Monday, May 18, 2015

Faith in filial piety restored

WHEN I spotted a photograph of my thirty-something-year-old friend “dating” a ninety-something-year-old man on social media, I was curious.
Reading the caption “Paktoh-ing (Cantonese for going on a date) with grandpa”, my curiosity was satisfied and I was inspired. It turned out that she was taking her grandfather out for a treat at one of the posh restaurants near where she lived.
It was a rare sight, at least in the city these days.
Young people nowadays are simply too busy to spend time with their aged parents, let alone take their grandparents out.
It was heart-warming to see my friend’s photograph of her outing with her grandfather — an expression of filial piety, a virtue perhaps as rare as chivalry is in modern times.
Upon asking, my friend said that she had been taking her grandfather, 97, out whenever she could. Be it a stroll in the park, a treat at the restaurants or simply window-shopping, it was something she did quite regularly.
She was working in Europe and had returned to Malaysia for a long holiday to simply spend as much time as she could with her grandfather.
“When we were kids, my grandparents took care of my younger sister and I, as well as our cousins.
“My parents had just started out in life and they both had to work. The only time my sister and I saw our parents was in the evenings when they came to have dinner at my grandparents’ home,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that my sister and I moved back to stay with our parents. Even so, we still went to our grandparents’ to have lunch after school daily.”
When I praised her for her efforts, she said she did not think much of it because she had always been very close to her grandparents.
I told her it was not easy to care for the elderly. It takes a lot of patience, understanding, and love. She replied that she did it because she found it to be a privilege to do so.
“People cheer when a baby learns to walk. But nobody takes notice when a ninety-year-old guy wakes up every day and takes the trouble to continue living with cheerfulness.
“People are willing to walk with their kids in spring but why not with the elderly in their twilight years?
“Most of us regard filial piety as taking care of one’s aged parents. But these days, people live longer. So, shouldn’t filial piety be extended to taking care of our grandparents as well?”
Talking to her, my faith in the younger generation being filial was strengthened.
Many years ago, my wife and I lived two doors away from an elderly man who lived with his son and daughter-in-law.
His only son was a successful business man and his daughter-in-law was a housewife who had the luxury of giving up her career to spend her time in leisure. Their three daughters too, were well known in the neighbourhood as they had the privilege of studying in top schools where they were top students.
My wife and I were used to seeing the neighbours bringing the old man food at different times of the day. But we didn’t pay much attention to it until one of the food bearers told us the truth.
Apparently the old man was not allowed to cook at home by his daughter-in-law. If there was any cooking to be done, she would do it. Otherwise, she would buy street food for him.
However, on many occasions when his daughter-in-law was out of the house, to fetch her children back home from school or had an appointment outside, the old man had to wait until she came home to cook before he could have a proper meal.
It was during such times that these kindly neighbours would be the 70-something-year-old man’s saviour.
Sometimes, they brought him rice. At other times, some kuih or tidbits. Just so that he could eat something while he waited for his daughter-in-law to come home.
I once had a conversation with the old man when he walked by my house to have a smoke because he was not allowed to smoke in the vicinity of his own home.
In that brief encounter, our topic of conversation veered to that of my children. He advised me to bring my children up well and teach them to be respectful to their elders, not just give them academic education alone.
“You have to also instill filial piety in your children or you will not have not done your job well as a parent,” he said as he went on to share with me the woes of his life.
He said he regretted not instilling filial piety in his son after the death of his wife. He also blamed himself of having spent too much time trying to make ends meet that he neglected the basic things he should have taught his son.
He felt that because he neglected his duties, he was paying the price for his ignorance.
Consoling himself, he said at least he was luckier than some people as he still had a home to go back to and was not chased out of the house to sleep in the streets or spend his days in a nursing home.
When I asked him about his three grandchildren, with whom he was staying, the old man’s tears welled up in his eyes, I recall clearly.
He said they could not tolerate his presence, sometimes treating him like he did not exist and were often rude to him. I asked him if their parents did not scold them for being rude to him, the old man just shook his head.
“When as parents, they do not treat their parents well, how will their children learn to treat their grandparents any better?” .
Several weeks after having that conversation, news came that the old man had died in his sleep.
His funeral was a lavish affair and those who did not know of the old man’s inner sufferings remarked to me that he had lived a good life, obviously measured by the material success of his children and grandchildren.
I wanted to tell one of them the truth but decided not to. Lessons such as this was meant to be learned, often the hard way.
These days, whenever I see parents showering their kids with the material things in life, I offer a silent prayer that the children will grow up to remember and repay their parents’ deeds with the same generosity when the latter are in their twilight years. Otherwise, all their parents’ life-long efforts would have been in vain, wouldn’t it?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Batu Gajah's twin sentinels

This sketch was done by the roadside, the main thoroughfare in March this year. See the black car? It was posing to be a very dangerous partner. 

I came across a pair of wooden houses in Jalan Pusing, Batu Gajah, Perak, as I was driving into town. The duo stood by the main road and were built on raised ground. Like sentinels of time left alone by development, they reminded me of those I have stepped into in Kuala Terengganu back in the 1960s.

These houses are well-ventilated because they were made of timber and had raised floors. During the day, the grilles allow air to move freely. Sunshades were also part of the building to keep strong morning sun out. The roof, if I am not mistaken, comprised asbestos-cement sheets, which also made these houses cooler during the day.

To prevent dampness from seeping into the timber stilts which were used to hold up the house, they were placed on cement block footings. This ingenious building method allows the house owner to detect any intrusion by termites and prevent water seepage which would eventually cause the stilts to rot. In some such houses, the airy space beneath the house is used for hanging clothes during rainy weather. Cars and bikes are also parked within. If you notice, this one had a small storage or garage built beside it.  

There are not many such similar structures around the country and I have not seen one like these two for many years. As such I decided to stop and do a sketch of one of the houses. I did not do a full painting because of the location from where I was seated. It was just at the side of the road that was the main thoroughfare. The cars being driven into Batu Gajah town were not slowing down and from where I sat, it would be difficult for them to spot me as they made the approach.

Just as I was about to finish the sketch, a local drove his Proton right into the tiny space by the road in front of where I was seated. Luckily his wife spotted me and asked him to reverse so as not to obstruct my view. I decided to finish the sketch quickly and get out because the car was dangerously perching on the side of the road and inviting an accident.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Curious story of gratitude

I WAS at my in-laws’ home in Malacca recently when the house phone rang. The caller wanted to speak with my father-in-law who was then taking a bath. When I asked the man if he would like to call back, he requested that I take a message instead. With a pen and paper in hand, I told him to begin.
To my surprise, he rattled off with a list of sundry goods. Thinking he was mistaken, I explained that my father-in-law had stopped operating his sundry shop more than five years ago. The caller said he knew that but added he had been ordering provisions from him all these years.
Not knowing what was pre-agreed between the caller and my father-in-law, I took the order.
When my father-in-law was done with his bath, I told him about the phone call and promptly passed him the slip of paper containing a list of several household items the caller wanted. Curious, I asked him about the caller.
My father in law said that the man was a long-time customer who lived 12km away. He had been ordering his monthly provisions despite knowing my father-in-law had ceased his business. When I asked my father-in-law why he continued to fulfil the man’s orders, he told me this story.
My father-in-law got to know this customer forty years ago when he was starting out in the sundry business. At that time, the man was a trishaw pedaller and the sole breadwinner of a family of seven.
He used to pedal his trishaw all the way from his home to my father-in-law’s shop every month to shop for his household needs. Sometimes he had cash at hand to pay for the provisions. Other times, my father-in-law gave him the goods on credit.
When he took groceries on credit, he would settle the payment within a month or two. Sometimes, he took six months, but he never reneged on his debt.
Years later, when his kids grew up and found their own jobs, the combined household income improved, allowing the man to move out of his dilapidated wooden shack into a brick house and lead a better life.
However, he still continued to make the monthly trip to my father-in-law’s shop. Sometimes he would come to the shop with his wife on his motorcycle. Other times, he would place an order through phone. My father-in-law would then deliver the goods. The arrangement has continued till this day.
I asked my father-in-law “wouldn’t it be easier to ask your long-time customer to just shop at one of the big hypermarkets in his area?
“The costs incurred from buying and delivering the goods are hardly worth the meagre profits you make.”
With a laugh, my father-in-law said that he would continue to deliver his last customer’s orders until the latter stopped ordering. He reasoned that it would keep him occupied now, since he was free. But more importantly, he said, he owed this man a debt of gratitude.
“This man bought from me at a time when I needed his business,” my father-in-law explained.
“He could have chose to buy his provisions from other sundry shops in the area, yet, he did not. Instead he would cycle all the way from his home to our shop.
“When I first stopped my business, it was he who bought whatever stock I had left. I thought he would stop once all leftover goods were sold but he didn’t.
“He continued to order from me till this day and I will continue to deliver to him as long as I am able to and as long as he wants to order.”
I was glad I answered the phone call from my father-in-law’s last customer that afternoon. If I had not, like many of his neighbours, I would have missed out on the wisdom in what appeared to be a 75-year-old man’s folly.
These days, how many of us remember to be thankful for the little things we have, let alone show gratitude for the events and people who led us to this station of life?
 At a glance, what my father-in-law did was honourable but unprofitable. But the wisdom in it was definitely a much needed lesson on loyalty.