Sunday, December 30, 2007

Visiting Grandfather's House in Sungei Merah

Visiting grandfather Kung Ping and grandmother Siew was a like a cultural ritual to me. We all regarded grandfather with awe because he was a very impressive figure and a leading personality in society at that time. He was therefore very legendary and much respected man through our child like eyes.

My grandfather had a lovely house in Sungei Merah. There were three hills in Sungei Merah. One was purchased to build the Kwong Ang Primary School but unfortunately in my opinion, today,it has been flattened to make way for the new school and a few houses. The other hill was purchased by the Tien Tao Tong, or Church of the Heavenly Way and the Tiong Hin School. They are still standing on the lovely hill today. My grandfather bought the third hill for his double storeyed white washed wooden house. Today, the hill is still part of the family property but the house has long gone.

We would perhaps stay two nights or more. Sometimes it was just a one day visit. But the earliest memories of visiting him would include memories of Great Grandmother. Having a great grandmother was a very enriching experience. We learned about how she made her small bound feet cloth shoes. We also learned that she could not move very well up and down the staircase. And we also learned that she was a very special mother to grandfather. And she provided the mysterious element in our lives and childhood imagination. Perhaps our curiosity was well developed because we shared a meaningful life with this wonderful China born quiet old lady who made moves which were so different from the normal Foochow women we were used to.

The way Grandmother Siew treated grandfather was very special. I remember two things in particular.

One was the special tea time session. At about four in the afternoon Grandmother would place two pieces of "pong pian" a kind of crunchy pastry with a sweet sticky filling which she would buy by the week from the pastry shop in Sungei Merah. Grand father's tea was always jasmine tea, which he would drink by the pot. No one else had this special treatment. And if we dared to go near him, when he was eatinghis pong pian, we would be given a small morsel. And that was a wonderful treat. Sometimes I was given half of a pastry . I presumed he must have loved me a lot, eventhough I was a girl.

The other memorable thing about Grandmother Siew's special treat for Grandfather was the preparation of personal dishes for grandather at meals times. The rest of the family had the "normal food" but grandfather had his specials. today whenever I patronise a restaurant I would think of Grandfather in particular when I order the specials.

Grandfather would be served one special meat dish for his meals. It would be pork with tou cheor (yellow bean sauce), or steamed minced pork, or a specially steamed black chicken in ginger and wine. These were served in small dainty dishes. In fact whenever Grandfather ate, he would have his rice, accompanied by three or small dainty dishes, all specially prepared for him. The rest of the family would eat later with Grandmother Siew. On rare occasions we would eat at the same time with him.

Fruits from the garden were very special and grandfather had rambutan, durian,star fruit, pineapple, banana,chempedak, papaya,jack fruit and Wong Dang, an old fashioned fruit which was red on the outside and white little segments inside. We collected the skin and dried them . These dried skins were then cooked to give special flavours to soups. The mixed garden was a very intelligent way of using land and a Foochow family would never be short of fruits the whole year through. Although apples,pears and grapes were available in the market, we had enough fruits in our diet, just from the garden. Besides, they made good gifts whenever grandmother Siew visited her daughters-in-law and friends. Life was very subsistent.

But what was very memorable was the way my grandmother Siew looked for bamboo shoots. Grandfather had at least four huge bamboo groves. And every now and then we would go down the hill to watch the bamboo shoots growing. It was perhaps our imagination that we we saw the head of bamboo popping out, the bamboo shoot would be ours and no one could claim it. After a few days, we would come and cut the bamboo shoot, which by then would be about two feet tall, and very edible and sweet. Carrying home a bamboo shoot with Aunty Hiong was like coming home from a big battle and she,our general. Fried bamboo shoot was a very great dish on our grandparents' table.

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