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 →
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. Continue reading →
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 →
We played some music by the band Queen yesterday. When listening to the song, I Want to Break Free, my husband commented that many radio and TV stations in the USA banned this song since its release in 1984. I was surprised. I have always considered the USA a relatively ‘free’ country, much freer than many Asian countries, but why would it be so prudish as to ban a music video of four men dressed in women’s clothes? Or, could it be because some people in power didn’t like skinny ballerinas performing a modern dance in skin-tight leotards?
What does it feel like being shackled? It is the sense of total isolation, in the deafening and incoherent cacophony. Continue reading →
What do you think of these characters representing the year?
In China, the equivalent of Twitter is called 微博（micro-blogging; pronounced ‘wēibó’), which is powerful in breaking firewalls and has allowed the voice of the general public in China to be heard. A few Chinese idioms also carry this character. It may refer to people feeling ‘insignificant’ and powerless. It also refers to the selflessness of many ‘tiny’ people of China with their spirit of sacrifice. Continue reading →