Posts filed under Memories

One memory leads to another

Filed in Memories, The Working Life

After my lupus follow-up with my rheumatologist yesterday, I’d gone to IOI Mall for lunch. As I drove in and made my way to the basement parking area, something I’d not thought of in years suddenly came to mind. I used to come to the office section of this mall to work on multi-media presentations at a supplier’s office. I used to work through the night and the car would be parked in the outdoor area. In the mornings when I left, there was no parking charge and the boom gate would go up for me to leave.

One memory led to another, having in common the location, this mall. One day, a few of us had come to the supplier’s office for a meeting. The head of department drove. After the meeting, I’d gone to the washroom and when I came out, I was told they’d left. I rushed outside, looked around and saw the car at the exit boom gate. I made my way over, they waited. Whatever made my HOD decide to leave me behind? Finally a chance to remind me who’s boss? In her first month as HOD, I’d spoken up at an internal meeting and told her she shouldn’t have done something. Ever since then, I was given the cold seat.

Here comes another memory, this time having a person, the HOD, as the “link”. A few years after the above incident, HOD was diagnosed with breast cancer. In her absence, our department came under the head of another department, as none of us were deemed suitable as acting HOD. Every day, some of my colleagues could be found going often to the other department, to be “seen”. As for me, I stayed where I was, minding my own business.

25-year-old mug

Filed in Memories, Travels

I’d bought this red mug during my first trip to England in 1985. We (aunt, cousin and cousin’s family) were driving up to Manchester to visit cousin’s husband’s cousin and aunt, and at a rest stop somewhere between London and Manchester (a cafe with a pottery store), I saw and fell in love with this mug.

Its pristine condition shows that I’ve not used it much over the years. I didn’t want to risk breaking, or even just chipping, it, so I’d kept it away all these years.

There was another reason – tea stains that clung on and refused to be washed off. But recently, I tried a tip I’d read online – I soaked the mug with water “laced” with a denture cleansing tablet and the stains came off but not 100%. Maybe I’ll soak it again. But will I use the mug? Nope. I still don’t want to risk breaking, or even chipping, it.

That 1985 trip was a turning point in my life. I fell in love with England, having experienced it first-hand and not just through books and magazines. I told myself I would return and stay longer, but I knew the only valid reason to stay longer was if I returned as a student.

A year later, I was retrenched (laid off from work). It was the start of the 80s recession. Instead of looking for another job just to get by, I told myself it was time to go back to school. I spoke to my parents about it, and my mother said “good idea, we support you but we don’t have the money to help you.” She spoke to my sister who said I should’ve thought about it earlier (literal translation from what she said in Cantonese).

So I got to return to England, thanks to my sister’s generous financial support. I got to stay there longer (3 years) and legally as a full-time student.

Oh, I’ve digressed from the story of this 25-year-old mug …

Remembering May 13

Filed in Memories, Personal

I was there. My grandfather’s Chinese herbal shop was on the street where it all started. I still remember all the other shops were already closed, but ours wasn’t. My dad and his older brother refused to close the shop, instead waiting at the entrance and it was only when they saw a group approaching from the opposite side of the roundabout that they decided to pull the metal shutters and lock up. Till today, I still shudder at what would’ve happened if one of them had stumbled and they were a moment too late.

I remember sitting at the round marble table upstairs doing my Malay homework, and thinking “No school tomorrow!”

I remember we took turns peeping out from the middle window in my parents’ bedroom to see the burning on the street below. It wasn’t easy – the windows were the old-fashioned wooden-slat type and we had to physically open the window for a slit wide enough to peep through.

I remember seeing the photo shop burning across the road. It had a huge glass display window, some framed photos inside surrounded by yards of decorative fabric. The window got smashed and the wooden photo frames and fabric used for burning.

For many years, there were different versions of what happened, why it happened and who was involved. For many years, these different versions of May 13 conflicted with mine, but the recent publication of May 13 by Dr Kua Kia Soong has verified that what I remember of that night is true.

Family History

Filed in Family, Memories

It’s five years since father left us on 15 April 2005 – at 7:05 a.m., to be exact. I was 15 minutes late posting a tweet about it this morning.

He would be 80 if he were still here.

Five days ago, his 2nd sister-in-law passed away at the age of 87. During the funeral, I learned from my cousin Ronnie that his father, my dad’s 3rd brother, had been 58 when he passed away in 1979.

The day after 2nd aunt passed away, I found myself thinking it’s just 4th uncle and Sai Goo (dad’s youngest sister) left of their generation. Then I remembered 2nd uncle is still here. Mother, too. 4th aunt as well. And Sai Goo Jeong (Sai Goo‘s husband). Also 3rd aunt. Oops x 5. I’m losing my mind.

On the 2nd evening of 2nd aunt’s wake, sitting at the same table with some cousins, I brought out my Palm TX and showed off the old family photos in it. I’ve done this before, but this time, the old photos brought up the old family movies shot on Super8. My sister and I asked about them and learned they’re with 4th uncle’s family. Now there’s a possible family project to convert the Super8 reels to DVD.

I have a keen interest in preserving our family’s history. Although I was only 3 when my grandfather passed away in 1961, I’d heard enough stories about him to know he was a special man. One, in particular, was told by a man who knew grandfather and had been the recipient of his generosity.

I learned from Sai Goo that grandfather had been 75 when he passed away in 1961. This meant he was born in 1886. The story I remember being told about him as a successful businessman who decided to come to Malaya (as Malaysia was known then) to open a Chinese medical hall was recently revised after a chat with my Sai Goo. Grandfather had actually come to Singapore to work in a Chinese medical hall and later came north to Kuala Lumpur to work in the KL branch of that medical hall. Years later, around the time my father was born, grandfather came out on his own to open a shop that sold a variety of goods but eventually only Chinese herbs (the business he knew best).

I also always thought Grandfather’s older children were born in China, but I was wrong. When grandfather came to Singapore, he left grandmother behind in the family village, and only sent for her later. All their children were born in Malaya, although there is a gap of a dozen years between the eldest, my 2nd uncle, born in 1919, and the youngest, my Sai Goo, born in 1931.

In his time, the family’s Chinese herb business grew and a second shop was opened. My grandfather became quite a prominent figure around town. Although no streets were named after him, at the time of his death, he was sent off with a grand funeral procession that took up all the trishaws in town (to carry the funeral tapestries given by business associates) and went from the shop in Chow Kit, through the major roads, all the way to the Kwong Tong Cemetery near Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka.

He was sent off in a grand hearse, and just before the final journey started, the entire family gathered in front of the hearse for a last photograph with him.

There are holes in my knowledge of the family history. In particular, I need to find out more about my Dai Goo (father’s eldest sister) who passed away when I was studying overseas, and also Dai Goo Jeong, her husband. As a kid, I used to visit their family, and also Sai Goo’s family a lot; I visited both together as they were living near each other in Sentul, which was then known as “Cowboy Town”.

As with most family histories, there are also dark spots that nobody really talk about. During 2nd aunt’s funeral, Ronnie had referred to 2nd uncle as Dai Bak (eldest uncle). We actually have a Dai Bak, who was adopted into the family as a boy but, because he was adopted, was not close to the family and instead committed an unfilial act that caused grandfather to put an advertisement in the Chinese newspapers to disown him. According to Ronnie, at grandfather’s funeral, Dai Bak’s eldest son had attended but the rest of the family refused to let him put on the mourning clothes. That was how serious the rest of the family viewed the unfilial act. But many years later, when Dai Bak passed away in Singapore, 2nd uncle and his eldest daughter, 3rd aunt (Ronnie’s mother), my dad, my sister and my brother attended his funeral. And when his wife passed away, my brother attended her funeral on behalf of everyone else. Sometimes, despite family quarrels and even the most unfilial act, family is still family, especially with the passage of time.

Related Posts:
Grandpa Chin
Grandfather’s Generous Spirit
The family’s Singapore connection

Grandma’s 4-poster bed

Filed in Family, Memories

On the third day of this Chinese New Year (16 February), Jen my sister went visiting. This was a rare occurrence because previous years, she and family would be away (a lot of people go away during festive holidays), but this year, they couldn’t find anywhere interesting so they went back to my brother-in-law’s hometown for a couple of days.

It was such a rare occurrence that when we arrived at our 3rd aunt’s house (the first relative we visited), the old lady exclaimed “Which wind blew you here – north, south, east or west?”

Yes, “we” visited because I went along, partly as navigator and partly for company (I’d already visited on the first day with my brother). This really shows how long since Jen last visited our various uncles and aunts – she’s mostly forgotten the way, and this was not helped by the fact that the roads have changed and also the familiar scenery along them.

We visited three houses that day – 3rd aunt’s, 2nd uncle’s, and Sai Goo‘s (she is father’s youngest sister; sai means “little” or “youngest”, while goo is the word for aunt on father’s side).

Jen managed to meet up with two cousins of her age that day. This was a treat because the rest of the year, everyone would be too busy to keep in touch, except over the phone. Meeting up with cousin Kat, Sai Goo‘s eldest daughter, was probably the highlight as she and her family live in Brunei so the chances of meeting up at other times were really rare. This was why we waited for her after Jen spoke with her on the phone while at her mother’s house.

As kids, the older cousins used to hang out with one another a lot. Maybe because they hadn’t met for so long, but cousin Kat started asking my sister “do you remember?” questions when they sat down to chat after she eventually returned from lunch (as it turned out, with another cousin and her family).

“Do you remember grandfather’s big black car?” she asked my sister. “The driver would fetch me in the evenings to the main shop and we would all go to play at the roundabout.”

My sister said yes, but after comparing descriptions, it turned out she was remembering the wrong car.

“Do you remember cousin Jimmy used to stage talentime shows on Grandma’s 4-poster bed? He was our ringleader!”

My ears perked up. Grandma’s 4-poster bed? Talentime shows? My mind pictured all these little kids running on top of its mattress and pretending to sing.

Grandma’s 4-poster bed had a special place in my childhood. It was the bed that I shared with my nanny when I was under her care.

The bed was big. How big? I remember nights when I couldn’t sleep and I would get up, tie the corners of my little blanket into a “bag” (the way I’d seen it done in Chinese sword-fighting movies) and walk on the bed, pretending I was travelling, going from one village to another (the way the heroes in those Chinese sword-fighting movies used to do).

The bed was high, too. How high? Nanny used to store boxes of stuff beneath it, and I had my little secret place there, hiding my little notebooks (paper) in a box way inside the underside of the bed. It was especially cooling for naps on hot afternoons.

I remember being told Grandma had given the bed to Nanny when Nanny came to work for us. For a long time, I thought they were friends. It was only recently that I realised it couldn’t have been. Grandma had died when father was just 8 years old, and Nanny had come to work for us soon after Jen was born, when father was around 22. Grandma and Nanny couldn’t have been friends. A piece of family history has now been rewritten – well, not rewritten, but set in its proper time frame.

My guess is that Grandma’s 4-poster bed remained after she passed away. None of father’s siblings took it because its size made it difficult to dismantle and move (it was also heavy, made of brass.) Some of them were living away from the shop. The more modern ones preferred, well, more modern furniture. So, when Nanny came to work for us, and our family was living under the same roof as the bed, she was given the bed to share with the baby (my sister), and later with my brother, and then with me.

When we moved out of the shop in the early 90s, it was to a house with rooms that would not fit the bed. I asked around and a friend from my schooldays asked if she could have it. She had seen the bed before when she used to visit and always thought it would be a neat bed to own. She didn’t mind the trouble of dismantling the bed and moving it. She later told me her niece and nephews really enjoyed sleeping on the bed – they had never seen or slept in such a big bed before!

It’s years since I’ve asked about the bed, and I hope it’s still providing rest for someone somewhere. Not sure about talentime shows, tho.