I was chatting to a (super hot) girl today, and we got talking about our Grandmothers (That’s how I tune chicks alright?!).
We both grew up with our Grandmothers in our lives. For me, from the time I was a baby (We lived in Jordan, Hong Kong) to the time she passed when I was in my final year of highschool (in Hornsby, Sydney, Australia). She was an amazingly resilient woman. I only ever saw her cry once in those 18 years that I lived with her.
My Grammy spoke loudly and often, with her thick Toi San accent (an accent that I love to this day). Even though she spent close to 40 years in Hong Kong, she didn’t bother learning Cantonese. I remember even in Australia, she would walk to the local newsagency that sold the Chinese language ‘Sing Tao Daily’ and speak to the caucasian lady there in Chinese. She would often come home after her walk and tell everyone, loudly and completely convinced, that the ‘gwei por’ (white lady) at the newsagent was beginning to understand ‘Hoi Thaan Wa’ (Toi San Language).
Grammy wasn’t actually my grandmother though. She was my Great Aunt. She single-handedly raised my father and my older Aunt Shirley (Goo Ma) from the time they were young children.
I distinctly remember hearing the one story from my Grammy first hand. It was around 1994 and I was sitting in her room on these classically Chinese fold out stools. They had black metal legs that squeaked every time you unfolded them. They were topped off with a round, reddish pink and white ‘sunset skies’ themed motif seat on top. She told me how she had only intended to take my older Aunt back to Hong Kong with her and leave my Father, and my younger aunt and uncle in communist China with their parents (My biological grandparents). She had already walked through the barriers holding my Aunt Shirley’s hand and had turned around to wave one last goodbye when she noticed my 4 yr old Father breaking free from the clasp of his mother’s hand and running through the gates towards them. And that was how my Dad ended up in Hong Kong. Lucky for him too, he was actually a very sick child but for my Grandmother’s care and funds that allowed him grow into adulthood. I suspect that is one reason that my biological grandparents didn’t fight too hard to get him back. He was pretty much knocking on death’s door. It is hard to imagine something like that happening these days, but I have only her account to go off.
I’ve been told that I came to calling her my Grandmother when I first started to talk. One of the first words I said, very naturally and completely unprompted, was calling her ‘MaMa’, which is the Cantonese for Grandmother. I believe this mistake on my part solidified my place as her favourite of all time. Yep, I was Winning from an early age.
Grammy was the first born of her family, in 1910 in Toi San, Southern China. That means she was born when China still had an emperor. As with all the girls from the ‘Bak Sa’ Wong Clan, she married a boy from the next village, always from the Ma Clan. They had one child, a boy, she never told anyone his name though. He died in childhood. Her husband left to do business in America shortly afterwards, but he died over in San Francisco before he got a chance to see his wife again. But he was busy over there, he managed to gain citizenship and a earned handsome annuity which was passed onto my Grammy upon his death. My Grandmother lived to see the first Chinese Republic, then the Communist takeover. She was also part of the first wave of migrants to move to Hong Kong as a young woman, and was also witness to the Japanese occupation of the area.
Its amazing to think that within one generation, she witnessed the transformation of a 3rd world fishing village into a modern 1st world financial superpower.