According to ahpa, my paternal grandma was somewhat a scholar. She wrote beautiful Chinese words. She used the abacus (yeah, she knew her arithmetics. I dunno what happened to my gene. Mutated, I guess) She named all her grandchildren.
Our names are her works of art. In each family, there would be a distinct character. For instance, my siblings and I have the ‘tian’ (sky) character as our middle name. Mine in particular means ‘beautiful sky’. (Gag all you want lah).When combined with my sister’s, a whole new meaning would emerge. It’s “Bizarre” but in a nice, special way. Unique is probably a better choice of word. Apparently, if I were a boy, I would have been named Tian Wai, because when combined with my other brothers’ names, a grandiose meaning would surface.
I vaguely remember about ahpa’s nickname. Being the 8th child, he was christened as ‘8-dad’. In Chinese, it would have been written as ‘Baghdad’ with a good meaning (those who knows Chinese, please help me with this). Each child has a significant number as part of their names. Ingenious!
After her husband’s demise, my ahma was quite matriarchal. I was 5 when she passed on. So I do have glimpses of memories of her.
Always grouchy. Always grumpy.
Aiyoyoyo… no fun indeed.
She was a couch potato, always watching those TVB series on video tapes. Mong Chung Yan (Man in the Net), Siong Hoi Than (The Bund), and lain lain. Every night, the TV blared. Sometimes she appeared to be sleeping but nobody dared to turn the idiot box off.
My ahbu claimed that she was assigned to accompany ahma to watch those series. Even though tired, the shows must go on. That is probably why she doesn’t watch TV now. Phobia…
This particular scene stood out in my memory:
I was probably about 4 years old. Ahma was as usual, sitting on those colourful recline-able ‘beach’ chair. You know, those kind with plastic ‘strings’ wound around the metal frame ? And you could strum those strings like you are strumming a guitar? I did that a lot. Anyways, my ahma was watching tv, and I was lying down on my ahbu’s lap who was seated on the floor.
Suddenly my ahma hollered, “ So big girl, still lay on your ahbu’s lap. Shame on you!”
With that, my ahbu ushered me up and I left, feeling hurt and forcibly grown up.
Clearly, my ahma was not an affectionate person.
On the day she died, I had just pierced my ears the day before. I was in my kindergarten uniform, awaiting the ride to school, when the phone rang with the message that “ahma is gone”. I was pleased I didn’t have to go to school but I was upset that I had to remove my new ear rings before I could show them off to my friends.
Of her demise, I was apathetic.
That’s the story of my ahma who have lived (70 years?) but left no legacy for the next generation. Oh I forgot.. she left some names for us. Heheh!
Now, my waipoh or in Hokkien ‘warmar’ (maternal grandma) was the opposite of ahma. She was very subdued in manner.
Even in her sixties, she looked ..old... ancient even. If she were alive, she would make a good exhibit in museum. Look, it’s hard to find ‘porpor’ who dressed like her these days. Her white hair was always coiled in a bun. She wore those ‘majai’ baju, with soft baggy black pants. Never worn a bra in her entire life! And those cute Chinese slippers? Beaded and embroided type? Her pair could last for years! She wore a jade bangle and a golden one, which made the ‘clang clang’ sound whenever she was around.
She stayed with my uncle, but occasionally came to stay with us. My sister would wash her hair, which hung to her waist. I was always too busy playing. Frankly, I was not close to her as well.
She was very particular about ‘electric bills’; turning off the spinning fans and fluorescent lights whenever the opportunity arose ie. the moment you walk into the toilet, the room light and fan automatically get turned off.
She woke at 5 am, if not earlier. And I get chided when I was still asleep at 7am. (The sun is shining at your buttock!)
Other than that, she was just very quiet. We have often wondered if she thought of anything.. anything at all (besides electric bills and How to be a Good Daughter in Law 101) And if she did, why didn’t she voice them? Was she opinionated? This is quite a puzzle because she remained cowed till the last days of her lives. Even my ahbu had a hard time talking to her.
Having said that, my 3rd brother was the only person capable of making her laugh.He is quite good in imitating and conversing in her accented Hokkien twang.
‘Siang dai?’ which means what’s up? (Modern Hokkiens would say, ‘Hamit su?’)
‘Umber’ (not Amber Chia, ok?), which is porridge.
I don’t remember many of the words, for obvious reason. I was never chatty with her.
In the end, she passed away, with my 3rd brother (alive!) next to her - the one whom she loved most.
At least someone loved her dearly.
What would I have called my maternal grandfather? Oh yes, ‘wargong’. Nothing much was spoken about him. I don’t think I have seen a picture of him.
According to ahbu, he used to have a coffee shop. He was short and plump. That’s it.
That era was indeed pitiful. Silence is golden, perhaps. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Ended up, I know nothing about him. Pity ... pity..
Medical History (Revealing the odds and ends)
Now, Gooly.. if you must know, my ahpa met my ahbu at a wedding dinner. My ‘wargong’ and ‘ahma’ were siblings, which means your grandparents were cousins. That is why your mahmee is short and overly smart (needs scientific verifications).
While we are the topic of mutated genes and family medical history, you should know:
a. my 2nd aunt suffered an aneurysm, had her brain sliced and was never the same ever since.
b. my 2nd uncle died of high-blood pressure due to high consumptions of durians (post mortem by non-PHD family members
c. another auntie (not blood related) had some serious mental erm.. ‘problems’
(c)’s story is pretty interesting…spooky but nonetheless can be made into a blockbuster movie. Get ready your blankie..
It all started when one day, my uncle realized that his van had gone missing. This was during the era when burglars, snatch thieves and robbers were not considered as ‘occupations’. Hence, he asked if his wife had seen it.
It was reported that she had replied nonchalantly that the van was ‘thrown’ away at a rubbish dump for it contained ‘dirty you-know-what’. Ahem.. bulu roma naik.
Thereinafter, she behaved weirdly.. snarling, with curled lips and fingers. At one time, she claimed that she was Kuan Yin reincarnated, asking my uncle to drink her spit. When cousins visited their house, stories were told at the kopitiam, each time the versions got wilder and scarier.
She was said to be so strong; she could knock down an iron gate with a swift ‘moyingkiok’ no-shadow kick.
She was said to walk on air (wearing Nike Air kot? )
And then it got weirder, which involved a kidnap (her kids were taken away for fear of their safety). At that point, we wondered if a divorce was imminent. Alas, that didn’t happen. The kids were returned. The husband still shares the same bed. As of now, the children are all grown up, some in universities, some joined the working force.
Does anyone want to be reminded of the sad past? I don’t think so.
Gooly, your ahgong have 9 siblings.
6 have passed on.
One is not in talking terms with him.
One is indifferent.
Another is half-a brain (post aneurysm).
Their children we meet every few years. Some we have forgotten how they look. Some we pretended we are not related when met on the streets.
The family-tree branches have snapped and are broken. Some due to force, some due to circumstances.
It’s not something to be proud of, and yet it can neither be reverted nor rectified.
Now we have our own family tree, growing its own branches and buds. Take care of your siblings (if any), love your cousins, treasure your aunties and uncles.
The past we cannot change. The future, let’s make it better, shall we?
Now, let me test your knowledge on history... Fill up the blanks!