Hola chicos! I’m sure this is no longer a secret but I’m back in Singapore since last week. Apologies to all who have contacted me but I’ve yet responded whole-heartedly – a lot has been happening since I arrived, severe jetlag, re-adaptation to the crazy humidity and being comfortable with hordes of crowds and high-rise buildings being a few to name. I’ll get to each and every one of you slowly but surely; just a little more time and love work magic 🙂
I had stopped writing while in Buenos Aires for the last few months because I had momentarily lost the inspiration to do so – apologies to the few who ardently follow my blog. A lot of other activities crept into my life – I’d been dancing harder than ever, met wonderful people who have become friends close to my heart, started dating. I even found my little enclave of Singaporean community who gave me incredible support on days I really miss home. Social activities took precedence. Yes, I had lots and lots of fun. In fact, I was so happy there that I wasn’t ready to come home anytime soon.
But of course, life has its unexpected ways to inculcate its lessons. 2.5 weeks back, I received a WhatsApp message from my mom informing me that the love of my life – my granny, had fallen down and fractured her hip. She is 92 years old. The family had to make the gruelling choice of sending her for surgery with a risk of her never waking up due to the effects of anesthesia, or her being bed-ridden for the final part of her life.
When I first saw the message, my heart fell and I couldn’t stop tearing.
It was tough, really tough, to be faced with the prospect of losing the one important person I love the most while being zillions of miles away from home. Even if I were to fly home immediately, the 2-day long trip would mean that I was still faced with the prospect of never seeing her again.
My grandma has ALWAYS been the inspiration to my life. An impossible optimist, she is the epitome of strength, fire, gratitude, compassion and love. She had a crazily infectious laughter, a smile that could light up the whole world and always had that beautiful sparkles in her eyes. I’ve been told many times that granny had hordes of suitors after her when she was a beautiful, young and elegant lady who stood tall at 1.7 metres, and it is not hard to see why.
She was also the one who brought me up since I was a teeny weeny girl and was honestly, the only one in the family who could tame the wildly rebellious, strong-headed and bratty kid I was. She had the wonderful balance of always accepting and loving me for who I was, but being REALLY FIERCE and putting me in my place whenever I tried to pull tricks beyond acceptable.
When I was 5 years old, I remembered an incident where I insisted that she slept over with me at our house that night, but grandma had to return to my aunt’s. In order to placate me, she told me she would buy me a toy but I had to be obedient and sleep on my own. I agreed to her terms. So she, together with my mom, brought me to the toy store to pick up whatever I wanted. However, I was a hopeless brat, decided to change tunes and started insisting she stayed over again after getting the toy. I will never forget the burning glare she gave me (gosh, I remembered being scared), her stoic silence, before delivering her firm, booming and resounding “NO”. Then without another word, she turned her back and walked off with steady strides, despite hearing my uncontrollable wails and screams in the middle of the street. She just kept walking forward and never looked back.
On that very day, she taught me about agreements, integrity and respect. She is one tough woman not to be messed around. She has never once hit me, yet instilled remarkable values in me.
That being said, she is also incredibly loving and affectionate. I know she never had expectations of what kind of a woman I should become and wholehearted accepted me for who I am.
When I was young, she started teaching me what loving and giving generously mean. She had always told me to be grateful of what we have been blessed in life, because no matter how unpleasant life seemed to be at any point, there is always someone who is doing worse and we should always give them love. That being said, she is also impossibly generous; she always gave away what she had gotten and never kept beyond what she needed. When she had food, she shared it with the neighbours. When she had extra cash, she would distribute it to all her children and grandchildren. She even asked me to address the Malay neighbour she was friends with as “Nenek”, which means grandmother in Malay. That’s how generous she was – never possessive of us, her things and her life.
Ironically, grandmama was also sometimes my partner-in-crime. When I was in my teens, I desired to be out every night clubbing and socialising, a true-blue extension of my rebellious, independent (and childlike) nature. My parents, particularly my Dad, flipped of course, since I would always come home in the wee hours of the morning reeking of cigarettes and alcohol. House arrest made me revolt even more so I started sneaking out of the house when they were asleep. I remembered once creeping out of my room past midnight in skanky clubbing clothes but very unfortunately ran into my grandmama, who had just come out from the bathroom. She saw me all dressed up, with bad makeup and I froze. She looked puzzled and asked me where I was going. I must have been crazy but I asked her, probably out of desperation, “Ah ma, can you please don’t tell papa and mummy? I want to go out.” I could see her stunned for a moment, as if trying to make a good judgement call. I thought I was going to be dead that night since my parents would go ballistic knowing that I tried sneaking out, but she intervened my sense of doom with a firm yet sneaky look before saying, “Ok, but you must be careful.” That night, she opened the door and I sneaked out. I had a great time. She popped her head into my room early next morning to check if I was still alive. My parents never knew about this incident up to today.
She took multiple risks with and for me, because she loved me unconditionally and understood how I function very well. She knew my hard-headed character and how I can never be caged against my will. Most importantly, she trusted me, as much as I trusted her. And in the course of it, I learnt about keeping promises, responsibility and what unconditional love meant.
Grandmama was my one confidante in life. Whenever I had fall-outs with my parents, I would run to her crying and complaining, and she would always listen intently without judging. Even when I was all grown-up and had challenges in life, a visit to her always puts things into perspectives. My grandmama has amazing empathy. She could always feel my mood even when I was not talking. I remembered once being heartbroken having broken up with an ex-boyfriend so when I saw her I was all quiet and non-communicative. But nothing, absolutely nothing, escaped her laser eyes. At some point in time that day, she gently told me, “My child, a lot of things in life are part of our destiny. We must learn to accept what we cannot change.” Her words of wisdom drip like gold.
Before I left for Argentina, I hung out a lot with her. She was then 91, was partially blind, but still beautiful, strong, cheery and compassionate. Whenever I experimented a new dish or dessert, I always brought it to her to see if I had “passed” her stringent “taste-bud test” – grandmama was an absolute foodie and had discerning standards when it came to food. If she didn’t like it, she would keep a straight face and told me matter-of-factly what went wrong. If she did, she would go for a second round and say “buay pai” or “hoh jiak”. That’s my grandmama for you too – always sensitive to others’ feelings, yet never compromising on what she wanted to communicate.
I told her I had left my job, would be going to South America for a year and apologised for being away for Chinese New Year. She paused for a while after hearing the news, as if internalising everything, and probably also wondering which crazy bug in me had made me come to the decision. But her response was simply, “Ok, so do you need to sell your car?” before eventually asking, “Where is South America?” (LOL) Her final advice to me before I embarked on my trip was “Be careful”. And she never sweated over my decision again.
I am truly grateful to my grandmama for always supporting me in every decision I make, regardless good or bad, right or wrong. She had always given me the space to grow into the woman I am today, and I couldn’t have done it without her love and support. She never once questioned or focused on my mistakes. She always let bad energies go and focused on the positive instead. She always stood by my side and encouraged me. She is larger than life and is the rock of my life.
A week and a half back, my family decided to let her go through the operation. A slim chance was better than none. And we are really, really blessed that she pulled through the operation despite the high risks associated with her old age. However, she is in constant pain now and is less than lucid because of the morphine she is consuming.
Before grandmama went for her operation, she kept asking about me. On that day, I bought the next affordable flight out of Buenos Aires, regardless of what the outcome of the operation would be. I just wanted to be by her side.
When I flew into Singapore last Wednesday morning after close to a 40-hour long travel, I headed to St. Luke’s Hospital to visit her in my semi-dazed state. And when I saw my love, all skinny, fragile, frail and semi-conscious, my tears couldn’t stop flowing. When I whispered into her ear that I have come home, I don’t think she comprehended. Doctors told us that dementia has set in for her so she probably isn’t very aware of who’s around her at any given moment anymore. But that no longer mattered; it’s not about how I feel, but how she feels. And I’m grateful that I can still stroke her hair, caress her face, hold her hand, feel her warmth and spirit, and plant kisses on her face in the moments we spend together.
Grandmama, you are such an amazing woman. Even in these moments of yours when you are fighting to maintain a normal life, you are still teaching me so much about life.
You have maintained your candour, strong-headedness and cheeky self so comically well.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, my grandma is an absolute foodie. So whenever the nurses brought her the bland, unappetising hospital food during meal times, she would always declare that she wasn’t hungry. We fed her despite that because she needed nutrients, but she always ate like a bird. However, when we broke hospital rules and brought her favourite snacks of char siew pao or kong bak pao, her appetite and enthusiasm for food would return at lightning speed and she could easily chow down 3 buns in a sitting, sans coaxing or assistance. She always made us laugh with her antics – so cheeky, so funny.
And losing track of time resulted in her occasional cute, comedic displays. She had the longest afternoon nap that day and when it was time for dinner, I whispered into her ear that it was time to eat. Her eyes flew open in an instant and she enthusiastically asked, “Is it time for breakfast??” I replied her, between my giggles, that it was actually time for dinner. For a while, she looked massively confused and it was really quite funny. When I left for my dinner appointment that evening in the midst of her meal and told her I had to go, she spiritedly said, “Bye bye!” and continued devouring her char siew paos and kong bak paos like a happy child, as if nothing else mattered in the world.
Day after day, grandmama is still teaching me to live life positively and with zest.
She NEVER once whined about her plight, although I am certain she is suffering from the constant pain and immobility. She had to poop into her diapers and had to be nursed at every moment. It must be hard, given how fiercely independent and active she once was.
She would go for therapy although I know she hates it. She always looks dampened, or sian, when it’s time for the sessions. But when we told her that it would make her well sooner, she would muster her strength and say “Orh”, which essentially meant “Ok”.
When doctors sometimes checked her lucidity by asking her for name, she would reply them “Tan Soh Hong lah!” in the most matter-of-fact manner. She has such a knack for making others feel embarrassed with their seemingly silly questions, and I can’t help but love her attitude.
My grandma and I used to have long conversations where she would always encourage me to do what I need to be happy. She had always supported my choices even though she might not always agree with them. When I was upset with people, she would always remind me to forgive them and continue living my life. She was also fiercely protective, because she would sometimes end up bitching about them with me 🙂
She is still reminding me, day after day, to be fierce in our pursues of life and to keep living despite the odds. Life may not always deliver what we desire at this moment, but we have to trust the process and trust our hearts. And keep being funny, positive and happy.
Grandmama, you are such an incredible woman, an absolute darling, and I love you so much. My mind has been on over-drive mode since I came back home, figuring out my plans and desires. But you have reminded me that there is no need to try so hard if we just keep believing in ourselves and keep going for what we want. You reminded me so much about being brave and strong, while being loving and passionate, life mottos I have always lived by.
So thank you, once again, for your invaluable life lessons. I know you’ll want me to continue being brave in order to achieve the dreams I have, and I’m hell gonna do that because we only have one life to live. I’m sorry I didn’t manage to see you today because I just woke up from an unusually long afternoon nap thanks to the very screwed-up body clock, but you bet I will be out and about before you know it. I’ll see you tomorrow, my love. Yes, with more char siew paos and kong bak paos on hand. When you’re feeling better, I promise to make you your favourite curry chicken dish 🙂
And to all my curious friends, yes sweeties, I am back because of my grandmother. And to answer all your questions, no, I have no idea for how long yet. I am in the midst of building my dream, and despite not knowing how, I am doing my best to make it a reality.
Meanwhile, let’s meet up! I want to hear all about you.
All my hugs, love and kisses xoxo
my grandmama LOVES selfies. some things run in the family 😉