Now quickly returning to the point of this post. A recent event within my family tree has ultimately led to the passing away of a far, yet close relative.
Though somewhat distant, I can only hope to touch the surface of my grandfather's image stemming from my thoughts and memories.
10th of June, 2008
10th of June, 2008
馬長 (Ma Cheung in Cantonese or Ma Chang in Mandarin) - He was the youngest child of his family, bearing painful memories of the second world war when the Japanese invaded China; taking away his parents, every sibling except for the immediate older sister. His father (my great grandfather) was the mayor of his small town in a southern province of China (near Guang Zhou). With these painful losses he had a genuine feeling of resentment whenever anyone nearby is talking about the Japanese. As with many of his generation, I know that at heart he was a patriotic China man because he talked more than often about the great homeland of China and their successes in the world. He got married with my grandmother and then started having his own family down in Hong Kong.
爺爺 (Ye Ye/Grandfather in Cantonese and Mandarin) is a proud father of 5 kids: my father, 2nd uncle, big aunt and small aunt (to distinct the order) and a final uncle. My father was his firstborn and probably has the closest resemblance in personality to himself, being the hard-working and practical man always with the duty to contribute something useful and believed in properness of living. I am not totally knowledgeable of his relationship with my father but I know that 爺爺 really loves all his kids. The 2nd uncle in particular, who he always seem to favour, spoil and cherish more so than his other kids. His love of his country was so strong that it reflected into the ways he treated his children. 2nd Uncle always wanted to go back to mainland to work and study - and 爺爺 was definitely proud of that. 爺爺 always told me and my brother to listen to our father and cherish him probably because he realizes not only with his favouritism, but also the hardships and tribulations that them two endured through early life were very tough and stole away a lot of my father's childhood.
In desperate times, he managed to foster a fascination for driving cars at a young age, and rather soon it latched onto the form of his life-long career as a government bus driver. I've always admired his driving, though I regretfully cannot remember any experiences of being driven around, I've gathered that he had never ever had any accidents in his 60 years of driving. He was always a safe and reliable driver - never taking part in any accident and never giving up. Despite his advanced age, he saw his mission of driving as a continual contribution to society. Not just a temporary duty, but for him it was an eternal, never-ending goal to provide a safe and welcoming bus ride to customers who are waiting for successful trip to completing the next part of their lives whether it'd be meeting loved ones or just part of their travels. Up to the last and final year of his life he had kept driving, for a senior aged 76 I am more than amazed and also very, very proud that he never gave up driving and contributing to society in a fully proper and glorified manner.
As expected, 爺爺 was somewhat conservative, and never stopped his complaints against my generation's children incorporating technology into their lives so much. Despite his comments, he is always holding onto 2 or 3 or maybe even 4 mobile phones. Looking back to 7 months ago when I revisited Hong Kong, I am glad that even though it was such a small and menial task, I fixed my grandfather's mobile phone time settings and taught him how to open SMS messages. At least I know that I haven't just been a nuisance to his life =P. Despite the busy technologically infested state of Hong Kong he manages to live his practical life without much reliance.
During the early stages of my life when I lived in Hong Kong I can vague remember having weekly visits to 爺爺's place. It was a small but cozy flat on the "other floor" of 13th Building in Ngau Tau Kok. The reason why I say "other floor" because the elevator only had two buttons :P it was either up or down! The flat was decorated with light green creamy tones and filled with tables, desks and couches. In my last memory of it, the center is now very empty and the once dividing wall between the bed and the flat is now taken down. There also used to be this brown wooden Mah Jong-like table that had these little drawers where you place the chips, only it was filled with Lego pieces for any children that happened to visit. The left hand side had photos hanging high up against the corner of the ceiling of every one of 爺爺's children getting married. All of those photos had two versions - one traditional Chinese wedding and the other was the Western style that we are all accustomed to. I remember having a few long chats with 爺爺 in that very room, and him showing me all the photos of my dad's generation when they were kids.
At the back of the flat used to be a large brown birdcage with a cockatoo inside. Having used it to play pranks on uncles and aunties, it was a memorable part of the flat. I was saddened to find that he was gone as I stared emptily into the kitchen space. Right next to the kitchen was just a tiny secluded corner just enough space for a person to take a shower. I remember i took a shower there once and it was not very comforting! The ground was basically just small pieces of tiles and when you walk in there with bare feet the tiles scrape and tickle your feet at the same time, causing much frustration while trying to concentrate on washing. The kitchen just comprised of two stoves and one small sink. I remember my dad took us there to melt candles into a big bowl of wax, only because they had banned melting wax outside in the hallways. Although small, my grandfather's flat was full of fun and memories and represented the harsh lifestyle in his generation.
Aside from the weekly visits, he would always take us down to the canteen-like restaurant to eat dinner. My profound craving for 白飯魚 came from this little restaurant. That restaurant had memorable things too. My grandfather and parents would shout a lot due to the noisy cooking occurring in the kitchen and once in a while there would be a loud thud. These noises came from the never-ending swarm mosquitoes that foolishly flew into the blue light and got zapped. During my last visit, the restaurant had already closed down and once again a heavy feeling of loss came over me. Aside from the small weekly dinners, we also had those grand family gatherings that any Asian child knows best as those loud, shout-across-the-table type dinners - only that this one had cool and close cousins instead of the annoying ones. I can't remember the names of the restaurants in Hong Kong anymore since they're perpetually changing, but there is this one restaurant that sits atop a high elevated area only accessible via a sky bridge (Is that what it's called in English?). That restaurant is where my grandfather would always hold his family gatherings when we were all young and energetic. Now the ritual has be shifted to my smallest uncle's apartment rooftop as a hotpot and Hong Kong style barbecue. One of my biggest regrets is that 爺爺 has invited me and my family to so many meals, I wasn't able to return him any. He said to pay him back for meals when I become a true adult with a proper job and I have achieved neither yet.
After we moved to Australia, it was not long before the adventurous side of 爺爺 surfaced as he rushed himself to visit us over here in Australia. I remembered it roughly as when I was 5. If any of you happened to visit my house before you will notice the memorable steep driveway that we have. It was 爺爺 and dad's combined father and son effort that smoothened it out. The driveway used to be far more steep and scratched the bottom of the car each time it traversed across. Their combined practical prowess not only completed the whole driveway's concrete remodeling, but also planting those iconic oriental bamboos to the side of our driveway. (It was sad that due to a renewing of the fence with neighbors a few bamboo plants had to be pulled down.) I also somewhat remember that during his first visit over here, 爺爺 loved the raisin bread that was sold at Safeway.
During his most recent visit, which I think was around in 2003, he came over and gave us a magnificent present of a set of clay teapot and cups. They were bright orange-brown and had this rice symbol on them. We drank many miniature cups of tea during his stay. It was then that 爺爺 commented on our lack of physical activity and that we were not contributing to society or doing us any good by being stuck to the computer playing video games. I want to acknowledge that I agree this but I think I've grown a deep addiction to the computer now - it would be like driving to 爺爺 is computers to me. It is also in this moment that one of my most memorable moments was during a deep and meaningful talk when he lectured us. The Chinese saying he used was "對事唔對人" which translated to "attack the issue, not the person". It really was a milestone conversation for me as what I had learned was the direct meaning of the saying, which brings me closer to becoming a fairer person and holding attitudes and values that contribute rather than disrupt society. Despite living so far away, the distance and the boundaries of the wide oceans did not stop 爺爺's love. His efforts to communicate this will always be remembered within my forever touched heart.
Seven months ago, when I revisited my home town to visit my beloved relatives, I finally managed to have the honour of meeting the new member that had been born into our family tree nicknamed 小小超.
The circle of life goes on...
With deepest sadness one life moves on, as another is born into the world...
爺爺 has always been fond of him - full of energy and cuteness. 爺爺 would often visit my small uncle around twice a week even though it took around a full hour to travel to the place via train and taxi. Once again his continual dedication to the family is unfathomable, only ever relying on his own heart as a source of motivation to bring smiles and happiness to those around. I hope I will be able to deliver these feelings and thoughts to 小小超 in the future as regretfully he may not be able to remember 爺爺 at such a young age.
I will never forget the memories, experiences and conversations that we have shared. I truly admire your 毅力 (willpower) , 熱情 (enthusiasm), and 熱愛祖國的精神 (patriotism). Up until my last memory of you, you were not frail - but strong. There are not that many grandfathers in the world at an advanced age like you who can still help their grandson carry a thirty kilogram suitcase up across a set of stairs, a sky bridge and all the way to the airport. In reality that thirty kilogram bulk was heavy for a man in his 70s, but his never-extinguishing passion to help his loved ones grants him the power to lift carry any burden within the world.
I hereby close this chapter of my life, as important it is to immerse myself in the memory of my lost grandfather, I must move on with life in order to make him proud as a descendant of the Ma family.
-Vincent Ma, 馬思賢字