My beloved paternal grandmother came from Southern China, in the district of Nanhai （南海). She and my grandpa came to Singapore sometime in the early 1900s. The first thing they did was to buy a piece of land to settle down. They took a liking to a plot of kampong land (2 acres) at the Lorong Chuan area, comprising 2 attap huts, 2 fishing ponds, 2 durian trees, 1 chiku tree, and many other trees. My grandpa named the place ‘Kwong Lam Yuen’ (Lam estate). Later on my grandpa died accidentally while fetching water from the well. He slipped and hit his head on the side of the well.
I was my grandma's favourite grandson. One day, I asked her why she chose to settle down in a Hokkien area as we were the only Cantonese family in the whole kampong. In those days, the Chinese settlers were very clannish and liked to gather together in various dialect groupings. She replied that most Cantonese would like to stay in the nearby kampong of Pontong Pasir, famous for the cultivation of water-cress. The reason was that Hokkien and Teochew areas had better fengshui, and that was the reason why they were the most prosperous clans. She wanted to hinge on this advantage. In Lorong Chuan area, the soil was suitable for planting of chai sim and kai lan, and my best childhood pal, Chin Huat’s father was an expert farmer in these types of vegetables.
My grandma was a happy-go-lucky type of lady. She would appear in our kampong house whenever it was time to harvest coconuts in our farm. The rest of the time was spent in her favourite daughter’s house somewhere in the present Moulmein Road area. After each harvest, the coconut harvesters would pay her between $60 to $80, which was a tidy sum of money at that time. Then enjoyment time would follow.
The first thing she would do was to bring me a see a show at one of the big theatres like Capitol, Cathay or the newly opened Odeon (first film was the President Lady starring veteran actress, Susan Hayward). She did not mind the show being an English one, which she did not understand. Enjoying the air-conditioning, she would sleep throughout the show. One of the shows I liked best was ‘Scaramouche’, a sword-fighting film shown in the Capitol cinema. After each show she would bring me to a coffee-shop and there we would have a nice lunch, and Hainanese pork-chop curry rice was my favourite. All travelling was done by taxi, a luxury at that time, and I was the only grandchild able to enjoy this privilege. I could only return her love by kneeling in front of her and offering tea in the morning on the first day of every Chinese New Year and receiving an ang pow in return. As soon as I passed my driving, I bought a second-hand Morris Minor to drive her around, sending her for visits to relatives. Apparently this act made her very happy.
Not long after I started working, she began to have problems with her legs and subsequently, stricken by poor health, she became bed-ridden. She passed away one night, and her last words were: “one cup of water”. I have this guilt-conscience of not doing enough for her for what she had done for me. She left behind an estate (later acquired by the government) for her children. As for cash she spent almost all, a part of it was on me.
Lam Chun See continues:
Our grandmother passed away when I was quite young. As such, I do not remember much about her except for 3 things.
1) She often had aches in the neck and shoulders and got us to do what in Cantonese is called ‘tub kwat’ – not exactly massage but gently pounding with with the base of our fists. Not sure what is exact term in English, but you often see this in Chinese movies.
2) She liked to eat melon seeds (kwa chi), but because her teeth were not strong enough, we helped her to pry open the melon seeds by knocking them with the handle of a pair of scissors.
3) She slept on the old fashion type of pillow which was very hard and resembled a block of brick. In fact you can still buy such pillows at the Chinatown Heritage Centre.
Related Post: A Story Our Mother Told Us