Family

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The family’s Singapore connection

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Next year, my brother would’ve worked and lived in Singapore for 30 years. He’d answered an ad by the Singapore Government and went to work for them in 1980. Almost as soon as he joined the department, he was sent to Japan for six months’ training. Sometime in the early 90s (or was it the late 80s), he exchanged his PR status for a Singapore citizenship. I remember mother writing to tell me her mixed feelings about it (oh, so it must be the late 80s when I was still studying overseas) but he was advised to do it for the sake of his future – he was beginning to be passed over for training and promotion because he was just a PR, not a citizen. His immediate superior had given him that piece of advice.

But my brother is not the only one in the family with a Singapore connection.

A few years before he went there to work, my sister graduated from the Nanyang University (now Nanyang Technological University) in Singapore. I always felt very grateful to the university for its pre-U course. My sister had studied in a Chinese school, was (and still is) not very fluent in English, so her university opportunities were very limited, and Nanyang U was the only Chinese university in Singapore then. My sister also did not have very good exam results, but sufficient for Nanyang U to accept into its pre-U course. This practically “saved” my sister because she worked hard, very hard, that year and got into 1st year U and went on to graduate. In contrast, one of her classmates, who had been accepted straight into the 1st year, didn’t, and flunked out of university at the end of her 1st year. My sister also met her husband while at Nanyang U.

But my brother and sister are not the only ones in the family with a Singapore connection.

At the end of World War II, my mother set sail from Sandakan, Sabah, to Singapore to search for an uncle. She had buried both her parents during the war, and although reunited with her birth mother after the war, realised that there wasn’t much left in that town for her. She knew of an uncle who was in Singapore and decided to go and look for him there. By the time she arrived in Singapore, he was no longer there, having set sail for another port (he was a sailor). Fortunately, she met a group of women who would become life-long friends. From them, she learned of Kuala Lumpur and decided to take the train up to check out the town. After arriving, she stayed on, found a place to live, worked at a variety of jobs before landing a permanent one at a local publishing house, and met and married my father.

For a long time, I thought our family’s Singapore connection began with mother. And then, I learned about an earlier connection from almost the beginning of the 20th century.

I was talking with my father’s youngest sister about Grandma Chin, when my aunt said:

“At the time, they were living in Ampang.”

“Ampang? Weren’t they living at the shop in Batu Road?”

“No, at the time, your grandfather was working at a Chinese medical hall in Ampang.”

Okay, back up a bit.

I always thought my grandfather was already a successful businessman who came to Malaya to open a Chinese medicine shop. That’s what I was told. Apparently not.

What happened was Grandfather Chin had come to Kuala Lumpur to work at that Chinese medical hall in Ampang after he’d worked in the Singapore branch for a while.

The family’s Singapore connection had begun with Grandfather Chin.

Grandfather Chin had come from China to Singapore where he found work in a Chinese medical hall, and after working there for a while, he moved to Kuala Lumpur where he worked in the KL branch. After he was more settled, he sent for Grandmother Chin from China to join him in KL.

I always thought my dad’s older sister and 3 brothers were born in China. No. All of Grandfather Chin’s children – four sons and two daughters – were all born in Malaya.

Engaging mother

Filed in Family

Although we’ve put mother in a nursing home, we try to remain involved with her care. When we visit her, it’s usually either during tea or dinner, so we’ll help to feed her – my sister with tea and I with dinner. As for my brother, he takes care of both when he visits from Singapore.

As mother’s condition deteriorates, she’s often restless, moving her hands to scratch her back or arms, and not keeping still for us to feed her. To help keep her hands still, the carers have given her a small soft toy to hold in one hand and sometimes, a towel to hold in the other. To keep her still during feeding, I have learned that it helps if we engage her in the feeding in some way. How?

It’s especially difficult when we try to feed her liquids, either by putting the mug to her lips or with a spoon. I’ve found that if I tell her to hold the mug and then put her left hand on the mug, for some reason, she can sense that it’s a drinking vessel in her hand, and she would tighten her hand on the mug (instead of just resting the hand on it). When I tell her to drink, I can feel her “helping” to move the mug to her mouth. At the same time, I can see her lips parting in anticipation of the drink coming towards her. When we get her involved this way, the liquid doesn’t spill at all.

When it comes to her bowl of food, I’ve told her to “help” me hold it, then put her left thumb on the rim of the bowl and the rest of her hand around the base. While this keeps her hands still, it doesn’t always get her to open her mouth for the food. More and more, she’ll keep the last mouthful without chewing or swallowing, which could sometimes take a long while! We have learned to watch her and try to get her to talk, because when she does, her mouth will start to chew and swallow. Her feedings are taking longer and longer; often, she’d be the first to start and the last to finish.

This refusal to chew and swallow got so bad recently (we had to use a large syringe pump to feed her) that I went to see her geriatrician , Dr R, about it. He looked at her 2 medications and said she didn’t have to take one of them anymore. Risperdal had been prescribed for her when her condition was first diagnosed, to calm her and minimise her restlessness. Now that she’s confined to a wheelchair, Risperdal was no longer necessary. Or so we thought.

True enough, her chewing and swallowing improved after she was taken off Risperdal. But her restlessness also increased and she was scratching more, and quite violently, too, often leaving streaks of red on her skin. So I called Dr R to suggest we put her back on the dose, but every other evening, instead of the previous daily evening. He agreed, and it worked. Now, mother chews and swallows better, and scratches less, too.

This past weekend, we learned that she’d been coughing. The cough medicine made her drowsy and on Saturday, she slept through tea and was very sluggish over dinner. The next evening, in the car on my way to see her, I found myself wondering if we were going to lose mother soon. But I was in for a surprise when I saw her. I’d greeted her and told her it was dinner, did she want it. She grunted her usual “yes”. And during dinner, she kept her hand on the bowl when I put it there, and finished her food in almost record time. Before I left, I bent close to tell her I was leaving and would come and see her again next week; she rewarded me with another of her “yes” grunts. I was so happy, I tweeted about it on my way home (during a stop at a red light, I hasten to add). This was what I tweeted:

Had a good visit with mum. She was alert. I live 4 days like this.

I was also so pleased with how she held the bowl, I took a picture.

Mother and I – we’ve come to a point in our lives where our roles are now reversed, and I behave like a proud parent everytime she does something encouraging.

Thoughts on scrapbooking

Filed in Family, Memories

It recently occurred to me that my mother might’ve been a scrapbooker, maybe even one of the first in Malaysia. Except in those days (the 50s and 60s), it wasn’t known as scrapbooking, at least not in this part of the world, and there weren’t all the fancy scrapbook albums, accessories and supplies. Instead, there were just photo albums.

My sister, brother and I each have our own baby albums. These are simple books with black pages, hard board covers with designs, and photo corners used to hold the photos in place. The photo corners in my baby album are plastic and still in good condition, while the ones in my brother’s album are paper, some of them fraying. I think my sister’s album has paper photo corners, too, but I don’t have it on hand to check; she took hers with her after she married.


My brother’s baby album


Mine was a bit more ornate; but it was also four years later

Further back than my sister’s baby album, there is also my parents’ wedding photo album. Even further back than that are photo albums commemorating the 25th anniversary of the family’s Chinese medicine shop, as well as the opening of the family’s second Chinese medicine shop. In addition to photographs, the anniversary albums also had newspaper clippings of congratulatory messages advertised by business associates. Many of the photo corners in these albums have lost their adhesiveness so flipping through the pages is often an exercise in caution not to let a photo slip from its original page.


Some of the congratulatory messages in the
shop’s 25th anniversary “scrapbook”

All our albums also feature identical family portraits taken every year on, or around, our parents’ wedding anniversary. The portraits were taken at professional photo studios, but not during regular business hours. Since both our parents worked and couldn’t take time off for the sessions, we had to do it after business hours. Good thing the various photo studios were owned by my father’s good friends who agreed to do the photography in the evenings. Every year, we would put on our best clothes (chosen by mother in our younger days) and troop into the studio for the portraits. Each annual set would feature one of the whole family, a second of our parents, and a third of just us kids. The early portraits were full-length shots; these changed to half-body shots beginning from the year my sister and brother decided they didn’t want to wear shoes and asked that the slippers not be shown in the photos.

In addition to our baby albums, we also have other photo albums through our growing years. The designs of each successive album give an indication of the changing tastes and times. From the simple books of black pages and photo corners, we moved on to fancier self-adhesive albums with stiffer board-like sticky pages, each overlaid with a film cover the same size as the page. To mount the photos, the film is lifted off the page, the photos put in place and the film repositioned over them. The film can be lifted off again and again; unfortunately, over the years, the sticky pages lost the self-adhesiveness so that the photos are no longer held firmly in place.

From these self-adhesive photo albums, we moved onto photo albums with pockets. Those were the last complete albums that required time spent selecting photos to include in each album. Latter albums were throwaway albums that came back with photos sent for developing, each sufficient to display either 24 or 36 pictures, depending on the size of the film roll used. Once the photos went into such albums, they stayed there, and the albums accumulated into stacks over time, the intention to sort and refile them into bigger, more permanent albums, diminishing with each passing year.

And then, there were no more albums. At least not for me, as I’ve moved on to taking digital photographs which do not require physical albums to file them.

And now, in my mother’s footsteps, I am ready to become a scrapbooker. A digital scrapbooker.

For a long time, I thought scrapbooking was a forward looking hobby, good for storing memories for future generations. In fact, that was what my mother did for us, store our baby and childhood memories for us to look back in later years. That’s what a lot of current scrapbooking examples show, too (including my friend Karenika’s excellent site). But recently, I realised scrapbooking can be used to look back, too; it’s a form of memoir. And I have lots of old family photos to organise into scrapbooks; all the various photo albums mentioned earlier are with me, and I’m sort of the family historian.

However, I don’t really like physical scrapbooking – the physical pages and the pictures will deteriorate over time, and there can only be one copy which will be difficult to share with the rest of the family (my sister, brother, as well as our cousins). So what’s the alternative?

Digital scrapbooking. It will be paperless (I will be doing my part in not killing trees for my hobby), and will help to preserve old photographs. It will also be easy to share, especially online – once a scrapbook is ready and uploaded online, I just need to send an email to family members with email access.

In my own way, I have dabbled with digital scrapbooking, but in a very simple, almost primitive way. During my early website days, I’d created a mini site celebrating the family’s Chinese medicine shop, and scanned the two anniversary photo albums to put on that site. A few years later, I discovered software to create online photo galleries and have set up an online photo site which is home to various photo albums, including one for old family photos that I put up for my cousins after an older cousin passed on last year.

All these efforts to date are just digital photo albums, the way my mother’s “scrapbooks” of our baby photos are just photo albums, but they have been leading me to this moment. Mother is no longer able to further her skills to make actual scrapbooks, but I will take over and plan to learn digital scrapbooking skills to help me create digital memories of our family history for our future generations.

Now, where to begin?

Father’s link to the world

Filed in Family

When father was a young boy, he had one day bumped into a man who had slapped him on the side of his head. This is what my mother told me years later by way of explaining how father had been hard of hearing all my life. From this bit of information, I can imagine father must’ve been playing and running, and running without looking where he was going so that he bumped into the man, and the bump must’ve been hard enough for the man to probably think “what a naughty boy!” and to give him the slap as a result.

One of my memories of father is of him in the evenings, after his shower, cleaning his ears. I remember he was hard of hearing in both ears but one ear (probably the one on the side where the adult had slapped him) was worse that the other. But he would clean both ears as apparently, he could hear better after a good cleaning.

In the early 1980s, we managed to persuade him to consult an ENT specialist to see if anything could be done for the less damaged ear. I remember the specialist sitting in front of father, and putting one hand near one of his ears, asking “Can you hear?” as he clicked his fingers.

Even then, I found myself thinking “If my father could hear, he wouldn’t be here to consult you.” Father thought the same, but answered the stupid question and waited to hear the doctor’s suggestion.

We can operate on you …

Will it help me hear better?

We’re not sure …

Of course, father did not agree to the operation. He also refused to see another ENT specialist or do anything more about his ears. A few years later, we tried again to persuade him to do something about his increasingly bad hearing. This time, we had a recommendation to see a hearing aid specialist. This time, too, we gave father another reason why he should see this specialist – his grandson, CS. Didn’t he want to hear his grandson’s voice? That persuaded him.

The hearing aid specialist had better “bedside manners” than the ENT specialist which warmed father to him. Instead of an operation, he suggested testing father’s ears with a machine in his office. The machine measured father’s level of deafness and determined that his left ear could be fitted with a hearing aid. Measurements were taken for the earpiece. A week or so later, I went with father to try on the hearing aid. During the fitting, the telephone in the office rang. Father asked what was that noise. It turned out in the years since his hearing worsened, the standard telephone ringtone had changed and father had never heard the new ringtone before that day.

In the 20-odd years since that first hearing aid, father had gone through a few (it’s still a gadget, and like all gadgets, prone to wear and tear over time). This was the last one he used before he left us.

He had a spare earpiece, which he would keep in the jar of “Super Dri-Aidâ„¢” to keep moisture out of the earpiece and tube.

In father’s later years, instead of cleaning his ears after his shower every evening, he would clean the earpiece he’d worn for the day, and swap it with the one in the jar to wear for the following day.

Japanese Friend

Filed in Family

This is the Japanese gentleman mentioned in this post.