A love for 7s and life

Three generations ... Beryl Quai Hoi (middle) with daughter Annie (left) and granddaughter Esther. Picture: FELIX CHAUDHRY

SHE may be 95, but Beryl Quai Hoi has a zest for life that is normally found in someone much younger.

While age has limited her mobility and kept her semi-confined to her Yarawa Rd home in Nabua, Suva, she remains in tune and in touch with the goings on around the world.

She gets the biggest kick out of following the Fiji 7s team’s progress in local, regional and international tournaments.

In fact, she has dozens of notebooks filled with Fiji’s games, scores and team details from over the past few years.

“I like sports and the Fiji 7s team is number one, win or lose, they are my favourite,” the nonagenarian shared.

Beryl’s enthusiasm for sevens rugby is more than matched with the passion to relay stories of her life in Nausori in the 1920s and Ba in the 1940s.

Born and brought up in Nausori, she considers herself a “kai Rewa”, even though she spent a considerable part of her life in Ba.

Her father, Mow Chung Quai, met her mum, Doris May Oong, during his travels to Australia for business.

Dad came from mainland China and met mum, who was part Chinese and Italian, and they had 10 kids — five boys and five girls.

“Three of us are still around — the eldest, Albert, who is 97, my sister Annie and me. All my other siblings — Desmond, Pauline, Cecil, Philip, Raymond, Marie and Patsy have all passed on.”

Mow Chung Quai, according to Beryl, was an all-rounder — a businessman, handyman and entrepreneur.

“He could fix anything and even build a house and he always had an eye out for any business opportunity.”

Beryl attended Dilkusha Girls School, but only went as far as Class 4.

“Mum fell sick and I dropped out of school to look after her and the rest of our family.

“That’s what life was like in those days.”

She said one of her most vivid memories was doing the family laundry on the banks of the Rewa River.

“Most people used to wash their clothes there.

“I had to take a lot of bars of soap because there were plenty sharks. If the soap fell into the river, no one would dare go in.”

Mow Chung Quai established a business called the Rewa Café which was frequented by United States Air Force servicemen stationed at Nausori airport during that latter part of World War II.

“We used to make our own ice-cream by buying ice from CSR and hand whisking it before setting it in the fridge. “It was very popular with the locals and the US Air Force people.”

In 1944, her father announced that a suitable suitor be found for Beryl and she was introduced to George Kai Fong.

“He was originally from Canton, China, but had gone to Yat Sen School and could speak good English.

“He had settled in Ba and was in the soap-making business.

“We got married and in 1945, I moved with George to Ba.”

Mr Fong eventually sold the soap production business to a Mr Punja and went into the confectionary trade.

“He used to sell candy for Lum Yip, a lolly factory in Ba. He travelled across the Western Division and when the owners put the business on the market, my husband bought it.” Beryl said she still recalls how she and her two daughters – Annie and Jane – used to manually wrap the lollies before packing them for sale.

“Ba was very different back in those days. There was a whole line of Chinese stores along the main street — these were businesses owned by Fong Lee, Lum Wah, Lum Yip, Lum Kee and then Motibhai came and bought most of the buildings in town much later.

“Life was very hard, money was not coming in, but somehow people managed to get by.”

Beryl said if she could do it all again, she would not change anything.

“I love my life, I made a lot of sacrifices, but it was all for my family and that made it worthwhile.”

Life has come full-circle for Beryl.

The commitment and sacrifices she made for her family are now being bestowed upon her by her daughter, Annie, who takes care of her at their Nabua home.

When quizzed about the secret to her longevity, Beryl said it was her faith in God.

She attends Calvary Temple in Suva.

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