My grandma’s stories: Ah Ma is a child bride

(This is the sixth part of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. In the last post, I did a quick update about some difficulties writing this series. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth part of this series)

Ah Ma, looking really shocked, poses with my sister who just graduated this week!

My grandma is a child bride. I learnt about this only around a week ago after living with her more than 20 years under the same roof.

You can imagine my absolute astonishment to know that my Ah Ma, who was born, bred and raised in Singapore, lived under such a traditional, antiquated system.

“I was sold by my birth parents to my in-laws at a very young age,” Ah Ma, whose last name is Choo, said. “I was then only about a month old, according to my mother-in-law.”

As mentioned in my last post, grandma is not exactly the best storyteller, but never did I realize that all the family stories had told me thus far referred to her in-laws, whose last name is See. In another words, her in-laws were my great-grandparents.

I found out when I started probing Ah Ma about her relationship with granddad. Only then I understood there was never really a courtship or much romance to talk about because they grew up with each other, destined to marry later on in life.

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My grandma’s stories: Updates

It has been almost six months since launching the “My grandma’s stories” series and the responses I have received from friends and readers have so far have been encouraging.

As I reach the halfway mark of 2012, I thought that it might be a good time to share some of the difficulties I faced while writing the posts.

“My grandma’s stories” is an account of the life stories experienced by my octogenarian grandmother, whom we fondly call her Ah Ma at home.

So far, I have wrote up till the post-World War Two period and interviewing my grandma has been as much an enjoyable but also tedious journey process.

One reason is because Ah Ma found it hard to collect all her thoughts that has happened over the past 80 years in a coherent, logical manner.
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My grandma’s stories: Work after war. Ship ahoy!

(This is the fourth part of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. In the last post, grandma talked about life during World War Two. Click here for the first, second, third and fourth part)

As British troops returned to Singapore after the Second World War only to be warmly welcomed by the locals, grandma found a new job at the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) Terminal in Tanjong Pagar.She was 17 years old when she started work there and never stopped until she turned 60.

“I worked at the PSA all my life until we moved house because being illiterate, I didn’t know how to take a bus there,” Ah Ma said while laughing.

During her long stint at the PSA, she met new people who shared with her interesting experiences.

One of them is a Taiwanese named Chew Kiat, captain of a commercial ship that transported cement and construction materials from Taiwan to Singapore. Continue reading

My grandma’s stories: Early years, Family life

(This is the second part of a new series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. Click here for the first part.)

Picture six people, two adults and four children, sleeping on straw mats on the bare wooden floor of a room that is barely enough to fit two single beds.

These were the conditions my grandma grew up in.

“We lived on the second floor of a two-storey shophouse with eight other families,” Ah Ma described. “In those days if you didn’t have money, you would need to squeeze with many people.”

Shophouses are unique buildings found particularly in urban areas of Southeast Asia, which is a hybrid building with shops on the ground floor and residential houses above. Here is a photo showing a shophouse after restoration efforts:

These houses would line up in a row forming a long public arcade called ‘five-foot way.’ In the morning, it would be bustling with activities where street hawkers would sell their products to passing pedestrians.

“At night when the weather was hot, we would sit along the five-foot way and my parents would tell us stories till it was time for us to go to bed.” Ah Ma said.

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My grandma’s stories: Early years, Colonial Singapore

(This is the first part of a new series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore.)

“There was a big fire at a market around si kar teng (today’s Lower Delta Road) late 1948,” my grandma recalled vividly. “We quickly fled our house, taking some of our belongings with us and during the chaos, someone stole my birth certificate.”

It was only 13 years later my grandma, or Ah Ma as how my family members would call her in the Fujian dialect, would reapply for another citizenship certificate based on a date her mother assumed was her birth date.

Ah Ma is hence ‘officially’ born in 1927, which makes her 84 year old this year, four years younger than Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

Back in 1927, Singapore was growing rapidly as a trading port under the British crown colony and immigrants poured in from all over Asia to seek for better living prospects in this foreign land.

Like majority of Singaporean Chinese, my ancestors came down from the Fujian province but Ah Ma has never regarded herself as an immigrant.
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