Friday, November 20, 2009

I am too late.

This entry is about life in Penang .
I was too late. I was too late to ask him the questions of his own life. Just 10 days too late for me to say goodbye. I saw him just before I left for my studies in July 2009. He would watch his eldest grandson graduate from heaven.

My late maternal grandfather was born and raised in Penang. The son of a businessman, his father, my great-grandfather was killed by the MPAJA during the second world war. After the war, the family managed to find a small place living in Jelutong. My grandfather was a poor man, was a heavy drinker, a smoker and a gambler. Not very impressive credentials but oh well. The father of six, the family of 9 crammed in a 3 rooms. My grandma was taking part time orders washing clothes for other people and ironing (Ironing in the 1980s and 70s was a really tough job!)
Somewhere along the 1980s, my mum worked in Motorola and made enough money for my grandpa to start a business. He and my grandmother would sell "popiah" and "Pai Ti" at Gurney Drive every day. As a young boy, I lived with my grandparents at their house. It was quite rundown with classic prewar design. The toilets were outside and literily a hole in the ground. There was no shower, just a pool of water covered by corroding zinc roof and a rusting metal door. The shutters were wooden and we wore "ka kiak" or wooden clogs to get around. The kitchen was a section in the wall with a charcoal stove. Up the creeking stairway was a narrow corridor, where great piles of stuff were stacked up and a sewing machine laid at one corner. The roof was right above and it was all darkwood with little incandescent bulbs to light the night. The other two rooms were smaller and had a few aging matresses.

I would use to have a nap and then wake up at the sound of the buffalo hooves. The Indians rode on baffaloes carrying anything from milk to sugarcane. After looking out the shutters, I would go back to sleep. My grandpa would take naps too. Downstairs were these long benches and tables for people to gamble and gather. In the daytime, he would have a stack of old news papers. Tying them up carefully, he made a quick pillow!

He would bring me to breakfast and lunch next door. Where the local hawkers set up shop. He is the only person in the world i ever know who drinks his coffee from the saucer! Then, my uncle would take me to play some pool at the pool centre down the block. Next door was a famous "Tau Sar Peah" company. We got free boxes of "Dragonball biscuits" every now and then, and presently, they are located at BJ Complex in Penang. Those were the vivid memories I could recall.
By night, I would join my grandparents at Gurney Drive where they made a living. Every day, my grandpa would pedal his stall 6km from Jelutong to Gurney. Before that, he would prepare the skins, the cups, the turnips and all the condiments. The stall ran on carcoal and was bought from the local supplier. He made the best Popiah there was.

In 1994, my great-grandmother passed away. In 1997, me and my grandparents had a holiday in the USA. In 2001, the Jelutong highway was built and the old house torn down. By then, all my uncles and aunties were working and flown the coop, leaving my grandparents to move to Green Lane Heights. Later in 2004, my grandfather started a battle with diabetes which would lead him to a bypass heart surgery and leave him with less two feet, cataract on both eyes and hearing loss. He would live on for many more years until 18th Nov 2009.

However little in material things he had, he had always been rich in love for his grandchildren. Even without an education, he worked a decent life to feed his family and himself, enjoying life all the way. Have you ever felt that the more we have, the less we tend to give? It took so long for me to realise that I have not thanked him before for what he did in my life. It took so long till I got to the point where I was mature enough to value my heritage and want to find out more about my ancestor. But now, sad to say:
I am too late.

To my beloved Ah Kong, rest in peace.

Ah Kong and his grand children (2005 picture)

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