My grandma’s stories: Finale

(This is the final post of my year-long series recounting stories from my grandmother about her life and the old days in Singapore. For past entries, links could be found at the end of the post. Scroll down to view more pictures.)

After a whole year of recording down bits and bobs of my grandmother’s stories, I am a little sad to announce the end of the series.

‘My grandma’s stories’ documents Ah Ma’s, a name my family members call her, lifetime worth of experiences,  If you are interested to read previous stories, scroll down to the bottom for links to individual postsAh Ma and her grandchildrenIn this final entry, I would like to share some personal memories of Ah Ma, who spent her twilight years bringing my siblings and I up.
Continue reading

My grandma’s stories: Grandpa and life’s greatest hatred

(This is part 10 of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. For past entries, links could be found at the end of the post.)

“Even if I die, I do not want my ashes to be placed right beside him,” grandma said calmly of grandpa, a man whom she was destined to marry since being sold to his family at a tender age.

My grandparents got married in the postwar year of 1947 (Click here for my previous blog post about their marriage) and about two decades later, family life took a turn when grandpa became mentally unstable.

“He became crazy and would hit me with a shoulder pole (a yoke used to carry water buckets front and back),” grandma said. “He hurt my back very badly and up till now, I still cannot bend my hands to scratch my back.”

His acts became increasingly incomprehensible where he would at times buy baskets of vegetables like eggplants and spinach only to leave them in a room at home to rot.

I grew up having never met grandpa before nor saw a single picture of him. In my mind, the image of grandpa is simply a blank slate. So it came as a rude shock to hear from grandma about his insanity, the beatings and her unforgiving anger.
Continue reading

My grandma’s stories: A roof over our heads

(This is part nine of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. For past entries, links could be found at the end of the post.)Grandma recalled with a sense of excitement the first time she laid her hands on the pair of keys to her first home.

It was a two-bedroom, corner apartment on the 11th floor in Telok Blangah, southwestern part of Singapore.

“I was excited to finally get my own place which is registered under my own name even though there was barely anything in the house apart from water and electricity,” she said.

Ah Ma scrapped together $3000 (USD 2,440) from her threadbare savings to pay for the housing deposit, but with three children in tow, she had little money left to furnish her Spartan flat.

“I was turning to tontines to borrow money to buy the furniture,” grandma said. “If I didn’t join a tontine, I would have never dared to borrow money from elsewhere.”

Continue reading

Book review: Malay Sketches and Eid Mubarak!

A late Eid Mubarak everyone! For all Muslim friends and readers out there, hope your weekend was filled with love and forgiveness, not forgetting good food and company!“Malay Sketches” by Singaporean author Alfian Sa’at will be my recommended read for this festive season, tinged with a strong dose of Southeast Asian flavor.

This book is about the Malays, an ethnic group residing around Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and southern Thailand, where the majority are Muslims.

I have always took the identity of Malays for granted until when my foreign friends asked me and it become quite awkward because having grown up with Malay friends and relatives, I did not consciously think about who they were.

This issue was also brought up in “Malay Sketches” through a fictional character Hidayah, a Singaporean Malay student studying in New York. Continue reading

My grandma’s stories: Of births and deaths of little ones

(This is the seventh part of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth part of this series)Grandma complained to me recently it has been increasingly difficult to cook dinner ever since my siblings and I grew older and ate in less often than before.

My heart squeezed a little when I heard her say that because I could imagine cooking for one or two should be quite a challenge, particularly when Ah Ma has been used to whipping up dishes for a big family.

As a child bride, she cooked for her adopted family of eight. After she got married at 20, she kept up with the big family tradition by having five children, though not all of them turned out well.

Her first daughter passed away barely three days old.

“She refused to drink any milk and I had to pry open her mouth to force feed her some milk,” grandma recounted. “She probably died from an unknown seizure. Slipped away just like that.”

As a first time mother, it was probably a harrowing experience yet the damage was not comparable to the loss of her third child.
Continue reading