I was born in Manila on March 20, 1932. My parents were immigrants from the province of Guangdong in China. Their home town was the village of Sui Fen in the county of Toi Sam. When my father came to the Philippines, his boat ticket was for the space at the bottom deck. But, as a self-made man and together with my mother they established their life in the city of Manila. My father’s Chinese family name was Ruan Ben Gang, and he later adopted a Filipino name, Santos de Jesus. My mother’s name was Liu Nui. They had eight children. I am the third child in the family. My older sister was the second child and following me were four brothers and one sister. My parents worked very hard to provide for this big family of ours including good education. My mother, Liu Nui, lived until she was 115 years old before resting in eternal peace.
The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. At the time, the Japanese soldiers inflicted great atrocity and bullied the people in the cities and villages. One day my father was walking in the street near our home while some Japanese soldiers were out patrolling on horseback. He did not get out of their way in time and he was terribly punished by the soldiers. Seeing him being treated so atrociously, no one dared to come to help him. Everyone would be hiding behind locked doors. The sad memories of things like these are vivid till this day. *
Although I am the second daughter, my sister who is just a few years older than me was the quiet and gentle one. I was rather the strong willed and outspoken one and one of the leaders among my siblings. My younger brothers tend to follow my lead. I went to a Presbyterian school for grade school education and continued on for further schooling with the same school system. When I was studying at the Presbyterian school during my high school years, I noticed that there is another school, Chiang Kai Shek School in the neighborhood, which offered military training for girls. I was impressed and requested to my parents for me to be transferred to that school. When it came to things that I was determined to do, I would fight for it. My father would comment that I was a tomboy type girl, and eventually, I graduated from Chiang Kai Shek College in 1954.
When I was young, I have a predilection for literature writing, this started when I was in high school. One of my favorite past time during those days was to go to the movies where find ideas and inspiration for my writing. I was encouraged and specially mentored by a wonderful teacher in high school and started to publish my work in the local newspaper’s supplementary section. I would diligently write and submit my works for publication under the pen name Zhao Ming. I would save all the clippings from the newspaper and kept a good collection of these clippings which I named them: “The Zhao Ming Collections”. I almost lost all these collections in a flood caused by a typhoon. While cleaning up the aftermath of the flood with my brothers, I found the water damaged book of my collections in the trash - wet and dirty. It was just in time for me to salvage these precious reminders for the years that I shared with a group of young writers, the group we fondly called the Palm River Writer’s Society! I fondly remember each and every member of the group.
With my family’s exhortation: “Think clearly!”, I was determined and married Johnny in 1955
After I graduated from Chiang Kai Shek College, I was asked by five of my friends – they came together to my house – to go and teach at the Chinese School in Surigao. Although I majored in education, but my heart was in business. At first, I did not want to go. But after persistent urging by my friends, I decided to give it a try. We went together to the school in Surigao. With my major in education, I was assigned multiple tasks in addition to teaching classes. This included counseling the students, teaching Physical Education and coaching the sports team. I was also involved in the drama club organized by Mr. Wu Chong Mu, who was a movie director from Hong Kong. While I was busy adjusting to a new life away from home, I also came to know Johnny. He was one of the teachers at school. He loved literature and he loved photography. Young but without a penny to his name, he started the courtship of dating me. My family opposed the courtship, saying that I was too young. But our feelings for each other grew, and I could not find it in my heart to reject him. After two years of knowing each other, and with my family’s exhortation: “Think clearly.” I was determined to marry Johnny in 1955.
Now that I mentioned Johnny, I knew he had a family background of hardship when I first met him, and he was quite a few years older than me in his late twenties. But, he was a young man who strived to be strong and worked hard with stamina and diligence. Before we were married, while teaching at school in Surigao, he started a business with some friends. It was a small photography studio called the “Blue Heaven Studio”; and they only had two small cameras. I was busy teaching at school and did not know much about his business then. But because of this experience in his life, Johnny had learned much about photography and become very good about it. Throughout the years of our life, he had taken tens and thousands of pictures and with these pictures he recorded the journey of our life.
Johnny and I respect each other
I missed the life in the Philippines. Although, we did not have much money at the beginning, our life seemed so carefree at the time. After Johnny and I were married, we started to develop our business together. Later when we were better established and our family grew, we also wanted our children to have good education. Johnny loved literature and music, he had hired a piano teacher, Ms. Romero and Ms. Celis – they had become good family friends to this day - to teach the whole family to play piano, including himself. However, I was so busy tending the business, I was the only one who did not learn. I had been a strict mother when my children were young, but I loved them dearly. Till this day, when I and my children –although, they are all adults with family – reminisced about our past, they would vividly remember my special way of disciplining, and they also remember how I had always been there when they needed me.
Starting the business is the most difficult part. There were just so much to be done, including tending the business, keeping the inventory updated and on top of everything, taking care of the children. We opened the door to our business at 9:00 in the morning and work until midnight on a daily basis. In addition, there were government regulations to deal with, such as the Labor Department. I would be the one to come up with different tactics to deal with these situations. We established gradually with hard work and relentless perseverance, our business expanded to department stores, supermarkets hotels and restaurants. As a business and life partner to Johnny, my outspokenness and determination had been integral to the establishing our business. Actually, I had an early interest in business since I was very young. I remember, in my teens, I would set up a small grocery business at our house to help out my parents with the family livelihood. Our business in Davao started to flourish, at one point we had multiple stores. In 1976 we started recruiting our children to be involved in our business which brought our business to another level. In 1985, we decided to move to Hong Kong due to the instability of the political situations in the Philippines. Johnny and I respect each other; he’d listen to me as long as my input was right. He was a conscientious person; always devote himself to the greater good of the community. We support each other, during his service as the Governor of the Lion’s International District 301E, he personally visited all 60 charters in the district, and I went with him on every visit.
As I reminisce, I come to recognize God’s work in my life. When I was a young child, I came to know the Lord through a Christian teacher at a Christian school, my life was already being watched over and led by our Good Lord.
Walden - Around the time we were in Manila around 1965-1970, I used to hear Mama's music collections, and one of the favorite is Wang Bu Liao by Lin Dai. She used to tell me stories about how she was discovered in Hongkong.
At around that time, my mother recalled her little sister, Sui Hong. Little sister, Sui Hong, is between Uncle Vicente (Diku), and Uncle William (Saku). Sui Hong fell ill and departed her life, during the Japanese occupation, when the family was moving around trying to move to safer places. - Recollections by William Sr and William Jr. 08/16/19