Sunday, 13 May 2007

I Never said 'I Love You', too!

We Asians are all alike. I read a couple of days ago about the MCA President (Ong Ka Ting) going on-air in a radio talk show talking and singing to her mother. He said that he had a very close relationship with her mother who died recently at the age of 87 but he never got to say 'I love you' to her. But he said he had no problems saying 'I Love You' to his wife on radio.

Then this morning I read about our home-grown lady adventurer (Sharifah) who has made it to both the North and South Pole, solo. She also had a very close relationship with her mother who died recently of breast cancer at 68. She regretted not having said 'I love you' to her mother too.

I have never said 'I love you' to my mom either. I think when my kids were very very small, we used to say 'I love you' to each other (am I right, kids?). But as they grew up, we don't say it anymore. It must the Asian culture. But I know that they love me (and their mommy) and they must know that we love them (don't they?). When they were younger, they would give me cute little handmade cards like the one you see here (which I have kept in my wallet for, mmh, probably close to 10 years).


Asians express love in different ways. Perhaps the concept of love as defined by the West has little relevance in our ancestral roots. The ordinary people were more concerned with bread and butter issues. Getting food on the table is the priority. Remember match-making? Marriage wasn't about a love-match - you had little say in it. It was about tradition and posterity and keeping the family name alive. Amongst Chinese, at least, our Confucian values places 'respect, honour and authority' especially of our elders higher than 'love'. But what do I know, I can't even read Chinese. Anyone out there can help?

Ah, but what about saying 'I love you' to your wife or husband. Like MCA President, I am not shy to say 'I Luv U' to my wife - via SMS, email, over the phone or in person . And she likewise. Hmm, I am sure our behaviour is very much influenced by all the well-meaning advice we get in the newspapers and books on how to keep our marriage exciting in this modern and challenging world.

On this day May 13, 2007 I also revisited the website I created in 2000 (www.airtawar.com which is now offline). This is an extract of what I wrote about my 'Mother and son' relationship.

The Mother and Her Son (written in 2000)

By the time I could drive (17 years old), my sister had bought a Mini Minor so I often became my mom's chauffeur; to the market, to the temple, to relatives and of course to grandma's house. On one occasion (not long after I got my license) I misjudged the narrow dirt road at grandma's place and ended up in a flooded ditch and had to summon help to get the car out. When I reached home I got a scolding from my sister because her precious car's carpet was all soaked. Of course, sometimes I felt like I was being used and often grumbled when my mom asked me to chauffeur her here and there. If I could turn back the clock I would happily take her wherever she wanted to go. But it is too late now.

I never really had a "talking" relationship with my mom in the sense of long conversations. Usually I was rebellious and brusque and often impatient with her. I know she was always fond of me and even though I behaved rather "badly" she ignored my improper attitude. But she was also difficult to live with under the same roof (as my siblings will attest to) and I was "fortunate" because I live several hundred kilometres away and during the short visits back in Muar any nagging from mom was still tolerable. Usually, whenever she wanted something, she always wanted it done quickly. So, say she wants us to chauffeur her to a relative or the market the next morning. Being lazy, sometimes I (and even my brother) would sleep late so she would start nagging us about it. Of course, she would nag us about taking baths, having our dinner, going to sleep early, everything. Actually, these are things which I nag my kids about today.

I remember when she came to visit me in Air Tawar about 2 years before she died. I had added salt to the soup and was astonished at how salty it was. I was absolutely upset with her and told her so when I discovered that she had added salt earlier without telling me. Later I felt so ashamed about my behaviour.

And as I write this, I remind myself how I should treat my kids and my parents-in-law and of course my beloved wife. Mom molded me into what I am today. She taught me independence by making me do chores in the house, including taking turns to iron the clothes for the family. She was also there when I needed money for my university education. I had in my earlier version wrote that she "nagged" by siblings to contribute towards my studies. My sister Gek Yong protested that it implied that my siblings gave grudgingly. In fact, all my siblings willingly contributed but mom was the one who sometimes did the asking especially when I had fees to pay.

When my wife gave birth to our kids, mom made special visits to Penang to assist. When I was in school, she would boil ginseng and other energy-giving tonic when I sat for important exams. But most of all, she made sure that there was always food on the table, breakfast, lunch and dinner. She made delicious kaya and forced us to take turns stirring the pot which we hated because it was boring and hot. When we were sick she would constantly consult the deities to make sure that we were safe from evil spirits as well as take us to the General Hospital and waited with us for hours to see the doctor and obtain the medicine. Chinese New Year were always special with new clothes and delicious treats. Every New Year's Day she would get up early to cook us our family's "traditional" breakfast of plain porridge, mixed vegetables with vermicelli (Tang Hoon) and pickles. Today, we all still look forward to this breakfast even when she is no more with us. New Year Eve's dinner were another big event with the all-time favourite of five-spices duck. She taught me how to make bak chang (bamboo-wrapped glutinous rice), yam cake and as I watched her cooked and ate her meals, I am cooking those for my kids. She did all those for us for 60 years as our mom. She devoted her whole life for the family but we often took her for granted. She was our supermom.

Teo Eng Ngor died at the ripe old age of 81 in 1997. (Read PJ's reaction in Fish Bones)

Happy Mummies' Day to all the mothers in the World.

postscript (14 May)
Our three offsprings were secretly planning a surprise for their mom (even I was completely in the dark). During dinner last night, their mom got a framed pencil-drawn potrait of herself. Picture drawn by Jillian (the youngest), lettering done by Brian and frame bought by Vivian (the eldest). So, that's how Asian kids tell their parents they love them!

Aha, now I know what I will be getting for father's day. Oh, "can I have it in oil colours", I said (picture me with a big grin here).

Nice surprise, 'kids'.

1 comment:

Huey said...

Uncle, thank you for reminding us what a wonderful person ahmah was. I cried the 1st time you posted this, and I've cried a 2nd time. I wish I had tried harder to get know her better.