Thursday, October 20, 2011


My Mum

My memories of Mum had not always been positive. I remember those days when she had no time for us as she hurried through the household chores to go out for her daily mahjong games. It was indeed like some kind of evil addiction that gripped her and she was totally immersed in it without thoughts for food or drinks, let alone anything that took her away from it.
I remember saying harsh words to her- “I will bury your dead body with the set of mahjong tiles.” I really resented her when I thought of her addiction and that was when I fully agreed with my paternal grandmother how unworthy she was as a mother and a wife.

Yet, there were times when I felt sorry for the hard life and difficult childhood that Mum had. She had over time, shared with me how she was given up for adoption even as a very young child. The woman, who adopted her, did so, not out of sympathy but more for practical reasons.

She was a maid, fanning the mistress when she had her meals, and slapped with silver chopsticks on her hand when she so much dared to reach out for some choice morsels of meat.
She recounted how she had to get up early in the morning to wait for the night soil man to come and collect the waste bins.
She remembered the time too when she hid in the smelly and irksome toilet to have forty winks.

Mum’s adopted mother was somebody’s mistress, the man who had sworn eternal love for her at the sea goddess’s temple before he married his betrothed.
The mistress had neither the money nor the rightful position of a wedded wife and what little money that she got after his death was soon squandered on lavish meals on her numerous godsons and goddaughters who fawned on her.

With the fast depletion of the little money that she inherited, the godchildren showed their true colour and soon disappeared altogether when they realized that the old lady had nothing more for them to exploit.

The widow soon found that she had to go out to earn her own keep and for that, it would be inconvenient for her to bring a young child along. Mum was soon passed on to some relatives to take care of.
Mum was never given any form of education and as she was passed along from one family to another, she was treated just like a maidservant wherever she went.

She recalled the time when she returned from an errand late as she stopped at an iced-drink stall. She was sat upon by an overweight aunt and lashed by both the stout woman and her bullying son.
One day, she was on her way to submit some illegal bets and was arrested by the police. She was then placed in an institution for wayward girls and young prostitutes.
Here, she finally tasted some personal space and given more humane treatment. She picked up some skills and after a year or so, was given the option to marry one of the poor men who came to the institution for wives or to enter the job market.

She did some manual jobs and saved some money before she got wind of her adopted mother who was then placed in an asylum for the mentally unstable. She visited the old lady in the asylum and bought her favourite snacks as often as she could till her death.

Mum shared too the time of the Japanese Occupation. She was working in a restaurant when she was picked out one day when some Japanese soldiers patronized the place. Unhappy with my Mum’s slack attention, he slapped her and placed his sword at Mum’s neck. Mum thought that that would mean the end of her mortal life. She closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to know her fate. The drunkard soldier withdrew his sword and Mum’s life was spared.

Some years later, Mum met the man who took her breath away. Soon, Mum became his woman and for the first time in her life, she found bliss and happiness. Dreamily, she often recounted the time when she had no cares of the world but to nestle in his loving arms, visiting the Great World and New World City to watch movies, the main source of entertainment at that time.
Mum spoke of that romantic man often, recalling those happy days when he spoke kindly and softly in affection and would blow kisses when he left her for work every morning.

Mum adopted two children at that time. Both children- a boy and a girl were also from families that could not afford to have them as they already had many mouths to feed.

Mum spoke of the two other children who were Mr. K’s children with his legally married wife. The first wife and her two children accepted Mum and her adopted children.

As the Chinese saying goes, good times do not last. The wonderful man who loved Mum so deeply died of a heart attack when the couple was both young and loving. No wonder, Mum could not get over him even after so many years and often reminisced of the time they were together.

Mum now had to rely on her resourcefulness to keep herself and her two children alive.
She went back to working as a hostess in a restaurant.

Being a young widow, she attracted some suitors to herself. However,being rational, Mum was careful not to fall in love so easily.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Mum met the rogue who later became my father. The handsome rogue was charming and persuasive as all rogues are. His ardent pursuit soon won my mother over. She succumbed to his pursuit to her regrets later on.

Dad was then married but Mum had won his heart with her beauty. Before long, she surrendered completely and the result was my birth.

I was the beautiful baby, born with pink and fair complexion and the glue that cemented their otherwise tempestuous relationship.

As all sons were in that era, Dad was used to a life of comfort and spoilt by his mother. Yet, for our sake, he had gone out to earn a living as a bus driver.

Dad had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. Together with his brother and his brother’s family, they set up a shop on an island off Johor. They set up a shoe shop adjoining a hair dressing salon run by my aunt and assisted by Mum. Dad and uncle worked as camera men too at a photo studio just behind the shoe shop. The businesses failed miserably and everybody had to return to Singapore not only without making a fortune but debts to clear. Mum had to sell all the jewellery that she had accumulated and given to her by her romantic ex-husband. Mum was resentful of Dad and thereafter,began the unending friction between the two. I was then under two and came home to Singapore none the worse except for the marks left by mosquito bites.

Life in Singapore continued to be a struggle for both my parents and Mum had suggested that she helped financially by going out to work. Being a male chauvinist, Dad would not agree to have my mum worked in a complex environment, often surrounded by men with ulterior and dishonourable motives. This is my father’s perverted view of his kind.

Dad often returned home with a meagre salary and whatever he had, Mum had to share it with my grandmother.

The only thing that linked mum and dad was their love for me. Once, Mum actually left us but when she returned to visit, she was perturbed when I complained that Aunt had threatened to throw out all my clothes. Reluctant to leave her precious daughter to be ill-treated, Mum finally decided to return to us.
Seven years later, Mum had another child, my sister, who consolidated our parents’ relationship.
Dad’s charming ways had resulted in some undesirable attention from other women especially when he worked as a taxi driver.
Dad and Mum often quarreled over these unwelcome female attention and encounters, as well as money matters.
They continued to squabble the rest of their lives together and I remember having often to act as the mediator between them. Sometimes, I just wished that they had not continued living together.

In their old age, Mum had to take care of Dad because of his chronic arthritis which resulted in his immobility. For our sakes, Mum continued to take care of him until one day, unable to stand it any longer, she sent him to an old folks’ home. Within a month, dad passed away.

Years later, Mum became senile and the decline of her mental capacity was heartbreaking to say the least.

The Scar

It had been a great afternoon lunch with my friends to celebrate my promotion at work.
Isn’t that Mrs. Lee at the common corridor? She seemed to be waiting for me.

I remember the muffled sounds of argument coming from her unit some nights before and I wonder if she wants to confide her problems in me.

“Have you had lunch, Mrs.Ong? She held my hands gently. I have some news for you.”
There have been some accidents….. baby is scalded…. In hospital.”
I can’t make sense of what she is saying as I picked up certain terrifying words. Accident? my baby of nine months?

I can’t understand how I could still be standing there, looking at Mrs. Lee stupidly.

I finally made sense of what she was saying and hopped into a taxi that took me to the hospital where my baby was warded.

I could not get to see her until later. Hubby was looking miserable as he tried to embrace me.

How and what has happened? I wish I had not gone for that lunch to celebrate what success?

Days followed with afternoon and evening at the hospital, and tears flowed incessantly before we could finally fall exhausted after each visit. Even parents are not allowed to stay behind in the ward as it is a burnt ward and contacts were kept to the minimum to prevent any infection.

Baby was crying miserably but what could I do? We just continue to live from lunch to dinner visitations.

She survived that horrible accident with only a big ugly scar on the back of her bottom. Praise God it was not the face that had been scarred.

It was never to be forgotten, that terrible accident that scarred my baby.
Had it been so many years before? The poor child is now a grown up adult. The only thing that reminded me of her accident is the scar that is hidden from view but not from my memory. Thank and praise God for sparing us of worse consequences that would mar and destroy her future.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It is my birthday!

Children look forward to their birthdays when their parents celebrate their birthdays with gifts and usually a birthday cake.
In my family of four, our birthdays stretched out over the four quarters of the year.For each of us, we go out as a family to have a meal and also usually end the occasion with a birthday cake.
My birthday falls over a period when we are quite busy with school examinations etc.I remember years when my birthday was not celebrated and in one particular year, I was particularly disappointed when family seemed too busy to even remember it. However, good friends reminded me to remain cheerful.
This year, I was particularly touched when friends and family members remember.
I received sms from my two sisters in law all the way in India, as well as from those nearer home.
The two girls have been busy all week with their work but in the morning, they gave me a birthday kiss on the cheeks and arranged for a dinner in the evening somewhere in town.
It is wonderful to be loved and appreciated.I remember to be grateful and thank God for His abundant blessings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Dad

I remember my father as a very devoted son to his parents and a caring brother to his siblings. He likes to chat with our friends when they visit and both my sister Soo’s and my friends enjoy talking to him.
I remember my father’s devotion to his daughters especially when I was young and always demanded to be carried. The only time that he was angry with me was when I once refused to walk and wanted to be carried. When he did not do so, I insulted his mother and was given a tight slap on my face.
I remember the day when my grandfather passed away and Dad was sobbing silently while a long line of mucus emerged from his nostrils which he did not wipe away.
Once when we dropped a ping pong ball outside the window and it landed on the parapet. Without thinking, Dad jumped out of the window with his clogs on, to retrieve the ball. He landed one storey down and landed on the ground floor, dazed and only recovered sufficiently to return to the apartment miraculously unharmed.
Dad had a checkered childhood which mum never failed to share with us. He was always into some kind of trouble and was constantly punished by my stern grandfather.
Once a monk came for a visit and was having tea with Grandpa in the visitors’ hall downstairs. From the floor above, my father could see the monk’s head as he looked down through a peep hole. He found it so irresistible that he spat right on target at the bald head of the poor unsuspecting Holy One deep in conversation with Grandpa.
On another occasion, he passed by some wonderfully washed and gleaming white linens hung out in the warm sunlight. Using his water gun which he filled with black ink, he aimed at the gleaming sheets and formed his creative patterns on those canvases.

Once he took me to my night class and to his dismay and horror,discovered that the English teacher in the classroom had been his deadliest childhood enemy. Without hesitation, he bid a hasty retreat, leaving the clueless man wonder why my father took off so quickly as though some mysterious powers had driven him!
Later, my father disclosed to me that he had many combats with the man who spoke only in English, something deserving of my father’s disdain.

Dad was the eldest son by my second grandmother when the first grandmother passed away leaving two sons behind. My father began a long line of brothers and sisters after him.
One evening, my grandfather was invited to attend a birthday dinner and before he left, he reminded his errant son, my father, to keep out of trouble as he was always into some mischief or another. No sooner, had the old man left, that my father could not resist the opportunity to go out to have some fun of his own. The billiard hall was just five minutes down the road and magnetic to the hot-blooded teenager.
My grandfather happened to return early that evening because of a stomach upset and on his return, was aggrieved to know that his wayward son had disobeyed his strict order and gone into the forbidden billiard room. My father was summoned back immediately with the old man bristling with fury. He lay out the butcher knife used for cutting meat and would have chopped off my father’s two hands had not for the pleas of grandmother and his younger siblings.

I remember how devoted Dad was to his almost religious fervour for mainland China whom he called his motherland.
Every evening at six pm sharp, the noisily and poorly tuned radio would rasp and come to life with the Chinese national anthems in bursts of loud and soft sounds.
Dad would not miss a single of those broadcasts, singing praises of Chairman Mao, the steer hand that steers the great Motherland. Father was drunk by the propagandas.
When the day came for Dad to visit his village in Swatow and also to get cures for his arthritis, he was filled with hopes and exhilaration.
Yet, a month later, when he returned to Singapore, he brought home a pair of stone lions silently,without much enthusiasm to share the experience of his long-dreamt for trip.

Dad had great hopes for his two daughters as Mum had not given him a son.
He longed for the day when I could be the prestigious lawyer as he believes what boys can do, so can the girls. Alas, I did not take up that honorable profession envisioned by Dad, only to end up as a school teacher.
However, Dad was still proud of me and wished that one day I would become a school principal.

I did not fulfill even that hope of my Dad, but dearest Dad, I did become a good teacher. By the way, my daughter Sarah has just completed law school and she is now the deputy public prosecutor/ state counsel in the government chamber of law. May your soul rest in peace, Dad.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Learning as a life-long process

Learning is indeed a life-long process. We cannot and should not stop learning at any stage of our life.
When we were young, we embraced learning as it prepares us to grow into maturity.
We took our first steps to learn to adjust to a new world we were born into, adapting and learning, having left the comfortable body of our mother.
We were enthralled by the sights and sounds of our new environment and as we familiarise ourselves with them, we move forward, one step at a time until we gained our independence at adulthood.
However, learning should never stop for there is much to explore and learn till the day we depart from this world.
I remember learning to cope with my studies, my emotional life, relationships, later, my career first as a teacher, then as the head of department.
I learnt to be a daughter,a sister, an aunt, a girlfriend, a wife, then a mother and the list goes on.
I pray and thank God for a curious mind and the world never fails to amaze me.
My impatience slowly gives way to more tolerance though I still find waiting irksome and impatience still my weakness. However, I learn that something is really worth waiting for. I recalled the time when I waited for motherhood and was really in despair after years of fruitless waiting. God however, has really prepared me well and what joy it was when finally first Lynn and then Sarah came along.
There were growing pains over the years but the wait for them has often reminded me how precious they have been for me.
For years too, I despair of my failure to bring up Lynn well to be God-fearing but again God never gave up on me. He teaches me to trust in Him and assures me that changes come only through Him.
Even my relationship with Hubby is growing and we both learn how to change and improve ourselves through the patience of the Lord with us.
We are not perfect yet for we are still work in progress.
The day when we finally meet the Lord will be some time in the future, though we know not when.Meanwhile, we have to continue to learn and glorify His name and trust in Him that one day His work in us will be done.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our baby's graduation!

Sarah's four years of hard work finally culminated in her final examination and she achieved her target result of second upper and managed to get into the legal system as deputy public prosecutor.
The week after she started embarking on her career saw her morose and seemingly stressed out and tense.
It could be a matter of adjustment and also her busyness in helping a friend to plan her wedding.Over time, she seemed to relax a little and we attended the commencement on Friday morning to celebrate her graduation.
The little baby who was always smiling with little hands clung to mine has blossomed into a young lady. Her chapter of schooling has completed while a new chapter of career has just begun.
In her busyness, I just pray that she continues to trust in the Lord and knows that He is sovereign and He is with us no matter what.
I remember reading in Isaiah how prosperity sometimes blinds us from the love of God as we become complacent and full of false security, relying on our own wisdom instead of on His.
As we rejoice with our baby's achievement and progress, we continue to pray that God will lead her back to a closer walk and more intimate relationship with Him. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The day at the Shenandoah National Park

After the 6-day long Heat Wave and the never-ending flu, we finally realised our dream of going on the scenic roadway Skyline Drive at the Shenandoah National Park.
We left Gaithersburg to travel for two hours before we arrived at the Front Royal North Entrance Station.
After paying a yearly subscription of $30, we entered the Park roadway and before long, we were at the Shenandoah Valley Overlook and were awed by the lovely sight around and below us.The beautiful sights left indelible marks in our minds.
From there, we went on to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Centre where we picked up some maps and a Shenandoah CD to play in the car.
The beautiful straight tall trees all along the road and the beautiful scenes at the various lookout points took our breath away.
We walked along the short trails and met various like-minded people who were inspired by the beautiful sights before them.
We turned back after Skyland as it was already five pm in the evening and had to abandon our plans to visit the Dark Hollows waterfalls. On our return trip, we stopped to have another look at the various overlooks and tried hard to imprint in our minds the beautiful sights of God's creation that lay before us.
With gratefulness for God's blessing, we bid Shenandoah Valley National Park a fond farewell and pray that we would one day return to visit His wonderful gift to all of us.

Beautiful Sunday

After the long day at the Shenandoah National Park yesterday, we had a good night's rest. This morning, we went for an hour's walk around the estate before returning for a simple breakfast.
We decided to go for Sunday service with our sister Soo at the nearby Church of the Redeemer.
The church was located just outside where Soo lives and next to a Muslim mosque.
We were in time for the 11am service. The congregation was quite large, made up of many African Americans as well as Americans of different races.
The special guest speaker Pastor Robert Barriger gave a wonderful sermon based on 2Chronicle about God's servant who was honourable,suffered pains and prayerful.
He then elaborated on what it meant to be honorable, using the Unknown soldiers at the Arlington Cemetery as an example of those who died unknown, yet known to God only.
The service took about an hour and was soon over.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sick on holidays!

How miserable it is to be sick on holidays!
The weather outside is so hot - everyday it is 90 degrees and above and here I am nursing a bad cold with snuff nose, teary eyes and tired bones.
I took both Chinese and English medicine to speed up the cure but it does take time.
I visited the library at Germantown with Soo Chan and Lek and got some books to read. I finished the book Spirit Bridges, a memoir written by Li Mo which chronicled her childhood in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and even Madrid during the 60s and Cambridge MA in the 70s.
I also browsed through some of Chan's Chinese books, and especially like the Taiwanese writer Chen Luo Si's autobiography about her life in Taipei, Hong Kong,America and Mainland China.I'm not sure if I want to read the book in greater detail, especially the part on her political experiences.
I also played the piano in the morning and spent the rest of the day on the Internet and reading and resting in bed.
The hymns and praises were indeed up-lifting as I listened to them on youtube- You are my hiding place, in His time and Give thanks. I also listened to some operas and other songs.I did my Bible study in the morning- finished my homework on Isaiah chapter 35 and also on 1 Samuel Chapters 13-15. These three chapters reminded us to be obedient to God and trust in Him with all our hearts.
He does not want us to be rebellious and revolt against Him.
I know that I am often guilty of disobeying the Lord and pray that He will lead me away sinning against Him.
Your way and not mine.

Here in Gaithersburg, Maryland,USA

Finally, the June holidays are here and we managed to get some cheap air tickets to fly to New York.
The long flight took us a total of 23 hours to reach New York and we stayed at Verve Hotel in Long Island City which is quite convenient for us to move about.
We visted Central Park as suggested by the front desk and had some simple sandwiches for dinner.
The next morning we woke up early to take the subway to South Ferry White Hall to take the ferry to Staten Island, on the way we saw the Statue of Liberty.
We only stayed a while at Staten Island and was soon walking towards the Brooklyn Bridge entrance near City Hall station.
Many people were on that bridge that morning and we were awed by the engineering feat of those early engineers.
From there, we walked towards World Trade Centre in search of Century 21 to buy the cosmetics for Sook Ying and company.There was a madeshift memorial to exhibit the photographs of the deceased of the tragic twin tower. We stopped at the St Paul Chapel for lunch and to meditate on those who died in the senseless disaster.
After going to Century 21, we took the subway to Time Square to check on the tickets to the Broadway Show but did not find anything suitable for us.
From there, we went back to Canal St, Chinatown to get some take-away dinner and some cherries.
We also checked on the place to take the Bolt bus to go to Washington.
We arrived in Washington at about 4pm and were taken to Soo Chan's place in Gathersburg.
We went to the gardens the next day but the weather was really very hot_99 degrees fahrenheit!
We took the subway to Smithsonian and spent the day moving from Washington Monument, right up to Lincoln Memorial and finally to the Holocaust Musueum before going back to Olive Court.
Lek fell ill after that long hot walk in Washington DC and I was down with flu the next day.
We enjoyed the parks and mountains but not the weather.
We just pray for cooler days ahead so that we do not have to stay indoors so much.
Stayed indoors to read, eat and luckily, Jasmine was able to get the computer working.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Singapore, we just had our election last week and the results were rather astounding particularly for the ruling party. Even though the Party garnered the majority vote to continue as the Government, the win has been a dismal win of slightly more than 60%, causing the government to examine themselves to see what has gone wrong to have so many votes gone to the Opposition.
There have been opposing views and people have expressed their unhappiness with quite a number of issues and decisions made.

People are unhappy that they could not take out all their CPF monies at the age of 55 as legislation has been passed to hold back part of the payment first to 60, then to 62.
Another peeve is the open door policy to foreigners whom citizens have perceived as threats to their employment opportunities, education and other benefits as citizens.

Government has time and again spoken on the need to have foreign workers in Singapore for the country's economic growth but people were not convinced.
Another area in which people are unhappy is the escalating price of properties, particularly for young people who want their first home and the price of housing has gone beyond their means.

The feeling on the ground is that the government has become uncaring and has stopped heeding their needs. Many have felt that the government has taken a high-handed approach and ignore them.

The election has resulted in lots of expression of discontentment on the Internet and for once people can express their feelings more easily via the Internet without fear of repercussions. " The government cannot put all of us in jail!" was the expression. There was indeed a strong sense of liberation in this year's election.
Freedom of speech comes with responsibility, so while we welcome the chance to speak up and take a more active part in the affairs of the country, we must also heed the need to be clear-headed and not just be swayed by emotions and oppositions with their own agenda. It is important that Singaporeans need to be level-headed and think through with the interest of the country in mind.

Reminices in May

Well, it is now May, five months have gone by and how has life been for me?
What have I done or achieved so far?
The first three months were spent leisurely with time to exercise in the morning, swim, qigong and brisk walking.In the afternoon, I will go to the community centre to read the Chinese papers and play the piano when I get home.
I was invited to teach Creative Writing the next term and spent some time researching on materials for the course. I taught three full classes of Primary five and two classes of mixed classes on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Those time that I do not teach, I research and prepare teaching resource to support the pupils' learning of English.
I accepted the assignment to keep myself abreast with work as well as for the remuneration. I do not go to school on Tuesday but in alternate weeks, I help out with the Evergreen group of serving the older people.On Wednesday, I do not teach but do my research and preparation of teaching resource in the morning but go to another school to teach Creative Writing for a renowned enrichment centre.
Alternate Thursday, I have cell group Bible study with some of my church members.
This year, we started on 1 Samuel and as we study the book, we try to apply the principles of the study to our life. In 1 Samuel, we learn the importance of obedience and dependence on the Lord.
On Tuesday evening, I go for Bible Study Fellowship where we learn the book of Isaiah. In this prophetic book, we learn of our God's faithful love for His people in contrast to His faithless and rebellious children. Again and again, as His children, we rebelled and were faithless, worshipping other idols rather than being faithful to Him, our loving God.
I realise that I too have been faithless and wavering, often relying on my self rather than going to Him for His guidance and teaching.Lord, thank you for your immeasuable patience and grace for my undeserving salvation. May I follow You faithfully and rely not on myself but on Your wisdom and grace.
I feel that I have not done well for this assignment because it was my own strong desire to take up the job rather than wait on You.
However, it is no use regretting my decision but continue to rely on You for these two weeks to complete the assignment.
Lord, it is difficult to totally follow You sometimes, but Lord, give me Your wisdom and patience to do so.Let me wait on You because You have assured us that "All things work for those who love You." In all that I do, let me do in Your honour and glory, Amen.
In two weeks' time, Lek and myself will be flying to US to visit Soo Chan and go on a relaxing holiday. I look forward to the holidays to relax and live peaceably in God's natural and beautiful world.