Treasured blessed memories
By Ai Hiong Sim
My father Ling Mook Siew migrated to Malaya from Mainland China before the Second World War and settled in Kampong China, Sitiawan where he built a wooden house for the family. Behind was a plot of land divided into two sections, where he reared chickens, ducks and pigs; the other section he planted vegetables. My father was a simple, kind, honest and hardworking man; no job was too menial for him.
He harvested his vegetables and tied them in small bundles. It was my job to sell the vegetables, carrying them in a basket and going from house to house, getting up early in the morning, before I went to school which often made me late.
My classmates would make fun of me chanting in a chorus, “The vegetable girl has come!” One day I came home from school crying. My father asked me what happened and I told him I didn’t want to go to school anymore.
The next day he insisted on taking me to school and asked my form teacher for permission to speak to the class. “Who has been teasing my darling daughter and calling her names?”
In a kind voice he continued, “Don’t look down on us because we are poor.
We are thankful that we can work with our two hands, and not have to depend on others or go around to borrow money.
I am very proud of my daughter who is willing to help me sell vegetables to bring in some extra income to feed the family. Now, don’t you dare call my daughter names or tease her again.” With that he thanked the teacher, leaving the whole class dumbfounded!
From that day on, I held my head high. My father had helped me conquer my inferiority complex and my classmates stopped calling me names.
My father worked part-time helping fishermen in Pangkor Island. Very early in the morning he would board a bus to the jetty in Lumut where he would take a boat to the fishing village. Sometimes he followed the fishermen for deep-sea fishing; other times he would just help to wash the nets and sort out the fish for sale. The boss was always very kind to him and he would come home with a big hook of small fish for my mother to cook. That’s how fish has always remained a favourite dish in our family.
My father also learned to dress wounds. He had a metal box which he carried around on his bicycle, like a big first-aid box with cotton wool, bandage, scissors, tapes, creams and other lotions. He was nicknamed “the dress-wound-man”. He was very popular in the village. When people couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, they would come and see my father, and he would dress their wounds. They would normally give him a small sum of money as a token of appreciation; but if they couldn’t afford it, my father wouldn’t fuss. He was happy to be able to help people with their problems. Our family was very proud of him.
Another odd job my father had was pushing around a small wooden cart which carried containers filled with sweets, biscuits, nuts and other snacks. He also had an ice crushing machine. With this he shaved ice to make ice balls and ice-kachang which was a combination of red beans, corn kernels, and jelly pieces mixed with syrup. These were very popular, especially among children; so on hot days there would always be long queues waiting. My father taught us the value of money and the pride of working in any honest job.
Father had a circle of friends who met for coffee every morning. He would ride his bicycle and park it under a tree. There he and his friends would drink coffee, read the papers and discuss current affairs. You can imagine what lessons we all had when he returned home. One day my father fell from his bicycle and was badly hurt. I locked his bicycle and hid the key grounding him. One afternoon I heard the sound of a motorbike outside our house and someone calling, “Are you still there, Mook Siew? We haven’t seen you for a week, so I’ve come to check to see if you are still alive!” I heard my father reply, “Of course I’m still alive! I had a fall and was hurt so my daughter locked my bicycle and hid the key!” His friend took him on his motorbike and off they went – for coffee!
Love in action
When I was teaching in Penang, he would take a bus to visit me and spend some quality time with me. The bus journey took more than two hours one way. He had to take a bus to a town called Bruas, where he would catch another bus to Butterworth; then take the ferry to Penang. From there he would either walk or take another bus to where I was renting a room.
If he was early, he would wait there until I came home from school.
Then we would have lunch together and he would give me all the news from home. After a short nap, he would make his way home – the same way he came. That was enough to tell me that he loved me! In between his visits, we corresponded through letters.
Because I don’t read or write Chinese, my father had to go to a petition-writer and pay him a small sum to write me a letter in English. Then when he received my letters, the petition-writer would translate them to him in Chinese. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t file his letters.
My father looked after my sick mother day and night. Sometimes when she had to be hospitalised, he would stay with her at the hospital all day. I was teaching then; but when school was over, I would rush to the hospital so that he could have some lunch and take a nap which he did sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall.
I slept on a small canvas bed near my mother in the night so that my father could go home and have a good sleep. Those were very difficult days for us, and it really took a toll on my health. After five years my mother lost her battle with cancer, leaving us heartbroken and devastated.
My father and I were very close and we were not afraid to share our feelings and emotions. He missed my mother and was not afraid to cry whenever he was reminded of her. I recall a chat we had one day when I was home for the holidays. He asked me to pray for his health as he was getting on in years. He told me to pray specifically that when it was time for him to go, he would not suffer like my mother. He wanted God to take him home peacefully.
One evening my brother Sing Ching and his family brought my father the evening meal while he was weeding in the garden.
After the meal, he asked Sing Ching to bathe him because he felt weak and tired.
My brother felt something was not right so after father had gone to bed, he called me and my other two brothers Sing Wong and Sing Chai in Singapore, suggesting that we should go home speedily.
I was not in the best of health, as I was recovering from a major surgery. When I got home, my father was asleep. I went to his side and prayed for him. I had never been able to talk to someone about God or pray in my dialect as I was educated in English. I knew my father had attended churc
h all his life and was reading his Bible, but I needed to know if he had received Jesus as his personal Saviour.
That day God gave me the gift of language just for that occasion.
When my father woke from his sleep, he recognised me. Tears rolled down his cheeks and I held his hands. Then I asked him in our Hockchiang dialect, if he was afraid to die. He was too weak to speak, but he shook his head. Then I asked him if he had received Jesus as his Saviour. He nodded his head.
I grasped his hands tightly and told him that if God wanted to take him home, he would go to heaven, and that was where my mother already was.
I also told him that as a Christian I have the hope that when it’s my turn to die, I would meet him and my mother again in heaven. I held him tight and we cried.
After I prayed for him, I asked him to go back to sleep, and assured him that I would be nearby.
He never woke up again. God took him home peacefully – the answer to our prayers.
Every now and then something would remind me of my father and I would miss him. I no longer grieve, but I thank God for the wonderful memories I treasure of him, and I thank God for giving me such a loving, caring, and wonderful father.
Ai Hiong is a retired teacher and lives in Perth with her husband Sim Tong Seng. She is a regular contributor of our website.
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