death by paper cut

{July 2, 2005}   a tribute to granny

my aunt passed me this relic of my grandmother’s younger days. this was when she first married into my grandfather’s family. she’s the first woman from the left.

she says she was “conned” into the arranged marriaged because the match-maker hide the fact from her that her prospective husband already has two boys after his wife passed away. there’s nothing pleasent she remembers of her days in swa tow, china, or so she claims.

soon after the marriage, her husband left china for singapore, and saw her next only 8 years later. in the mean time, her sole purpose in life was to serve the new family she married into – she doesn’t talk fondly of them.

my grandfather worked for his uncle’s charcoal industry. apparently, that side of the family was rich and established – the family managed mangrove swamps in indonesia and processed the charcoal from growth to export.

as a result, my granny was the fortunate first of the lot of non-coolie immigrants that arrived in singapore, in style. however, that doesn’t mean that they lived in the lap of luxury because after all, the business was own by my grandfather’s uncle and his sons – my grandfather was still considered as an “outsider” although he was the one who sowed and slogged for the business.

my grandmother raised her 3 sons and 3 daughters at a big house at minto road – that part of the road doesn’t exist anymore and in the place of the big house is now (by last time’s standard), a small URA carpark.

my mother recalls that she had a chauffeur that drove the bunch of herself and her siblings to school in the primary school days. They were doing all right, although never indulgingly. the family soon moved to old kallang airport road where my grandfather tended a provision store that was owned by that same rich uncle.

living conditions were decent and my grandfather was well respected in the area, in fact, the backroom of the provision store was a neutral abode where chinese secret society chiefs would sit and talk. my grandfather was not involved in their dealings and since it was a neutral area, it can be also said to be no man’s land.

my grandfather died when i was three. i do not know the details of his earlier past, but on his deathbed i was told that he hallucinated japanese soldiers torturing him. my grandmother came to live with me when i was already 11 years old, after much family intrigue and betrayal with the family she was perviously living with. i started learning teochew ever since.

because i did not grow up with her and because she came in to live with us (we took her in), i do not revere her like my cousins do. in fact, when we watch tv, she should snuggle up to me and call me “black chicken”.


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