I first visited Guangdong, where my ancestors came from, early this month to cover the second conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation. My brief was to make contacts and find a place to live as I begin a two-year assignment in Guangzhou this month. As such, I did not see myself as a visiting overseas Chinese like the other 3,000 participants at the conference. There were many differences between us, but one in particular stood out during those few days - most participants were in their 60s and 70s. While I like the company of older people, I would not have gone all the way to China to attend a clan association meeting if not for my job. I have stepped into a clan association building - the Kwang Shiew Association back home in Malaysia - maybe two or three times and each time to attend a funeral. My grandmother has talked about paying her membership dues and buying a burial plot. Friends tell me their mothers go to the Hainan Association to help cook for a wedding or some rite of passage while one of my uncles plays mahjong at the Foochow Association. Yet I've heard that association members are contentious, often fighting over leadership positions. With this background, it was only natural that I started to question the relevance of clan associations to overseas ethnic Chinese. I wondered at China's efforts to maintain its links with its diaspora once this generation of septuagenarians passes on. Mingling with the elders of the Guangdong community, I heard them talk about their love for China, the delicacies of their hometowns and whether they had changed over the years. There was a warmth and a camaraderie because they have a common reference point. I, too, began to identify myself with my ancestral village, but it was a matter of fact rather than sentiment. I am Chinese by ethnicity but I have a Malaysian identity and my loyalty is to Malaysia. In the 5.5 years that I have worked in China, I have not bothered to visit my ancestral village because its only link to me is a grandfather I never knew. I feel I am typical of Malaysians of my generation who were educated in schools where English was the medium of instruction. But I suspect my sentiments are shared by even those who studied in Chinese-language schools. China is where our ancestors come from. Full stop. Some of us have worked successfully in China without the aid of clan associations, so what have they got to do with us? Clan associations will be relevant to me if they can help further open up China and get its people to treat me as their equal.