The measure of a Grandfather

To know if a man is a good son, ask his parents.
To know if he is a good husband, ask his wife.
Is he a good father? His children will tell you.

One of my favourite Grandfather stories is this: my great-grandmother was not happy that my Third Aunt was a girl; there were no x-rays nor ultra-scans back then, so you’d only know the gender of the baby at birth. There were already two girls in the house, my Mom and Second Aunt. So great-grandmother started to make arrangements for Third Aunt to be given away.

My Grandfather, though having lived his life under his dominating and domineering mother, bravely spoke up, “If you want to give her away, then we will give all the daughters away!”

My Third Aunt got to stay in the family because the other two girls were older by then, and it would have been a waste of resources to give them away too.

A young Lim Kheng Siang
My Grandfather when he was young, the black and white days.

Even as I fondly reminisce about my Grandfather, I am very aware of a difficult past when Grandfather discovered mahjong.

I suspect it was the company that he desired more than the game. Nevertheless addictions can be destructive, and I credit my Grandmother and their children for keeping it together.

It is said that strict parents transform into grandparents with the softest of hearts. That’s my grandparents; Grandmother used to shield me from my Mom and her fearsome rotan! Oh I’m sure it was my fault, being a terrible kid until I was about… 25.

The point is, my Grandmother… wow! I adored her for she was my hero, my saviour, my protector!

On the other hand, Grandfather seemed authoritative and intimidating. He wasn’t into action figures, dolls and chasing chickens, so that left us with nothing much to talk about.

But he was always kindly to us, ever present when required. I remember him standing suavely outside my kindergarten, waiting to pick me up in my parents’ old yellow Beetle.

We only bonded much later, right about when I was able to hold coherent conversations. He would regale us with stories of his youth and forgotten contributions to the village.

Grandfather was actively involved in the well-being of Sri Gading folks, and the progress of the village. Here, I repost one of my Aunt’s recollections during that time, back when local council elections was still applicable.

Sri Gading local elections council team with Lim Kheng Siang
Grandfather with the local elections council team, Sri Gading

“Ah, those were the days when we had local council elections. I remember when I was very young – in the 60s when my village held its elections for councillors. Dad was always a member of the local council – often with no challenger. That year, some younger blood decided that he was too long in the chair and decided to mount a challenge to his post.

There was fever of excitement in the village. There was a bit of campaigning after the papers were filed. I observed the ‘young turks’ going about from house to house to campaign and I was worried (even though I was only 7 years old then). Dad was not doing anything. He just went about his usual business and sometimes to the local coffee shop.

One evening some ‘supporters’ came to the house and told dad: “They are bad-mouthing you, aren’t you going to answer them?” It seems the ‘opposition’ had been spreading smear campaign that dad was corrupt, that he had privately benefited for helping people to get their IC. The word was dad got a commission from the government for each IC made.

Anyway, dad just replied: “No need to answer those rumours. The truth will eventually come out whether I am corrupt or not.”

I whispered to mum: “Why doesn’t dad speak up against those lies?” The answer was typical: “Children should not interfere with adult’s business. And keep out of those campaigns!” Huh!! Wild horses could not even drag me away from those campaigns.

The day of election loomed. I hung around the registration booth and watched the proceedings. The villagers came out in droves – all dressed in their Sunday best. There was an air of carnival. Many waved to dad and he smiled at them. Many of the older folks came to the counter and declared: “I only want to vote for Lim Kheng Siang.” “I only want Lim to be in the ‘Cheng Hu’ (meaning the government)”. Although the ‘young turks’ tried to persuade them to change their minds, but they were adamant.

Finally it was time to close the booths and the ballot boxes were brought to the local council building. A huge crowd gathered outside the building as the counting of the ballot papers began. I could hear the names of the candidates being called out each time a ballot paper was opened. Finally, the names of the winners were declared. Dad won! Plus a Malay guy named Hussein. There was a roar of approval and everybody clapped their hands. I saw the crowd lifted dad and the Hussein chap up and carried them on their shoulders – a mini parade in the hall. I felt so proud that night.”

Lim Kheng Siang receiving PPN award from the DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agong
Grandfather receiving his award from the then-Agong

For his societal contributions, Grandfather was awarded the Pingat Pangkuan Negara (PPN) award, a Malaysian federal award presented for meritorious service to the country. It was possibly the proudest day of his life, and he wore his one and only suit to the ceremony.

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