When was the last time you sat down and had a conversation with your grandparents?
Like many kids of my generation, I gradually lost touch with my grandparents’ lives as I began to hit the various milestones in my own life. It seemed almost natural that my grandparents were fading into the background. They say, “It’s all a part of growing up…”
But does it really have to be this way?
It was only when I slipped into adulthood that I realised this; while I was so busy growing out of my childhood phase, two whole decades had gone by. Where was I in those two decades of my grandmother’s life?
We’re all too familiar with the saying: time and tide waits for no man. No amount of effort from me now can really make up for the time I’ve lost. But with all the time that I have left with her, I hope I’ll be able to make a difference.
And this was what got me started going about documenting her life and conversations. Memories can fade and words can be forgotten but a moment captured will tell a story for a lifetime.
This is what a day in my grandma’s life looks like.
My grandmother had already made her way to the foot of the block, enthusiastically awaiting my arrival. Upon spotting me, she went about exclaiming, “Wa eh guai soon lai liao, wa keu ga wa eh peng you gong!” – My obedient grandchild is here, I’m going to tell my friends!
She was all excited about making her way to the exercise corner where the elderly neighbours get their dose of morning exercises. Then, things got a little awkward as she went around introducing me without getting my name right.
I can’t blame her, after all, as she’s well into her eighties and she’s got quite a bunch of grandkids. I’m not even sure if I’ll remember that many names at her age.
She then suggested going to the market for her weekly marketing.
We had to get across a couple of streets to reach the wet market. Despite my grandma being alert about the oncoming traffic, she simply hadn’t quite mastered the art of crossing the roads. She yelled, “Hoi, hoi, Kua chia kua chia!” – Hey, hey, watch out for the cars!
She had stopped in her tracks altogether at this point and didn’t seem all that bothered that she was now holding up the traffic by standing in the middle of the road.
What happened next was perhaps one of the most precious moments I’ll ever capture in a photograph. A simple gesture that meant so much! My sister made a dash across the road, holding my grandma’s hand tightly in hers to help her get to the other side.
Remember the times when we were the ones whose hands were being held?
Is it already our turn to hold theirs?
My grandmother moved into her very first flat in the 1970s from the now defunct kampungs and she has been there since. It was only two years ago that she made the decision to move into a new flat in Punggol. She’s always had some trouble adapting to new neighbourhoods.
Embracing change isn’t an easy thing for the elderly and it isn’t hard to see why. Moving houses might seem like nothing to us but might be quite a challenge for those who have lived out a perpetual constant for most of their lives.
She looked at me and went, “Gou ka tao zeng si yi ae pa sat liao! Deng bai wa um zai an zua ke, ji zhun kit tiq liao. Leu zai an zua ke boh?” – Just walk ahead a little more, you’ll reach the market. In the past I wasn’t sure how to get there but I remember how to now. Do you know how to get there?
The thing is, I had never been to this market.
This is where things got interesting.
Some millenials are social influencers, and my granny is the equivalent of her generation… a market socialite – she’s practically BFFs with all the vendors. If you’re looking for the best market deals, you know who to look for now…
One of the lady vendors mentioned how she thought my grandma was really cute bringing her granddaughters around the market. I almost burst with laughter when my granny made her pouty face at the lady after hearing the comment.
I think I figured out where I got my quirky ways from.
You know how they say that Ahmah’s (grandmother’s) dishes are the best? My grandmother’s cookery is fit for the soul and it is the only food that’ll remind me of home. My sister and I used to live with my grandmother and we grew up eating her yummy food.
She cooked our favourite chicken curry that day.
Her secret recipe to making delicious chicken curry is using the juice of freshly-grated coconuts. The au naturel refreshingly light taste is something you can’t replicate with store-bought coconut.
She also decided to whip up an impromptu dish of stir-fried french beans with pork slices. That’s my grandma for you. Whatever she cooks is dependent on her mood.
It had been a while since we all sat down for a meal together and it certainly reminded us of the nostalgic old times.
I wished we did this more often. I hadn’t realised how much I missed my grandmother up until that point, and realised that I should really make more of an effort.
I once lived in an era where photos didn’t exist digitally. Back then, the moments captured on film were very much cherished. Photographs were about commemorating events and they held a great deal of importance.
Granny pointed at the photos asking with a cheeky smile, “Zi geh si xiang? Le zai bo?” – Who is this? Do you know?
Of course we knew who that was; it was our parents’ wedding photo.
I asked my grandmother if she would like a photo since we were on the topic of photos. She said, “Ji zhun hip siong buey xiang liao horh! Leu ai hip si mi, hip wa ah?” – Nowadays, taking photos are different from the past! What picture do you want to take, a picture of me?
She then proceeded to strike a pose with her dentures out for the photos… We had a good laugh for a whole minute!
This is why I love my grandmother. She always does the unexpected and comes up with random ideas anytime, anywhere. It’s almost like she’s telling me that we’re all free to be who we truly are and it really doesn’t matter how others perceive us.
My grandmother told me how much she misses staying at her old flat where all her friends are and she’s absolutely thrilled to meet them in the afternoon. She’ll be out with a couple of her old pals to attend a wedding.
What I’m not so thrilled about is the two-hour bus journey back to her old place in Bedok. I did mention to my grandma that we could take the MRT instead for convenience’s sake but she insisted on the bus.
According to my granny, “MRT yi ae ang mo di wa um zai, yi ae lang ah si gong ang moh. Ka dan wa um zai keu ga doh loh!”– I’m not sure of all the English words in the MRT, they speak english too. I might get lost riding the MRT!
She has all her addresses, details and directions written in this small notebook.
That was when I realised that my grandmother had no mobile phone and no access to Google maps. How was it possible for a person in this day and age to live without technology?
We were all about to doze off from the terribly long journey that took forever.
My grandmother pointed at my bag saying, “Le ae bag mai luan luan bang, bang le ae chiu deh yi dao kan diao.” – Don’t leave your bag lying around, hold onto your bags.
It is clear that a lot of us take for granted how safe Singapore is. Leaving our bags unattended doesn’t seem like such a huge deal to us.
My grandmother is a more vigilant citizen than I am.
Much to the horror of other commuters and myself, my grandma decided to put her legs up while she took a quick nap on the bus.
I spoke in a hushed tone, “Ah mah, buey sai pang le ae ka deh id tao. Wu lang zeh eh leh.” – Granny, you can’t put your legs there. There’re people sitting there.
To which she responded by simply shifting her leg inwards, a little.
Not sure if I’ll ever comprehend my grandmother’s logic.
We were finally back in her old neighbourhood.
I have fond memories of growing up here. It was very much like a kampung community where everyone knew one another. This is what home felt like.
We knew she was back in her best element as she confidently strolled around the markets.
And of course, she had to get her usual afternoon coffee fix.
My grandmother then waited in line to get her hair done at the neighbourhood salon. She was going to attend a wedding after all.
Apparently she’s also very popular at this salon. No one quite frequents the store as often as she does. Age surely hasn’t gotten to her yearning to stay beautiful.
This is where I bid my grandmother farewell as she made her way to look for her kakis to go for the wedding dinner. She was very excited.
I wonder if I’ll still be that enthusiastic about meeting my friends when I’m at her age.
I spent a long day with my grandmother that weekend. I didn’t know she had so much going on in her life. We always expect our grandparents to be home all day, not doing much, but that’s not really the case. Getting old doesn’t have to entail becoming less active too!
It was a particularly meaningful weekend for me. Apart from finally getting round to spending time with my grandmother, we also shared so much laughter and stories just like the old times. Sometimes, all we need are these simple joys in life.
Jio your grandparents out for a day; I promise you won’t regret it.
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