Saturday, February 16, 2008

Family Lessons from Lau Pang Sing, My Third Uncle

Whenever it rains, and the temperatures lower to less than the equatorial cool, and we shiver in our cotton shirts, I would think of the days spent with my maternal third uncle in the old house which my grandparents built before the war. That house was the symbol of Foochow hardwork, rubber money and blood and sweat since their arrival in Sibu in 1903.

My maternal grandparents had 4 sons and 5 daughters. The children were born during the time of pioneering poverty, extreme and unimaginable hard work, initial failures and consequent successes.

10 family lessons from my Third Uncle.

1. Reflection - Very often my shy and timid uncle, whom some people even called " no gall bladder type" would sit down with my grandmother and reflect on an act or a conversation. They would go over the incident and reflect very humourously. I really liked the way the mother and son discussed things with each other. The whole evening would be spent "thinking" and talking with them. Mothers and sons should always carry on their relationship like this.

2. Negotiation - My uncle was a very negotiable kind of person. He would never quarrel with any one, or shout at any one unnecessarily. His mind was an absolutely mature one. Even though he had only about 3 years of primary school, as the Japanese occupied Sarawak and his education was sadly curtailed, he had a beautiful mind.

3. Consultation - One of the most vivid memories I have of my dear uncle Pang Sing was his fondness and filial piety for my grandmother. Whenever he was approached to do some important work, he would always say that that he had to consult "Neh", the old way of addressing mother. All his siblings called my grandmother "Neh" very respectfully. This kind of consultation with mother was both respectful and endearing. In a way, my grandmother could only have love for her children because they consulted often with her as the matriarch of the family. There was so much respect and love in the family. At times when I had my own administrative issues I just wished that all my colleagues would behave in this way. So much could be done with so much love.

4. Humility - My uncle was a man of humility because he considered himself uneducated, through no fault of his own. However, by being very humble, he was not at all stepped on by people around him. In fact, no relative would laugh at him towards the later part of his life. They all considered him wise, kind, extremely helpful and loving, even though he was not wealthy like the other Foochow men. My uncle was the genuine "second mile" person.

5. Fear and caution - The Japanese Occupation traumatised my uncle and he was often intimidated by uniforms in the later part of his life. Once a school mate of mine who became a Police ASP brought a huge group of police to patrol the Sg. Maaw area or Lower Nan Chong Village during the RASCOM era, he was petrified!! He told us that he was literally shivering! But when my classmate pointed to my photo in the living room, and explained to him that I was his classmate, my uncle immediately started to cook a meal for them and they had a wonderful time. Besides, my classmate could speak Foochow like a Foochow. A photo and a common language sealed a cross-cultural friendship. We have many other stories about uncle and his fears actually. But he always had a good laugh about them.

6. Timidity - My uncle was not a conniving and greedy kind of person. He was very timid indeed. We would often tell that to be careful in everything we did. He would not say "Cannot do" but he would say, "May be we have to wait and see." or "Consider all factors". In a way, sometimes I would think that he was ahead of de Bono!!

7. Brute strength - His size, his strength (he could carry one whole gunny sack of rice on his bare shoulders), his muscles were often valued whenever heavy things needed to be carried. Once he carried my family's marble table all on his own, from the house to the jetty when we moved from Hua Hong to Sibu town. He was always Mr.Universe to us. He told us that lifting a heavy thing was just confidence and lots of practice.

8. Support - My uncle was ever ready to help any one in trouble, for example, lifting a car out of a muddy pot hole, carrying a sick man from the boat to the waiting taxi. Physically, I had seen my uncle carrying sick people on his back many times. And one of the last time I saw him doing that was the time he carried my grandmother on his back. Whenever I watch Korean movies today, any such scene would choke me up and I would just miss him so much. He always had a good word for people. And he would visit people who were sick, people who were in trouble. Many fellow villagers would come to visit him at grandmother's house and asked for his advice.

9. Child Like Wonder and love - He was a wonderful father, uncle and friend. Because of all his good traits all of us around him loved him and valued him greatly. He was walking in our shoes, and he could talk our language because he had this child like sense of wonder and love. He was a cool guy, and was one of us. He would never do the "distant" act with us.

10. Skills - Third Uncle had my grandmother's philosophy " One's independence is the real worth in life." Or, "Nothing is better than having all the skills yourself." He could do almost every single life skill himself, except type a letter ,speak English or write a book as he said. He could make meat dumplings, cook a ten course dinner, cut a log into planks, raise 100 pigs, carry a ton, drive a motor launch, and nurse a sick child. I like his philosophy. It is not arrogant. It is just extremely humble and sincere. So in a way his family today, and many of us nephews and nieces, all have a part of him. We all tend to do a lot of things on our, and make things from scratch. We can!

And thanks to him, in all his simple ways, our lives have been very much enriched.

Thank you, Kah Tuai (Uncle Big).

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