In memorium – 赖玉梅 (1930-2021), 冯全 (1913-83)

My paternal grandparents were immigrants from China to Singapore even before WWII & the Japanese Occupation, my grandpa was from Hainan Island, & my grandma from Guangdong (Canton), she spent some time in Malaysia before moving over. They married young, my grandma had the first of 8 children at age 18, my dad was number 2 at age 20. They took care of me much of my early childhood, as my parents were both working (dual-income families were a push by the government), & we stayed in the same HDB block in Marsiling, overlooking the old Causeway (before the days of sky/traffic cams).

(PC: Warner Bros.; National Museum of S’pore)

Every time I walk past/through a wet market, especially scenes of fish tanks full of freshwater goldfish, tetra, guppy, & coconut graters, it reminds me of accompanying my grandma daily, walking from home, pushing her trolley; she would leave me to look at fishes or watch the uncle chop & grate coconuts whilst she got vegetables & meat for a nice homecooked meal – what I miss most & my favourites were herbal soups, stews, & nice hot porridge.

Being the first grandson, before me I had 3 female cousins, my grandpa doted on me, maybe even favoured more, it was just a thing back then (maybe even now to some extent?) to value sons of sons, to carry on the family name, especially in traditional Chinese families; even our names followed a certain generational poem-order, second character for my father’s generation of sons, as well as my generation, starting with myself & my brother (something I still practiced, carried on with my own children, first son of son of son of son).

My grandpa would bring me on a long public bus ride to Chinatown, where we would move around on traditional trishaws, & he would buy old-school toys like an inflatable Ultraman; I remember he also brought me to my first ever movie in a cinema, of course, to watch his favourite Bruce Lee kungfu classics like “Enter the Dragon”. Those precious memories growing up in the 1980s still makes me reminisce of a simpler time in Singapore – I call it the pre-aircon, pre-Internet Singapore, a time before high-speed MRT electric trains & high-speed Internet & related technologies.

Another thing that I am eternally grateful, thankful for is that I managed to learn & pick up some Cantonese dialect from spending extended time with my grandparents (I’m Hainan, but as far as I remember, our family spoke Cantonese, maybe more common, also “mother tongue”?), something that our young siblings & cousins lost as a result of the government’s push towards Mandarin as an official second language for the Chinese in Singapore.

One incident reflects both my grandparents’ love & care for me. One time, I saw vitamin/fish oil capsules in a bottle in the kitchen, & thinking they were sweets, I asked grandpa if I could eat it & he gave me a few to eat. When grandma came home & found out, she scolded him, “How can you anyhow give vitamins to a young kid, & so many?” Though grandpa got into trouble over me, I really saw how they both acted out of love.

Something that I always cherish, as my grandpa passed when I was only 6, was the precious memories (somehow I can still remember even though I was really young) spending time with him & the extent of his love for me (reminding me of our Father’s love). I always wondered whether he had received Christ before he passed, as most of my uncles, aunties were Christians attending the homechurch I grew up in. A few years ago, at our usual LNY family gathering, we were recollecting about grandpa, & I casually asked about his salvation. One of my aunties revealed what she remember on the day he passed. I remembered as well, we were all at the hospital, in his dying moments, they asked all the siblings (uncles, aunties, my dad, etc) into the room to say their goodbyes, whilst the cousins, grandchildren stayed outside. When he passed, & they came out, my aunty remembered that I was standing by the window, and pointed to the sky & said, “I see gong-gong going to heaven,” & that they had previously shared the gospel with him. What a precious assurance that one day we will be reunited in the presence of our Heavenly Father!

My grandma attended my homechurch Mandarin service for the longest time, even when she moved to stay with one of my aunties in Pasir Ris, & the church was in Upp Serangoon, she would take public transport by herself every Sunday morning for worship. As years went by, & due to injuries & weak knees, she stopped attending; my aunty & cousin would bring her to church occasionally where possible, I also bought some Cantonese Christian opera style CDs for her to listen. Even being 17 years younger than my grandpa, she outlived him by 38 years, promoting to glory at the ripe ol’ age of 91, survived by 7 children, 19 grandchildren, & 22 great-grandchildren. What a legacy – praise the Lord!