Falling leaf returns to its roots! [落葉歸根]


Click here for the video.

It reminds me of those who seek fortune in a distant land away from their origin hometown. Having found their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they grow old and ache for their place of “origin”. They then decide to go back and retire to their hometown or ‘roots’ to seek rest and solace having fought and reaped abundantly in their younger days.

It is human nature where we would prefer to go back and die in our place of birth! This innate desire transcends all creeds and cultures.

It reminds me of an old farmer in the mid 70s. I lived in a kampung next to the present Paya Lebar airport near to Kaki Bukit area. This old farmer planted vegetables, reared chickens and ducks. He worked tirelessly from morning till dusk on his plot of land. He even planted his own tobacco leaf and cured it for his own consumption.

He had another family in China. He would remit money back to China regularly and go back once every few years. Every nite he would reminisce his other family in China even though he had a few children and a wife here.

When he retired in his late 70s, our China born farmer decided to board a ship back to his poor village in Kwangsi to reunite with his family there. He packed up whatever possessions he had in few wooden crates and headed back to his birthplace.

One of his four children who was very filial pleaded with him not to return to his poor village in China cuz in the 1970s, China was still in extreme poverty. He refused to listen. After he was gone, he is heard no more.

Even those older generation Indians living in those bygone days where they operated little corner ‘mama store’ round the clock along the five foot way also retired back to India to reunite with their family having made their fortune here.

When I was a little boy, I used to hear adults talking amongst themselves who and who – Indians or Chinese neighbors going back either for visit or retire to ‘唐山’ (tang shan, pronounced as deng shua in hokkien). It loses it’s meaning in Mandarin. It literary means ‘long mountain’. Maybe there are ranges of mountain in their villages in China and India where we don’t have any here.

Even they were here, they still kept track of developments in their hometown. If there was any flood or drought in their home village, they rally their compatriots to donate used clothing or utensils to send over via shipping. Their heart and soul still greatly attached to their place of origin. They didn’t identify with their adopted country.

The Chinese idiom 落叶归根 (luò yè guī gēn) English translation here holds special meaning to those older generations not born here. Only my parents, myself and children who were all born here will never behave like them. Unlike them, we will live and die here. We will 落叶归根 (luò yè guī gēn) here. Our umbilical cord is here not attached to there.

Even the sea turtles knowing that there are predators waiting for them, they still go back to Trengganu beach to lay their eggs. It’s a built-in innate instinct for those sea turtles from the deep South China sea to 落叶归根 (luò yè guī gēn) and lay their eggs there when the time comes. It’s programmed in their genes. It just can’t be logically explained.

It is rather naive to assume that getting 25,000 new citizens yearly over the next 5 years will bind them here? No amount of money you pump in on ‘social integration’ programmes will alter this fact. It’s akin to those instant trees found all over the island where their roots are not deeply entrenched. They easily got uprooted in a strong tropical storm! Just click here to take a look at those uprooted trees.

Do they understand this innate nature of yearning for one’s roots that is universal and timeless? Is it not an exercise in futility?

Dr Toothfully, Thank you so much for this wonderful yet moving MTV video which strikes a chord with me! A sombre rendition of a story in a song. The story of our life as we grow old and melancholic towards the end of our lifespan.

About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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11 Responses to Falling leaf returns to its roots! [落葉歸根]

  1. Robert Teh says:

    All the policies are aimed at protection and perservation of the so-called leadership approach of one man called Lee Kuan Yew. There is no new talent or leader who has the true leadership to upgrade the system of a more open and participative democracy. Visit http://managefranchise.blogspot.com for ideas on breakthrough change.

  2. Heng Yian says:

    There is new talent. But they don’t want to have anything to do with Singapore. Look at the brotherhod. They rather go to places where there is no government, electricity or running water to find their fortune. But let us be realistic, even these people know they will never see home again. They are not stupid. Not the first generation who started it all, at least, they will be the ones who will lay a solid foundation for my children to follow their footsteps. But it is such a tragedy for this first generation pioneers who have to go to distant shores. As it is really a one way ticket with no prospects of a return trip.

  3. Unless there is no prospect of returning home, I believe most would want to come back home when it’s time to call it a day. Thks for your comment.

  4. Or we read it as 返扑归真? Stripped off the veneer and back to origin.
    Ape interprets as whatever we do, we stick to fundamental truths and original objectives. When we progress, we tend to forget or deviate from what we had originally set out to do. When matters become complex, we’re lost, unless we re-discover why we took the first step.

    • I would prefer to use “饮水思源!” instead. We think and remember the source of origin when we drink the water. Your idiom is a little strong. To strip everything and return to its true original form? Can we follow Tarzan and Jane wearing the minimum back to nature (original) from our modern metropolitan society? Not likely right? We still need to keep some ‘veneer’ to cover up essentials! I wish we could be “free and easy!” so to speak. Really langgar!

      • Haha… no. Ape wasn’t intending to request all to be like ape in outward appearance.

        It’s more along the lines of asking ourselves what’s the purpose of working hard, increase productivity, migrate, etc. Why our forefathers migrate here in the first place? Why are the many foreigners migrating here now? It is everyone’s wish to improve our lives bit why? For that extra bucket of gold? Why? Why are we resisting the influx of foreigners? We’re selfish and can’t share that bucket of gold? Is there a bucket of gold to be shared in the first place? Who are getting the lion’s share? Who are surviving on scrapes? What are we fighting for? The gold? The meat? Or a better life for our children (or future generations)?
        What ‘root’ (根) or ‘source’ (源)to talk about if 根 don’t know what it should grow into and 源 doesn’t know where it should flow.
        My 根 and 源 brought me to where I am today. Given the limited resource they had, I appreciate where I am now. It’s my turn to be 根,源 to do my part and hopefully,the next generation will grow taller and flow further.

  5. Nebermind says:

    I would like to point out a mistake, it is not 长山 but 唐山 (tang shan, pronounced as deng shua in hokkien). 🙂

  6. Oh sorry abt that. I have it corrected already. Thks for pointing out the error.

  7. patriot says:


    Me likes the interpretations given to it here. Just likes to add that there maybe another dimension to it and that is identity.
    To keep ones’ origin as an identity for one to be mindful of the natural attributes related to ones’ nature, both superficial and innate. It is of course also for others to identify oneself and to know all the natural attributes, custom and tradition associated with ones’ tribe.

    The Teochews(Chinese Dialect) has a very pragmatic saying ‘ti gor liang, ti gor chor’, meaning settle at any place that provides the best shelter and it is implied in this saying to include not just shelter, but, the best of everything in living.
    In an era of a globalizing World, uprooting as can be seen happening within ones’ family, tribe and land is happening all the time. Man(kind) has somehow learnt to discard his/her origin and root since the day migration for various reasons took place ions ago. However, tradition and value did get most tribes to remain intact. Now, identity has gone beyond race(tribe), culture and nation.

    Money and fame are the goals of achiever, it is going to be much less a sense of belongings to ones’ identities to family, tribe and nationality. For the MODERN Beans, this is the way to progress, for the Traditional Beans, it is lamentable.

    Probably, Taiwanese Singer Tan Lui had the best conclusion in describing human nature; ‘hwah hee thio ho’, meaning, just do whatever that makes one happy. And me says, man will fight many battles with fellow beans, not just military wars of territorial, tribal, religious disputes; the greatest dispute will be the ideological differences that exist within ones’ family, tribe and society, therefore
    [落葉歸根] will become just an ideal in future and a history of the past.


    • Hi Patriot,
      Welcome back. You are now back in action! Well, I’m a “Traditional Bean,” it is therefore “lamentable” that if I could not die in my place of birth! I was born in the old KK Hospital and also stated on my birth cert as living at Lor X Geylang Rd. In those days, it’s all zinc houses unlike today monopolized by PRCs. The locals there are outnumbered by the foreigners. It used to be Orchard Rd where the foreigners (tourists) are more than locals.
      All my life, I’ve lived in the eastern part of Sg. Tanjong Rhu, Jln Ang Teng opp Hong San temple in Tai Seng, Kaki Bukit Batak, Bedok Reservoir Rd and now Pasir Ris! I still believe there are still ppl like me. Didn’t Chin Peng plead to return to his hometown from Southern Thailand but was not granted? Sadly, he was not able to “落葉歸根”!

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