I spent a lot of time with my granny, growing-up. I spent most of my early childhood at her two storey fixed-rent shophouse, which was where my mother grew up throughout the post-WWII years.
I tagged along with her to the Siglap wet market, which was about a 15 minute walk away. She used to buy me one or two dresses from the market stalls, and was so pleased when I loved wearing them. Some of her other grand-daughters found the dresses she bought too dowdy, and I think it hurt her heart quite deeply when they said they did not want to wear them.
Many would say that I was her favourite grandchild, out of 12. Incidentally I was the only one who called her Ah Chia, Hakka for maternal grandma. The rest called her Ah Nei, since she was the others’ paternal grandma. I was certainly the one closest to her, the one who learnt how to speak Hakka, and the only grandchild who can speak it somewhat decently to this day.
|Yup that’s me. Cute, I know.|
I remember my granny as an extremely loving, selfless lady, who helped take care of her grandkids when asked, and who could cook amazing dishes.
On ordinary days, I remember helping out by plucking the roots off beansprouts, mincing garlic with a huge chopper, slicing fishcake, or at other times, peeling gingko nuts, as well as sorting out the opaque rice grains from the translucent, then watching and helping her wrap rice dumplings once a year…
When I was little, she’d stop my aunty from teasing me, or pegging my fingers with clothes pegs, or taunting me by withholding candy… She was the protector I’d run to, and she was always awesome to hug.
|Three generations of Hakka women|
Although never rich by any measure, she was generous to a fault. She’d cook the most elaborate Chinese New Year meals, and invite all her relatives over to dine. She took in some of her nephews, and then housed one of my uncle’s friends, when they had family troubles.
My Ah Chia herself had a very hard life. Adopted by a family who ill-treated her, she was subsequently sent to Singapore from Ipoh in her teens to marry my grandpa, who had come from China. Grandpa ran a not-very-successful goldsmith’s shop, and then passed away when their youngest child was only 7 years old.
As if it were not enough to experience the unimaginable anguish of watching her eldest 2 sons perish from malnutrition during world war 2, she now had to provide for her large brood of 5 surviving sons and three daughters. My mum recalls having to borrow money from relatives for food, since grandpa left hardly any money behind. Thankfully, her older children soon started working and were able to provide for the family’s needs.
When grandma was expecting one of my aunts, a childless couple who lived nearby begged her to let them adopt her. With 6 children to handle, she decided that her seventh might have a better life as an only child. Grandma and grandpa agreed to give her up for adoption, but grandma would bring my mum to visit her little sister regularly, since they lived a 10 min walk away. They kept in close contact, and to this day, the adopted sister joins our extended family gatherings.
|Chalet birthday – the actual cake was a large 3D ship!!|
When I got to my teens, her mental health deteriorated. She got depressed, then paranoid. My uncles felt that amongst the rest, I related best with her during that period. My mum and I would visit her, reassure her repeatedly… my aunt brought her to see an expensive psychiatrist, and she was on medication for a while…
Thankfully, she had accepted Christ quite a few years before that, and we would pray with and for her. However, she passed away when I was studying overseas, and by the time they called me, she was gone, and my relatives told me there was no point flying back, since she was no longer there anyway.
This year, at her death anniversary, I brought K & B to the columbarium to remember her. It was not their first time visiting the niche, but it was the first time I took photos.
I explained, “This is Mama’s Por Por, and also Por Por’s Mama.” I spent a few minutes remembering how much she loved me, and how much I loved her too.