Thursday 29 November 2012

Give Thanks - My Wonderful Grandmother.

My Wonderful Grandmother at 90.

I was inspired to write something about my wonderful grandmother after reading "Mum's the word's - Give Thanks -My Domestic Helper" at  SingaporeDaily, ( Link ). Actually, I wrote about my wonderful grandmother about year back but I would like to share it with you again and hope you like it.

I'm now 65, in my sunset years. Somehow recently, I have frequent flash of memories of a few affectionate people who had left me many years ago. Fond thoughts of them keep resurfacing in my mind. Regretfully, their love and affection for me then were not understood nor appreciated. I wish I could call them now and tell them how much I appreciate their love and affection for me.

The first person I would call is my Wonderful Grandmother. I remember her with much affection, love and above all, admiration. She died about 25 years ago at a ripe old age of 95.

Ah Ma, as I lovingly called her, was one of those women who could be said to have come from a long line of strong, resilient, resourceful women going all the way back to the ancestral country in China. In her late twenties, she walked for days from her remote village in Fujian, a province of China and then sailed in a wooden junk for weeks to arrive Singapore in 1925. 

As an immigrant, she arrived with nothing more than a sling of personal belonging over her shoulders and a hope for a future here. Unfortunately, I do not know much about her past before her arrival in Singapore. What I do know is that she had my father as her eldest son, an uncle and two daughters in Singapore. My grandfather died during the Japanese Occupation in 1944 from serious complication of a leg injury. I had no recollection of him whatsoever because I was not born then.

Though the family were poor, Ah Ma had this amazing will in keeping the family intact through the greatest misfortunes and crises. She brought up her four children single handily with enterprising spirit and business skills. She sold many stuffs, one of which I remember was "samsu " liquor ( an Indian word for a high spirit) popular among the poor Indian laborers at that time. Alone, she brewed the "samsu" in the dense forest of Bukit Timah from yeast and fermented rice. Often, she had to endure time behind bar after being raided and caught by custom officers for brewing and selling the illicit liquor. 

Even with limited resources, she helped my parents, who had 9 children, in whatever way she could, mostly financial and paid for my entire education till pre-university. I was brought up by her "samsu" money. Of all her 40 over grandchildren, she loved me the most, probably as a traditional lady, she believed that the eldest grandson is similar to a son. 

She ensured that I was the best fed, clothed, educated, received the biggest "ang-pow" during the Chinese New Year and also the only one who could have had the only chicken drum stick on the dinning table. She doted on me and I became the envy of my uncle's family, resulting in numerous family squabbles.

I slept with Ah Ma on the same bed from a month old till I was about 10 and continued to sleep in the same room with her till my late twenties. As a young boy, I was terrified by her loud snoring while sleeping beside her. She cared for me more than my parents did for me, as my parents had a handful of my siblings to worry about. 

Whenever I had the slightest of fever, Ah Ma would stay up all night to sponge me to sleep. She would specially buy for me my favorite "fish ball noodle" for my dinner as I would then had poor appetite. It was a luxurious dish to have during the difficult time of the fifties and sometimes I would duped her by pretending to be sick to have it. She knew my tricks but would still buy it for me, whatever.

And whenever I was in a terrified situation, like being chased by a ferocious dog or bullied by a bigger boy, I would screamed "Ah Ma, Ah Ma" for help. The dog or bully would retreat in seconds. When my mum whacked me for mischievous deeds, Ah Ma would always be around to fend off the blows. They would end up quarreling. In my growing up years, she gave me endless love, confidence and security. She was also my soul mate.

Although with no formal education, she sent me to an English school, believing that an English education would ensure that I would be able to get a good job in the civil service, which was prestigious at that time. All my siblings went to a village Chinese school. 

She watched over my progress in schools like a hawk, scanning my report books for the one sign she understood that told of bad school performance: RED ink. I remember once she threw my school bag out of the house, when she discovered that I had forged my father's signature in my report card. In the end, I did not disappoint her in my studies as I was always promoted to the next level till my pre-university days.

When I started my first job in a factory, she would wake up before dawn, regardless of her state of health, to cook pork porridge for me, worrying that I might be hungry before work. Today, I deeply regret that I frequently shouted at her when she persistently screamed at me to wake up from my slumber in the morning to get to work. My son is doing the same thing to me now. 

In my youthful years, with slant moral values or total lack of it, I did a few very regrettable things that must have hurt and destroyed my grandmother heart completely. I remember abandoning her to stay out on my own after a minor quarrel with her. It was only after my friends came telling me that since the day I left the house, she had been waiting outside the house every night for my return. I shamefully realized then that I had done the most ungrateful and heartless thing to her. I wish I had kneel down then to seek her forgiveness but she was happy just to see me back with her again.

In my adult years, I was busy in selfish pursue of all things materialistic and did not pay much attention nor spent much time with Ah Ma. I wish I could reverse that. But, Alas! it's too late now. To my young readers, don't make the same mistake like me.    

Ah Ma's love for me was unparalleled in its selflessness. Her greatest joy was when she carried my son for her first photo shot.

There was nothing that Ah Ma wouldn’t do for me. I can still see her, clad  in a black silky trouser and light blue shanfu, her hair gathered into a tight bunch at the back of the head, her face and neck dripping with sweat, drawing water from the well. I can still hear her loud scolding voice, laced with the colourful expletives of Hokkien, daily dispensed to the neighbors in the village. She had two distinctive "Bugs Bunny" front teeth that makes her shy to have photo of herself. However, to me she was the most beautiful woman I ever known.

Today, her two sons and eldest daughter are gone but her youngest daughter is still alive and well in her late seventies. Her 60 over grandchildren and great-grandchildren are mostly successful in their various professions. I remember Ah Ma with so much love it hurts, and the mere mention of her brings fond memories and sometime, choking tears. I miss you, Ah Ma. 

In this Thanksgiving month, I would like to thank you, Ah Ma, from the bottom of my heart for all the love and affection you had given me when you were with me. Thank you, Ah Ma...wherever you might be..
Hokkien Pop Song - Grandma's Words.


Singapore Man of Leisure said...

Thanks for the heart warming post!

It's good to give thanks to those that have helped us on our journey in life.

I too have an Ah Ma that I missed a lot.

Chris said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks for telling us about your Ah Ma.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, S.M.L,

Glad you like my post.

Never too late to shower our loved ones with affection and love. Bye.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Chris,

Nice to hear from you after a long while. Take care! Bye.

gm . 绿效精神 said...

The season for Fold A Heart 2012 is here - do some hands-on with the Origami ♥ Heart.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, gm,

Yes, Message spread/promoted in my FB. You got good heart. Bye

FrEdA kAy said...

Such a sweet story, I still have my grandmother with me, and I hate that I'm away from home for the majority of the year in Uni but I make sure to come home every chance I get just to see her and spend time with her and my family :)

So few realise that the people who love us won't always be physically there.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, FrEdAkAy,

You're lucky to still have a wonderful grandmother and treasure the time with her. Yes, many things may not be with us forever. Often, when they are gone, we then realized how foolish we were then not to have treasure it. God Bless You & your grandmother.

Taxi Driver said...

You seem to me to have majored in English and had a full time job as a Trainer or Operation Manager with a large taxi company.You drive a taxi occasionally to have a feel of the ground and to understand the complexity of the taxi problem and characteristic of a taxi driver.Your reading skill just don't add up

Taxi Driver said...

Sorry it not "reading" but writing

Anonymous said...


I was passing thru. And suddenly u came to my mind.

You know, we really need to make an effort to touch base on of these days. There is so much to share.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year James. Do send my warmest regards to the family.

Have a safe and prosperous 2012

Darkness 2013

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Accidentally stumbled on your blog when i was reading up...Interesting stuff, your taxi tales. Thanks for sharing...I hope you keep up the blog !

happy new year

Dec 2012

Anonymous said...

Accidentally stumbled on your blog when i was reading up...Interesting stuff, your taxi tales. Thanks for sharing...I hope you keep up the blog !

happy new year

Dec 2012

Wealth Journey said...

Touching stuff. I am all tears man.. :(

Yes. Give thanks to all those who stood by us and appreciate the relationships around us especially the ones that matters the most.

Gaurav Sethi said...

Great Blog... I am writing a film screenplay where there is a kid and there is a grandmother... Can I use "Ah ma"

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
newbie cabbie said...

What a waste of talent for you to work as a cabbie. I thought I was over qualified as I just joined the trade having failed to find a decent job. In SG, once you are over 50, if you lose your job, nobody will employ you even if you have a relevant degree. So driving a cab seems the only option.

Anyway thank you for sharing your insights and all the best to you