Ching has already been immortalised (or is it more
accurate to say crucified?) in my first book, where I
tell the tale of the dog Popeye who arrives by air, as
most Sri Lankan dogs do, having been thrown over the
garden wall by neighbours at the back. He is spoilt
rotten by his new owners, with diamant‚ dog collars,
foreign shampoos and expensive visits to Ching the vet.
Ching has always intrigued me: he looks and is
completely Chinese, yet he was born here in Sri Lanka,
and his Sinhala and Tamil are certainly better than
mine. How did this come about?
parents were prosperous landowners in what is now Hebei
Province in China. Their land was situated at the
confluence of several major rivers, and was prone to
flooding. I think in 1936 they decided to emigrate. I
have four older brothers who were born in China, but I
was born here."
Q. Why Sri Lanka?
To tell the truth I am not sure. At that time there was
a lot of migration from China for economic reasons, and
there were Chinese settlements all-over Asia. In
Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Calcutta, and even as
far away as Mombassa in Kenya. The ship they travelled
on stopped in Calcutta for a few days, and many of their
friends got off. My parents decided to sail to Colombo.
Q. Was there a big Chinese community in Sri Lanka then?
A couple of thousand! Today it has dwindled to a couple
of hundred, with many migrating onwards to Western
countries. I myself have a son in Australia and another
in the States. Many Chinese came here intending only to
live and work for a couple of years and then go back, so
they didn't bother to apply for Sri Lankan citizenship.
In the '60s this question of citizenship arose, and many
left. My parents had already obtained theirs long
before, and were happy to stay.
Q. What did they do here?
My father was a dentist, with a practice in Pettah.
My mother died when I was four so I have hardly any
memory of her. I was the baby of the family. I was
boarded at St. Anthony's College in Kandy, and was the
only one of my siblings to go on to higher studies. My
brothers assisted my father with his practice.
Q. Do you speak Chinese?
I spoke only Mandarin with my father. My wife too is
Chinese, her family had settled down in Mombassa , but
we converse in English at home. So because I haven't
used Mandarin for so long I am a bit rusty now. But if
any Chinese people were to come in through that door I
would probably be able to get by in a conversation.
tell him that at boarding school in England I once tried
learning Mandarin. The teacher himself was learning it -
he kept about four weeks ahead of us in the textbook.
The whole thing was a total disaster of course, and I
now have a vocabulary of about six and a half words.)
Q. So how did you come to be a vet?
In those days the requirements to be a Doctor of
Medicine were fairly stringent - you had to have five
credits in your SSC. I obtained this and was accepted to
read Medicine, and then they found that one of my
subjects, Civics, for some strange reason didn't count.
So I ended up becoming a vet instead!
which we and many other Colombo animals are truly
thankful! I know that Popeye for sure is extremely
grateful, though he can't express this as well as he
should like because his Mandarin is not up to scratch