Monday, July 02, 2007
One of my most beloved relatives is my sister's mother-in-law, Chng Ah Giam. She is now in her early eighties and lives in Penang.
Though illiterate, Aunt is a spunky lady. She managed to get her licence to ride a motor bike and to drive a car. (In those days, theory tests were held orally in Bahasa Malaysia). Aunt is kind and helpful, and is always very positive.
Aunt worked very hard when she was younger. She helped out in her husband's provision store. Uncle was somewhat miserly, and aunt had to scrimp and save to buy what her eight children needed. While her husband was the one who nagged, aunt was the one who kept the peace for the family.
Being a traditional businessman, uncle never believed in insuring his shop. He kept reinforcing his padlocks, putting three instead of one when he noticed that someone had attempted to break into the shop. The thief must have been angered for he suddenly arsoned the shop in the wee hours of the morning.
Aunt was fast asleep when he heard people shouting "Fire!" She woke up to find herself surrounded by fire and the heavy smoke made her cough badly. She fainted for a few minutes. By some stroke of blessings, she felt someone waking her up, although there was no one around her!. Aunt rushed to the windows and saw two men beckoning her to jump down. Fortuntely one of the iron grills had not been reinstalled and aunt jumped while the men tried to catch hold of her. The following day the reporters of the Star Tabloid wrote about the arson, and splashed across the front page was the heading, "Super woman jumped down to escape fire!" Aunt's left arm and upper back were badly burnt and she spent a few months in hospital for endless skin grafting. All this had taken place when I was studying in Canada.
When I returned to Penang, she greeted me cheerfully, and when I saw her badly burnt left arm, then healed and thickened, I burst into tears. I have doted on aunt. I remember how, despite not being rich, she had given me a lovely gold chain with a cross before I left for my tertiary in Canada.
Aunt loves travelling. Once I took her with me to Melbourne. I had not booked the tickets early with Alitalia Airlines and hence all the tickets were sold out. Yet, aunt had the faith that somehow God would bless us with the tickets we needed. I smiled when she said, "If it's for Choo, God will grant her heart's desires!" We got our tickets at the eleventh hour, because some passengers had pulled out when they discovered the delay of the flight due to a strike in Italy!
In the plane, I was very happy when I saw her enjoying her Western meal. I am averse to cheese, and joyfully gave aunt my cheese and bread. Suddenly I heard her complain, "Aiyo, the coffee is so salty!"
Poor aunt! Being illiterate, she had put salt into her coffee instead of sugar. When we arrived at Melbourne, I asked aunt to push one trolley of luggages without edible stuff as I had to go to the "red" section. While lining up, I saw an officer asking her, "What's that?" "Sooes", replied my spunky aunt. "Ok, go", directed the officer. I smiled at aunt's effort to speak English...she meant "shoes". As long as the officer understood, it was wonderful.
Aunt suffered stroke a few years back and is slowly recovering. She would only remember the names of the people she loves. I fought my tears the first time I saw her, and she could remember my name. During my last visit to Penang, she kept holding my hand, and we chatted. At times, she would remember; at times she would forget. At times she would be very child-like.
I pray for aunt's continual progress in her health, both physically and mentally, so that we could go travelling together once again. May God bless her with a speedy recovery.