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In Between Kueh Tart and Keropok

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

Happy Lunar New Year!

How did you celebrate it? Like all previous years, I spent the first day at my paternal grandparent’s home. We still call it that, out of habit, even though my grandparents are no longer with us. My aunt lives there, and she did a great job of hosting everyone. In between mouthfuls of kueh tart and keropok, somebody was looking for something and stumbled into some old photo albums in a forgotten drawer.

What a treasure! The 2 dozen or so albums date back at least 30 years. With Singapore in the 70s and 80s as the backdrop, I recognised myself (a wee lad with bowl-hair), my folks, and of course, my grandparents. They must have been in their late 50s in the photos, and looking very classy in their batiks and baju kebayas (is it just me or did people have more style back then?).

My grandmother had a talent for cooking. Her food brought people together. She was the glue that kept everyone connected. She had a witty sense of humour but was also deeply perceptive and reflective. When she spoke (in Malay), we listened. She was the Matriarch (it’s true, women rule in Peranakan households). My grandfather, on the other hand, was quite the opposite. He had worked many unusual jobs in Asia and had a true insight into how things work. Gregarious, loud, and opinionated, he always spoke his mind. His singular talent: being so approachable and hospitable he could make anyone, especially a stranger, feel like a long lost friend. And he had many friends in unexpected places.

I observed but never fully appreciated all this growing up. Yes, we had pockets of meaningful time together but I never truly had an ‘adult’ conversation with them. I wonder what wisdom they would have to share with a thirty-something me today, which reminded me about this timely article about finding a mentor in an elderly person.

It was a real joy to look through these photos and recollect shared memories. I feel their absence acutely during festive periods. I suppose the whole family has been trying to adapt, although the past few new years have seen incremental changes in custom from some quarters that would have been unthinkable if my grandparents were still around. But that’s just another way of me saying how much I miss them and how much I appreciate the way they anchored the whole family.

When was the last time you had a chat with your grandparents, or an elderly relative? What did you talk about? If you get the chance, perhaps you might tell them about the challenges you face in your life today; you may be surprised by what they have to share.


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