There is an old Chinese adage that says “you cannot break many chopsticks in your hands but you can easily break one”. This is very true. Our Grandparents (my maternal side) passed on many years ago. To be exact, 22 July 2009 would be exactly Grandpa’s 6th death anniversary. I do miss him very much and my Grandmother too.
Grandfather (or ‘Gung-gung’) was born Yap Jit Sin. Although poor he never failed to care for his wife and 9 children. I cannot remember much about him in my younger years but my grandparents’ house was my daycare centre before I went to school. The house was then an old pre-war shophouse located in Segamat town. It was large by today’s standards and there was always room to run around or explore.
Gung-gung loved all his grandchildren. He would always smile at us and speak to us in Hakka, his mother dialect. I was admitted to the Segamat hospital for severe food poisoning when I was 12 and Gung-gung was there to visit me. One morning while lying on my hospital bed in the dingy, stinking hospital – Gung-gung walked in bringing my favourite breakfast – half-boiled eggs and the famous Segamat “roti Kahwin”, and a packet of “kopi-o”. Of course, I never had the opportunity to sample the breakfast as the nurses forbade me to even near the food. I later told Gung-gung that the hospital food is only fit for animals.
Grandma (or “Phor-phor”) loved us to death. But like all Hakka old ladies then, she would grumble and tell us off in her sing-song Hakka. “Port Nia Thai Lang” was her favourite. There is no English translation for this except maybe “you fool”. And another favourite of hers was “Yen Wong” or “mercy”! Today, I’d use those Hakka words whenever I converse in that dialect out of fun and perhaps, to constantly remind myself of my dear old Phor-phor.
She was born Chung Kiaw and her hometown was Seelong, a Chinese village near Senai in Johor Bharu.
Mum and Dad were teachers and I’d end up in Gung-gung’s house when they went to work. Phor-phor would never fail to give me 25 cents to go to the house’s sidelane and enjoy a delicious bowl of Cendul. Cendul is a traditional Indian delicacy where stringy green flour vermicelli is served in sweetened coconut milk and ice. It truly is delicious and back then 25 cents is probably equivalent to today’s RM1.50.
From my pre-teen to my teenage years, and up to the time I went to college and even after I started working – going to my grandparents’ house was like a ritual. Mum would drive there and meet the rest of her sisters and the result would be one big happy Hakka association. I must mention that the Hakkas speak as if they are quarreling but rest, assured it probably a trait brought down from the generations in China. Or maybe because in China those many, many hundreds of years ago – they had to make themselves heard because of the strong winds.
Gung-gung was ill many times and in 2003, he finally succumbed to his illness. I was in my house in Subang Jaya then. That night, my cousin Alex, his mother and I drove down to Segamat. I was indeed sad that such a grand old man, well-respected in Segamat and a staunch supporter of the 8 Immortals (Deities), and 9 Emperor Gods had finally left us.
Nearly two years later, Phot-phor followed suit. My beloved Grandmother whom I still remember, cooked the best steamed minced-pork had left us.
July 22nd would be Gung-gung’s 6th Death Anniversary. May you rest in peace along with Phor-Phor. To this, I dedicate this Buddhist share of merit:
Idam me, natinam hotu
Sukhita hontu, Nyatayo.
To all my cousins reading this, do share your merits for them.