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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sitting in my garden with friends, we talked about life as we knew it. A sound came from the kitchen and we fell silent. I checked the time, 2AM. The sounds got louder and I immediately knew who it was. So I got up and told my friends I'd be right back.

Walking into the kitchen, I couldn't see her at first but I heard her mixing her drink. "Tok?", I called out to her. She answered by walking in, mixing her drink, with a quiet smile on her face.

"Why you tak tidur lagi, Tok?"
"Tak boleh tidur. Lapar."

I smiled because I never really knew how to reply her definite answers. Tok will be 80 in September. She still does everything by herself. She never really needed anyone's help. Her knee hurts but she would never stop walking. Come to think of it, that's what I've noticed her ever do well - Walk. She could walk the entire shopping mall without getting bored. She used public transportation for most of her life, other times walking.

She continued to make herself a snack, taking out a brown paper bag, she took out two karipaps and offered me one and I gladly took it. After heating them up, she brought her drink and karipap to the dining table and sat the end of the table and from where I stood, my little grandmother seemed to look smaller and smaller to me. So I sat next to her, and the grandmother I knew as a child came back to me. So I became her young granddaughter as well.

My grandmother was born Tan Mui Gee, and when she converted, she adopted the name Rohani, as ironic as it is, seeing as she's a ball of nerves. She was born in Penang to her parents who hailed from Hainan Island of off China. The third child of four children, she worked as a nurse and was even said to have the softest hands out of all the nurses in Penang, or so my grandfather told me.

She told me how when she was still very young, she followed her mother and eldest sister back to Hainan. She doesn't remember the boat ride there but she remembers the journey back in the 'tongkang', a small sampan like boat. She told me how her mother would work in the paddy field all day so she would get ready two baskets on a kandar. The one in front would be for their lunches and the one at the back would be for her as her older sister walked by her mother. She remembers sitting in the tongkang with her mother and sister, feeling very bored from the journey until the captain told them that he saw land. Her sister and her started cheering, so excited to see their father again until their mother stopped them and told them they were only at Singapore and they had more weeks in the boat as they're journey continued towards Penang.

During the Japanese occupation in China, all she remembered was running. "The adults say run, we run lah!", she'd say with a little giggle. She was still a child and she remembered the moment when the sirens rang and her mother would pull them into the nearest monsoon drain to hide. She became quiet after a while, slowly picking at her karipap. "I remember...", she started. She remembered when once it was too late for the adults to run away with their children. The children had been playing at a playground when the sirens rang and the adults were caught off guard so they left them there. They were confused but they didn't fret and continued playing. In the distance they saw strange men in uniforms come their way but they weren't scared. "The Japanese officers liked children.", she explained. The officers gave the children hard candy and continued on. Once the coast was clear, the adults came back to their children and embraced them.

Before I could ask her anymore questions, Yana walked in asking, "Tok, why tak tidur lagi? Wait, the World Cup dah start ke?" and my grandmother coyly replied, "Next two weeks lah! If you wanna know anything about football, come to me."

She giggled and started to clean up. I tried helping but even with the weak knee the woman moved faster than I ever could. So I told her good night, watched her ascend the steps in my house and went back out to my friends.

I made a mistake with my other grandparents, never asking them about their experiences. One mistake I'll be sure to not repeat with her.

Anywhere I, Would Have Followed You

I turn 21 this year.

I used to think it wasn't all that much. I was more excited about turning 20 then anything else but being here, present in this year has made me realise why it's such a big deal. I've never asked myself so many questions before. Obviously I will ask more in the future but in this half a year, I have questioned who I am more often than anything else and this is what makes the difference.

After this year, I would need to know at least a little bit of what I would I say to others when they ask me about me. This isn't being selfish, on the contrary, this is the perfect time to know who I want to be to others. Whether I'd like to inspire them or hurt them.

At 21, I want to change so much in the state of this country. I want to change the world and from now on, every single step I take will be towards that.

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