My grandfather and I in 2012 when we were last together at our family house in Jakarta

This week, I honor the memory of my grandfather who shaped so much the person I am today. Sie Tiam Tie was born on June 25th 1924 in Bogor, Indonesia. Engkong, as I called him, was my maternal grandfather, a mentor, and a guiding star who continues to inspire me every day.

He was born a few years before the Great Depression which brought misfortune to his parents. At the time, Indonesia was a Dutch colony, so Dutch was his first language. He had to leave school after primary school to start working and help support his family. He went through WWII and the ruthless Japanese occupation of Indonesia, the following Communist purges, and persecution of Chinese-Indonesians during the 30-year Suharto dictatorship. He witnessed a world of violence, atrocities, and famine that I can’t fathom.

Like other Chinese-Indonesians, he was forced by the regime to change his Chinese name to an Indonesian one. He liked to be addressed as ‘Harry’ (like ‘Harry’ Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore). Despite all the challenges and hardships, he remained a steadfast optimist his entire life. He resumed his education after WWII by taking evening adult classes, while working in the banking sector. He eventually rose to a senior position at the Indonesian Central Bank and later as senior executive in private Indonesian banks, helping them improve their operational efficiency. When he visited Japan in the 1970s for business, he saw the first computers which were the size of entire rooms. He later saw the advent of Internet. He helped establish universities and hospitals in Jakarta. He and my grandmother raised 5 children and travelled all over the world in their retirement.

I was born in Jakarta and lived the first three years of my life with my grandparents. Despite the geographical distance (we were later in different continents), we remained very close. I loved to listen to Engkong’s stories and learn from them. He was a very educated, gentle, open-minded person, fluent in Dutch, Indonesian, and English. He continuously worked on improving himself and stuck with a daily regimen of healthy nutrition, exercise, and intellectual study. He touched the lives of many who met him, regardless of age, nationality, or background.

As I go through my life journey, I try to keep his legacy alive and live by the principles he taught me:

Smile at life and be grateful for what it offers,
Keep an open mind, continuously learning and expanding your horizons,
Reflect on lessons of the past,
Look forward and seize opportunities,
Pursue your dreams and fulfill your life purpose,
Act with integrity and respect in all circumstances,
Love and care with all your heart,
Do your best and remain humble.

As I grow older, the more I realize and appreciate the legacy that my grandparents built with their children and grandchildren. We are all different, but there are common themes. Education and character-building are central tenets. So is curiosity for the world, love for nature and animals, and teaching/knowledge sharing. My grandfather made a point to attend as many grandchildren’s graduation ceremonies as he could. Among my cousins, there is a professor, social worker, zoologist, software engineer, accountant, and entrepreneur. We are spread out across Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, France, and the US. Several of us had to face at some point discrimination because of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We were taught to be resilient and to remain good-natured despite challenges. Each of us tries in their own way to uphold a spirit of hope, to be good and honest people, to care for our family and the environment around us.

I once asked my grandfather what helped him overcome so many trials in life. His answer was simple: faith. My grandfather and grandmother were Christian-Protestant. They believed in love, kindness, and tolerance. Faith is the most precious gift that they imparted to me. It is the one thing my grandfather wanted to make sure I had, when I was with him in his last hours. I believe with all my heart. I believe in this world and my church is Nature. If I can manage to touch positively the lives of others, as he did with me, then my life will not have been for nothing.

After my grandmother passed away in 1998, my grandfather remarried with an Australian lady he later met during a trip to Turkey. He lived his last years happily with her in Australia. He passed away there on Oct 11, 2012, surrounded by his family, including me and my mother who flew at short notice from France to be with him.

I witnessed my grandfather living and leaving this world peacefully and gracefully, content with a life lived well. I hope to be able to do the same when my own departure is at hand. Until then, I remain grateful every day that I was born his granddaughter.

Terima kasih (thank you), Engkong. I miss you.