By Tara Bowie, Keremeos Review
A children’s book based on interviews done about 20 years ago with a man who lived in Cawston has earned global recognition.
The book titled The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing earned author George Chiang a 2017 Global Ebook award for best Chinese Literature Fiction and Juvenile Fiction.
Chiang travelled from his home in Toronto to interview Isaac (Ike) Sing over a two-week period in 1996 and then again in 1997.
During those interviews Sing spoke about many of his father Chen Sing’s adventures coming to Canada and working to build the railway.
“Ike was an incredible storyteller,” he said during an interview from his home. “We actually met when I was in Cuba. He was fishing off a pier wearing a fishing vest. We were just lucky to be on the same plane and I walked down the aisle to talk to him.”
Chiang has been interested in Asian history since being a history student.
“There was no Asian history there. The railway experience with the Chinese was missing none of the courses had anything. I knew I had to do something to get that information out there,” he said.
He and Sing stayed in touch through letters until Chiang made the trip to Cawston.
When he met Sing he knew he had a link to the past.
“I figured none of this is any of the archives, not in any of the old newspapers. You can’t find this stuff,” he said. “Really it is about finding elderly people that knew stories from the past.”
His book is a work of historical fiction that follows Chen Sing’s journey to Canada in his teen years from south China.
Chen Sing grew up in an impoverished community before moving to the city. There he found out they were looking for people to help build the railway in Canada.
“He made the difficult two month journey to come to Canada. Once he and his cousin got here they made their way up the Fraser River in Native canoes,” he said. “One of the chapters is how they learn an appreciation for winter because Chen Sing befriends a Native girl who introduces him to snow shoes.”
The book also outlines Chen Sing’s adventures with natural disasters including a rock slide, wild animals, illness and the tough work involved with building the railway.
When his railway days were done Chen Sing operated a store in Merritt until his death in 1941. He had eight children. His descendants now span multiple generations and are well over 100 people.
Ike Sing lived in Cawston until his death in 2003. Some of his family still lives in the area.
The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats on Amazon.