Showing Some Respect

For as long as I can remember, my immediate family (me, my sisters and my parents) would begin Chinese New Year with a tradition of the children making my parents laugh their asses off before we commerce to a big steamboat reunion dinner. The skits we created were often renditions of classic Chinese folklore or loosely incorporating Chinese customs and performances like Journey to the West or lion and dragon dances, and they were always over-the-counter and have never failed to make both my parents laugh so hard they would tear. As the family grew bigger, the skits got bigger, and the annual tradition become one that was handed down from one generation (me and my sisters) to another (Xan and his cousins), not to mention a rather embarrassing initiation rite for new spouses.

Then my father died.

In the back of our minds we were all wondering if we would be able to continue that tradition. My father was the one that gave all of us our sense of humour, and for all the quarrels that my parents had throughout their time together, my father was the light of my mother’s life – we hardly see her laughing hard without my father by her side.

This year, the siblings decided to make my mother’s happiness a priority and decided to do things a little differently. A branch of my extended family, a large but very close-knit unit from my mother’s foster side of about 25 or so members spanning four generations, invited us to have our reunion dinner with them at a chalet (their tradition, because the after-dinner cleanup is easier when it’s not someone’s home). We thought it was a good idea to do things a little differently so my mother (and us, for that matter) could cope with our father’s absence, so we immediately agreed.

This year, we met up at my mother’s place early to carry out our annual skit (we made a newly-inducted brother-in-law wear my sister’s custom wedding dress – sound familiar?), and made our way to the chalet. When we arrived, we knew we would be in for a good time when we saw this:

Everything on the table was done from scratch by one of my cousins, a seasoned kitchen goddess who has been cooking for the army known as my mother’s foster family for decades. We were each given a pair of really large chopsticks befitting of the largest homemade yu sheng I’ve ever had the privilege of tossing. We were then loosely told the only rule to observe during the event.

“Chopsticks only, k?”

Huat ah!!!! The most awesome lo hei ever!

A video posted by Mother Of Xander (@motherofxander) on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:04am PST

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We replayed this over and over again to see the various reactions to the monumental toss, but one particular member made the whole endeavour worth the mess for me. If you look to the right of the video, that’s my mom. She’s in black because, as she said, it wasn’t appropriate for a widow in moruning to wear bright colours. But up until yesterday afternoon, she hasn’t laughed like that since my father died 3 months ago – the completely carefree, wholehearted mirth she would only display when my father was with her.

Seeing her like this, we can safely say we’re doing okay.

***

I may not have written this account since the festivities are far from over and I would have preferred to have experienced the celebrations in full first. But I wrote this in reaction to a comment the Mother of Xander received when she shared this video on her Facebook wall:

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“Totally no respect for food. Idatakimasu.”

I will be nice. It is CNY after all.

I wrote this to provide Ms Tan Moi here some context she may have missed, that there’s multiple aspects of respect that she may not have been aware of when she posted her comment during a festive season where food may play a key role in the festivities, but it isn’t the only key player.

She may have missed, for example, respect for families and their traditions. Respect for parents, here and gone. Respect for those who are making every effort to find joy again after losing a loved one. Respect for people who reach beyond their own lives to ensure we can find that joy. And respect for people who decide there’s more than enough joy to share with the world, like the Mother of Xander did unabashedly, without expecting unthinking insensitivity like this during a happy holiday.

Happy New Year, Ms Tan Moi. May your online spur of the moment be a lesson for us all to show some respect.IMG_20150219_095626

The Value of Eating Rubbish

My father’s best friend once told me a story about his formative years. He grew up in a neighbourhood with a bunch of kids from two distinct families; one was rich, and the other poor. The rich kids never got to go out and play, and they were extremely picky with their food (silver spoons, golden mouths). The poor ones though, they ran everywhere, played every time, and ate everything… most usually scraps from trash and leftovers from other people’s plates.

That was the first time I heard of the Hokkien term 垃圾吃, 垃圾大, or “rubbish eat, rubbish grow” (the saying that sparked the food blog of the same name) .

He told me the rich boys were frail and thin, and constantly fell sick. The poor kids, though, managed to live through eating their scraps, rotten fruit and vegetables from the market and basically lived like kampung chickens; all muscle, no fat, and seriously strong immune systems.

One of the rich kids died young. His brothers and sisters were never happy, and grew up bickering and estranged from their own families. The poor guys stayed loyal friends, eking out businesses for themselves and never hesitated to pool together for each other during hard times.

While there are important life lessons to learn no matter what walk of life one hails from, my dad’s best friend learnt about roughing it out no matter what the circumstances, loyalty and adaptability from the kids who lived off scrap. And he inspired my dad to do the same. People always ask how my father would manage to bring up 4 kids and put 3 of them through uni (he wanted me to go too, but my brain had other plans). Within our family, we all knew it was because my dad’s best friend pumped in money to supplement my sisters’ educations, which he had from his HDB shophouse furniture business. And because of the story he told me, I knew the friendship they built was learned from the 垃圾吃,垃圾大 kids.

Recently a friend of mine took offense to the phrase being used on her child, and I took the opportunity to tell this story, in part because my father’s best friend, who died years ago, has been on my mind quite a bit since my own father passed away. Many of us may have heard of – or even used – the phrase being used as a rude remark, but thanks to him and my father, the phrase holds a very different meaning for me.

We know what we want our own children to grow up to become. We care in the ways we know best, and only we know best. People will judge and that’s up to them. We really have only our own children to answer to, and as far as I’m concerned, whoever says that to be mean, doesn’t even know what it means. In fact, I’ve shut a few aunties up before when they use this line of talk with us, by explaining what I understand of the term.

So next time someone says this to you about your kid, maybe take it as a compliment. There’s a very high likelihood that your child is going to grow up blessed with good health and a great personality.