Born into a patriarchal family, living with grandparents who held firmly to the traditional values, her fate as a sacrificing self seemed to be sealed. Her parents were self-employed, having their own little business in a food centre, slogging all day and night to support the family. Her grandparents favored boys over girls and spent no effort in disguising their favoritism. On the other hand, her parents treated every siblings equally, as far as they could, even though most of the time, situations forbidden them to do so. Unfortunately, her grandparents have more authority and say in the family than her parents and everyone was supposed to respect the decisions made by them, without disputes. As the eldest sister in the family, it was her responsibilities to take care of the younger siblings, to cook for the family, to wash the laundry and to bring meals over to her parents. Back then, such life was still considered blissful, with occasional treats from her parents, be it some sweets or little snacks.
Household chores were distributed among the three girls, while the two boys were free of chores, since according to her grandparents, chores were meant to be done by girls, not boys. Her parents did assigned work for all the siblings to do too. A simple task seen by people living in the current era, but it was not as simple, over thirty years ago, especially for children. Since her parents were hawkers, they were needed to prepare and fry their own chilli mixture. The children were tasked to pound chilli using the stone mortar and pestle. Every other day, the children, regardless of age, will sit in a line from the eldest to youngest and start pounding the chilli, passing the mortar and pestle along after exhaustion, in several rounds.
Ideally, that’s the situation, with the task shared among the siblings. However, things did not go along with the plan. Children being children, have their playful side. With other children playing outside, how so is it possible to keep these children at home, pounding chilli all day long? Therefore, every other day, she was the first in the line to start to pound the chilli, when she was tired and ready to pass the task to the next sibling, there was no one left in the line. She could jolly well go out to play too, and all of them will receive a scolding from their parents ‘equally’, but she chose to continue pounding the chilli, once, twice, every single time, without fail and without complain. It was not that she did not want to play, she was sensible enough to know that someone has to pound the chilli.
Her current comfort food were from her past, they were considered special to her, close to her heart, bring her the precious childhood memories. To her, the best meal is fried rice, that her mother would let her bring on the rare school trips. It was not anything luxurious or great, just simple fried rice with ketchup, bits of sausages, and occasionally, a few nuggets will make her day special. She likes instant noodles too, for a different reason. Instant noodles were occasional treats to the siblings, however, also one that teaches life lessons. With her grandmother’s permission, the children would jump for joy, yet some would feel disappointed after all. The boys will get to eat one packet on their own, and more if they wanted. However, the girls will share one packet among themselves, which would often be cooked for a long while, to make sure that the noodles had expanded. Probably that’s the reason for her preference of harder, firmer noodles, as opposed to softer ones.
At 11, she quit school to help out at her parents’ stall. She would be up early with her parents for food preparation and starting up the stall. After which, she will go home to do her chores and cook for her grandparents and siblings. There was no more studying or playing, her life was filled with chores and work. She maintained in the kitchen for a long period of her life, and acquired a good cooking skills. A natural cook, people often complimented her but who really knows what it takes for such a skill? She cooks without tasting the food, yet everything will taste adequate and good. Going by her gut feel, a pinch of salt here, a dash of sauce there, all will end up perfectly flavored.
She has a flair in art, especially in drawing and sketching. Much of my art pieces in my primary school years were completed with her help. No one in her family knew her artistic talent, because there was no opportunities for her to display the skills. Just with a pencil and a drawing paper, she could randomly sketch a scene or even a portrait in a short period of time. She knew about dimensions, angles and shades, just by her keen eyes and observations. Just fiddling around with an old sewing machine, she learnt to sew and even made clothes.
Hit by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, she got out of the domestic sphere to the public sphere, and remained in there till now. She was new to the society, yet adapted well and quick. She got promoted again and again, until a stagnation because of her limited qualification. She was regarded to be with no formal education by the current society since she did not complete her primary school education. But she made it in life, to a great extent. When her previous company stopped operations in Singapore, she quickly found employment elsewhere, despite her qualification. Needless to say, she got promoted again and again. She endured through all the hardships to be where she is today. The society would not classify her as professional, or even successful, but she is in my eyes and her eyes. She does not need any recognition at all, for all the sacrifices she had made, was for a better future, for herself and me.
At 44, she took her first flight overseas, to the United States for a company training program. Geared with her weak command of English language, she ventured out for a brand new experience and world for a month. She got out of her comfort zone to an entirely new place, that she had never imagined to be in. She faces new cultures and new things every single day, that amazed her. She went to Disneyland where she retrieved her childhood self.
All is going well and smooth for her, and she has 2 more weeks left for her training program.
I hope she will do fine. I know she will do fine. Nothing has made her vulnerable so far, as she stood strong against all odds. Life has come up with many huddles and obstacles, but she overcome all. She is not the greatest for all her sacrifices made in life for herself. It was all her sacrifices made for everyone else, but herself.
I want her to place herself before others, to be selfish for her own good. I want her to live blissfully, without having to worry for anything in the world, without any more obstacles and trouble in her life. I want her to experience new things and world, that she has seen in the television programs and in the Internet. I want her to explore the outside world. More importantly, I want to be with her to do all that, to share all the awkwardness, the fear and the excitement.
Please give me a few more years to do so.