On the 1st of May, 1952, the headline of The Straits Times screamed, “NOW IT’S $250,000 FOR PUBLIC ENEMY No. 1 — if brought in alive.” In modern English, it asks, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
According to The Malay Mail online, the caption under Chin Peng’s large mugshot read: “THIS IS CHIN PENG. The brains behind the terrorism in Malaya, he is worth $250,000 to anyone who has information which will lead to his capture.”
Kids shuddered at hearing the name Chen Ping. Mothers warned their misbehaved children that “If you are naughty, Chin Peng would come and get you.” Continue reading →
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival this year is on the 19th of September, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The lustrous full moon is a symbol of reunion on earth.
Reunion was a luxury in war-time Malaya. First it was the Japanese invasion, later the 12-year Malayan Emergency (1948–60), in the backdrop of intense fighting between the communist guerrilla insurgency led by the communist leader, Chin Peng, and the British administration. Thousands of people were killed; families were broken. Fear, betrayal, hatred and racial tension ensued. Continue reading →
My neighbour’s husband ‘disappeared’ in the wood one day, in the 70s, as he was suspected of supplying food to the communists. He simply vanished from the wood for at least a decade. I remembered watching his wife shriek and thump her fists on her chest and this family had about 10 children to feed.
The man’s disappearance caused a stir in our little village. He vanished at a time when communism was still a taboo in Malaysia. Today I heard that Malaysia communist guerrilla Chin Peng 陈平 died in exile in Bangkok, aged 88. Chin Peng represented an era of conflicts of ideas, brutal guerilla wars, and peace in Malaya (later Malaysia), and the news of his death suddenly transported me back to the very scene when I saw my neighbour’s world collapsed. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Reading old letters from China is similar to listening to people chatting on their mobile phone on the train. You only hear half of the conversation. You may not like the noise, but it is impossible to ignore it. You are slightly annoyed because you do not hear the other half of the conversation. You need to make a mental effort to decipher their conversation.
Letters from China represent half of the conversation in the last century between overseas Chinese migrants with their families in China. Where is another half of the conversation stored? Now, more than 30,000 letters are saved and they are on display in various museums in the Fujian and Guangdong provinces in China. Continue reading →