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R.I.P. Yeh Yeh February 3, 2010

Posted by chrislsx in family.

Today is a sad day. Buddha said that birth, old age, sickness and death are inevitable. Amidst our joy of welcoming Xuan Xuan into our lives, another one passes on, eliminating its generation from the family tree.

My paternal grandfather (yeh yeh in Cantonese) passed away today at 3:40pm Malaysian time. I am sad and guilty at the same time because even though I grew up with my paternal grandparents when I was little, they were uneducated when they left China many years ago before World War I. They did not have proper documentations so we don’t even really know how old they are. I think we do know their Chinese birth dates though… I have to admit that when I was younger, I did not care much about getting to know my grandparents. The interest in knowing my roots only blossomed after I left to study overseas. By that time, I didn’t have much time to spend with them… and they were getting old, sick and forgetful already.

From what I have gathered from my parents and my brief conversations with my grandparents (luckily I am able to converse in Cantonese, or else I wouldn’t even be able to communicate with them), my yeh yeh was a very sociable person. He loved to mingle with his friends at the corner kopitiam (coffee shop) and market. He had friends everywhere he went. He was also a great cook. Along with my mah mah (paternal grandmother, who passed away September 2007 shortly after my wedding), they used to work for a British doctor commissioned to Malaysia (then Malaya) at Jalan Stonor. My yeh yeh was a cook and my mah mah was a nanny. It was during their time serving the British family that they learned how to cook Western food.

I do know that our hometown in China is in the town of Shun De, in the city of Guangzhou. It is famous for its sheong pei lai or “double skin milk”. I have been there once in my life, but did not get to meet any relatives there though.

Unfortunately, his character was not without flaw. He wasn’t a dedicated father nor husband. He had many jobs during his life and wasn’t able to provide much for his family. I was told that he sold noodles and drove a taxi, among other odd jobs. He wasn’t much into saving his money, and my grandmother was the one who worked very hard and scoured every penny she could find to raise the kids.

Nonetheless, I was his first grandchild and I was told that he loved me dearly when I was a baby and when I was a toddler, he used to take me to the wantan mee stall at the end of the main road of Jalan Terung off Jalan Peel, where our squatter house used to be before the government tore it down to make way for new condominiums. I also have fond memories of spending my afternoons after I stayed back after school as a school kid at my grandparents while waiting for my dad to pick me up around 4pm after he got off work. I looked forward to the simple lunches that we would make for me if he knew that I was going there after school. Some of my favourites were (this was before my family became vegetarians) tau see yu (black bean fish) and choy gon tong (dried vegetable soup). He also made the best stuffed roast goose that I can remember for the more elaborate family dinners. He also knew that I loved Chinese tea and he always had a pot brewed for me at his house whenever I would go visit them.

The last few years of his life was unfortunately quite sad. After my mah mah‘s passing, his health deteriorated. They used to live with my parents until it became a full time job to care for my yeh yeh, and my parents arranged for him to live at a senior care facility, where they had people who are dedicated to meet all his daily needs, from meals to going to the bathroom. My dad would take him out quite often to get his favourite food since he refused to dine at our house because he was not fond of vegetarian food. We used to control his diet because of his diabetes and high blood pressure, but knowing that his time with us would be short, we had decided that he should be allowed to consume to his heart’s content.

During my last trip home to Malaysia for Chinese New Year in 2009, I tried to pry into his brain to get to know him better. But alas, his memories were all scrambled and his facts were all over the place. He barely remembered me, and his heart pined for his grandson, other granddaughter and my uncle. He also often wondered where his money went and tears would roll down his cheeks ever so often whenever he asked for them. There was nothing that my family could do for him since it seemed like we weren’t his favourite for reasons unknown.

Well, here we are now… at the end of his 80 something years’ journey. We are glad that he can finally rest in peace. I only wished that technology would be so great that we can copy our grandparents’ memories before they leave us so that the next generation is able to see the past through their eyes… is that too freaky?