Goodbye Ah Mah

My Ah Mah, my maternal grandmother, used to sew pyjamas and quilts for every single one of her twenty odd (or is it thirty odd) grandchildren.

She’d buy yards and yards of fabric every year, and when we’d go visit her in Seremban, we’d come home with a new pair of jammies, knowing that every cousin would be kitted in identical jammies that year.

It was 1981 and the last pair I got before I was too old for pyjamas was the most embarrassing pair of mickey and minnie pyjamas a boy could ever be caught wearing when visitors came to the house later than usual.

Ah Mah spoke no English and very very few words of Mandarin. She could yell a lot in Hokkien, and in that household my mother grew up in, you needed a strong pair of lungs to go with the strong pair of hands that held the family of 15 siblings together.

Mission schooling in pre and post-war Malaya meant that a generational gap widened into a cultural and linguistic one as my mum and some of her siblings started going to church and appending Anglo-Celtic-Judaic names to their Hokkien-Chinese ones, which were often mispelled by inept officials at the birth registries (I have an uncle called Lim Songkok).

Grandchildren arrived from the 60s onwards and were christened, named and in the case of my brother and sister and myself, did not (and still do not) understand the complicated hierarchical nomenclature of the many uncles, aunties and cousins. We’d know of an Uncle Michael, who’d be Uncle Number Something to other cousins, or an Auntie Wendy, who’d be Auntie Some Other Number.

Ah Mah on the other hand, had lots of difficulty remembering all our names, and used to complain about my brother’s and my name.

“Haiyah, mm chye simi Benny Kenny lah. An chua sama kio ka Nee Nee lah!” she’d say.

(Haiyah, dunno what Benny, Kenny lah. Why do they have to all sound like Nee Nee lah!)

And as if adopting foreign names wasn’t bad enough, several of my mother’s siblings married outside of the wider Chinese population.

My half-Sephardi Jewish cousins’ names came in for Ah Mah’s shelling too.

“Haiyah, mm chye simi Nathaniel lah. An chua sama kio ka neow neow neow neow lah?”

And my half-Welsh cousins’ names, Teckwyn, Selwyn, Edwyn, Eilwyn and Colwyn…

“An chua sama kio ka win win win win win lah!”

Ah Mah loved every one of her grandkids, and that’s no mean feat – I remember being part of a family photo – of almost every kid and grandkid, numbering up to 50 plus – where the photographer had to cross the street to get everyone in the shot.

That’s like having to run a pyjama factory. And the patchwork quilt that she gave me before I left for Sydney is made of many hexagonal pieces of scrap cloth she’s collected and painstakingly sewn together. It doesn’t look like much, but it does keep the warmth in.

Ah Mah, Madam Chua Chu, passed away last Thursday in Seremban.

Weekly Tweets

Powered by Twitter Tools.

Parenting tips with your trim and wash?

Last of the Mohicans

It’s like this cult of parenting, this club of happy enthusiastic people who’ve been so nice and welcoming to Naomi and I ever since they’ve known Naomi was expecting.

There have been random acts of kindness and completely unsolicited advice from complete strangers – “this baby nail scissors is really good, you should get it”; well-wishes, congratulations and light-hearted warnings about the lack of sleep that we’ll be experiencing in the coming months.

Yesterday was even funnier. Not least because Naomi and I decided we needed to get our hair cut because we thought it would be months before we’d have time for another trim, and brought her mum along for the ride.

So it was family day at Next Salon at Holland Village, where I’ve been getting my hair cut several times a year for the last 9 years now.

You’d never imagine the establishment to be so, given its Wallpaperesque decor and 99.5FMesque music, but before the first strand of hair was shampooed or cut, the parenting tips came good and fast from our stylists Cheryl and Jerry, new parents themselves.

Diapers, feeds, clothes; Nursery, crying, sleep; You could fill an entire afternoon talking. And as Cheryl quipped, “remember the days when all you wanted to do was go one corner and smoke when your friends started talking about kids?”

And when the other senior stylist Jonathan (not a parent) came by to say hi and ask where exactly the car mechanic’s workshop I recommended previously was, I drew a blank for a good minute before my brain switched modes.

We talk babies these days, Jonathan. Not cars, not anything else. But you can join the club.

Kumar: Stripped Bare – big shout out

Kumar: Stripped Bare & Standing Up

It’s not every day one gets to write the script for a completely sold out show.

It’s been such privilege to help write Kumar’s show (which closed last night), and I only wish the run was longer so’s more people could’ve watched it.

It’s also been an extremely rewarding experience interviewing Kumar for a week at the beginning of this project, listening to his life stories, of which there were so many that there was the added task of picking which ones to put in the show.

What made it fun also was the fact that it wasn’t just one way traffic – Kumar learned from me about the lack of Tamil directional signage at the Airport, while I learned that “Lingam” is a symbol used in the worship of Shiva, and which is sometimes portrayed as a phallic symbol.

To correct Nalinee (just a little bit), the script wasn’t quite ‘well researched’ – it was more like the product of many good chats with Kumar.

There were also incredible moments where Kumar, beyond all expectations, took offence at a proposed punchline because it was too racist.

Thank you very much Selena, Kumar, Maniam (The Tabla Man), every single one from Dream Academy, and every single crew member that made this show rock.