Honour thy parents

Someone from an on-line group posted this, so I have no idea of the real source. Bet you can locate similar news stories if you would google it a little.

Obviously the subject matter is something close to my heart, the past, present and future coming together. The feeling is exactly what I tell people about KL – it is modern yet there is a hint of graceful oldness in it. Perhaps the same feeling could be said of Barcelona, if you have been there you would know – I haven’t.

I read this story while listening to a piano rendition of ‘Canon’ by Pachelbel. Some words affect you dearly and some stories strike a painful note in your heart. Not my own parents nor their parents because… it will never be. But to know that there ARE people who could without hesitation ditch their old folks – where indeed is humanity going?

All the wrong places for sure. Just take a look at some streets, some old folks homes. Not all of them are childless, some of their offspring are still alive yet… unable – is that the correct word to use? Reluctant, unwilling, disinclined to care for their parents in their old age and at the same time reaching for the stars. There would not be any stars if it weren’t for your folks, my friends.

I had a rather interesting discussion about the issue of children caring for their folks with a white male brought up in everything the Western world could provide. He will care for his folks but only when they become really old and could not do a single thing for themselves. He believes that couples make the decision to have children and that parents should not burden the children by relying on them when they age. Similarly I have a relative, a single and strong mother who lives in Australia, her daughter is living with her white boyfriend. She would occasionally give her mother some money which doesn’t exactly please the boyfriend. He does not understand why she would hand over her self-made cash to her mother when they have rent to pay, furniture to buy, a lifestyle to keep.

I am not saying that the guy is bad. My cousin is a very smart, intelligent and independent female, and now very successful. She would never be with someone who is bad (imagine the use of this word for all you want), let alone live together with him.

The difference is mostly cultural and all about the environment in which you were brought up. The Chinese strongly believes in filial piety; the ancient Chinese at least. Malays were told that to desert their parents is akin to treason. A lot of people from all 5 continents take care of their parents when they are old because they have strong family values. So I am not saying that all westerners neglect their folks, because they don’t. Why, some news in Malaysian papers would make you sick to the bones, and some of the people who cause all that are Chinese. Yes, Chinese! The one race whose lineage goes all the way back to great emperors and scholars who were taught that observing filial piety is one’s second nature.

I am not here to discriminate. Everyone has a story to tell, some have seen more hardship than others. But I am sure that there were smiles amidst the tears, whether or not you see them, remember them. If you believe in the law of Karma, then pay back the smiles and make new ones. I guarantee you that the journey would be difficult, testing your patience and reaching your limits.

But one day you will be old too. Maybe your children will take care of you. Only then you will experience true happiness. You will know.

— — — — — — — —

Singapore girl wins Commonwealth essay prize!

A 15-YEAR-OLD Singaporean, competing against 16- to 18-year-olds, has won the top prize in a writing contest that drew 5,300 entries from 52 countries.

In the annual Commonwealth Essay Competition, Amanda Chong of Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) chose to compete in the older category and won with a piece on the restlessness of modern life.

Her short story, titled What The Modern Woman Wants, focused on the conflict in values between an old lady and her independent-minded daughter.

‘Through my story, I attempted to convey the unique East-versus-West struggles and generation gaps that I felt were characteristic of young people in my country,’ said Amanda, who likes drama, history and literature and wants to become a lawyer and a politician.

Chief examiner Charles Kemp called her piece a ‘powerfully moving and ironical critique of modern restlessness and its potentially cruel consequences’. The writing is fluent and assured, with excellent use of dialogue.

Amanda gets (S$1,590). A Singaporean last won the top prize in 2000, said Britain’s Royal Commonwealth Society, which has been organizing the competition since 1883. Singaporeans also came in second in the 14- to 15-year-old category, and fourth in the under-12s. Other winners included students from Australia, Canada and South Africa.

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What the Modern Woman Wants
By Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen

The old woman sat in the backseat of the magenta convertible as it careened down the highway, clutching tightly to the plastic bag on her lap, afraid it may be kidnapped by the wind. She was not used to such speed, with trembling hands she pulled the seatbelt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent leather seats with her callused fingers, her daughter had warned her not to dirty it, ‘Fingerprints show very clearly on white, Ma.’

Her daughter, Bee Choo, was driving and talking on her sleek silver mobile phone using big words the old woman could barely understand. ‘Finance’ ‘Liquidation’ ‘Assets’ ‘Investments’… Her voice was crisp and important and had an unfamiliar lilt to it. Her Bee Choo sounded like one of those foreign girls on television. She was speaking in an American accent.

The old lady clucked her tongue in disapproval.

‘I absolutely cannot have this. We have to sell!’ Her daughter exclaimed agitatedly as she stepped on the accelerator; her perfectly manicured fingernails gripping onto the steering wheel in irritation.

‘I can’t DEAL with this anymore!’ she yelled as she clicked the phone shut and hurled it angrily toward the backseat.

The mobile phone hit the old woman on the forehead and nestled soundlessly into her lap. She calmly picked it up and handed it to her daughter.

‘Sorry, Ma,’ she said, losing the American pretence and switching to Mandarin. ‘I have a big client in America. There have been a lot of problems.’

The old lady nodded knowingly. Her daughter was big and important.

Bee Choo stared at her mother from the rear view window, wondering what she was thinking. Her mother’s wrinkled countenance always carried the same cryptic look.

The phone began to ring again, an artificially cheerful digital tune, which broke the awkward silence.

‘Hello, Beatrice! Yes, this is Elaine.’

Elaine. The old woman cringed. I didn’t name her Elaine. She remembered her daughter telling her, how an English name was very important for ‘networking’, Chinese ones being easily forgotten.

‘Oh no, I can’t see you for lunch today. I have to take the ancient relic to the temple for her weird daily prayer ritual.’

Ancient Relic. The old woman understood perfectly it was referring to her. Her daughter always assumed that her mother’s silence meant she did not comprehend.

‘Yes, I know! My car seats will be reeking of joss sticks!’

The old woman pursed her lips tightly, her hands gripping her plastic bag in defence.

The car curved smoothly into the temple courtyard. It looked almost garish next to the dull sheen of the aging temple’s roof. The old woman got out of the back seat, and made her unhurried way to the main hall.

Her daughter stepped out of the car in her business suit and stilettos and reapplied her lipstick as she made her brisk way to her mother’s side.

‘Ma, I’ll wait outside. I have an important phone call to make,’ she said, not bothering to hide her disgust at the pungent fumes of incense.

The old lady hobbled into the temple hall and lit a joss stick, she knelt down solemnly and whispered her now familiar daily prayer to the Gods.

Thank you God of the Sky, you have given my daughter luck all these years. Everything I prayed for, you have given her. She has everything a young woman in this world could possibly want. She has a big house with a swimming pool, a maid to help her, as she is too clumsy to sew or cook.

Her love life has been blessed; she is engaged to a rich and handsome angmoh man. Her company is now the top financial firm and even men listen to what she says. She lives the perfect life. You have given her everything except happiness. I ask that the gods be merciful to her even if she has lost her roots while reaping the harvest of success. What you see is not true, she is a filial daughter to me. She gives me a room in her big house and provides well for me. She is rude to me only because I affect her happiness. A young woman does not want to be hindered by her old mother. It is my fault.

The old lady prayed so hard that tears welled up in her eyes. Finally, with her head bowed in reverence she planted the half-burnt joss stick into an urn of smouldering ashes.

She bowed once more.

The old woman had been praying for her daughter for thirty-two years. When her stomach was round like a melon, she came to the temple and prayed that it was a son.

Then the time was ripe and the baby slipped out of her womb, bawling and adorable with fat thighs and pink cheeks, but unmistakably, a girl. Her husband had kicked and punched her for producing a useless baby who could not work or carry the family name.

Still, the woman returned to the temple with her new-born girl tied to her waist in a sarong and prayed that her daughter would grow up and have everything she ever wanted. Her husband left her and she prayed that her daughter would never have to depend on a man.

She prayed every day that her daughter would be a great woman, the woman that she, meek and uneducated, could never become. A woman with nengkan; the ability to do anything she set her mind to. A woman who commanded respect in the hearts of men. When she opened her mouth to speak, precious pearls would fall out and men would listen.

She will not be like me, the woman prayed as she watched her daughter grow up and drift away from her, speaking a language she scarcely understood. She watched her daughter transform from a quiet girl, to one who openly defied her, calling her laotu; old-fashioned. She wanted her mother to be ‘modern’, a word so new there was no Chinese word for it.

Now her daughter was too clever for her and the old woman wondered why she had prayed like that. The gods had been faithful to her persistent prayer, but the wealth and success that poured forth so richly had buried the girl’s roots and now she stood, faceless, with no identity, bound to the soil of her ancestors by only a string of origami banknotes.

Her daughter had forgotten her mother’s values. Her wants were so ephemeral; that of a modern woman. Power, Wealth, access to the best fashion boutiques, and yet her daughter had not found true happiness. The old woman knew that you could find happiness with much less. When her daughter left the earth everything she had would count for nothing. People would look to her legacy and say that she was a great woman, but she would be forgotten once the wind blows over, like the ashes of burnt paper convertibles and mansions.

The old woman wished she could go back and erase all her big hopes and prayers for her daughter; now she had only one want: That her daughter be happy. She looked out of the temple gate. She saw her daughter speaking on the phone, her brow furrowed with anger and worry. Being at the top is not good, the woman thought, there is only one way to go from there – down.

The old woman carefully unfolded the plastic bag and spread out a packet of beehoon in front of the altar.

Her daughter often mocked her for worshiping porcelain Gods. How could she pray to them so faithfully and expect pieces of ceramic to fly to her aid? But her daughter had her own gods too, idols of wealth, success and power that she was enslaved to and worshiped every day of her life. Every day was a quest for the idols, and the idols she worshiped counted for nothing in eternity. All the wants her daughter had would slowly suck the life out of her and leave her, an empty soulless shell at the altar.

The old lady watched her joss tick. The dull heat had left a teetering grey stem that was on the danger of collapsing.

Modern woman nowadays, the old lady sighed in resignation, as she bowed to the east one final time to end her ritual. Modern woman nowadays want so much that they lose their souls and wonder why they cannot find it.

Her joss stick disintegrated into a soft grey powder.

She met her daughter outside the temple, the same look of worry and frustration was etched on her daughter’s face. An empty expression, as if she was ploughing through the soil of her wants looking for the one thing that would sow the seeds of happiness.

They climbed into the convertible in silence and her daughter drove along the highway, this time not as fast as she had done before.

‘Ma,’ Bee Choo finally said. ‘I don’t know how to put this. Mark and I have been talking about it and we plan to move out of the big house. The property market is good now, and we managed to get a buyer willing to pay seven million for it. We decided we’d prefer a cosier penthouse apartment instead. We found a perfect one in Orchard Road. Once we move in to our apartment we plan to get rid of the maid, so we can have more space to ourselves…’

The old woman nodded knowingly.

Bee Choo swallowed hard. ‘We’d get someone to come in to do the housework and we can eat out-but once the maid is gone, there won’t be anyone to look after you. You will be awfully lonely at home and, besides that, the apartment is rather small. There won’t be space. We thought about it for a long time, and we decided the best thing for you is if you moved to a Home. There’s one near Hougang-it’s a Christian home, a very nice one.’

The old woman did not raise an eyebrow.

‘I’ve been there, the matron is willing to take you in. It’s beautiful with gardens and lots of old people to keep you company! I hardly have time for you, you’d be happier there.’

‘You’d be happier there, really.’ Her daughter repeated as if to affirm herself.

This time the old woman had no plastic bag of food offerings to cling tightly to; she bit her lip and fastened her seat belt, as if it would protect her from a daughter who did not want her anymore. She sunk deep into the leather seat, letting her shoulders sag, and her fingers trace the white seat.

‘Ma?’ her daughter asked, searching the rear view window for her mother. ‘Is everything okay?’

What had to be done, had to be done. ‘Yes,’ she said firmly, louder than she intended, ‘if it will make you happy,’ she added more quietly.

‘It’s for you, Ma! You’ll be happier there. You can move there tomorrow, I already got the maid to pack your things.’ Elaine said triumphantly, mentally ticking yet another item off her agenda.

‘I knew everything would be fine.’

Elaine smiled widely; she felt liberated. Perhaps getting rid of her mother would make her happier. She had thought about it. It seemed the only hindrance in her pursuit of happiness. She was happy now. She had everything a modern woman ever wanted; Money, Status, Career, Love, Power and now, Freedom, without her mother and her old-fashioned ways to weigh her down…

Yes, she was free. Her phone buzzed urgently, she picked it up and read the message, still beaming from ear to ear. ‘Stocks 10% increase!’ Yes, things were definitely beginning to look up for her…

And while searching for the meaning of life in the luminance of her hand phone screen, the old woman in the backseat became invisible, and she did not see the tears.

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Comments

  1. Damn… I still can’t believe a 15 year old wrote that amazing story…
    **rub… rub eyes**

  2. what insight for a young girl of 15!!

  3. FIreAngel says:

    yeah the eesay was forwaded around on email. damn good. 15 yr old. not bad at all… i almost cried reading the damn thing. *sobsob*

  4. someone on the group was dissing the story, saying how the author will never become like Karim Raslan. Really, really a big American DUH… evidently enough their styles and age groups are different. Even if the girl does not make writing her career, she impacted me (and a lot of other people as well, I hope) enough to want to make changes. In the end action does speak louder than words.

  5. thegurlwho says:

    i actually wanted to know what happened in the end…it’s left us all hanging..!!!!!

  6. la.. then it wouldn’t be a good read anymore…

  7. That is one powerfull piece of writing; almost had me in tears!

  8. FireAngel says:

    Would’ve been better with ending still.. i hate stories without ending… which makes u come up with ur own conclusion. don’t like.

  9. wah… while reading that hor i kept telling myself 15 year old mehhhh??? 15 year old mehhh??? detractors aside that is a good piece of writing lah.

  10. forget about the 15 year gal, while reading i kept asking myself have i done enough (what’s the benchmark for enough anyway) for my parents???????

  11. It is good writing, and it is good reflection. But it won’t serve its purpose if we just read it, nod in agreement then carry on the way we are. Reflect and act, my friends :)

  12. Wonderful, isn’t it? The story’s quite vivid and recognisable as far as an outsider of eastern culture can say. I do agree that it is best in the shape it is in, without an ending, for it is the lack of it that makes us think. Reflect and act… umm does that mean you’re neglecting mom, Suanie? :P

    The author will surely write commercially as her essay reads like prose. Fifteen years old… did I waste my time chasing girls when I was that age? I guess the consequences are all too clear now.

  13. OMG….15 yrs old….such insight!!!…and I know 31 yr old guys/gals partying every night..and this 15 yr old gal writes so poignantly…does anyone know this gal? Would love to meet her acquitance…

  14. hahahha cheers

  15. nope, she just made the news.

  16. hmm. I know her.

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