I looked at the photograph of the elegantly neatly styled beauty in her Lunar
attire. Ah Ma, the endearment I used for her, has always presented her best to
the world and this photograph is testimony of her principles.
Ah Ma stands
just 160 cm, neither thin nor overweight but I like her perfect grandmother
size: ever so slightly plump and very huggable. According to Mum, her daughter,
my mother, she was beautiful in her youth and her sculpted cheekbones meant that
she aged handsomely. She is still a handsome lady although more prosperous
She has her favorite scent, instantly recognizable and when we get a sniff of
it, we, my sister and I would be thrilled for it means an outing. Ah Ma "smells"
a combination of Shiseido "Beautiful" and Revlon's Floral hairspray. Then there
is the signature copper lipstick and permed short dark graying hair, sometimes
falsified with a bun. As her eyesight deteriorates with the years, often too
much powder appears on her face and we would have to take it off her. We do so
with much glee and enjoyment.
Mum has to go out and work so we are left in the care of Ah Ma. A day help
comes in for a few hours to assist Ah Ma. Ah Ma enjoys bossing the family
around, even her favorite son-in-law, my father, who treats her with genuine
respect or feeding us. On one hand, she is a mother hen, clucking away at her
brood, nurturing and fiercely protective of her family. On the other, she is a
strong-willed and fierce-tempered. She is usually listened to and obeyed.
She is generous, sometimes to a fault. She puts the needs of the family above
her own. One of the numerous ways she expresses her devotion to us is through
her cooking. She is a skilled and ingenuous
cook, often improvising ingredients and I am sure she must have added that
spoonful of love into all her dishes. She has a fantastic memory for all her
recipes which she passes verbatim to her
daughters-in-law, unfortunately none to her grandchildren.
She has her eccentricities. Taught thrift from an early age although from a
wealthy clan, she does not like to throw away anything. She hoards old toys,
books, clothes and general bric-a-brac. Her
attic is a trove of treasures.
My sister and I love to rummage through all the drawers and cupboards and we
come up with little treasures, like the photograph of Mum in her baby suit and
younger versions of all of us. Our shrieks of laughter at our discoveries leave
Ah Ma bemused and exasperated but she indulges our childish escapades in her
Ah Ma likes to look at what we wear. She would raise her eyebrows at our
brightly-colored T-shirts or faded denim jeans and mutter audibly under her
breath: Modern - this is what girls wear nowadays - pants just like boys.
Ah Ma has this ritual every Lunar New Year. She would lay out all our new
attire on our beds on the first morning. She takes great delight in overseeing
our clothes, punctuating our preparation with subtle remarks: Comb your hair,
use this ribbon, use your new socks, change your shoes.
As I grow with the years, I see the world more and more through her eyes. Ah
Ma is the embodiment of the values of her generation, values that are
traditional and eternal. This is in great contrast to the values of my
generation, the "me' generation, the "I' in me which is inherently more selfish
and inward looking.
The gap in years between Ah Ma and I would take half a century to cover but
as I bridge the gap with my maturity, I believe "next time I will see". I am now
at the crossroads where I can see through Ah Ma's wise eyes. Now I can see and
appreciate. Thank you, Ah Ma !