Whispers from the heart

Ocassional conversations with my heart. Never heart-wrenching and heart-breaking. Always light-hearted and hearty. Ever thankful for your heart-felt support.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My father, the peasant from China ...

My father passed on two decades ago. I missed him still.
He was a padi farmer from a little village in Guangzhou. With an even smaller plot of land. So small, his family needed only an ox to do the ploughing.
He had an older brother who was wheelchair-bound. He had no schooling and only knew how to work the fields, from morning to evening, everyday.
Times were tough and got worse when his parents forced him to take a wife for an extra pair of hands around the house. The wife was a gambler who ran away shortly, after amassing a huge gambling debt. Father was devastated. His parents died shortly, leaving him alone with his brother to fend for themselves. He was not even twenty.
One day, in a moment of anger, desperation and angst, he hoisted the skinny and bony ox (the only asset in the family) and flung him a few metres away. The poor animal had refused to work, probably due to old age and hunger. That was the final straw my old man could take. Sadly, the ox (his only friend) left him too.
So, at twenty, he entrusted his older brother to a fellow villager and headed south. He heard about a place called "南洋" or Nanyang where he could find some work. How? He didn't really know.
He stowed away on a boat with fifty others in a little cabin. No food, only water because that's what they could pay for.
When he arrived at the promised land, he was hungry, weak and infested with lice all over. He knew no one and eventually ended up in a dark, deserted alley in Chinatown. He was practically dying.He wanted to take his life and end it all, quickly. He hadn't had much in life in all his twenty years before and the present seemed worse. He wasn't a man with much hope then.
A total stranger, an uncle Liu (we always addressed him so but I don't really know his name) took a wrong turn, that night, and ended up in that alley where a young man laid dying. Uncle Liu took him home; nursed him, fed him and found him a job as a sailor using some dead man's papers.
A year later, my father met a local girl and married her. He was not rich, not even getting by in the average sense. Sailors were not really well-paid and their work was contractual. Sometimes, he got to work on a ship for a month. There were also many months when there was nothing to do but waiting at the shipping agents' offices for work offers.
They had several children and I am the third offspring. Very often, Father would visit Uncle Liu with his whole family in tow. The visits were boring to me initially. When we were older, my mother would relate my father's story to us with him sitting beside her, nodding quietly. Everytime, My mother would crack up laughing as she described animatedly how Father carried the poor ox doing an "incredible hulk" and smashed the poor thing to his death. Despite the laughing, I began to understand why uncle Liu was important to our family.
Father used to tell us stories from his trips and life in China. Through his stories, he taught us much. I had never heard a harsh word from him. Nor have I seen him angry even when he had quarrels with my mum (over the lack of money, mostly).
Yes, we had little money. Sometimes, we only had plain rice for our meals or a little tauhuey (bean curd, minus the syrup) to go with it.
There were also times when my mother brought me to visit uncle Liu when Father was away. The wages from the shipping company had not arrived and she had to borrow from uncle Liu to make ends meet while waiting. My mum told me Father would not be happy if he found out she had "inconvenienced" uncle Liu. My mum said borrowing is an act of last resort. We must always try our best to cope first.
So, we grew up in such days. Life got a little better as jobs were more available due to a better economy. We even managed some meagre savings, sometimes.
Once, Father tried to learn to speak English so that he could get jobs on "angmo ships". I was in primary four and doing very well in school, then. I helped him along but after six months or so, he still couldn't get past " Sit down, please".
Perhaps, I was not a competent teacher. Both my parents had self-taught themselves to read chinese without a day of formal schooling. But, english was a different ball game, I guess.
I tell everyone Father did very well in life. He was not wealthy and had not achieved much. But, he left behind a legacy of values and principles to enrich his children's lives. That is priceless.
Unfortunately, this is not the basic point of this nostalgic post. And if there was any brutal truth to be learnt, it was that Father would have died if no one gave him a helping hand in his weakest moment.
I don't understand all those theories about why the fittest should survive. I only believe that everyone is born with a mission to bring forth life and celebrate its wonders. It is sad if we endorse others dying for our living.
Savages can't get any worse than this.


  • At 5:05 AM, Blogger Azmodeus said…

    While I may not know your father personally, nor the uncle Liu which you had mentioned. Yet, it is the human heart that links us all, in times of adversity, its when one whom chooses to lend his hand to another human, that shows us that humanity have that compassion and alruism to stand for up for another.

    If there's any truth to be learned, that is we don't have to celebrate the living for someone's death or the dying.

    Nice post, regards.

  • At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Craftsman said…

    I agree with all of my heart. Thanks for a poignant post. Now, if only some people would read this and be reminded of their basic human decency.

  • At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Man killed by train at Clementi MRT station By Noor Mohd Aziz, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 30 October 2006 2225 hrs


  • At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ''When you look into the eyes of another and you see your own soul looking back at you, then you will know you have reached another state of consciousness.''

    I can only feel sorry for elite and uncaring snobs. Inspite of all their education and wealth, they choose to be heartless and clueless.

    Thank god for the enlightened people like Uncle Liu.

  • At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi nice post, really moved by this story and most uplifing is the morale of the story.

    I always amaze ppl like you have such talent on penning down your view point in a simple and conscise manner.

    Keep on blogging

  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger sei-ji rakugaki said…

    my granny, the peasant came from china too;) and I guess even for the elites, their forefathers were from other countries and it was push factors that made them came to this little island , for better fortunes. But along the way, I guess we have forgotten them and everthing is about cents and dollars, how to be "cost effective" as one minister just said.poignant post..

  • At 4:51 PM, Anonymous amatu said…

    This just show the current uncaring and ungracious singapore society singaporeans have to face.

    Maybe GCT could have led the country in the right direction without the "mentorship" of LKY for his aim to create a gracious society. His life went downhill ever since the uphill in his career. Sad...

  • At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for sharing your father's story with us. Like you I too came from peasant's stock. Your Uncle Liu is a man with a great big heart. His legacy of compassion, empathy and humanity in extending a helping hand to a poor starving stranger down on his luck certainly live on in the descendants of this one man. You and your family are very lucky to have known a person such as Uncle Liu.

  • At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Farmercee said…

    Many thanks for sharing this story with us. I totally agree that compassion and altruism is what that sets us apart from beasts. Survival of the fittest may be the "natural course" but humanity should transcend that.

    On a side note, I wish I had tried harder to understand my grandparents when they were sharing their life stories with me.... sigh

  • At 7:48 PM, Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said…

    I believe many of us have parents or grandparents who were migrants escaping poverty in their respective home countries.

    Singapore has achieved "1st world" at great cost. We have lost much of our soul even as we gained relative economic prosperity. Now even the fruits of that prosperity are unevenly distributed with the pyramid led by the elites earning the most while the rest of the proletariat scramble for the scraps that are left over.

    We can make a difference, volunteer your time with a volunteer-welfare organisation (VWO).

    I help out in CDAC once a week to teach in a reading program for children aged 6-7 years. I do believe in liberating the minds of our future generation.

    We can make a small difference to touch others lives. Just touch 1 life this year!

  • At 6:45 PM, Anonymous 40+ Singaporean said…

    Whispers, I only came across your blog last night. I read and commented on a number of your posts. They were all good in different ways.

    This one brought tears to my eyes.

    The difference between someone like you and WSM (and I don't mean to compare you with her, it is a grave injustice to you, but use this to illustrate my point) is that you have lived through and know someone close who had lived through difficult times that the young woman would never comprehend, from her vantage point.

    Our president in opening parliament recently commented on the need for compassion, as reported in the papers today. I very much doubt we will get there, as a nation, any time soon. Our government machineries and government servants (it should rightly read citizen servants, as I pointed out in my other comment in another post) is so caught up with efficiency improvements, compassion is not a value our policies are developed based on nor provisions made for. We will become a first world country without a soul, if we carry on this way.

    While LKY and his peers may have been good leaders in setting the course of development for the country, let's not forget that they could never have done it without the collective effort of many who have very humble backgrounds, like your folks, mine and hundreds of thousands others both locals and migrants, like your dad and your uncle Liu.

  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger Whispers from the heart said…

    Thanks for everyone's comments.

    I hope I have touched some hearts amongst us to appreciate that everyone has a role in our society.

    There is no such thing as a complement. Though we may be rewarded differently in economic terms, we are all no less important from one another.

    I tell my son all these grandfather stories, so he could learn to empathise with the less priveleged.

    I also hope the government will come to realise that it has a duty to everyone, especially during our twilight years and times of hardship. Not everyone is blessed with a plain sailing journey always. Not everyone develops a clutch mentality. The government must find the wisdom to rule. The first 40 years may be easy. The next won't be. Simple formulas won't work for a developed country.

  • At 4:30 AM, Anonymous 40+ Singaporean said…

    Well said!

    Ever consider a career in politics? I'll vote for you! ;)

  • At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Kudos to your father!


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