Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Frugal Life - My Grandmother's Life Principle

My maternal grandmother was a child bride bought in China, for Five Silver Dollars. Her parents were a very poor Tiong family. According to my grand uncle, Lau Ka Tii, the famous Kang Chu of Sibu, and partriarch of the Lau family, he was there at the opportune time when my great grandfather carried the little five year old on his shoulders and calling out, " Girl for sale, five dollars only!" It was a very cold but clear morning in the home village of the Laus in China in 1909. And it was the setting of a scene which would change the life of my Foochow China born grandmother forever.

Perhaps this image cannot be erased from my mind:her poor father carrying her on his sholders and calling repeatedly out to passers by, "Girl for sale, five dollars only! Girl for sale, five dollars only. Girl for sale, five dollars only!"

My maternal grand father was 20 years old at that time, and had already emigrated to Sibu, Sarawak and working as a rubber tapper and tailor at the same time. It was time to make a match. So my very enterprising grand uncle bought a child bride, just that morning, just as if he were buying a chicken for the family dinner.

My granduncle was already a very wealthy man by that time and he was a very good business man, dealing with rubber export, money lending, land acquisition and civil cases.

So my grandmother arrived in Sibu a few months later to live together with my grand uncle and his child bride too.

My grandmother grew up learning all the domestic skills from grand aunty who was already very capable as a woman's leader by then. My grandmother was given two tasks to do every day : to count and bundle the rolled palm leaves for cigarette smoking and to cut and dry the white noodles or mee sua in round swirls. Feshly made mee sua actually would come in long bundles and a housewife would take a length of the mee sua and break it up into portions by hand, and then make a round mound with the portion to be dried in a huge rottan tray in the sun. These little round portions were then kept in tins and were ready for use. A portion is called, suo zi. So a good man would be given two portions for his chicken mee sua soup. A woman with a smaller appetite would get one portion. Usually one piece or two of chicken and a little bit of mushroom and an egg would be in the bowl of mee sua. Beautiful red wine would be added if desired.

My grand uncle was a trader too. He had a big trade with the Ibans and Melanaus. So my grandmother at a tender age was already handling a lot of the background work.

The mee sua drying was a very exceptional activity for her because towards the end of the day, she would collect all the broken bits of the noodles. She would put them in a tin for her own use. And whenever she desired to have a bowl of mee sua, she would bring her bits and pieces and have them cooked by my grand aunt. She would then get a bit of the chicken soup. That was all she had, but it was a wonderful meal for the little girl who had been sold into the Lau family.

My grandmother considered herself very lucky because she was never beaten or abused and from the beginning she was called, Fifth Sister-in-law, because my grand father was number 5 among the siblings and first cousins, from the same grandfather. In the old Foochow family system, brothers had their order of status and later, their children were all put together in a system of address. First cousins were considered brothers. However, in Sarawak, this system disappeared with time.

But she continued to practice frugality until the day she passed away. We thank her for teaching us this great value of living.

I am sure, the greening of the environment is just another version of my grandmother's attitude towards life in general. If every one has practised frugality, we would not be facing so much fuel wastage or high petroleum prices today. But that is too big a story for my writing scope.

Life simply so others can simply live!!

Save lots for the future for a better life!!

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