Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bananas - the story, schooling, school sweetheart & sorrowful separation

Parts of this article was written sometime ago in two posts in my other blog Ktemoc Konsiders, but in keeping with the fun or nostalgic story telling theme of this blog, KTemoc Kongsamkok, I’ve deleted most of the political aspects as well as specific references to certain people in the socio-political blogging world. I’ve also used this opportunity to include new episodes of my experience.

Penangites like to start off their stories with 'oo chit jeet nee’, which means ‘once upon a time’.

Well then, 'oo chit jeet nee’ there were three boys - two brothers and their cousin. For the purpose of this story about ‘bananas’, I shall name the brothers Chooi and Beng. Their cousin was me, moi, kaytee wakakaka.

Chooi was educated at a vernacular school, Kong Min, while Beng and I attended Pykett Methodist. Their father, my uncle-in-law, was a hardcore Teochew-nang who wanted all his children (3 boys, but the youngest doesn’t feature in this story) to be Chinese educated, but fate in the name of Poverty intervened. Thus Beng’s education at an English medium Methodist institution was financed and decided by a relative.

Chooi was very much into wuxia (Chinese fiction on martial arts), hence he devotedly read episodes of mysterious swordsmen-heroes flying like a low-altitude-only Superman in the middle of the nights across rooftops to rescue sweet damsels in distress.



Fascinated or enamoured by the chivalrous-romantic tales of those sword slashing super dukes, he obviously wanted to re-enact some of his favourite episodes. Each time I visited his family and after making the obligatory respectful greetings to the elders, he would drag me to the side for a wee bit of Chinese wushu sparring, but always with him deciding or making up the rules as the bouts went along.

I received more than a few bruises and black eyes from those encounters, most of which were caused, in my mind, by his ad hoc and inconsistent ‘rules’. Finally Beng, his younger brother advised me, though too late, of Chooi's propensity towards extemporaneous rules making in our wushu sparring. Apparently, Beng was also a victim of his brother’s convenient 'creativity'.


One day after Chooi hit me particularly hard on my face when I wasn’t even aware we were to spar, I asked him whether he was prepared for the joust to be for real, with no rule (most certainly not those of his creative formulation). From the black look on my face, Chooi knew he had crossed the line with his Pearl Harbour-like sneak attack, and that his normally placid cousin (moi) was as furious as any Chinese would be after reading about the Nanjing massacre. So he cowardly, but I suppose wisely, turned down my challenge.

But apart from being a coward he was also kniasu (don't like losing, especially 'face'), thus he had to, for his 'face', dismiss my challenge with these words: “You eaters of ar-mor-sai* can play among yourselves” where he included his younger brother in his cultural-chauvinistic insult.

* ar-mor-sai means “white men’s shit”, a pejorative accusation against English educated Chinese for their alleged preference for western ways, culture, values and/or morals - am not sure why, but Penangites pronounce ang-mor ('red hair' or Europeans) as ar-mor



That was when I first realized some (mind you, not all) Chinese educated people were either chauvinistic or more likely, plain jealous and underconfident of their English educated counterparts, more likely the latter as they love to resort to childish insults like “chea* ar-mor sai”.

* chnea = eat

That cowardly disparaging abuse continues till today, but I notice that the traditional “chea ar-mor sai” has been transformed into the modern euphemistic ‘bananas’.

Why ‘banana’?

Well, a banana, as we know of it, usually has yellow skin which when peeled would show its white flesh. Thus, an English-educated Chinese would be, to those Chinese language-cultural chauvinists, a 'banana', someone who is yellow on the outside like a Chinese, but white on the inside, a culturally treasonous Chinese who speaks in English instead of Chinese, and also is suspected of possessing western values and even western habits, thus one who is the “chea ar-mor sai” type.



Today some Mandarin-Nazis have extended the insult to include even those Chinese who can converse fluently in Teochew or Hokkien or Canto or Hakka or other non-Mandarin Chinese language-dialect (eg. Hainan, Toisan/Sinning, etc) like moi, but who aren’t formally educated in Mandarin. Thus we are still ‘bananas’.

Apparently, to these Mandarin-Nazis, the ‘sin’ seems to lie more in being educated in English. It’s the same aged-old socio-cultural chauvinistic insult for those who don’t conform to the practices of the accusers, with perhaps an element of jealousy lurking in their dark subconscious, hence the consequential spate of ugly insults and pejorative name calling.

I seek comfort in what the great Chinese sage, Confucius, said: “The nobler sort of man emphasizes the good qualities in others, and does not accentuate the bad. The inferior does”, wakakaka.




Anyway, to continue my story of ‘bananas’, as a Teochew nang (Teochew person) where both sides of the family are Teochew (with a few drops of spicy Tom Yum blood on my dad's side, wakakaka), my dear late mum decided during my tender years that I should be formally educated in the Teochew language in addition to the Methodist schooling I was already receiving.

If you are not familiar with the Teochew language, this is what Wikipedia says about it:

… this dialect of Chinese is one of the most difficult ones to master, as it has 8 tones compared to the 4 tones found in Mandarin. Music, opera, and food are further characteristics that distinguish Chaoshan [Teochew] people from the rest of Guangdong.

Now you know why kaytee isn’t a Canto-speaking man lah - my excuse anyway wakakaka, but wait, come to think of it, blast and double blast, apart from my initial sweetheart being a Penang Hokkien – she broke my heart twice - most of the sweeties I know have been Canto babes, so my lack of Canto-linguistic skills had been to my disadvantage, especially when they talked with their friends about me, right in front of clueless moi (sigh).



Hokkien babe from JB & HK TVB star, Vivian Yeo  Siew Hui


Brains & Beauty Vivian Yeo - graduate of Monash Uni in Biotechnology

Mind, I did understand when I heard “Ngo ker sor-chai mm hieu Kongfu wah keh”.


Sor-chai*?

* ‘stupid boy’ or, if in an affectionate manner, ‘darling silly boy’


How outrageous, how undignified, but that’s how my ex(es) saw me (sigh again). Maybe that’s how I allowed a Penang Hokkien babe to break my heart twice, as if once wasn’t quite enough.

Anyway, if you want to know more about the Teochew language or operas, please check it in my earlier post The 'rich' char koay teow boy
.

Now, why did my dearly departed mum want me to learn Teochew? Maybe she dreamed of me singing Teochew opera songs along with her. Yes, when she was happy, which, alas, was seldom, she’d croon those, with the lyrics narrating bits and pieces of China’s classical history.




Amazingly enough, as a kid, I could follow the story in most of those songs though of course I couldn’t claim to have understood each and every word of the lyrics. My two faves were the stories of Sih Jeen Kooi and Teik Cheng.



Apparently the saga of the former, Sih Jeen Kooi, was set in the Tang Dynasty, prior to and during the reign of Wǔ Zétiān.


Wǔ Zétiān


Wǔ Zétiān was the only female emperor in China's recorded history spanning more than 4,500 years - we aren't talking about Empresses Dowagers or Regents, those powers behind the thrones, but an Emperor, THE Emperor, who sat on the Dragon Throne in her own rights.

Though gifted with exceptional wisdom and great talent, Wǔ Zétiān was like most of my former sweethearts, very cruel, merciless and ruthless wakakaka.


Wǔ Zétiān as played by Alyssa Chia


She (Wǔ Zétiān, not any of my sweeties wakakaka), initially a mere junior palace concubine, reached the pinnacle of China's absolute power by means both fair and foul, though more of the latter. In her struggles, schemings and manipulations to the top, she didn’t hesitate to unscrupulously sabotage her rivals (the original Empress and imperial concubines) and even kill off her husband and a couple of sons. She inhumanely slaughtered thousands of innocents without blinking an eye, and placed cruel harsh officials in high positions who in turn abetted her killings.



But on the other side of the coin, once she was in de facto and eventually de jure power, she made great political achievements, such as selecting a large number of officials on merit, and introduced good economic measures which gave the Chinese society at that time the desired prosperity and stability. Even today, movies and TV plays featuring her controversial life and reign are drawing great attention and research interests, with the modern scholars being more favourable to her reign.

Ignoring the prejudices of the male Confucian chauvinistic historians, Wǔ Zétiān was in fact a very competent ruler. She was also a ... gulp ... lusty woman, not afraid of open dalliances with several captains in the Royal Palace Guards, right all the way to her late age - sigh, regrettably this hot imperial babe existed way way too early for me.




Back to the story of Sih Jeen Kooi - His family, with only two exceptions, was massacred by Wǔ Zétiān because of incorrectly perceived treason. The two were rescued by different saviours on separate occasions, and became spin-off folklores.

The cruel punishment for alleged treason dealt out to Sih's family was total, where every man, woman, child, servant, and domestic animal (belonging to Sih) were executed/killed. Then their corpses were dumped into a pit which was then sealed with tar and covered with dirt. The entire Sih village was then razed and every evidence of human existence, including the post-inferno debris erased from sight. Such was the demonstration of total power by an absolute monarch, obviously to deter acts of treason.

Incidentally, Sih Jeen Kooi became a household name among the Chinese during my kiddie days. Bloke was a Chinese hero famous for his gargantuan appetite and Herculean strength. Thus, whenever my late dad or I ate a wee too much, mum would label us as Sih Jeen Kooi(s), or when relatives questioned her on why she cooked so much for a particular festival, she would humourously reply that she had a few Sih Jeen Kooi's in the house.

My other favourite Teochew operatic hero, Teck Cheng, was apparently a historical figure in a slightly earlier era, during the Sui Dynasty.



Sui Emperor Wen


According to mum's sing-song story, Teck Cheng and Bao Zheng, who was more popularly known as Bao Gong, China's most respected judge ever, were heavenly ‘stars’ or divinities instructed by Heaven to be born as mortal beings to help China at different periods of the nation's history. These divinities to be born as humans to save mankind (at least those in China) were not unlike Rama of the Ramayana saga who had to be born a mortal in order to destroy Ravana so as to save the Indian universe.

Teck Cheng was to be a military saviour of the Sui period while the more famous Bao Gong, as every Chinese know, was the judicial-administrative hero 350 years later during the Song period, an exemplary model par excellence of the judiciary whose name is still today referred to by Chinese as the gold standard.

I hesitate to relate that part of the folklore of how Teck Cheng exchanged faces with Bao Gong before being born as mortals, because I would be accused of being a racist. But alas, I’ve opened my big mouth, so well, let me be damned, here goes ... (bear in mind please, it's just a operatic story of yonder years).

As the story goes, Teck Cheng was reluctant to be born a human because he was destined as a mortal to have a black face. When he divined that, he appealed to the Jade Emperor (Lord of heaven) to be excused from his earthly duties. But the Jade Emperor rejected his silly entreaty, stating that China needed him.

Fortunately for all, Bao Gong came to the rescue. The divinity to be born as a judge in a later dynastic period was destined to be a very handsome mortal, but he reckoned that as an earthly judge he didn’t need a pretty face so offered to exchange his with Teck Cheng’s. The latter naturally accepted with gratitude.



Bao Zheng or Bao Gong


Thus Teck Cheng was born an Adonis who, with just his looks, won over China’s most powerful and potent enemy during the Sui period, a Korean princess-general. Ah, if only wars were won like so.

The Korean sweetie is known in Chinese story books as Peih Poe Kong Chu (Princess with Eight Magical Wonders). I have to confess as a kid I did fantasize being Teck Cheng while HRH the Korean hottie made guli eyes at me wakakaka.



But you know, today I do wonder about Teck Cheng's role as the military saviour of the Sui Dynasty in the war against Goguryeo (then a northen kingdom, one of 3, in the Korean peninsula), because the Chinese army and navy were badly trounced by the Goguryeons due to poor logistic support, particularly food supplies, for the army in the wintry cold northern campaign (shades of Operation Barbarossa) and lousy amphibious operations by the navy-marine force (a la the Gallipoli campaign?). Maybe Teck Cheng became a hero for conducting a Chinese 'Dunkirk' wakakaka.

[Sigh] Back to Mum’s preference for my Teochew education - perhaps she wanted me to learn Teochew in order to reply letters from one of her cousins who was always appealing for money, yes, from my Mum, a widow as poor as a church mouse after my father’s sudden demise.


Whatever her reason was, she soon discovered there was no Teochew school in Penang, though she vaguely recalled there was a Hokkien one, but which had been closed for eons. There were private tutors but we couldn’t afford their fees. I was thus spared a possible career as an actor in Teochew operas, in a role which one of my ex’s told me with malicious delight that I was most suited for … er … as the villain who was eventually executed by the Emperor (or Empress) … gulp.

Informed by one of my uncles that one could still learn to read and write Chinese in a Mandarin school, Mum packed me off to one (a private establishment) after my Unc offered to pay the fees, though she did still try to push for the Teochew private tuition. But Unc told her private tuition wasn’t as good as regular schooling. Besides, he was paying the bill so the matter was settled. As usual, my mum couldn’t resist giving me a final blistering glare as if I was the cause of her losing out in the Teochew vs Mandarin bout.

If anyone was born to be an arch-scapegoat, c’est moi!

So in the morning I went to Pykett Methodist, while immediately after that I rushed off to the private Chinese school. Of course, given the travelling time between schools, I was always late for the afternoon session, and without lunch too, other than a hastily gobbled cheap pow (dumpling) or a cheaper eu char koay (fried dough stick).



Being late for class didn’t go well with any headmistress of Chinese schools, let alone the one I had acquired. She already hated people like me, a Chinese sent by his parents to a national type school in preference to a vernacular type, which incidentally was not my mum’s decision but my late dad’s.

She demanded to know why I hadn’t abandoned my national type schooling so as to be on time and full time at her school. Being a wimp (not forgetting I was just a kid), I remained silent during her relentless inquisition which of course infuriated her even more.

My sin as a student in a national type school cum my stoic demeanour earned for poor kiddy kaytee scarey piercing gamma-ray-ed evil eyes from my new headmistress, obviously for what she perceived as my insouciant treachery to Chinese education. To her, it was ... gulp ... cultural treason.



I didn't really enjoy Chinese classes, mainly because the school put me in a very junior standard to enable me to learn ab initio Mandarin, where I then had to sit through English, Maths and Malay, etc, lessons that were some years behind my standard in Pykett Methodist. ‘Twas not only humiliating but very boring.

However, I sat next to a cute dimpled sweetie who took pains during any spare time to tutor me in Mandarin while I helped her with Maths and English and of course some Malay. 


Gigi Lai with her fantastic sweet dimpled smile

Alas, this was unfortunately at a time when I wasn’t yet keen on the fairer gender – that’s the story of my life, wrong place at the wrong time ... sigh ... just like I wasn’t a stud of a captain in the Royal Palace Guards protecting Empress Regnant Wǔ Zétiān, or a heroic Chinese general in a military-romantic encounter with the Korean Princess Peih Poe Kong Chu ... sigh again.

I have often been told, in fact repetitively by some of my ex’es, that the female person matures faster than her male counterpart, so it was only natural that on one fine day several months later, during Chinese class, spoilt somewhat by the lesson being taken by the headmistress herself (who still laser-ed me regularly with her accusative looks), Dimpled Sweetie decided to advance my Mandarin lessons, emulating Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, so to speak.

Dimpled Cheeks quietly pushed a piece of paper into my hands, on which I saw three Chinese characters. I recognized two, mind you, not that I could write them yet.

The first one looked like a J combined with several crisscrossed strokes slashing the J horizontally and slantwise a la Zaitochi – it was a wo or I (saya).



The second one looked rather complicated so I skipped it for a while.

The third was easy, a T with a sloping top plus some other strokes, which I worked out to be ni or you (kau or anda).



So it was "wo something(?) ni". I looked at her to see whether she was offering any helpful hints but she merely smiled at me in that sweet mysterious Mona Lisa manner - oh, those dimples of hers.

OK then, I glanced back at the middle character again and after a while thought it looked like what my Unc had once taught me. Er ..... could it just be ..... but no, surely not ..... gasp!



Wrapped in deep thoughts on the meaning of the mysterious Chinese character I didn't observe that the headmistress was coming my way like a runaway steam engine. She had spied Sweetie smiling at me while I was doing a Rodin.


I was rudely brought back to earth when she snatched the piece of paper from my hands, on which were the three characters which doomed me virtually like a member of Sih Jeen Kooi's family.


When I looked up into her eyes, I realized how those crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims in Spain must have felt when confronted by Tomás de Torquemada, the Catholic Church’s Grand Inquisitor in Spain and notorious Architect of Torture.


During the auto-da-fé, she accused me, a national school degenerate ... gulp ... of writing love words to an innocent young Chinese-educated lassie. It’s a miracle Jiang Qing ... er ... I mean ... the prejudiced headmistress didn’t succumb to the temptation of insulting me with a “chea ar-mor sai kooi” (where kooi means devil, or to be more precise, non-Chinese barbarian) or told to balik (go home to) England wakakaka.


Jiang Qing, 2nd wife of Mao


I decided to remain silent as I could see she was all worked up and determined to punish me, and any explanation would have been futile. Besides, I did like Dimpled Cheeks, mind you, just platonically, so I wasn’t going to dob on her by saying she was the author. And of course there was that rebellious streak in me ;-)

I thus found myself in a classic (but for me, terribly awkward) trap where the sins of a Chinese who hadn’t received Mandarin language education were to be exposed and punished, not unlike what Jiang Qing's Red Guards had iniquitously done to China’s academicians and top professionals during the bad old days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. We degenerates must be flogged (literally or figuratively) into admittance of our un-socialist or un-Chinese crimes to society.

In Peninsula Malaysia, the perceived sins or treachery of a Chinese Malaysian who wasn’t educated in Mandarin would be so unforgiving to the Chinese language Nazis that he/she would be described derogatorily as a ‘banana’ if not as a “chea ar-mor sai kooi”.

It doesn’t matter whether the one accused by those Mandarin Nazis speaks perfect Canto, Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese, etc, but the inability to speak Mandarin would condemn him/her, as I was, to being a ‘banana’ forever.

Truly a “t’a mah ter, wang pah tan” situation – sorry lah, no can translate as it’s very rude! But one digressing note here - strangely, unlike saucy Canto or versatile Teochew, Mandarin has very few obscene phrases. Probably those northern bastards must have led a bloody dull life, stupified into blasé tedium by the severe Arctic winters, wakakaka.

Some extreme haters of ‘bananas’ have gone further, even to extreme and outrageous accusations alleging that 'bananas' are all too ready to disown their Chinese heritage. They even employed the term ‘charm ch’ow tnooi keen’ (chop/rid the grass, break/eliminate the roots) to accuse the victim of severing all ties with one’s cultural-ethnic roots, but funnily enough for all their claimed cultural superiority, an aphorism incorrectly* applied.

* The Chinese maxim literally translates into ‘cut the grass by severing its roots’, advising that to rid the grass forever, so that they’ll sprout no more; one must destroy the roots. Thus the saying means destroying something totally and thoroughly by eliminating any of its potential for comeback, which (the underlined phrase) is the essential element. Thus this Chinese saying is usually used in connection with genocidal intent, as in eliminating all members of an enemy family to prevent future vendetta, or to thoroughly kill off a disease or illness to avoid recurrence.



The mentioned Chinese proverb in full is as follows:

斩草不除根,春风吹又生

(pinyin: zhǎn cǎo bù chú gēn, chūn fēng chuī yòu shēng)

Literally: If the roots are not removed during weeding, the weeds will grow again when the winds of Spring blows.

Moral:
1) It is essential to finish a task thoroughly or the effort would be wasted
2) To solve any problems, the source of the problem must also be dealt with.

So much for the cultural superiority of some psychopathic Mandarin-Nazis wakakaka.

Thus, to the Chinese headmistress who hates with a vengeance any Chinese kids attending national-school, a ‘banana’ like me must have my ‘yellow’ skin peeled back to expose my decadent non-Chinese ‘white’ core.

It was hardly surprising then that the prejudiced Jiang Qing-ish headmistress ignored the possibility that I was innocent, which I was and which I bet she knew. She wrote a damning letter to my mum about my alleged ‘sins’, for which I was given a severe belting plus an earful of how undedicated and ungrateful I was to waste good Unc’s financial support.

Much as Unc continued to have confidence in me and urged me not to give up, I decided I had enough of the Chinese Ilse Koch and left my Chinese education behind, which has been why I remain a ‘banana’.

While it was unlikely that I would have turned out to be an amazing Teochew (Chaozhou) opera star, it was possible that I could have become a world renowned Chinese (Mandarin) scholar famous for his love poems wakakaka. But thanks to that inquisitorial Malaysian Jiang Qing, I missed that opportunity to be the greatest Chinese muse, on par with Li Bai [sigh].



One morning, a few years after I left for good that private Chinese school because of the unjust headmistress, I met sweet Dimpled Cheeks in Paya Terubong, Ayer Itam, Penang. She was then thirteen, 2 years younger than me. More gorgeous than ever, she was unfortunately accompanied by her parents, obviously on a Sunday family outing at the Ayer Itam village market.

I thought her dimpled cheeks had grown rosier, probably flushing on seeing me, the dungu (dumbo) for whom she wrote those sweet innocent words, mind you, just to improve my Mandarin ;-).



Ariel Lin's sweet dimpled smile

I wonder whether she blushed because she regretted her sweet innocent impetuosity, or she was secretly excited to see me. Ah well, I pretended it was the latter wakakaka.

At that particular moment three short lines from Li Bai’s Changgan Song sprang to my mind:

At fifteen, my face lit up
in your company. I was willing
to have my ashes mixed with yours

Li Bai was China’s greatest poet and a Godzilla boozer. For years, under the influence of one of my uncles, I tried to imitate Li Bai’s lifestyle ... er ... I mean the boozing part, wakakaka, until I found out he drowned in a vat of wine, sob. Mind you, it was not a bad way to go ;-).




Back to Dimpled Cheeks - After I left the Chinese school, while growing up as a teenager (and becoming more aware of girls), I would sometimes think of her in the night before I slept, which would then bring to mind a poem of the late Tang, that of Wei Zhuang’s Last Night:


In the depths of last night
I saw you in the dream.
We murmured on and on -
your face flushing again like a peach blossom,
your eyebrows arching like long graceful willow leaves.

Half shy, ecstatic,
you tarried at parting -
Waking up
overwhelms me in sadness.


Hmmm, I wonder whether she did tarry at our parting on that morning, wakakaka. Hah, perhaps something from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (Act 1, scene 5, 44 - 54) would not have been out of order:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hands upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellow shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night

Sadly, I haven’t seen her again since that occasion, in which case another of Wei Zhuang’s poem, Thousands of Knots at Heart, would be appropriate:

No letter has come from you
for half a year: One inch
of separation grief,
thousands of knots in the heart.
It’s easy to part but not easy
to meet. Again,
the jade abode is covered
in the willow catkins like snow.

There’s no describing how I miss you.
Melancholy comes with the mist and the moon
in the evening. Overwhelmed
at the thought of you, I raise
my red sleeves soaked in tears.


Of course I couldn’t read much Chinese save a few words, like those three which Dimpled Cheeks wrote for me ;-), but I did learn/absorb Chinese tradition, culture, myths and folklore and history from my elders. Being a ‘banana’ was never a socio-cultural disadvantage though, like most pursuits, we can always do better.


Romance of the 3 Kingdoms


And Unc was good enough to buy me the English versions of the 300 Poems of Tang Dynasty and various other classics, including the Big Four – Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey to the West and Dreams of the Red Chamber. But damn, Unc refused to let me have a copy of the Plum in the Golden Vase because I was then not yet an adult :( 


108 heroes of Water Margin

So, if am the 'banana' those Mandarin Nazis insulted me as, has that diminished the Chinese identity in me? Well, readers, you tell me.


Dreams of the Red Chamber


Now, I do observe Chinese festivals, and at mum’s insistence (just to please her when she was alive) religious or traditional rites.

For example, I celebrate mid Autumn festival, Chinese New Year, Chap Goh Meh, and all the festivals that Penangites love, and even (for moi, an atheist) religious ones like 7th Moon (Ghost) festival and its saucy Koe Tai (Ge Dai) wakakaka.



Journey to the West


When I was in Malaya, I enjoyed participating in the very stern Kew Ong Eah (9 Emperor Gods) birthday rites and the trek up Cheng Jee Chan (1,200 steps) to the 9 Emperor Gods’ temple on a Paya Terubong hill, various Tua Peh Kong birthday celebrations in Penang and the inevitable Teochew operas.

I observed (together with my mum while she was alive) the Cheng Beng rites of visiting and cleaning my grandparents’ and father’s graves.

In Penang, one cannot but help know when Cheng Beng arrives because the angsana blooms would be scattered all along Scotland Road and Western Road. The Angsana trees (Pterocarpus indicus) are known as pokok sena in Malay.




Penangites called the magnificent golden blooms Cheng Beng Hwa, which means ‘flowers of Cheng Beng’. The name also carries an ominous significance as the blooms on the roads during or after rain can prove to be perilously slippery to motorcyclists, as kaytee had discovered in his younger days.

Hey, before I conclude, let’s return to my memories of sweet Dimpled Cheeks. As I thought of her at the market, then a sweet 13, I dedicated 3 of Du Mu’s lines on Parting to her:

Slender, supple, she’s just thirteen,
the tip of a cardamom bud
in early spring

And perhaps, nostalgically, the second and third stanzas of Yan Jidao’s Florid Sleeves as my everlasting dedication to my childhood school friend, sweet Dimpled Cheeks:


How I have since missed you,
dreaming of meeting you again and again.

Tonight, I keep turning the silver lamp
to your face. Oh, we are really together,
yet I’m afraid we’re meeting
in a recurring dream.




1 comment:

暗番仔 said...

ว่า,真坦白。