There’s a time for everything, even Grief

Tomorrow, 29 March 2015 will be the State funeral for Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. It will be an unprecedented experience for the nation. The last 6 days of paying tributes and last respects have also been an unprecedented experience for the people to mourn the loss of its great leader.

image

The spirit of unity and outpouring of grief and appreciation of the multitides for this great man was overwhelming, comforting and yet, heart breaking.

When I think of how my late grandmother and father, and my mother suffered hardships through the 2nd World War lacking in food, without education or jobs, yet able to eke out a livelihood to eventually raise children like me, I am grateful they were in Singapore.

I thank God for putting great leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew to lead this small country to where it is today and have a community of various cultures, race and religion to grow and live in peace.

I miss my grandmother and father dearly and think of them often. I have grieved over losing them more than ten years ago and celebrate their lives and the impact they had on me and my family through making Photobooks about them and many blog posts on experiences growing up with them. They have given much of their lives to the family and we will cherish memories of them always, gratefully.

To give one’s life for a country is a noble cause and often regarded as heroic when it comes to saving lives or in battle. I wonder what it should be regarded as when it involved toiling tirelessly and selflessly, in and out of the country, for several decades to see a nation rise from almost nothing to call their own and make a significant mark in the global arena.

I have cried and will cry for the loss of our great leader. We wish his family will find comfort and peace during this painful period. After this grieving period, I will look forward to celebrate his life well lived and pray that Singapore will continue to be blessed with good leaders and good people who will strive to love the country over self.

Advertisements

Grief of a Nation

IMG-20150323-WA0008

At the birth of a nation, he wept on national TV. The votes were 126 to 0 for the expulsion of Singapore from the Federation, leading to the independence of Singapore on 9 August 1965.

On 2 October 2010, he wept for the loss of his wife and said in his eulogy:

“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her…

She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning. I should find solace in her 89 years of life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”

(Read more from a news article here)

“But nothing seemed to comfort Mr Lee in the days after Madam Kwa Geok Choo, his wife of 63 years, his best friend and confidante, died on Oct 2, 2010.

He slept erratically. A memory would bring tears to his eyes. When her ashes arrived at Oxley Road in a grey marble urn three days after the funeral, he wept.

It took three months before he began returning to normal…

But he told his friend Dr Schmidt, who visited in May 2012, that his wife’s death had left a deep hole in his life and nothing could fill it.”

(Read more from a news article here)

On 23 March 2015 at 3.18am (Monday), this great man, our founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, passed away, aged 91. The nation of Singapore wept for the loss of this great man.

FB_IMG_1427113287499

All local TV channels, newspapers and websites are in the state of mourning with news, features, articles, color theme, etc acknowledging and commemorating this loss.

The nation will mourn for 7 days till the state funeral on Sunday, 29 March 2015.

I believe our nation will feel somewhat like how he felt for his wife, where there will be “a deep hole… and nothing could fill it”.  This is because it is extremely difficult to find a giant of a man like him to lead a country, a nation like Singapore from what we were, to what we have become today. We are blessed to have him and are grateful for his lifelong sacrifice and dedication.

May he find eternal peace, joy and comfort.

The Daily Prompt: Threads

Go Fly Kite

This is a kind of ‘Singlish’ (Singapore’s brand of english) phrase used for telling people off. It is saying ‘don’t waste my time’ and ‘go do something frivolous’ in the process. Sometimes it is said in jest amongst friends when someone had cracked a lousy joke or was sarcastic but it can also be used to tick someone off when the person had offended you or demanded something outrageous.

Well, it was totally different in my kampung (village) days when someone was to say, “Go fly kite.” We would all jump with glee at the opportunity to do so, especially on a bright and windy day! When I was too young to fly a kite, I would look at the older kids flying one and how they prepared their kites. It was not only the thrill of flying it, it was more of the competition. Yes, you heard me right, a competition!

Fancilful kites

Fanciful Fun Kites

The photo above showed many colorful and fanciful kites that people usually fly near the beach or at a high open ground. Well these are not the kites I was referring to. The kites that we flew or rather compete with other kite flyers was not much to look at as shown in the following photo:

Local kites

Kites we flew during our kampung days.

The kite was not larger than a foot square and made of thin translucent paper held and glued up with two pieces of thin bamboo twigs. It costs around 30 to 50 cents and were sold at provision shops in the kampung. However, the demand was for those that had a particular `brand’ which sells out faster than the others and it was because the workmanship was better. Before I go into the kite flying part, let me elaborate on the whole structure of this kite flying community (mainly children between 8 and 16 years old). There will be those who fly the kites, those who made the strings, those who retrieve the kites and those who watch the whole thing. Some may be involved in more than one of these activities.

The group that prepared the strings earned by selling these special strings to the kite flyers. The strings would be laced with powdered glass… yes, glass mixed with some kind of glue mixture. The string would be wound around some tree trunks to spread it out and the craftsman or kid would use a rag dipped in the glue-glass mixture and run it through the strings, it would cover about two thirds the length of the string starting from the point attached to the kite. You may figure out why it was done this way later. The strings would be left to dry and then rolled back to its holder. These strings cost more than the kites obviously.

The group that retrieve the kites would usually be in a group or in pairs and the leader would carry an improvised long pole that sometimes looked like deer antlers at the top. They would go in the direction of a loose kite which usually landed on a rooftop, a tree or telephone wires. Some of the kites would drift far beyond what these groups could follow so they would stop and look for another within reach. These retriever groups would `fight’ when they reached a kite at the same time and more often than not, the kite would be torn to shreds by the retrieving poles and you would hear them swearing at each other but soon split up to look for another kite.

Now, the kite flyers would be the ones battling it out in the skies and I managed to learn the craft of choosing the right kites, made the glass embedded strings (with the help of my kampung gang) and fly the kites. We even had mentors in the form of adults who were experienced in kite flying in the past and I would listen to their tales and methods. Armed with good kites and strings, with the winds in my favour and choosing the right spot with unobstructed view from my side of the kampung… LET THE GAME BEGIN!

Once my kite was launched in the air, I will let it go up as high as the others already in the air. Keeping such a small kite steady with strong winds was not easy. Here’s the real challenge. When you reach the same level or range with the rest of the other kites in the air, THE BATTLE BEGINS! Soon you will see a kite making a sudden swerve towards another and the intention was to cross the line (string) of that kite so it would get cut off (now you know why the glass embedded string was used). When that happens, you will see the victim kite suddenly fall out from the group. Sometimes, the aggressor may get cut off too if the defender had `sharper’ and stronger strings. The battle was in the skies so the lower part of the strings need not be covered with that mixture so hope this explained the two thirds coverage.

When I first started off in this raging aerial battle, I kept a lower altitude so it was difficult for the aggressor to reach me and some people think that it was cowardly. Well, I was new and cowardly. The aggressive kites had a particular color and style so we sort of know that it belonged to a particular group in the kampung. Newbies tend to lose their kites a lot and it can get costly especially when the strings were also cut off. After some practice and a loss of a few kites, I devised a strategy. I decided to fly the kite to one side of the group a little further off to let them give chase and I would swiftly bring the kite back before they could reach me. When they could not reach me, they had to turn back to their original position and there I would choose to strike! I would quickly go back in and turn towards them and WADDAYANOE! That was a happy day for my side of the kampung as we managed to `chop off’ 3 aggressive kites and could fly a little longer than usual that day.

From then on, my confidence was heightened and I became the pride of my gang. So the next round I flew a kite, there were spectators as word got out about our `killing’. I began to experiment more with some methods of quick twists and twirls with my kite and WALA! This time not only did we cut off the kites, we managed to bring back a kite by twirling around the string when it was drifting away. Soon I was bringing back the `spoils of war’ one by one and the haul was 3 for that day! My spectators cheered when we cut off kites and cheered even more when we brought back kites.

I must say those were the GLORY DAYS!

So if someone was to say to me, “Go Fly Kite!” I will say, “Thank you for the memories!”

Singapore’s Singlish and Acronyms

In Singapore, we have a different brand of conversational English referred to as “Singlish”. Generally, it is English mashed with colloquial, dialects and/or Malay words commonly used by the population. It is not exactly a slang but actual words and lots of exclamations imported from its multi-racial society (Check out a short post on this here).

In the late 1960s, the Singapore government built public housing to resettle the population as part of their urbanisation plan to maximise the land use for population and economic growth. My family had to relocate to public housing estates built by the Housing Development Board (HDB – infamous for their legendary stories) or Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC, now a legend). My kampung (village) was eventually demolished to make way for more housing and the tracks of our inexhaustible train system called the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT). Politically, we were exposed to PAP, WP, SDP and some others I cannot recall. We had our utilities looked after by PWD and PUB and public buses by SBS. You would be able to sense by now how our country would become `notorious’ for its acronyms (abbreviations or short forms).

PIE NIE

We used to have fanciful names for our roads and our first highway was named Nichol but it was too short to be regarded a highway in today’s standards. Thence began the onslaught of expressways slashing across the whole country like a game of `Snakes and Ladders’. The genius behind the naming of these highways somehow made it a 3-letter word series that resulted in the following inexhaustible list :

  • PIE – Pan Island Expressway runs from East to West
  • ECP – East Coast Parkway runs along the east coast
  • AYE – Ayer Rajah Expressway runs mostly along the west coast
  • MCE – Marina Coastal Expressway runs undersea, underground and along the marina bay area
  • KPE – Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway runs under and above ground in central to north eastern area
  • KJE – Kranji Expressway cuts away from PIE to across Choa Chu Kang and Kranji area
  • BKE – Bukit Timah Expressway cuts away from PIE to the north
  • TPE – Tampines Expressway will come from PIE and join the SLE
  • SLE – Seletar Expressway continues where TPE ends
  • CTE – Central Expressway cuts in the middle from AYE to PIE and TPE
  • ERP – Electronic Road Pricing – this is not an expressway but the snake that coils around motorists using all the expressways.

Perhaps to outclass the 3-letter acronyms for the roads, the train lines used 2-letter acronyms as shown below:

smrt_future_png

Why are we so hung up with acronyms? Is it because we are progressing so rapidly we need to create an index or code? Perhaps it was more efficient or less boring than using number or alphabet sequence such as Highway 1 to 100 or A to Z.

However, with the internet and smartphone  generation joining the fray, the written form has also been pulverised with short forms found in writings of both students and working adults and the way Singapore has progressed in the last 50 years or so as shown earlier, only added coal to the fire.

So we should not be too concerned with:

  • OMG, LOL, LMAO, OTOT, OOTD, BYOD, B2B, F2F, FTW, FMAO and FCOL
  • xoxo, :P, =), (:, (.<_ _>.)
  • and the numerous emoticons

Should we be concerned now that Singapore is number one in Smartphone use? No kidding, check out the report  here.

Superhero (Part 3) – It’s all about the Birds!

Having dogs as a regular part of our family was due to my dad’s love for animals. Birds however, were his main obsession which you will get to know soon. During our kampung days, my dad included dogs in the family as they were known to be loyal guardians of families and homes. Break-ins and thefts of property were common in our kampung during the 1960s and 1970s. We had other creatures included like a couple of white mice that I brought home but my mom’s squeals when I played with them in the house and their subsequent disappearance from my makeshift cage, made it no longer feasible to keep them. Much to my dismay, cats could not be included as they would frighten the birds or even worse, eat them, so my dad would not risk having them around.

After my family settled in the new high-rise living in 1979, the birds came along as they have been my dad’s lifelong passion. Somehow, dogs were still added on later by us children and my dad just embraced all of them and walked them daily.

Dad bringing Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

Dad bringing (from left) Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

No matter which type of animals that came into our family’s life, it was still all about the birds when you see my dad. He was into it from rearing them the moment they were hatched, trapping them in the jungle to buying or exchanging them with fellow bird lovers. There was one that prominently stood out with him and it was the White-eye Finch, known locally as “Mata Puteh” (a malay description for white-eye) and the following photo will help you see why the small and feisty bird got its name:

wpid-2014-10-18-00-58-01-1.png

I believe my dad gained a reputation as the “King of Mata Puteh” as he had several wins under his belt such as winning the first prize in a bird singing competition as shown in the following photo dated back in the late 1960s or early 1970s:

Dad won 1st prize in a Mata Puteh bird singing competition

He rose in the ranks of owners of competition standard Mata Puteh such that he was invited to be a judge in such competitions. He had to give up taking part in the competition as it would conflict with his role as a judge but he just loved doing it all as it would promote a hobby that he loved. Here’s a rare photo of my dad judging at one of these competitions:

Dad Judging at a Mata Puteh Singing Competition

You may think that so much time was devoted to one particular species of birds but that was not all. There was another species called “Merbok” and I just learned that it is a Zebra Dove! This bird was like the `luxury model’ of all the species of birds at that time and there were stories about the Sultans (Kings) in Malaysia trading their Mercedes Benz for such top birds in competitions and there is even a town in Malaysia called Merbok, for reasons unknown to me.

My dad had an old friend called Uncle Henry who lived in an old shack up in the old Kampung Eunos and if I remembered correctly, the road leading to his place was Jalan Singa. He was poor and lived alone in a little hut that was at the back of another wooden house and it was the size of a small room. My dad would visit him regularly and brought me along and he and Uncle Henry would sit and chat the whole day about merbok which my dad had one or two. I believe Uncle Henry was his mentor and perhaps they shared one or two potential birds that my dad had invested in (rearing it according to strict diet and care). Here is another rare photo of Uncle Henry and dad with their merbok after winning the first prize at a Merbok singing competition:

Uncle Henry and Dad wining the 1st Prize at a Merbok Singing Competition

I think no one will dispute it if anyone was to say my dad was “Birdman”. After all, his name is Robert and many of his peers, including mom, called him “Bert” which sounds like bird anyway.

Superwoman No. 1 – Patchy was Mama’s love

[This is part of a series of adventures with Superwoman No.1 featured earlier – click here for the post.) 

In 1979, our family had to leave our kampung (village) due to resettlement to allow our small country to progress through urbanisation and town planning. We moved to a high-rise public housing estate in the eastern coastal part of Singapore and only the birds came along as we no longer had a dog by the time we moved. However, it was not long that we had dogs with us again. Yes not a dog but dogs, as you can see my dad bringing three of them out for their daily walk in the following photo:

Dad bringing Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

Dad bringing (from left) Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

Mama was not someone who showed her emotion readily other than when she gets angry and scolds you. She was ours and our dogs great cook and she lovingly and faithfully prepared all our food. Patchy was the first puppy introduced to our family at our new home by me. My classmate bred poodle terriers and I had no idea about breeds or what that meant as I was only familiar with my kampung dog `Tramp’, a mongrel. My classmate somehow convinced me to buy Patchy for a handsome fee of 150 bucks! That was a whopping sum for a school going girl and I still cannot recall how I managed to beg, steal or borrow that amount (poor dad or mom or both). You can see Patchy with my sister in the following photo:

My sister with Patchy our first beloved dog in our HUDC flat.

My sister with Patchy, our first dog in our flat.

My sis and I shared one room and Patchy was our alarm clock every morning and he would run into our bedroom when our dad told him to, so that we could get up for work or school. Patchy would lick our face and if we refuse to budge, he would rub his body on our face as well. It would be impossible not to get up with such `violent’ affection shown. Sometimes we would cover ourselves with the blanket or our pillow but he would trample all over us until we got up. Although we yelled at him, we were never angry because he was just too adorable. Soon, two more dogs were added to his company and they got along well but when Patchy grew older, he became grumpy and would snap at us unpredictably.

When Patchy was `snapping’ (perhaps he thought he was a turtle) at us quite frequently, I realised he never snapped at Mama. One night I observed Patchy walking to Mama who was seated at her usual chair watching TV. He stood up to her knee and reached out his paw to her face and Mama gave him a good rub with both her hands up and down his body. He looked so happy to receive that rub but none of us could even pat him without getting a growl from him. He was about ten years old when an unfortunate incident happened at the groomers. His jaw was broken and the vet who treated him said that it was not possible to fix it due to his age. He has to be tube fed for the rest of his life if we want to keep him. The vet recommended that we put him down as he was in pain and was getting senile. I was devastated to see him in that condition but I brought him home hoping he could eat but he could not even drink and was in great pain. I could not bear to see him like this and brought him back to the vet the next day. I had no choice but to let him go. It was the most difficult and painful decision then and there was much to deliberate on what had happened, why and what could have been done but that is another story altogether.

What was most difficult was actually not the grief for the loss of Patchy but to realise how it had impacted Mama. It was about a month later, Mama was watching TV at her usual chair and she burst in tears and questioned why I must let Patchy go since he was such a good boy and had no medical problems. I was shocked by her reaction and I thought she knew what had happened. I gently explained to her what had happened and why we had to let him go. It was too sudden. It was difficult and painful for Mama as she loved him dearly. Here’s a photo of Mama with Jaime who lived a long 18 years and she was actually Patchy’s sister from the same litter… yes they do not look alike but that is again, another story:

Mama with Jaime

Mama with Jaime

[Check out a previous post about Mama with Dragon, our pet parrot – Click here.]

Superwoman No. 1 – Encounters with Dragon

African Grey

Photo Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_grey_parrot

[This is part of a series of adventures with Superwoman No.1 featured earlier – click here for the post.) 

In our kampung (village) life, it was not uncommon to have birds, cats, dogs, chickens and other similar creatures amongst us.  Some roam freely and some in cages. My dad was a bird lover and has kept many birds as pets in beautifully decorated cages of varying shapes and sizes depending on the species. One of the birds he decided to introduce to the family was an African Grey parrot who was named `Dragon’ for reasons unknown to me especially for the fact that he does not look any way like those dragons we see in drawings or pictures. Perhaps the only part that looks similar would be its claws.

Dragon was quite a character and he was kept in a large metal cage due to his strong beak that would tear apart wooden or plastic materials. He was often hung up high at the back of our house, between the kitchen and bathroom and toilet areas. It was quite a strategic location as he had the vantage point of the whole back section of the house and could see everyone in this area and anyone who comes in from the back entrance of the house. Come to think of it, he was able to see anyone clearly and in full monty in the bathroom or toilet as his cage was perch just above it. Yes, our bathroom and toilet were built in such a way that there were no roof so it was like a cubicle and our kampung house had a high ceiling.

Dragon would come down to the bottom of the cage to look at us going in to the bathroom or toilet and he would wolf whistle and talk to us with words like “Hello”, “Good boy” and whistle some kind of tune as if to poke fun at us. Sometimes he would mimic the sound of `peeing’ and the person in the toilet would at times burst out laughing at Dragon’s cheekiness and he would even chuckle and laugh back at us. These encounters with Dragon were not all there was as he was multi-talented and able to mimic other species of birds we had at home as well as call our pet dog `Tramp’ who always looked puzzled and wondered who was calling his name when Dragon called out his name loudly.

Mama had a distinct voice and being peranakan, she was not short of some famous swear words used by peranakans such as “cheelakah” and “yiow siew” which both closely mean “damn you”. As Mama remained mostly at the back of the house where the kitchen and back entrance were, she often had to yell out the grandchildrens’ names to get us to the kitchen to have our meals. We would be in our rooms or the living area which were at the front part of the house. So we would hear her scream out our names and we will head to the kitchen. I was often out at our neighbors so Mama would shout for me from the back door and I would be able to hear or otherwise my neighbours would join in her yelling to get me to go home.

So here Dragon had a lot of training hearing Mama yelling our names and so he had tricked us a couple of times when we went to Mama and asked her what she wanted and she said she did not call for us. After awhile, we realised it was Dragon who had mimicked her voice to call us. We were more tolerant of Dragon and found him amusing. He was also able to mimic the whistle of how my dad would call for Tramp to come back after he let him out from the backyard for his “toilet run”. There were several times when I saw Tramp standing at the open backyard door afraid to leave as it happened that he would hear dad’s whistle every time he sets off. Once again, it was Dragon and poor Tramp was clueless.

We had our house telephone positioned not too far from the kitchen, sort of in between our living room and the back of the house. Mama used the phone daily to get the results of her `chap ji kee’ (2 digit lottery) and 4D (4-digit lottery) and to arrange her mahjong sessions. So when the phone rang at routine times, Mama would briskly walk over to answer it. Of all the persons in the house, Dragon chose the wrong one to pull his pranks. He decided to mimic the sound of the phone ringing when Mama was busy writing out her betting slip so she got up and went to pick up the phone. Dragon was also smart enough to stop mimicking the ringing as soon as Mama picked up the phone and this was pure timing as where he was positioned, he could not see the phone.

When Mama picked up the phone, she said “Hello… hello… HELLO!” and realised that it was a dial tone and thought the person must have hung up when she picked it up. So she put down the phone and said, “Cheelakah!” and walked back to her betting slip preparation. You may wonder how I am able to write this in such detail… well, it was one of the rare occasions when I happened to witness what was going on from the backyard and I somehow knew what Dragon was up to. I thought it was just a one time prank and ignored what had just happened but Dragon did it again! He made the phone ringing sound and Mama grunted and got up and walked to the phone again. He did the same thing by stopping just when Mama picked up the phone and she said “HELLO” loudly and then slammed the phone down and said, “Yiow Siew!”. She then turned around and saw me laughing loudly from the back entrance and I could not help but told her what Dragon had done.

Mama was so mad she went to get her broom and then lift it up as if she wanted to sweep the roof but no… she headed straight towards Dragon who began to look nervous seeing her coming towards him. When she reached the cage, she hit it with the broom at least three times and each time she shouted “Cheelakah lu!” and Dragon fluttered his wings in fear as the cage swung with each blow of the broom. Then Mama stared at him and walked away to keep the broom and went about her work. I think that day could be one of the quietest day of Dragon after facing the wrath of Mama.

wpid-2014-10-19-23-33-22.png

Can you hear the scream… it’s quite close to Mama’s 🙂

Now who’s the real dragon after all ?