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.