We sat under the hot morning sun under umbrellas, surrounded by the gravestones of long passed on clan members. We were waiting for the joss sticks to burn to a decent level before packing up to leave.
There was a slight breeze in the air as my aunt, the oldest child from my father's family and I sat back and let the spiritual meal for my grandfather and his two wives to take place.
"She was buried in the Rasah Cemetary" , she said , motioning to the older of the two women in the old black and white picture on the headstone that symbolised the resting place of both my grandfather's wives. "She wasn't happy there, so she came to Second Aunty in dreams saying she wanted to be closer to Ah Kung. We brought her bones here and cremated them. She's now resting in that mausoleum over there. The younger wife is buried further away in town."
And so it started. Broken Chinese from me asking tentative question about the family from the past. This post is more of a remainder of my family history than anything else. I don't keep an old school diary (I did keep one when I was 12 and I think it's lost to the world) and words flow better when I'm tapping away on this laptop.
SO, my grandfather came over to Malaysia from China at the age of about 19 or 20. He was married to his first wife in China at the age of 14. He came over to work in the tin mines. Times were tough and even more so after the Japanese invasion. He kept a low profile during the Japanese occupation. He planted vegetables to sell and also moonlighted as an ice cream seller. He would go all the way to Lukut town in Port Dickson from Seremban to sell the stuff. If the ice in his container melted then the ice cream would go to. And on rainy days the ice cream would go to waste. He would bring back the melted ice cream where they would mix it with wheat flour and bake it and my aunts and uncles would eat it so as not to waste it. They lived a hard life. Slum Dog/below the poverty line even before there was a poverty line poor. Slightly more than half a bowl of rice would have to last one person for the whole day. Sometimes they would have vegetables that my grandfather planted. If they did get their hands on meat it would be considered a huge treat, small strips of pork or chicken. Plain rice porridge was the go to meal of the day for the family. Every day.
Grandad's wife from China wanted to come to Malaysia but for some reason he didn't want her to. Kuma did not want to go into details but I assume that money was tight. One of my uncles in Singapore footed the bill for her. By then Gramps had married Number 2 in Malaysia. Number 1 was OK with it seemingly. Guess she was happy enough to be on Malaysian soil.
The Japanese occupation was tough on all of them. They did not have money for food or more importantly medicine. We lost family to sickness because we couldn't afford medicine. Number 2 wife died early from cancer at 35. An uncle also passed on because of lack of meds.
My grandfather would normally take on two jobs at any one time. He used to deliver papers in the early mornings, waking at 4am every day. Once done with his rounds he would head off to the construction site. He worked in construction for almost 15 years before a fall hurt his back. He then took on basic carpentry.
"I think Ah Kung's done eating. Go say your prayers and let's pack up", my aunt breaks her recollection of the past.
The smoke is in my eyes. I Hope Ah Kung's not too pissed at the Chinese tea that I spilt earlier. I say my prayers in English, realising my grandfather is probably rolling his eyes at his grandson who still cant string a proper sentence in Cantonese after decades on this earth. He turns away to address his laughing buddies from the old China who are now asking him what gibberish is the grandson entrusted to carrying on the family name talking.
Note to self: Next Chin Beng/Chin Ming buy Gramps a paper Star Trek Communicator. Maybe then he wont think I'm such a total retard. (Nex, can make me one?)