Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Great Grandmother, the Only Bound Feet Lady I know

When I was young I loved to visit Grandfather and Great Grand Mother who provided the love and warmth of a large extended family of four generations.

Great Grandmother lived in a huge house built by Grandfather on a hill in Sg. Merah,Sibu. Grandfather loved bouganvilleas ,alamandas and hibiscus. I remember the ever blooming purple bouganvillea at the top of the road just before it turned into the house. I can never get that colour right whenever I buy a new bouganvillea for my own garden. Somehow the beauty of that colour sticks in my mind. Grandfather also kept an emaculate garden. I always remember he was one of the earliest man in Sibu to buy a lawn mower and he would be the one to keep it spotlessly clean after our Ah Yong Koo (Aunt Yong) cut the grass.

Whenever I visited my grandfather it was the lovely aroma of cooking that welcomed me, as Grandmother Siew was an excellent cook. I also loved the nice fragrance of ylang ylang (bai yu lang) that floated in the house. Grandfather planted a huge ylang ylang in front of the house. And what fresh air we had at that time in the 50's and 60's.

One of my regrets in life is that when Great grandmother was alive I was too young to ask her very good questions about her life in China and what it was like to be brought out to Sarawak.

However later, I did manage to do a bit of research on bound feet culture of Chinese women.

Great Grandmother,Wong Nee Mui, was very soft spoken and she did things very , very slowly. I believe now that it was not because she was old, but because it was her style and because of her bound feet. This was also confirmed by Fifth Uncle who said that anyone who took their bath for a long time was like GGM!!

She ate very slowly and carefully, using her chopsticks very skillfully. Even though her eyes were not very good she loved to sew. She handsewed all her nice white cotton samfoo and black brocade trousers.

She loved her beautiful grand daughters, especially Aunty Pick and Aunty Chiew. Goo Poh Yuk Ging was her only daughter. Goo Poh was very close to her and absolutely filial and obedient to her and her elder brother.

Grandfather was a good son because he saw to it that he educated Goo Poh well (she was the first batch of Yuk Ing School, taught by Mrs. Hoover) and later on, he went on to educate all his daughters (e.g. If I am not mistaken Fifth Aunt was the first Sibu Foochow girl to be a graduate. She went to Kansas University in the US.)

I still remember her last days. She would sit by the window on the first floor and look out to watch the road to Grandfather's house. And she could see people riding their bicycles from the main road to our road. These folks would be going to Au Sang (hill behind). Two families lived below us. They were Mr. Huang Cheng Ang (who later disappeared as a Communist Leader), and a Ling Family (whose grand daughter was my trainee recently).

Mr. Huang operated a toucheo (bean sauce) factory and I used to dislike the smell of the fermenting beans. I swore I would never use touyew (kicap) but later I forgot about the factory and the urns.

Great Grandmother would spin a lot of tales, many of which I have forgotten (because I was too young then) and I remember our Grandmother Siew Nguk Lan was very patient with her and told her not to "spin so many tales". I enjoyed watching her comb her long hair ever so slowly. And she would look into her mirror in the room above the stairs on the left. She kept her room very very tidy. She also used a little bit of powder and if I am not mistaken, she used Florida water (hua look chui) to smell nice. She also used one kind of hair oil which kept her hair very tidy. After she had tied up her hair up in a bun, she would stick one or two blossoms of ylang ylang in the bun. And as she walked slowly, the beautiful scent of the flowers would follow her.

And of course we all remember that she made her own cloth shoes, with the shoe stand that she had. Her cloth shoes were just the size of my palm and sometimes we children would put them on our hand as if to measure how big they were. At that time we were too naive to know how much pain a woman must suffer to break the bones of their feet in order to be a beautiful woman of the upper class.

GGM was a frail lady but God bless her because she was not bed ridden at the end of her days and did not cause a lot of trouble to any body. We have to thank Ah Yong Koo in particular for looking after her so well in her last days. Ah Yong Koo Koo is one of the adopted daughters of Grandmother Siew Nguk Lan.

My grandmother Siew Nguk Lan was another exceptional lady of the Tiong Family. She was a marvellous cook and dress maker,very proactive and creative. She was also the first woman driver in Sibu in the fifties. She was a good manager in every respect of the word as she kept Grandfather's large family together peacefully. This included her great respect for Great Grandmother and Goo Poh. It is still every important today that this kind of respect for elders is practised. It generates a lot of love and good memories.

Memories are often said to be our second chance for happiness.

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