Chinese Christmas

It has been a mad year and a bit, and last night I was commenting to Naomi that I feel as if I’ve been run off my feet. It could have been tiredness from work. It could also have been the beers and wine I took trying to ameliorate the tiredness.

I decided this week to observe the traditional Chinese observation of the winter solstice because it was probably the only Chinese custom my mother observed diligently and consistently. So last night, Naomi and I went and bought rice flour to make the glutinous rice balls (tang yuan), pandan leaf for the syrup/soup and beetroot to make the coloring for pink tang yuans.

It was a double treat for Kai especially as he got to make the tang yuan himself before walloping three helpings for breakfast (Starch and sugar is an awesome combination for an active 2.5 year old, and I left for work so Naomi could experience the effects on Kai all by herself).

Naomi’s mum says that winter solstice tang yuan are special because they can automagically tell whether your age is an odd or even number by the number of tang yuans in your bowl, no matter how randomly you scoop them out of the pot.

It worked for Kai, Naomi and our helper, but I spoiled the stats by eating everything before remembering to count them.

My mother, being the Malayan-born western-educated ethnic-Chinese career woman that she was, used to tell my siblings and I when we were young, that this observance was known as “Chinese Christmas”, and that if we didn’t wake up early to roll the tang yuan and finish off the balls, the “real” Christmas wouldn’t come, which meant Santa wouldn’t deliver the goods.

This is the first Chinese Christmas without my mum. I miss her, but I think she’ll be happy her observance and special back story will have some more mileage with Kai for a while.

 

Cleaning up the birdshit

It will have been one month this weekend since my mother’s passing. We’ve kept busy and we’ve tried to keep our emotions at bay for the most part, allowing ourselves only spurts of grieving. I still hope that maybe if I keep busy for long enough, I might let the passage of time dull grief.

But really, if not for my very supportive and loving wife and my darling baby boy, I don’t know how I’d have been able to hold it together. For Naomi and I, our Annus Horribilis began last November with the sudden death of her brother in Shanghai. Since then, it seems to have been one shocking piece of news after another.

And watching Japan reel from the earthquake is just… I don’t know.

My sister’s friends who’ve been similarly bereaved because of their parents’ sudden demise tell her that ‘the first few weeks is usually spent looking for things’.

My sister, brother and I have been doing just that – keys, passwords, safe combination numbers, bank statements – some have been found, and some haven’t. There have been moments of levity though, with the discovery of some of my mother’s handwritten memos – to her staff and to herself, some of which are about the most bizarre matters.

In one memo she talks about contemplating buying a parrot for my father because she thinks keeping one would provide him company and conversation. (Papa is homebound because of Parkinson’s).

The memo ends with this: “Kenny (my younger brother) says birds are dirty and you have to clean up all the birdshit. So, KIV”.

A Tribute to Our Mother

She was a woman of exceptional courage. She faced all of life’s challenges head on, fielding everything thrown at her with great tenacity, determination and always well-dressed and immaculately groomed while doing it. She lived life with a passion, always willing to try new experiences and learn new things.

“If life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, so the saying goes. Well, our mother was given somewhat better ingredients than just lemons (being blessed with intelligence, good looks and personality) and she whipped up a fabulous feast, a sumptuous buffet spread of all the joys of life and we her family and her friends were all privileged to partake, nourished by her care and concern.

How could so much energy and life be packed into such a petite frame? What was the source of her indomitable spirit? I believe that it was her faith.

Hers was not a faith professed merely on the lips. Hers was a “true grit” faith lived out every single day of her life ever since she accepted the Lord as a teenager in school in Seremban, Malaysia. It was shaped and forged through her journey through all of life’s greatest joys and deepest disappointments. Her faith was what empowered her in her many battles with ill health. Suffering polio as a child which left her walking with a limp and a deformed knee, she nonetheless adapted her gait and could take the stairs at an impressive speed in her younger days. She defeated cancer more than 10 years ago and when handed a diagnosis of metastasis toward the end of her treatment, her faith in God’s plan for her was so unflinching that she rejected the advice of the best specialists in the Sloan-Kettering clinic and refused further treatment. Her decision terrified us, her loved ones, but she had no fear, only supreme confidence that the Lord would heal her in His way.

Hers was not a passive faith that is the close relative of fatalism. It was a faith of action and active prayer. She was not afraid of making decisions because she was not afraid of making mistakes, even if she did not like to admit that she did sometimes make mistakes. She covered us all in prayer, every single day.

Hers was not a blind, unquestioning faith. We have heard her question God many, many times, why, when she has had to endure or when her loved ones and dear friends have had to suffer personal tragedies. Yet these questions have only strengthened her faith. No matter what she endured, she still had joy and a spirit of thankfulness.

Her strength and energy were often employed in support and defence of her loved ones. A woman of strong opinions, she was certainly not hesitant to voice them. She had no patience for hypocrites and bullies and dealt with them in her own inimitable way. But for all her forceful nature, she had immense compassion and a tender heart for those in need. She was generous with her material possessions but more importantly, generous with her time and spirit, always giving of herself to her friends and loved ones. She was a great enabler and encourager.

In recent years, she enjoyed her three grandsons Joshua, Kai and Michael enormously. She was the Great Protector against parental discipline, dispensing largesse in the form of keropok and soda pop. She had the natural ability to relate to them on their level, whether that was teddy bears and Thomas the Tank Engine or iPods and Apps.

She lived life to the fullest and appreciated the finer things in life – a good cup of cuppucino, a lip-smacking char kuay teow, beautiful clothes, music. Most of all, she enjoyed people, reaching out to them and connecting with them. She had the rare gift of being able to reach across the generation gap and her friends could be anyone aged from eight to eighty years old.

She was so full of life and energy that it is hard to believe that she is not with us anymore. We will miss her but she will always be a part of us. We are truly blessed.

Written by Mei Ling, Benjamin & Kenneth