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The Journey Begins

... British colony of Malaya where the father, probably for economic reasons,
allowed his daughter to be adopted informally by a Chinese family in Singapore.
Liem Tioe and his young son, Liem Seeng Tee, then boarded a second, less
hospitable boat travelling east to the port city of Surabaya in East Java.

Like so many Chinese immigrants to Indonesia, Liem Tioe fell victim to either
malaria or cholera within six months of his arrival in East Java. Aware of his
imminent death, one of Liem Tioe’s final acts was to give his son up for adoption
to a Chinese family living in Bojonegoro, East Java.

This modest family raised the young boy as best as they could despite the harsh
colonial conditions of the time. Although no formal schooling was available, Seeng
Tee’s adopted father, who worked in some form of trade, was able to provide him
with his first formative exposure to the Chinese mercantile system. This knowledge
would serve him well in the future. During this time with his adoptive family, Seeng
Tee also learned to speak both Mandarin and the Hokkien dialect.

At the age of 11, Seeng Tee began working on the railroad. Effectively homeless,
he started out hawking food carried in a sarong to travellers in the lower class
compartments journeying between Jakarta and Surabaya. Eventually he progressed
to waiting on tables in the first class lounges occupied by the then Dutch colonial
patrons. In later years, his family would listen spellbound as he recounted his
“adventures” of those early years, jumping onto moving rail cars in the middle of the
night with a sarong full of biscuits in one hand and all his possessions strapped to his
back in a canvas bedroll.

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