One grew up in China, the other in India; their father, who died in 1982, wanted family united
Separated by war and distance, the first embrace between long-lost half sisters Jennifer An and Roesai An was decades in the making.
Their father, An Chipong, a Chinese sea captain, travelled to India with a commercial ship about 70 years ago, but World War II blocked his way back to China. He finally settled in Chennai, where he started a new family with Jennifer's mother, Irene Perera.
After trying for years, Jennifer, 62, finally fulfilled her father's dying wish to find Roesai, 82, his daughter from his first marriage in China.
The women's father tried for years to find his first daughter, but died just days after he received some clues from the Chinese embassy in India in the 1980s.
Distance and difficult transportation issues stymied efforts for years, but then China Radio International helped Jennifer locate Roesai in May. Jennifer flew to China with her husband and met her half sister in Beijing.
It was an exciting and fulfilling moment for Jennifer and her husband, V.R.S. Balaji, who had supported and encouraged Jennifer to find her sister.
"His very last wish was to find Roesai, and I felt happy to fulfil that," Jennifer said. "We hope to take her to India and visit some places my father had lived."
The couple expected to meet Roesai in Shanghai, the last address Jennifer's father had for his daughter. "So we're all prepared for Shanghai and we had little days to spend here. So everything is taking a topsy-turvy turn. We never expected to find her in Beijing," Jennifer said.
Roesai, after not seeing her father for more than 70 years, had mixed feelings about meeting her half sister for the first time.
"To be frank, I refused to meet her when I was contacted by China Radio International," Roesai said. "But I felt close to her at first sight. I cannot describe how I felt. Anyway, we finally met each other."
Jennifer recalled her childhood memories, her father's stories about his studying marine engineering at Oxford University in the early 1940s and about becoming the captain of a merchant ship in his early 30s.
"He was really a nice and warmhearted person," Jennifer said. "He had always been busy with operating a Chinese restaurant with my mom, and he helped local Chinese people on Mondays, when the restaurant was closed, doing anything he could to help, including burial affairs and marriages."
Unlike Jennifer, Roesai struggled growing up and was forced to live on her own. Her parents divorced when she was only 6, and she went off to live with her grandmother in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
All her other relatives, including her mother and her cousins, were killed in the Nanjing Massacre. Only she and her grandmother survived.
Soon after the war ended, her grandmother died after a long illness, and Roesai had to pretty much grow up on her own.
"Everyone in my Shanghai neighborhood knew my story and they used to say 'your father will never come back'," Roesai recalled, tears streaming down her face. "Losing such an excellent man left a hole in my life that could never be filled."
Jennifer tried to comfort her by touching her arms, and told her how their father missed her throughout his life.
Even though her father seldom mentioned his life in China, he kept a photo of Roesai in his wallet and made many attempts to find her. He wrote letters to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi trying to locate Roesai, and in 1982, received a handwritten letter with some possible clues.
Her father had hoped for Roesai to come to India, but he died shortly after receiving the information.