship was tethered by the fact you were our grandfather, though I imagine it was mutual. We collectively felt happiness, excitement and the anxiety of meeting each other for the first time. But no sooner had I introduced myself then they were eagerly inviting me, my wife and my parents to come back to visit!

We walked to the temple and you may recall, inside was this beautiful black lacquered altar with gold foiled panels with paintings. For all of its richness, it still felt humble and communal. Our family prepared a delicious soup dessert made of pigeon eggs and mochi-like balls, boiled in sweet syrup. Al Cheng, the founder of the program, joked that each egg I ate represented the number of future children. After eating five eggs, my cousin shared that the dessert represented my prosperity, either way I’ll take it!

I enjoyed talking to my aunt and learning about our family. You'll be glad to know that she is in good health although your son passed away seven years ago. She shared a story of your son's only visit Thailand, to meet his cousin, Lung See, my oldest uncle. This confirmed the same story told by my cousin, Kai. When I asked her about about you, she only shared that you left your first wife and son to start a dessert business in Thailand and never came back. I don’t know what life circumstances brought you to make that decision but the news stunned me.

I was still trying to make sense of it as we took family photos, but it was when we walked into your old home that I could feel the weight of your decision. This simple two room building had not seen sunlight or a human inside its walls for the last 20 years and the layer of dust proved it. Walking in I was overwhelmed knowing that your life began here and your departure left a family behind in China yet gave life to a new family in Thailand.

Afterwards we went back to the temple to pay respects to our ancestors. When I started this journey I did not have high hopes of finding you, now I have walked in your footsteps by meeting your family, being in your house and village on the eve of your 90th birthday. My ancestral journey came full circle, crossing two countries and two generations. I admire your grit and determination to pursue a better life. I will forever be grateful for your sacrifice.



Xiao Dexiong


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