On Thursday’s episode of The Talk, host Julie Chen shared an story from her family’s history. Her maternal grandfather, Lou Gaw Tong lived in Burma, now Myanmar. Tong’s own father died when he was just 10, so from a young age, he’d had to begin working to support his family.
Tong eventually became the most successful businessman in all of Burma, but this came with a price. “Because he was wealthy and well-known, this put a target on his back,” Julie said.
“People knew who he was, so bandits one day kidnapped his elderly mother and one of his teenage daughters—my mom’s sister.” The bandits held the two women and demanded a large ransom.
“So my grandfather gathered up all the money, got the money together and gave it to his nephew to deliver it for the exchange. Unfortunately, this nephew double-crossed my grandfather, and disappeared into the night with the money.”
This turn of events shocked the audience. How could this nephew deny his family their means of survival?
“As it turned out, because of that, the bandits murdered my great-grandmother, and my mom’s sister, in the end, ended up marrying one of the bandits who murdered her grandmother.”
This was the crucial point of Julie’s story. What would her grandfather do now that he’d lost his mother and one of his daughters?
“Now, after all this, you would think my grandfather would be out for revenge and out for blood. In fact, it was the exact opposite. He didn’t blame the bandits; he blamed the fact that the bandits didn’t have an education. He said they didn’t know better and they were raised with no hope of a future and they had no means to survive, which is why they had to lead this life of banditry.”
So Tong set out to change that endless cycle in the community. He built a school in “his poor, rural hometown,” hoping that education would change the people’s lives.
As part of TLC’s show Who Do You Think You Are? which explores a person’s familial history, Julie was able to travel to that school and meet with members of the community. They all expressed the positive effect the school had on the community, telling Julie, “This school has completely turned this neighborhood around.”
This incredible story taught Julie a valuable lesson. “When you’re faced with something so tragic, you can either choose the darkness or you can choose the light. There can be light out of something so dark, but you have to choose the light.”