When the ship from Singapore docked in Shantou, south of China, my mother soon recovered from bouts of sea-sickness, and was taken to a local hotel near the harbour with a hundred of other Chinese passengers sharing the same mission: meeting their long-lost relatives.
My mother returned to her ancestral home in China for the first time after 40 years on a big ship from Singapore in 1979. “I was very dizzy for the whole 7-day journey.” How big was the ship? I wondered. “Oh,” my mother recalled, “it was so big that some pigs were on board too.”
My mother could see from her room on the upper deck some pigs eating their left-over food. Continue reading
This week, I’ll share with you some letters from China.
My mother left Fujian, the poverty-stricken province in the south of China in the late 30s, and arrived in Singapore a few weeks later, after surviving the turbulent journey of the South China Sea. Continue reading
When I was in Year 6 in the south of Malaysia aged 12, it was a tradition that school leavers would write their mottos to one another in a little notebook. Everyone would buy at least a notebook for the teachers and friends to write messages in. Shops were full of pretty leavers’ notebooks for boys and girls to buy, and most of the notebooks had cute adorable Japanese cartoons on the cover with beautiful embellishments.
Teachers would write words of encouragement such as “Remember to continue learning, ” or a famous slogan from Chairman Mao, “Work hard and make progress everyday.”
However, we precocious 12-year-olds would write something more profound and abstract. We dished out mottos and quotes that we considered smart. The popular rhyming quotes in Chinese that I received from my 12-year-old friends included:
- “There are foxy women in the sky; there are jinxs in the earth. Please be aware who your friends are!”
- “A dragon gives birth to a dragon; a phoenix gives birth to a phoenix; the son of a mouse will dig a hole!”
- “A mountain will fall; water will flow away; you had better rely on yourself!”
I love British comedy: dry, witty and deep. However, even with the help of subtitles, some of the time, I still don’t understand the jokes. I would need interpretation. My husband has become fed up because I keep interrupting him, and he would reply, “Don’t worry. You won’t get it.” or “It’s not worth explaining.”
I remember when I first watched British comedies 14 years ago, I was shocked with horror what comedians were allowed to say in public. They freely poked fun of the Pope and the Queen, made rude jokes about themselves, politicians, people with disabilities, or made sarcastic jokes about religions. I constantly told my husband — No, in Malaysia or Thailand or Singapore or China, you definitely can’t say this, this, this, this……, using horrid stories about judicial caning, death sentence and disappearance as solid evidence.
My husband will never understand my fear of total freedom of speech.
I grew up in a culture that guarding my words was important. I grew up in Malaysia, surrounded by Muslims, Hindus, and Chinese of all religions. Each group has its unique tradition, taboos and belief, and I learnt naturally to pick up cues of what to say or what not to say to different groups of people. We learnt to live harmoniously by accurately understanding our boundaries. We embraced peace, not trouble.
I had fear.
I’m very used to living within boundaries since birth. As the youngest child in a traditional hierarchical Chinese family, I must show filial piety to my parents and respect my elder siblings. Obedience is a great value. Silence is gold. Continue reading
Before I married my caucasian husband (I don’t mean I have other non-caucasian husbands), I never knew anything about walking. In my previous life living in a hot and humid country, walking was a mere necessity — walking to school, market, to shops. Only poor people walked. People with a bit of money would travel by car. Walkng itself didn’t carry a status of pride or defeat. It was just a fact of life. I never walked for pleasure. There wasn’t even a culture of eulogising walking. When the sun was out, we hid. When we had to walk under the sun, we did the most sensible thing — walking and hiding in the safe haven of an umbrella. However, after living in England for a while, I was surprised to know of a professional group of people called ramblers. I needed to look this word up in a dictionary. I used to ask, what do ramblers do? My husband would reply, “They walk.”
What do you think enhance a city? What element would exude fragrance and charm? For me, it’s the presence of art, the spirit of a writer who once lived there.
If you were to visit me in England, I would take you to the nearest city Winchester, England’s historic city, adorned with magnificent architectures. It’s where you’ll find the little house where Jane Austen had lived before she died. We would walk along the water meadows, abundant in wild flowers and butterflies. Continue reading