Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our Grandma, Leong Soh

(Written by Lam Chun Chew)

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


fashion graffitti said...

hi this is david your , your blog site is absolutely fantastic ,
i just kind of wonder whether is its possible to exchange our links on each other blog, pardon me for such request ,, thanks cheers

Lam Chun See said...

I am sorry David. I don't think so. Yours looks like a commercial website.

Pauline said...

It is so nice to have the elders to be in part of our life, cos they will share a lot of their life experiences with us. How I wish I have that kind of memory too, just too bad..........I dont.
Thanks for sharing yours.

Anonymous said...

When I was about 6 yrs old, I attended a couple of months in a Chinese primary school which flew a Nationalist China flag in its compound. It had a nice name and was called 'Happy School'. Everyday we recited chinese lessons like a parrot and I wasn't too happy in this school. My family was then residing in Lorong 14, Geylang. After my short spell in this 'Happy School', my father sent me to Serangoon English School located at Simon Rd for about 2 yrs before resettling in the Lorong Chuan Kampong. Because the school was far away from home, my grandma volunteered to fetch me to and fro from school. During lesson time she would sit in the canteen throughout waiting to fetch me home. On one occasion I was late for school. My grandma and I rushed across the road to catch the Tay Koh Yat bus at the Paya Lebar/Geylang Road Terminal. Both of us fell in the middle of the road, but luckily we were not hurt much. Indeed I could not pay enough gratitude to my grandma for her selfless sacrifice.

eastcoastlife said...

aahh, I remember that hard pillow that my grandma used too. I bought a softer version of it in Bangkok. It reminds me of my grandma whenever I used it.

Victor said...

Thanks for the nice lesson in filial piety, Chun Chew and Chun See. I have never seen my grandparents, both paternal and maternal. Not even a photo to look at.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually, I also learned quite a few things from this post that I did not knwow about previously.

Chris Sim said...

This post reminds me very much of my paternal grandma when we were living in Club Street. She too, tied an "ang ku kueh", and slept on a porcelain pillow. She was an extremely kind and benevolent woman. We kids would ask her for 5 cents or 10 cents to buy sweets from neighbourhood shops or those push-cart stalls. I remember too, that my grandma was a good cook until her eye-sight began to fail her later on in her age. Her home-made kaya was fantastic. Will blog about her one day. said...

Oh man, reading your post, I suddenly realised I don't know what's my grandparents' names. I've been calling them "Ah-mah" and "Ah-Gong" for the longest time!!! In a way, thanks to your post, I'm reminded that I've got to go and find out.

Anonymous said...

I remembered my two grandmothers very well but between the two, I have more fond memories of my maternal grandmother for many reasons.

1. She adopted my late mother in 1942 when her father was beheaded at the end of Tg Pagar Road by the Japanese, and her own mother went down with mental illness due to fright. She clothed and gave my mother dignity.

I would say my mother owes her life to my grandmother otherwise I never would know what would become of my mother during the Japanese Occupation.

2. My grandmother became a dance hostess working in the Great World nighclub for economic reasons.

She left her opium-smoking husband and had to fend herself and bringing up 5 daughters. Her husband came from the rich Tan family, someone who controlled the opium trade in the Pearl's Hill area. There is a road named after him in the Mohd Sultan area called Tong Watt Street.

My grandmother always kept this dark secret away from me for fear that I would be demoralised when I heard about this.

My grandmother discouraged my mother from working in the same trade when my mother found that she was nor suitable for school nor suitable to assume a decent career in the corporate world.

I was always curious to learn where my grandmother acquired her good hospitality skills, courtesy or was it DNA in origin?

3. She bought me Christmas presents when she was a Buddhist. She remembered my birthdays and there was always something special on the table - roasted pidgeon. She bought for me infant milk when our family was struggling financially.

She taught me through her example about co-existence and tolerance for other people's beliefs and religions. She knew I was a Christian and she encouraged me to believe in the religion (God) I followed.

4. I was able to approach her for her assistance when I needed it most and she kept secrets for me when I had family problems to deal with.

When she passed away at the age of 98 (Chinese calender), I was saddened that I not only lost a close relative but a friend. On the other hand I was happy because I was able to carry out the wishes of my late mother.

My late mother told me before she died, the day I got my first pay-check I was to remember my grandmother. So I gave her pocket allowance, a big Lunar New Year Ang Pow, got her to come to my house for meals and paid for "X" tables when she celebrated her 80th birthday.

Whenever I returned from my Hong Kong business trips, the first stop was her house from the airport. I made sure she got Hong Kong-style roast goose and duck, two of her favorite dishes.

Lam Chun See said...

Ivan, you are better than me. I only found out my grandmother's name now. 42 years after her departure.

Peter: Thanks for the beautiful and touching story.

Pauline said...

If only I can find out more things about my grand parents from my parents...... :(

Anonymous said...

Having gone through tough time in China and the warring period in Singapore, my grandma looked at life in a very practical way.
she used to say: "What is the use of hoarding money and buying a lot of things? When I go away, my coffin has no special compartment to carry these possessions along to the other side". She spent money on cigarettes and chap-ji-ki (a kind of punting consisting of 2 numbers, say 1-2, 10-3, opening on daily basis, run by gambling synicate). One morning she told me she dreamt of a cheeky man trying to molest a young girl and she yelled. The guy ran away. She was mumbling to herself: "Don't know what number to buy". I also looked confused.

Anonymous said...

When my uncle stayed with us in the kampong he used to order fresh cow milk daily from an Indian supplier. My uncle would boil the milk and add some sugar to the milk and it became really yummy with a layer of cream forming on top. The he taste was really great. When my uncle was not around, I was tasked to drink the milk. In doing so I had a great time, always looking forward for a repetition.

Anonymous said...

Thank you the other Uncle Lam, for the story.

I am in the office now but I actually teared reading your entry (I hope my boss dun walk right in front of me now)..

I miss the days where my grandma and me were the closest. Now that she is old, and her memory is failing her, she couldnt remember me anymore...

Anonymous said...

Etel - D'ont be too sad and hard on yourself. Though your grandma's memory is failing, it does not mean that your loving image and bond with her are erased. These qualities will reside in her heart. By the very thought of her would bring your good fortune.

adam said...

I was my maternal grandmother's favourite grandson. She had passed on 20 years ago. She was actually not related by blood as my mother was adopted but she loved me a lot. I lived with her from birth till 5 years old. As I was lactose intolerant, she fed me 'arhm', the whitish liquid from 'muay', watery porridge. She added fine fish slices to the porridge to make it more savoury. When I can eat solid food, she fed me 'gnor hee', garoupa fish and weekly bird's nest. These foods actually made me quite strong in immunity as I seldom get sick. What I wanted I always got from her.

But in my teenaged years I was self-conscious with her in going out so I seldom went out with her. We drifted apart, though during CNY my family still visited her and my grandfather in their flat in Tanjung Rhu. I have special memories of the flat where I lived my first five years of my life, and to this day when we go back there where my aunt and cousin live now, I like to roam about the house reminiscing my childhood and my beloved grandmother.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Adam. Thanks for sharing your touching story of your grandma.