Category Archives: family

World Book Day: Dressing up as your favourite character

On World Book Day on the 5th of March this year, many schools in the UK had a ‘non-uniform’ day, and children were encouraged to dress themselves up as a character from a book that they love.

Many children dressed up as characters such as Spiderman, Batman and Superman, Ironman, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Dracula, Wally, or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Normally my son doesn’t like dressing up as other characters, but this year, he decided to dress up as his favourite character, The Doctor. The Doctor is the main character from the television show Doctor Who, the longest running sci-fi series of all time. He is an alien who travels in a time machine and fights aliens and visits new worlds. The show’s longevity stems from The Doctor’s ability to change his appearance, with every version (or incarnation) being completely different from the last. There have been 12 Doctors. Continue reading

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The fading Chinese New Year memories

Last Thursday (19th February 2015), Chinese people around the world celebrated The Year of the Sheep. Traditionally Chinese New Year is a period of 15 days, so it is still a time of celebration today.

However I live in England, and Chinese New Year seems to have lost its charm on me. Many of my English calendars don’t even mark Chinese New Year as an event. I must admit in the past I sometimes forgot that new year had arrived until I was asked, “Er, is this the year of the…?” Continue reading

The unbreakable family ties

I was shocked to see the state of my mother’s ancestral home in China. By today’s modern standard, her ancestral house still looks shabby. However, the house used to be unsafe, dilapidated, and it could not withstand strong wind and rain.

This is the very house that nurtured 4 children, who are now grandparents. These are also my cousins that I have never met. Continue reading

An emotional return to ancestral home in China

A few months ago, I shared with you some touching letters from China to my mother. These letters built the bridge between my mother and her remaining brother in China, both were separated by war, politics and poverty for 40 years.

During their separation, my mother never ceased to support her brother’s family in the Fujian province of China even though we had very little ourselves. We lived in Malaysia and Singapore then and my mother would squeeze any money that she could find and then sent money and medicine (such as ginseng) to China, for example, to help fix a leaking roof, and to help pay for the bride price so that her three nephews could get a wife in their poor village. My mother also enabled her elderly sister in law (now 96 years old) to visit Singapore in 1992 to fulfill her once-in-a-lifetime dream. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 10

Have you ever sucked or chewed on raw sugarcane before? I have. My auntie grew sugarcane on her small plot of land and I loved walking to the top of the hill to find her. Through my eyes as a child, sugarcanes were gigantic plants that were stretching to the sky. My auntie would cut off the sugarcane segments and removed the husks for me to suck the juice out of the sugarcane stalks, in her crazy wild land with chickens and ducks. I would walk home with a few stalks of sugarcane on my shoulders. Sucking and chewing on the sugarcane stalks were the only and the best way that I knew of to enjoy the juice. I did not need huge roller mills to squish the sugar cane stalks. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 9

My mother’s mother never ‘walked properly’. My mother and her mother were living in Singapore during the Second World War under the Japanese occupation. Just after the war ended in 1945 and the British re-occupation of Singapore, when my mother was fifteen years old, one early morning she woke up to find that her mother, who shared the same bed with her, was unusually cold to touch. My mother’s mother had died during the night.

My wobbly bound-foot grandmother

“My mother had bound feet. She was wobbly.” My mother told me her mother kept simple housekeeping jobs in Singapore, looking after children and cleaning. “She couldn’t do much. She had to stay indoors a lot.” My mother recalled her mother being sickly. During the Japanese occupation, my mother therefore had to work for the Japanese for essential rice and cassava for the family. She helped ferrying stones in buckets at the Changi area where roads and the airport were built. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 8

Writing about Chine has left me exhausted, physically and mentally. It wasn’t a clever way to end a rare spectacular summer in England.

Letters from China brought back memories when I used to be the reader of my illiterate mother 30 years ago. Though my mother’s letters to China were mostly written by a professional letter writer in Singapore, letters from China arrived by mail.

My mother would ask her children ‘who recognise words’ to read to her. My sister would read some days, and I would read again on another day. My mother just wanted to hear the voice from the same letter again and again. I was so familiar with the letters that I told my mother “I could read your letters with my eyes closed.” I even told my mother that all the letters were the same. “Mother, you brother is China is just so repetitive.” I was fifteen. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 7

True love must be reciprocal.

My mother sent money and ginseng to China for over two decades to her poor family in a remote village in south China. In return, she received some secret recipes.

When sorting out my mother’s old letters, I discovered some secret recipes for treating baldness and severe internal and external haemorrhoids using the traditional Chinese medicine. The recipes were neatly written by her nephew. The recipes reflected our Chinese relatives’ belief in folk medicine. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 6

In my past 5 posts, I translated a few letters from China from 1979 to 1992 without annotations. The letters speak to you directly — the power of love and how my mother helped rebuild the ancestral home in a village in Zhao’an, in the Fujian province of China.

I am forming a picture of my mother’s first visit to China in 1979 through our fragments of conversations over the years. It would have been unreasonable to expect my 80-year-old mother to tell her life stories in a coherent, chronological order. I thank God that she is still alive with relatively good health, with sound memories. Continue reading

Letters from China: Part 5

Many children in the west grow up with their imaginary friends. I had an imaginary uncle.

If an ‘imaginary’ character means someone who occupies your space, your thought, and energy, someone whose existence floats around in the air, then my only maternal uncle in China fit the role perfectly.
Continue reading