CHEN CUIFEN – CAPTIVATING!

Portrait of Chen Cuifen in Changchun Pu villa. The original oil painting was by Chen Chudian. (SPH) (1)

As I penned down the last few words of my article, “Taiping – Town of Heavenly Peace” (2); I could not help but feel that essay was to a certain extent, incomplete. There I was, trying to figure out what was incomplete about it but could not seem to quite put my finger on it.

Our trip (Jeannie’s & mine) to Taiping was unplanned; so we did not have any expectations. Yet, when I wrote the article about Taiping and thought I had covered all or mostly all that I “trip-experienced”; I felt that I had to write something more about something relating to the trip. What was it?

I re-read my essay several times again (as I had read the article several times before it was published. And even after that). Until I saw “that” picture again; the one behind me in one of the photos I snapped (can’t use the word “took” which could insinuate I took one of the pictures from the museum 😅) while at the museum. (pic 2)

When I first saw the picture of this lady on the wall in that little museum at the Aun Tong coffee mill in Assam Kumbang; I was captivated by her beauty.

The word “assam” is a Malay word that means “sour”. It seems to be commonly used in names of areas in Taiping. “Pokok Assam” and “Assam Kumbang” are two that I am now quite familiar with. “Pokok Assam” in Malay means “Tamarind tree”. “Assam Kumbang” in Malay means “Tamarind beetle”. So, that explains why the char kuey teow I had for dinner that evening in Taiping; was not the “famous Penang char kuey teow ” or the “famous Ipoh char kuey teow” but the unique Taiping style char kuey teow. Its taste had that slight hint of lime added to it while it was being “char” or fried.

I walked away from this picture to look at the artifacts and other things considered museum pieces, but I kept coming back to this picture hung up on the wall. From whichever angle or distance I was from it; she kept looking directly at me. Unlike the very olden days style of portrait photos, where the people looked over-serious and dreary; this picture of Chen Cuifen shows her with a slight smile and relaxed.

Though staring at it a bit longer makes me think she was a Chinese martials art warrior, with lots of kicks-in-the-air fights. This must be from watching too many Chinese martial arts movies. Influence from Jeannie. During our courting days; I became an expert “movie sub-titles reader”. We used to go for Chinese romantic and martials arts movies. Hang on, did I say, “romantic”? Oh yeah. I did not know what the movies were about before we watched them. I was a good boyfriend. Jeannie would ask, “Shall we go for a movie?”. I would always say, “yes” without knowing what the movie was about until I was in the cinema, with the movie on. Hands on learning. I couldn’t understand Mandarin nor Cantonese nor Hokkien. I just read the sub-titles. Oooohhh, that is what this movie was about. Now, married – kao tim lah. (4) No need to go anymore.

While everything else in this museum was old or presumed old; the person in this picture was young, refreshing and didn’t seem to belong there.

Besides the room being small and filled with lots of things of the past, it looks like it is now being used as an office too; with three work tables strewn with current day documents. The chairs are those ancient-type Chinese barrel-shaped stools, with carvings on them.

From the coffee mill’s showroom / shop; there is a short flight of about 5 fairly high steps of an old-style staircase, leading to this museum. Shoes / sandals have to be removed to enter the museum. This museum is what I believe was Cuifen’s villa. The coffee mill is at the back of the villa.

Pic 2. Chen Cuifen’s portrait hangs on the wall behind.

Chen Cuifen’s “Changchun Pu” villa, Ng (3) This is the front of the villa , with the coffee mill at the side of it in the rear.

The villa

The Changchun Pu villa, looks washed out by the passage of time. A fan-shaped wooden plaque with the inscription Changchun Pu (长春圃) hangs on the building’s external wall, and a signboard with the words Aun Tong (安东) is prominently displayed above the door to the villa. Not far from the door stands a statue of Sun Yat-sen. (7)

The entrance of the Aun Tong Coffee Mill displaying the “Aun Tong” signboard and fan-shaped Changchun Pu wooden sign. (SPH)
The entrance of the Aun Tong Coffee Mill displaying the “Aun Tong” signboard and fan-shaped Changchun Pu wooden sign. (SPH)

Before that day, I never heard of Chen Cuifen. As I started researching about her, I noted that not much was said about her. The little that was written about her had conflicting information.

Wikipedia says that Sun Yat-sen’s first concubine was the Hong Kong-born Chen Cuifen. (8) Other websites stated that she was Sun’s partner and one of his four wives.

She was regarded as the “forgotten revolutionary female”. Maybe that is why I had this “prompting” to write something about her.

She was “the first revolution partner” of Sun Yat-sen. Before marrying Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen had a 20 year-relationship with Chen Cuifen. Before I forget, Sun Yat-sen was the Republic of China’s first provisional President.

Wikipedia says that she lived in Taiping, PerakMalaysia for 17 years. Sun and her adopted a local girl as their daughter. (9) That is interesting. It means her adopted daughter is Malayan (Malaysian). Is she still alive? Does she have children and grand-children?

Wikipedia states that Cuifen subsequently relocated to China, where she died. Other sources on the internet states that she returned to Hong Kong where she died. Conflicting information again on the year she died. 1960 or 1962?

Am I the first Malaysian to write about Chen Cui-fen? I don’t know. As I ask questions, the answers I get leads me to more questions. Like what is her connection with Aun Tong coffee mill?

I would like to revisit this article again in the near future and perhaps, expand on it with an indepth research (hopefully) on the life of this lady whose picture hangs in a room on the wall; the room next to a coffee mill.

NOTES:

  1. Chia Yei Yei, (Senior Correspondent, Lianhe Zaobao); “Sun Yat-sen’s lover Cuifen and her Malaysia villa”, October 16th, 2019
  2. Alan Atkinson, “TAIPING – TOWN OF HEAVENLY PEACE”, https://leatherpotato.com/2021/10/18/taiping-town-of-heavenly-peace/
  3. Alchetron, https://alchetron.com/Chen-Cuifen
  4. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Richard Ng, Chen Cuifen’s Villa, Eat & Sleep, November 15th, 2010.
  5. ‘Kao tim lah’ is a colloquial term meaning “done, finished, settled” in Cantonese. It also is a way of expressing agreement. It is best uttered with an air of smugness and satisfaction in the finality of the matter. Just like when we have chosen the right place to dine at. http://kautimlah.blogspot.com/2014/10/greetings.html
  6. “Lah” is a mysterious word. As Urban Dictionary defines: “a slang used mainly by people of South-East Asia (Malaysia and Singapore mainly) to complement almost any sentence available in a social conversation. The origins of this slang is basically from the chinese language, yet it is now used by almost anyone in the two countries mentioned above who aren’t too shy to let their asian roots shine with pride. People who don’t use the -lah slang are considered snobs to a certain degree.” For example, here’s a mundane conversation you would hear when it comes to meal times. “Hey, where shall we have lunch today?” I don’t know lah. What do you feel like?” Hmm, I was thinking of curry. “Kau tim lah, Let’s go try that new banana leaf rice!” Kau tim? http://kautimlah.blogspot.com/2014/10/greetings.html
  7. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Richard Ng, Chen Cuifen’s Villa, Eat & Sleep, November 15th, 2010.
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Wikipedia
Chen Cuifen - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Chen Cuifen (3)

2 thoughts on “CHEN CUIFEN – CAPTIVATING!

  1. Hi Alan, another great article. By the way, my late dad’s hometown was Taiping, Pokok Assam to be exact where I spent many of my school holidays with my paternal grandparents. This article brought beautiful memories of yesteryears, Taiping forever in my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rahmath,

    Thank you for your kind words. I am touched that this has rekindled fond and beautiful memories of yesteryears for you. My wife has an uncle and some old family friends living in Pokok Assam. We did not have the time to visit them as this was a short trip.

    Hopefully, we will make another trip there soon.

    Tomorrow, I visit another place. Hope to share my experience when I get back.

    Like

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