I met my new next door neighbor on his lawn. After introducing ourselves, I asked him where he worked. He explained that he was working in the radiology department of a large local hospital. For some reason, I assumed, probably based on my own background, that he was a radiologist. He broke out in hilarious laughter, “If I was a radiologist, I would not be living here!” After a bit of light talk, I revealed that I was a neonatologist, or newborn baby doctor, at the Children’s Hospital; there was then a bit of an awkward silence. I wondered what he thought of me; I’m still not sure when I meet him occasionally on the lawn.
Indeed, ultimately, my wife and I lived 44 years in a place that my neighbor wasn’t impressed with, and we basically never moved from the only house that we have ever owned. It’s a nice house, even though the neighborhood apparently isn’t impressive! It’s really more than
adequate, with three bedrooms (sort of), a living room, and a functional basement. What more do you need?
My dad was a frugal person. He had been a surgeon, but became a general practitioner doctor. I’m sure he made enough money, since his clinic was often quite full, and he was a very nice friendly doctor, so many people liked to visit him. Plus, even though our family was technically Hakka in origin, we attended the large Swatow (Shantou) Chinese Church, and everyone there knew him, and were often his patients. And Swatow people were well known to be great businessmen, especially in the fine embroidery world. So I’m sure many of his patients were able to pay well!
But dad did not like to spend money on himself or his family, and we lived very simply, and quite differently from many of the rich doctor families that I knew of. But we were sent to the best schools, and life was certainly more than adequate. I don’t remember that we, the 3 sons, ever really complained about our situation, since it seemed quite normal. We never starved, for sure. However, on looking back, I’m pretty sure that my father’s example deeply imprinted on my thinking and life.
Away in southern Thailand, my wife’s father was also a physician, one of the few doctors in his small town. He was also very popular, and was active in the main Haadyai Chinese Church, and undoubtedly could have accumulated a fortune, if he had so wanted to. The town had a lively Hakka community, and father, Dr Wen, was the first and only western medicine doctor for years. But he was also very frugal and lived in a simple house above the clinic. My wife grew up in such a circumstance, and undoubtedly also inherited his conscientious attitude and lifestyle.
Both of these fathers, one a deacon in church and the other an elder of the church, respectively, were very well known to be generous in helping out family members and others that were less fortunate. In those days it was common to mail money back to the ancestral village to help support the many relatives back home. Especially at a time when China was quite poor, I’m sure that these monies given away must have been really helpful.
In fact, one of my cousins to this day credits my father with sending support through very complicated channels to him when he was growing up in Shantou and studying in medical school, during a very difficult and turbulent time in China’s history. Today, he is a very successful medical practitioner in Hong Kong, and every time I go through the city, he insists on inviting me to a wonderful lunch or dinner, as a deep expression of gratitude for what my father did. Obviously I enjoy the sophisticated Hong Kong food, but more importantly, it brings back very warm memories and stories of a father that I easily forgot. My cousin sometimes seemed to know my father better than I do, especially since I left home for a greater part of my life. Asian fathers always seem stern and a bit remote to their children, especially frugal fathers, and it often takes a dose of reality like this to wake up the Asian child!
Watching our own children grow up, it seems that the heritage has passed on. I find that our son and daughter are really frugal in many respects, to my admiration and inner joy. I have often wondered what roles many different factors have contributed. Was it even the ancient Hakka traditions of frugality? Hakkas were a migrant population, apparently from the central northern plains of China, who migrated to many parts of the country, including the southern provinces. They were always marginalized by society, and often not welcome in the towns and cities. Hence they were relegated to the hilly areas where farming was a lot more difficult.
The word Hakka means “stranger people” or “guest people,” kejia in modern Mandarin pinyin. Which means that the Hakkas do not have a town, city, county, or province named as Hakka, since they are always considered to be outsiders, and functionally a minority. They truly do not have a recognized homeland. But this apparently has led to a very resilient hard-working tribal group that were, and are, known especially for their frugality. In particular, the women were particularly hard-working and careful with money. And so I have personally found out!
In our situation, the grandparents on both sides became Christians in the ancestral Hakka villages, and imbibed many biblical principles about avoiding greediness and power, and to always remember to help the poor and the needy. I like to think that our ancestral Hakka and Christian principles together have been tremendously impactful down the generations, for which we are always grateful. It is humbling that who we are has come from all kinds of influences, some apparent, and many either forgotten or unrecognized: I hope to be able to remember well, and to be truly grateful.
For example, we recognized early on in our career, that there would be a danger, after my internship, residency, and fellowship training, when I became a practicing real doctor, that my salary would go up and up. So we decided as a family to cap our salary by ourselves, and basically live a truly simple life; we would either give away the rest, or reserve it for an early retirement time when we could then have the freedom to serve God fully, without worrying about support. This was indeed what we did, and looking back, it seems like an excellent decision.
For years we had a financial advisor, who was a professor at the University; he reviewed our financial situation regularly, and often emphatically remarked, “it is not your income that is producing good financial results, it is that you have a great wife who spends prudently.” So, indeed after we decided to take early retirement at age 54 years, we have been financially adequate, to be able to do the many things that God has opened the doors for us to do.
To our own amazement, we could even start a small foundation called Heritage Youth For All Nations YFAN Foundation, to encourage young people to serve in the mission field of the nations. Indeed, living simply throughout our lives has given us fantastic meaningful opportunities and experiences, for which we are always immensely grateful. Good family traditions and Godly upbringing are a great combination!
让我们自己感到吃惊的是，我们甚至有能力可以启动一个小规模的基金，我们称之为“万国青年基金”YFAN, Youth for All Nations，以鼓励年轻人参与全球的福音事工。事实上，简朴生活本身已经给了我们足够的的生活体验和意义，为此我们总是非常感恩。优良的家庭传统和虔诚的成长经历结合在一起，对每个人都是非常有益的！