Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Remembering My Roots

I was reading Simon's post on Qing Ming, and it I'd like to record down these stories told by my parents from my teenage years:

My Father's Father...
Grandpa's a Penang boy. He studied in Penang Free School. That was at the dawn of Communism in China, and his parents, although from China, felt it was safer to have their children educated in British schools and not be involved in the Red Army beyond China borders. He later worked with the British Army during WW2/Japanese Occupation in Malaya and told us many stories of those dark days.

His parents from China knew Kung-fu. His mother in particular was a master in the martial arts. But because her brothers became mercenaries in Georgetown, she became very upset and taught her children only the arts of healing, i.e. Chinese herbs and medicine, massage and even fixing bone fractures. So, from my grandfather's generation on no real Kung-fu was practiced. Grandpa himself took up massage for extra income, moonlighting alongside his 9-5 job at the British Army's office (he actually had a very bad gambling addiction). He has a brother whose family now owns a major Chinese medical hall in Penang. Another sister-in-law took on to being a Chinese herbalist specialising in looking at children's ailments.

My Father's Mother...
was a simple woman. She died before I was born, so I never knew her personally. She was the only grandchild of a very wealthy family. Her parents came from China to tap rubber, lived frugally to save enough to buy some of the rubber plantations themselves, along with acres of land all over Taiping town. They built houses by the blocks and ran sundry shops. Her uncles were unscrupulous and squandered a lot of the family's wealth. So most of the family inheritance were kept by her parents. Her parents having only one daughter, adopted 3 sons. All her brothers took after their uncles, not working a day of their lives and lived off their parents sweat and blood. (Grandpa and grandma got married in 1945, just at the end of the Japanese Occupation in Malay, Dad was born at the end of that year.)

By the time my father was a young boy, they lived simply because of the lack of funds (mainly due to his father's gambling habit). In fact, my father started working as a massage therapist as in his teenage years, following his father's moonlighting trade to help put food on the table. Grandma died of kidney failure and a massive stroke. She was in a coma for a few days before she passed away at the age of 50.

My Mother's Father
He was the first born of his family. His parents were from China. I don't know exactly how many siblings he had except that his mother and a brother were opium addicts and that was where the family's big-hole-in-the-pocket was. His family lived by the sea. They did well, apparently had a fleet of fishing boats, housed travelling merchants from China, sent junk-boats-ful of supplies for relatives back home in China, and acted like a leader among the villagers. My mother's father had a stroke at an early age, 30+. After that the family business went downhill. By the time his father died, the family was reduced to near poverty because of the surviving opium-addict son.

Mother actually had 10 sibling in all, including herself, 3 boys, 7 girls. But her mother was a bitter woman and she gave away 3 of her daughters. One was actually given by my grandfather to a close friend as a gift (can't remember the exact story behind that). This aunt was acknowledged by the biological family and we still called her 4th aunt. My grandfather passed away 12 years ago. His family name, Lim, carried on by 3 sons and 7 grandsons.

My Mother's Mother
Love of course was unheard of in the early days. My mother's parents got married because they were matchmade. My mother talks very little about her because there was always stress in their relationship. Apparently Grandma is jealous that my Mom is her father's favourite.
Grandma is a very resourceful woman. She could make all kinds of kuih and put up a hen house from scratch. Her anger and bitterness was expressed by her "iron hand" - she could pick up something hot, like the pan/pot right from the fire, and not wince. She never talked about her parents it seems. My mum only knows of her mum's other siblings but it seems there are no stories told beyond that.

Toady she is the only living great-grandparent my kids have. She is in her eighties and had had a couple of strokes. We have been informed that her old body is slowly shutting down. She is my grandma, despite her anger and jealousy towards my mum. We have many fond memories of her cooking porridge for us, slaughtering a chicken from her coop for us and sending our cousin out to buy ice and fizzy drinks when we visited from KL. They stayed in the outskirts of Taiping - Pokok Assam. They shared a rented house with another family. They had no TV, no fridge, no phone. for the first few years they had a bucket in a shed for a toilet (a real out-house) until maybe I was 10, the government got proper sewage for that area.

So here is the record of stories from my side. There are more stories of my parents lives that had been interesting...at least to me. Nothing dramatic. Just fascinating to know your parents and what they were like when they were kids themselves.

More young people, especially teenagers, should listen to the ramblings of their folks talk about their youth. It really helps them understand and love and admire they parents. It really helps flourish their relationships.

It sure did for us... for my siblings and I.


JLow said...

It's pretty amazing that such stories are only from a generation or so ago. My parents also have similar type stories with links to mainland China, and stories about how their parents made a life here in Malaysia.

My eldest sister has once said that she would like to, one day, pen-down our parents' history, to reach where we (our generation) are now...

Maybe you can start that yourself, too, Moomykin?

Kathie "Moomykin" Yeoh said...

Yeah. Here is where I start. I think it's easier these days with keeping stuff on the web. Don't have to worry about publishing, printing and storing, etc.

I think if we do not repeat them, the richness of our lives would be lost, and many things will be taken for granted..

Now I'm trying to find out more from Mike's mum. She is good at telling stories too. :)

U.Lee said...

Hello Kathie, I took a wrong turning and landed at Ann's place and was about to check out noticed your callsign, and being a kaypoh, decide to take a peek.
Wow! I'm glad I did. Your sure one eloquent blogger.
And I certainly enjoyed your this posting about the 2ndWW and your interesting ancestors.
I suspect mine had some pirates, smugglers somewhere, as well had 4 grandmothers!! Can you imagine the battalion of relatives I have...but except for Alaska, the Artic and Kabul, all scattered all over this planet. Fortunately did not marry one too inview of so many. Ha ha.
Gosh, your family sure have experts in massage theraphy, huh? My grandfathers, uncle's all did lots of legs exercises, i.e. at Cabarets, dancing with cabaret girls. Somehow their genes got into my bloodstream and I love ballroom dancing.
Your history is very good, Kathie.
Guess I'll get my ice coffee next day when free and go thru your postings.
Incidentally, mine is ahemm, mostly old stories about romance, affairs of the heart, stolen or otherwise. Just completed recently a 19 episode (took 3 weeks!) of a matured woman's love for a man half her age.
I did a post re 2nd WW too, almost similar to yours but more on the communist uprising...
Ooops, please forgive me, forgot to wish you, Kong hei fatt choy, to you and all at home.
Okay, I better get a bus and return home.
You have a nice day Kathie, keep well, UL.

Kathie "Moomykin" Yeoh said...

Thanks, u.lee for dropping by. (I took a peek at your blog too. Interesting.)

Your family background sounds pretty fascinating too.

Btw, you should try reading, if not already, Rex Shelley's "The Shrimp People" and "The Pear People". Think you'll like those. :)