Tomorrow’s a unique day – 11/11/11. Every year however, I remember 11/11 for another reason – it is the wedding anniversary of an uncle and his wife. I wrote this a few years ago, think I’ll just re-post this:
My late grandfather (Chye Heng) had 8 children – 2 girls and 6 boys. The eldest was a girl, Swee Lian. Her husband (Teck Jin) was the Uncle I blogged about a couple of months ago (I think) – the one who fell ill. My father was the second child and the first son.
Stephen (Hui Been) was the fourth son and the sixth child. He is the uncle I am closest to. He has a wonderful parental instinct which never seemed to have abated over time.
My father was a trader who had to travel all over Malaysia. In our younger days, when he travelled and my mother followed him, my brother and I would stay over at our grandfather’s house. We grew up in that house. It was in the middle of a rubber estate in the village of Kampung Jawa, about 6-7 miles from Klang. We moved out from that house when we were maybe 5 or 6 years old, to a rented house in Jalan Melawis. We returned to the house however, during my parents’ occasional forays inter-state.
Stephen was the Uncle who took care of us the most whenever we stayed over in that big house. I will try to recollect the ins and outs of that house.
There’s a dirt road that runs for about maybe 100 feet before you come to a tall wiry gate. Past that gate, I see a garden which fronts the house. There’s an unforgettable guava tree at a corner on the left, at the junction between the dirt road and the short driveway to the front porch of the house. Usually there are a few dogs sleeping on the front porch. They get up only when there’s someone cycling or walking on that dirt road.
A large dark-wood front door on the right of the porch takes you into the house. To the left is room used as an office, first by my grandfather and years later, by my father. To the right is a lounge area. Just outside the office is a very old piano, which I played on my own when I am there and have nothing to do. A large dining table is just behind the lounge set. This is a special dining table.
Every Saturday night, my grandfather sat everyone down around that table and convened family worship together. It was the family altar. It was at that table we learned to sing old hymns “Amoy” style – hymns sang in Hokkien using romanised lyrics. Then 1-2 chapters of the Bible would be read out, with each taking a verse around the table. Then grandfather would expound on that text. He had several pages of handwritten notes to refer to from time to time. We then ended with a prayer and supper after that. I think that table was the site many seeds were sown in our hearts. If I tool a quick survey with all the grandchildren, I think many would agree that table could easily be the bedrock of sorts for our spiritual growth!
There’s a wall next to the table, behind which were two toilets and a bathroom. That bathroom had a mini pool which starts from just outside the bathroom and continues into it. Occasionally one of us would do a mini scuba dive in and out of the bathroom through that pool. Just outside that bathroom was a wash basin with a mirror over it. There was a shelf at the bottom of the mirror. Often there would be a bottle of white tablets on that shelf. It was a face powder – I think it is what was called the “bedak sejuk”. One takes a few tables in the palm of one’s hands, wet them and spread the resulting paste on one’s face as a cream. It had a cooling effect.
Directly across the toilets and bathroom was another sort of open area, with a couple of chairs and tables and a long row of cardboard lining the wall to the left, which was the bottom of the staircase. Behind this open areas was the meals area. To the right and back of the other dining table was a door just next to the “pool”, which opens outside. I remember the times when 1 or more of the dogs would wander in to the dining table and grandfather would throw a or more slices of bread (buttered!) for them.
Further behind the tables were two bedrooms. I think Keat Bin, Thomas and Tibby occupied these rooms. Keat was actually Tiat Been, I think. He was older than Stephen. Thomas was Kok Meng and was the second last child. Tibby was Ing Been (“Tibby” came from his initials, “TIB”) and was the last child. He has successfully warded off marriage even till today. I think this is one of grandmother’s remaining concerns …
Keat, Tom and Tib were all educated overseas. Keat and Tom went to the Western Australia Institute of Technology (“WAIT”) and did Engineering and Accountancy respectively. Tib went to the US and I think attended Tennessee Tech and University of Mississippi.
Keat unfortunately had a serious motor accident and remains affected by it. He lives with grandmother now. Tom migrated to Sydney about 20 years ago and now lives there with wife Pauline and daughters Melissa and Sarah. Tib was living with grandmother and Keat in Klang, but has been in Beijing for work for a couple of years now.
Grandfather took care of the children of his elder and younger brothers and treated them as his own. Consequently, we called his brothers’ children as though they were grandfather’s own children. Wei Sheng for example was my grandfather’s elder brother’s son. We called him “Ah Pek”, as though he was my father’s elder brother. Tian Chiok (George) and Tian Hoe (Joseph) were Ah Pek’s 2 children and they have always been first cousins to us. Ah Pek’s father had died early and grandfather brought up Ah Pek as his own son. Ai Meng was grandfather’s second son but became our “3 chek”. “4-chek” (Hoe Peng) was my grandfather’s younger brother. Keat was “5-chek”, Stephen was “6 chek”. Hoe Peng’s younger brother, Chong Peng (Henry) was “7-chek”, Tom was “8 Chek” and Tib was “Beh Chek”). Get it? Phew…
Swee Har was the second daughter and has the same infectious guffaw of a laughter as my grandmother. She has the prettiest face of all grandfather’s children (including “adopted” ones). She and hubby Shu were living in Melbourne for a few years. They are now back in Ipoh but their son David remains here. He was married end of last year. He and Charmaine now live in Hawthorn East.
Actually I started this entry to talk about Stephen. Today is his wedding anniversary. He and 6 chim (Paddy) were married on this day I think in 1979. Their eldest daughter, Ruth is now a medical intern in Canberra and I remember her as a quiet but determined kid, when my mother baby sat her all those years ago in Klang. Joy is their second child and now works in a publishing company (I think) in Singapore. Their youngest is a boy (Caleb) who is sitting for his HSC in Sydney right now. Stephen and Paddy moved to Sydney almost ten years ago and remain there now.
Stephen – used bedak sejuk on us, made us take long afternoon naps in the big house in Kampong Jawa, introduced us (also in that big house) to Kraft cheddar cheese and tomato juice, made us do our homework and challenged us to do better in our school work. All this when he was maybe I don’t know, 20 years old? He was advisor to the church youth group we grew up with and was therefore a spiritual leader to us as well. He worked with a level of energy quite unlike the other uncles I know, and was always determined and positive. He introduced me to my first job in an electrical trading company in Klang (a client of his when he was working in the United Asian Bank, the forerunner of the Bank of Commerce and now known as BCB in Malaysia), after I finished my SPM, while waiting for my results. He helped my father while with the bank by providing overdraft facilities.
Recently he travelled to Klang from Sydney to spend time with grandmother and celebrate her 86th birthday. He then wrote an essay setting out in pretty much her own words, her recollection of her childhood. As I read that account, I could almost hear her saying those things herself.
Stephen was a great example. I must blog properly about him one day. For now though, that has to do. Happy Anniversary, 6 Chek & 6 Chim.