Welcome to the Eat, Shop, Play, Love blog. This is a writing experiment that aims to lend a voice to the millions of Asians around the world who have left their native countries to live their lives in a different place, for whatever the reasons may be. Read the authors' profiles here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rojak Timeout: A Tribute to Ah Gong

Today's timeout is by Una Ragazza, who wrote the following note to her grandfather for the memorial service that took place during his second death anniversary this month.

For all of you who ever had a relationship with your grandfather, this is for them too.

* * *

My earliest memories of my grandfather were that of a stoic man bent over a sink while rotating a papaya or a pineapple in his left hand and fiercely carving away at the fruit's skin with his right. The thought of 121 Telok Ayer Street brings to mind the colors, sounds and smells of a busy, crowded household. I can almost taste his homemade starfruit juice and multicolored agar-agar.

These were fond memories of my favorite man when I was growing up.

Every night, as the Chinese drama serial on SBC Channel 8 started to wind down around 10:30, it was the cue that the shutters at the front of our fruit shop would be coming down shortly after. My ah gong was finally closing shop to join us in the living room for a little bit of TV and relaxation before bed, and before a whole new day would start and repeat itself all over again.

"As skinny as your ah gong" was to be a refrain that I would hear throughout my childhood. For some reason, it was a mark of pride for me. Something that I could share with him. I enjoyed being told that I'm the only grandchild with wavy or curly hair, just like how my dad, and his dad, are the only ones in their respective generations with "different" hair.

They say men -- especially Chinese men, or old Chinese men to be precise -- don't know how to show love. Or, could it perhaps be that we were just not paying enough attention?

My ah gong showed me plenty. I loved the way he answered my shouts of "Ah Gong!" whenever I came through the front door with a prolonged "O...y!" He was always so happy to see me and would run up -- or look up from his Lianhe Zaobao or Wanbao -- with a beaming face.

I can probably write a little book about everything I remember about him, but for now, for today, these few tidbits are enough for me to remember and celebrate my ah gong. A man whom I've come to know as a provider, a family anchor, an acrobat (remember the fruit-cutting?), a soccer fan, a loving husband (all the way until her last breath), and the ever-present grandfather that had taught me diligence and love in his own way.

Ah gong, if you were still here today, I bet you'd love to go for a bike ride in Central Park with me. And race me up Harlem Hill. In the meantime, let me keep practicing so I don't lose too miserably when we next see each other.

121 Telok Ayer Street: the shop house of special significance to both ah gong and me

A piece of home that I will always love

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