The Quan's Residence at the corner of King Street and East Canal in Belize City
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Noel Escalante
Belize City resident, used to work for the Belize Tourism Board
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The Quan's Residence at the corner of King Street and East Canal in Belize City

This was my second home during my teenage years. I grew up with that family, going on many trips around Belize together, and eating Miss. Quan's delicious tamales at Christmas time. The house also hosted many "attic" parties in the 70's. I danced my first dance there.

It's the house of Asuciena Quan from St Ignatius school, I went to school with her. Always remember how quiet and very smart she was..

Belizean Patriot Simon Quan

Before he came to Belize, Simon Quan had been working in Hong Kong in a rice wholesale company as his boss’s sideman. He had been married only three months before he came to Belize, leaving his wife pregnant with their first child, Emily.

He told us that when he came to Belize, he earned $180 a month. He sent $150 of that home, keeping $30 for himself. From his salary he would treat himself to a coke and a haircut. He recalls that the coke cost 15 cents and the trim 50 cents. He lodged with Augusto Quan and his family, so his living expenses were minimal. He does not party or gamble, nor does he fancy expensive jewelry.

According to him, he has always lived a very humble lifestyle, with his first priority always being his family’s well being.

Simon Quan has a very tumultuous life as a child, having lived in China and Hong Kong during the times of the Second World War and barely surviving the Japanese invasion of those territories.

He was born in Mexico in 1930. His father had gone there to work and his mother joined him later, but when he was two months old, his parents, along with his elder brother and sister, moved back to China. His father had lived in Mexico for 5 years, and they had to flee because of a national revolution, Simon Quan said.

After they returned to China, his father built a house for them and later returned to Mexico, leaving his wife and children behind. He attended school in China, but the Japanese invasion forced the family to eventually flee to Hong Kong. The war, called the Sino-Japanese War, began in 1937 and continued into World War II.

The deadly conflict brought an end to his schooling and the children had to help their mother “ketch an kill”. Before the invasion, the family used to be supported entirely with remittances from the father in Mexico. The war completely disrupted the communication between them and the rest of the world, there were no letters, no passenger planes, no boats, except for those war crafts and those they used to flee the invaded provinces of China.

The Japanese invasion eventually spread to Hong Kong in 1941, and Simon Quan recalls the carnage of those having died by torture and utter starvation. The whole of Hong Kong stank in those days and corpses, including those of children, littered the streets. One day you see your friend, the next day he is gone, he added.

For them to stay fed, they had to walk from the old to the new territory to trade basic provisions such as rice, flour and sugar. He told us that he and his mother used to have to walk a total of 34 miles, carrying 50 pounds of flour and sugar and taking back rice to their territory. The journey was a day long and they trekked it twice weekly.

For three years and eight months, the Japanese reign of terror continued. He likened the treatment they got to that meted out to cows and dogs. Having fled from their homeland in China, they had no family support. Quite a bit of their relatives, said Quan, died during the time of the invasion.

His eldest son, Peter, who was born in Belize and who served as Simon Quan’s translator in the interview, said it was “survival of the fittest.” Quan survived the economic hardships of those days because his mother and the children were willing to go more than the extra mile. His elder brother and sister used to sell sweets in the streets to help make ends meet.

After the war ended, the youngsters did not return to school. That’s when Quan started his work at the rice wholesaler. There, a woman approached him, asking him to marry her daughter, but Quan’s reply was that he could not handle a wife, because he had to take care of his mom and family. She eventually convinced him when she assured him that he would not have to worry about finances, since her daughter was a workingwoman, employed in a garment factory. So he agreed to marry her.

He left Honk Kong three months after the marriage, to work in Belize. Six years later, Bo Yee Quan, his wife, and their daughter, Emily, joined him here, and that’s when he opened his own store, starting with $4,000, which he borrowed from Augusto Quan. He rented a building from John Fuller for $500 a month and the money could only finance renovation, fixtures and his first stock of grocery items, such as Milo, milk and rice.

His other cousin, William Quan, Augusto’s brother, also assisted him. Simon Quan recalls that one day, William came to his store and saw that he barely had anything to sell, so he told him that he could get whatever he needed from his store on 30-day credit. He was also supported by other businesspeople such as the Estephans and Ismael Gomez, formerly of Brodies. With an overdraft facility from the Royal Bank of Canada (now Belize Bank), he was able to expand his store about two years later. These were the toughest times, he recalled. After that, it was smooth sailing.

Today, Simon Quan and Co. Ltd. occupies a large block of Queen Street, including its original location, #24, as well as #26, #16 and #18 Queen Street. Others had discouraged him from setting up business there, telling him it was bad luck, since many others had failed. But Simon Quan said that this was the only place he was able to set up his business. He used a third of the premises as his home and the other two third for business.

Contrary to the belief of some, the store prospered. It now employs about 50 and continues to be family-run, with his children, Peter, Lupita and Antonio, along with his daughters-in-law, Shelly and Lily, steering the ship.

He and his wife have had 9 children, three now living in the United States. They are the proud grandparents of 12, 9 of them boys. Quan said that his wife has been a huge help to him, having played a central role in his business as well as raising the children, who started helping out in the business as early as age 10.

While Simon Quan and his wife are staunch Buddhists, their children, who were brought up the Roman Catholic schools, have adopted Christianity as their religion.

Simon Quan never had a strong male figure in his life as a child, having been raised mostly by his mother. He expressed immense gratitude to his mother-in-law, now deceased, who saw a hardworking and kind man in him and encouraged him to marry Bo Yee.

He has an amenable demeanor and says he tries to avoid the vices of life, such as gambling, clubbing and smoking, but he does take his drink on Sundays.

Simon Quan is a national of Mexico, Belize, and Hong Kong, but he has spent 45 of his 75 years living here in the Jewel. He speaks several Chinese languages, the main one being Cantonese; though he is not entirely fluent in English.

From Amandala 6 February, 2006 by Adel Ramos

Photograph by Noel Escalante

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