My maternal ancestors were from Tong’an District, Fujian, China. My paternal ancestors came from Sanshui Province, Guangzhou, China. In early 19th century, the era in which life was hard in China, many Chinese left China for Malay Archipaogo, in search for a living.
My paternal grandmother was born in Muar, Malaysia. She remembered that she grew up in a kampung. She vaguely recalled that at the age of 8, she would helped her grandmother to feed the ducks and geese that they raised in the morning using the leftovers from their meals. She felt sorry and apologised to the birds that she could only offer them these. How she wished they had better food! The ducks would just quack while the geese honked, devouring whatever were fed to them. Whenever the animals were going about to lay eggs, they would sounds of “Aeehhh” and noises of “Oooohhh” when hungry.
She recounted in her childhood days the games she played with her neighbours - 5 stones, Hopscotch, Goli (a game of marbles), Chaptek etc. I remembered the smile on her face when she told me of all the games she used to play, feeling the genuine warmth and joy in her as she told me about her past.
At the age of 14, my grandmother came to Singapore and stayed in her aunt’s house. Her neighbour was a good-looking and young man- he is my grandfather. They dated with each other for about 10 years before they finally got married. The couple have three sons in 1972, 1973 and 1977 respectively..
My maternal grandmother was born in Penang, Malaysia in 1936. She was about to reach the age of an early teenager when the Japanese occupied Malaysia. She remembered those days when the Japanese roamed the streets of Penang, she had to use charcoal to blacken her face to make herself ugly and dirty, and to tie a piece of cloth round her back, making her breasts, as flat as possible to prevent being identified as a girl before she went out to the streets.
My maternal great-grandfather travelled from China to Malaysia and settled down as a fisherman. His generation，till today continued this trade. Life was hard as a fisherman in those days. My maternal great-grandfather had to brave the seas in the wee hours of the morning, when fishes were most abundant. He would set out with his friends, keeping a lookout for each other in the dark, borderless seas. The only audible and visible things were the waves and the moonlight respectively. They would return to shore in the late morning, bringing their catch and exchanged with the wholesaler for cash. Subject to the mercy of the weather, they would not be able to go out to the seas and would have no income if the weather turned bad, exacerbated by the rough waves.
My paternal grandfather was only a baby when the Japanese occupied Singapore. He was born in 1944. His parents and eldest brother submitted to illness and passed away when he was a young boy. Being the third in the family, he had to eke out a living by helping others to run a stall selling soft drinks and shaved ice. Around the age of 20, he went to become an apprentice, learning how to machine metal. He recalled during the early years as an apprentice, all he did was to run errands for his master, such as buying coffee, throwing rubbish etc. Biting his bullet, he persevered and persisted, not leaving his master. Gradually, a few years later, he slowly picked up the trade bit by bit. He left his master when his master retired with other fellow apprentices. They started out on their own and set up their own tool-room. His fellow apprentices withdrew from the business gradually, leaving my grandfather as the sole proprietor eventually. He finally closed down his company when age caught up with him and rental rates were increasing. He has retired now.
My mother grew up in Kuala Kurau, Perak, Malaysia. Being born in a poor family, life was hard for her. Her family stayed in a house along the coast where the seas were just outside her house. Often, in the sunset, she would plunge herself into the water for a swim with her neighbours, splashing water on each other in the sunset. I was amazed when she told me that she could manipulate oars and row a boat when she was a teenager. When she was 16, she left for Singapore in search for better employment opportunities and finally settled down in Singapore till today.
Born in Singapore, my father spent his early childhood days in Toa Payoh before my grandfather decided that they would have their own flat in Hougang at the age of 10. He did not have his primary school changed to another one near his new home although he had moved. Rather, my elder uncle and him would took a public bus to school, despite the long distance and the transfer they had to make in the journey.(Bus services was not so efficient as it is today and Singapore did not have its own metro yet.) One of his favourite hobby in his teenage years was fishing.He recalled that he would often went fishing with his friend at Punggol jetty where a bus plied his Hougang and end its route at Punggol End. He stayed at Hougang till he got married with my mother.