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Remembering jia-gong, my maternal grandfather

I’ve been going through a rather pensive mode these past few days. My maternal grandfather (my mother’s father) recently passed away a couple of days ago after suffering a stroke. He was in the hospital for several days slipping in and out of consciousness as various family members came to sit beside him before finally closing his eyes for the last time on Saturday evening.

I wrestled with a strange undercurrent of emotions throughout this time. You see the truth is, I wouldn’t consider myself as being close to any of my grandparents. Whether it was due to the geographical distance or the language barrier, it was simply a privilege I never had a chance to experience.

I never felt any sadness or jealousy over this fact. I read stories about children with favourite grandmas and grandpas, and I could see the affectionate way my cousins who were close to my grandparents related to them. But it never bothered me. I suppose one can’t really feel sad over something one never had. It was just the way it was.

It was only years later when I observed the deep adoration and affection between my own little boy and his grandparents, that I felt a small twinge of envy for that special bond I never had. But it will now be a privilege I can never experience and never will in this lifetime.


Nathan meeting his great grandfather in June 2012

But even though the threads of affection and devotion that tie my grandfather and I do not run as thickly and deeply compared to some of my other cousins who lived closer to them. Nevertheless my grandfather has definitely left his own unique imprint on my life.

When I think of my jia-gong, I remember the funny way he liked to squat on the floor and even on the stool at the dining table as he ate. My mother told me that it was a habit he picked up during his days working coolie jobs, like lifting heavy sacks of rice, pulling rickshaws and carting around loads of fruits to sell.

I remember waking up to yummy breakfasts of roti pratha which grandfather had headed out early in the morning to his favourite stall to buy especially for his grandkids.

I remember how he used to perch outside in the far corner of the veranda in front of the house, puffing away on his cigarette. Probably to keep the smoke as far away from us kids as possible.

I remember all the stories my mum told me about him. His dedication to the community as a the local council leader. His hardworking and tenacious character in his early years. And his heroic attempts at insurgence against the Japanese during the Second World War in Malaya.

I choose to remember because he forms part of my heritage. My roots. He is part of the bigger picture of our family history that led to my being here on this earth.

Roots and wings

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  1. That was a lovely shot of Nathan with his great grandfather :-) M

    1. A beautiful moment. He had at least one moment shared with his great grandfather.


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