Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Of calm amidst the chaos

I glanced at the clock. Almost 6pm. Almost time to pack the rackets and head over for a game of tennis with Pa at AhKung-and-AhMah's house. The tennis courts at my grandparents' house were where I first learnt the game. By late primary school, the routine was set. When Pa's car pulled into the house, I'd look for the tennis rackets under the staircase, in the playpen. The tennis balls would be on top of the shoe cupboard outside. On arrival, "Hi Akung! Hello Ah Mah!" Barely pausing for polite conversation, we would head through the back of the house, past the doghouse and the kitchen to the tennis court behind. I remember always being secretly nervous about snakes (snakeskins were infrequently found at the back of the garden) so would only feel at ease on the cement of the tennis court.

Much later, depending on how I'd played (I'd either be bitter with losing to Pa or thrilled that I'd hit some winners), we'd troop back and have a glass of ice cold water from the fridge. We'd then sit at the table and make small talk with Ah Kung and AhMah. Ah Kung would usually be playing Solitaire against himself, Ah Mah would be having tea in a china teacup, usually not saying very much. If Uncle Ching or Aunty were there, they'd be doing most of the talking - usually around family happenings or business matters - I'd be listening with only half an ear; not much went in at that age!

 As the years went on, Ah Kung and Ah Mah became a fixture in my mind - they were the heads of the family, and come exams, failures, achievements, family squabbles, they stayed (in my mind) immovable, always sitting at that table imparting wisdom; a picture of calm in the midst of the whirlwind of the 1990s. Even in the Chinese New Year fire that caused Ah Pak David, Pa and I to rush wildly to the back of the house to prevent the flames from burning the fence down, I didn't recall any sign of panic on their behalf. When Ah Kung passed away, Ah Mah continued sitting and presiding over family happenings. One of my regrets is not getting to know them better during their lifetime. I was always rather in awe of Ah Kung; Pa would tell me stories about his prowess at games and about how he studied in Hong Kong, escaping just before the war and how he started up in Malaysia. Ah Mah mainly spoke Hokkien, while I could communicate with her in English and Kutien, I was never really sure of her replies.

Today Ah Mah passed away, just after midnight in her home, surrounded by her children. In the months before she passed, Aunty, Catherine and Margaret bore the brunt of looking after her with utmost patience. With both of them gone, I am reminded of how time seems to moveso quickly, almost callously, and of how each generation gives way to the next. No longer with their mediator and guide, our parents now the leaders of the family, and we, their children, now fast approaching the mantle of responsibility ourselves.

It's still AhKung-and-AhMah's house to me. Have a good trip Ah Mah. When you see Ah Kung say Hi from us!