Mama, was what I called my paternal grandmother. She passed away at the grand old age of 94 on 2nd February 2015 (she would have been 95 in July), and it’s taken me a while to finally confront my feelings and pen down my thoughts about her.
For as long as I’ve known her, 35 years, my mama has always been this solid woman. She was widowed at the age of 64, and continued to raise this large family of hers for the next 30 years. She never remarried, never dated, and always shed a tear or two when we mention my yeye (grandfather) to her.
She has 7 children, 13 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren (and all the in-laws who married to us Leongs). And so it is for all of us that she cooks for every Sunday, till she suffered a stroke a few years ago. She would cook up a storm for the 30-odd members of our family, with such flavourful dishes like her prawn paste steamed pork, steamed egg with salted and century egg, and traditional soups that the Cantonese are so famous for. Till this day, none of us have been able to live up to this feat of feeding us with such gusto and finesse. She would even prepare dessert, usually red bean or green bean soup, which I was not very fond of as a child.
She would be walking around the house, carrying hot bowls of dessert and offering it to us. Whenever I rejected her offer, she would stare at me and then start chiding me loudly for not wanting to even try it as it was good for me, so she said.
I could not communicate with her very much, as my Cantonese was only so-so. Even then, ‘so-so’ was a generous description of my calibre in the dialect. She would then lament, “Hai, gung3 fu3 yan3 mm3 sek4 gong2 gong3 fu3 wah3.” Translation: Sigh, Cantonese but cannot speak cantonese. That, I could fully understand. No amount of watching Cantonese dramas could save me from being the language pariah that I was, even though I fully appreciated the beauty of the dialect.
In recent years, communication with my mama was through my daughter. Her face would light up whenever she saw Clare (whom she called ‘Carrot’), and they would have this little dialogue that they say to each other every time:
Clare: 太婆，我爱你, 你爱我吗？/ Great grandma, I love you, do you love me?
Mama: 爱。我爱你。/ Love. I love you.
This was something that my father instituted, and it’s only now that I fully appreciate the impact of it. It gave my mama and my daughter an opportunity to interact more than the usual, ‘hello’, ‘bye bye’ and asking her to eat (the Chinese way of paying respect to our elders).
A few months before her passing, my mama decided to shake things up a little by responding with a loud “不爱 / don’t love” and proceeds to smile cheekily. My mama, she was blessed with a sound mind till the end, and was always quick to partake in a cheeky moment.
I am one of the youngest grand children (fourth from the last), and I always thought she would not take much notice of me. But she knew I took pictures and made TV shows. She knew I travelled a lot for work. That meant a lot to me given that I chose to take the alternative route in media, instead of the family’s strength in engineering, accounting and other hotshot careers like medicine and law.
In my adult years though, and no longer with the clarity of a hot-headed, impulsive teenager, I have come to realise how much influence my mama has in all our lives, direct or otherwise. Her quirks, her strengths, have all been passed on through the generations, which I really appreciate. I can only wish I live up to most of these qualities.
She was highly independent. She hated imposing on people. Whenever we visited anyone together, she would start corralling everyone to leave even before we could warm the seat. She also wanted to do everything by herself. In her latter years, she suffered a few falls because she was climbing up and down shelves, trying to get to the attic. She would hurt her back in various forms, but you will see her back at it again in no time.
Yes, you could also say that she was incredibly stubborn. Nothing stopped her. Nothing got in her way. If she wanted to do something, she will get it done. If she didn’t want to do something, no amount of coaxing or forcing would get her to change her mind. In the hospital, I would spend a at least an hour trying to get her to take one sip of water, to no success. Not even the charms of little Carrot worked.
A week before she died, I was at the hospital with her when the physiotherapist came around. She was doing her walking exercises, and the therapist put a walking stick on the floor to encourage her to lift her leg up to cross it (simulating a stair). My grandmother, while being held up by her helpers, decided that it was far easier to just kick the walking stick out of the way. Hey, it actually makes sense, doesn’t it? After her series of strokes, she refused to use a zimmerframe or a walking stick to aid in her walking, and would slowly make her way around independently.
But let me tell you, she was a very classy lady till the end. She kept her head held high, hair combed neatly, and was impeccably grand whenever she donned her cheongsams. She hated it whenever we laughed too loudly, especially us girls. She would wander out of the kitchen to complain about how unbecoming of ladies we were by being so boisterous.
Mama was also extremely Type A or had major OCD. Everything had to be neat. She would whip away our plates and bowls as soon as we are done with dinner. She would fastidiously pack our shoes at the door every Sunday. And as my cousin, Simon, recently reminded me, we would then end up spending a few good minutes searching for our footwear when it was time to go home. Only to find them tucked neatly under the shoe rack. She used to perch Clare’s little shoes right on top of the shoe cupboard too. She kept that up right till the end, even when she was barely mobile. Like I said, she had to have her way and could not stand when things are messy.
I’ve always loved all that about my mama. Her strength, her stubbornness, her gentility, and most importantly, doing a damn fine job at raising her children.
I took this photo of my grandmother, which is my favourite of her.
I am happy that she is finally reunited with my grandfather, the greatest love of her life. I am also thankful that her passing was not a long drawn out affair and that she did not suffer in the lead up to it.
While she had a long and beautiful life, I still wish that we had that little bit more time with her. I miss her very much, and I am incredibly sad that she’s not at her usual spot at the dining table, when we go back for dinner at her place.
My daughter turns nine this year. She is onto her third year in primary school, and the feedback I have been getting in the first month already is about making sure she’s motivated.
That sounds like a polite way of saying, ‘Your daughter needs help, fast!’
I struggled to understand my daughter and her ‘school style’ the first couple of years. Whenever she had to learn spelling or do homework, any activity that would require her to spend at least five minutes to sit down and concentrate, she would precede it with a huge meltdown that would last for at least half an hour to an hour. Only after much tears from her end and frustration from my end, she would then breeze right through her work and get it done.
This was frustrating as to my best memory, my childhood was not like that. Every day, I would have some form of tuition, or enrichment activity. On top of that, I would have to also independently complete my homework, practice piano (for at least an hour), and read. I did not have my parents coaching me through piano or rushing home from work to test me on my spelling. And I even found plenty of time to read.
She did an about turn in her attitude towards work, when we had an informal study group recently with my cousins’ children. Only then did she realise that she wasn’t the only one tortured by the amount of work she has been given, and that everyone else has plenty of work to do, some more than her! After that, she has picked up the slack considerably, improved on her handwriting and tries her very best to stay on top of things.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And on the occasion, she still forgets to hand in her homework or has incomplete work, especially when it requires a bit of perseverance to complete the task.
I saw her teacher in school again this morning, and again, she kept saying, ‘Clare’s very adorable, but she really needs to be motivated.’
But really, what is motivation? I’ve coaxed, cajoled, dangled rewards, punished, yelled, smiled with gritted teeth, spanked, hugged, left little reminders… all of which fail to achieve the very effect that I was hoping to, which is… my mini me. (But then again, I could really be laying on too high a set of expectations on her.)
And when you break it all down, it all boils down to this little infographic that I made:
The age-old topic of hard vs soft parenting style.
As ‘new age’ parents, we subscribe to parenting styles that we can label, such as attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, natural parenting, tiger parenting, free range parenting, serenity parenting… which is unlike our parents’ time when they simply just parent.
There is no right or wrong to parenting, and I’ve always believed that every parent should choose the path that is comfortable for them and beneficial for the child. I took the good from my childhood, dropped the bad and try to mix it up with my personal style of how I would like to bring my child up.
I am consciously aware that I sometimes overcompensate on areas that I felt were deficit while growing up. Which could very well have resulted in my daughter turning out to be quite different from me when I was her age.
As a child, I hated it when my parents were too strict and punishment was like the next level of hell. But I also realise that it is the reason why I was such an independent kid and was very self-motivated to make sure that I did things right. My margin for error was probably 1%.
As a parent, I hate it when I have to punish and discipline my child, and always end up cuddling up with her as soon as she comes up to me with a heartfelt sorry. But I also realise that it is the reason why she lacks motivation to do things right. Her margin for error is probably 50%.
Nine years into parenthood, and I still struggle to find the balance. To do what’s right for her, to not repeat mistakes of the past, to find new ways of doing things better, to arm your child with the right tools to get through life.
But one thing is for sure, I love her so much and unconditionally, and she is never in doubt of that. At least that is one thing I am doing right.
I took this photo when I was on my way to the hospital to help a family photograph the birth of their baby girl, a little more than a week ago. (I wasn’t driving.) It wasn’t an ordinary birth – the little girl’s precious heart stopped at 23 weeks in utero, after a hard fight against Turners disease and hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She was very brave indeed, and that’s because she also has very brave parents who believed that baby H should be given a chance of survival, despite the odds stacked against her.
I volunteer for this organisation, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and this is what we do for families who call upon our services, to help them capture the memories of their babies through such difficult times.
I can only hope the photos help them preserve the memory of their beautiful girl, and to help them get closure. I have so much respect for her parents – their strength, their courage, their faith, and especially the way they handled such a difficult situation with so much grace.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this special moment, and thank you for letting me help you guys.
We spent all day at home yesterday and today because we have been down with a stomach flu. And it seems like the only way to rest these days is to actually fall sick.
So we are done with Clare’s exams. Done with major productions. Didn’t think about work, or anything else and just spent the time relaxing and recuperating, without having to rush to places. (I had a really long and glorious nap yesterday, which was exactly what the doctor ordered!)
Today, we opened one of Clare’s presents. She was gifted kinetic sand, which is pure sand that sticks together, so it can be easily moulded and doesn’t creative this mega mess with sand flying all over the places. We took it to another level when I told her to create scenes for me to photograph (and practise using the macro adapter for my M), and it was great fun!
We had a shoot at our place tonight and guess who was hard at work?
Broccoli patty cake.
Finished product here.
The Leica T launch took the world by storm a few months ago, when it first launched. It seems to fill the space between the X2 (now re-branded as just X) and the M systems. I’ve got my hands on a loan unit and am really loving it for the following main reasons:
- It is lightweight. I pop it into my handbags and I don’t feel a huge sag or that I am carrying a rice sack around.
- It allows for different lenses. And again, not much weight on that either.
- Sexy design. The unibody is world class and the slim form of the lenses, even with the hood on it, makes it look like a lean, mean, machine.
- It’s power packed with technology with a touch screen interface and the ability to control the camera through your iPhone. With the new software update, you can touch the screen to focus AND shoot too!
- And of course, the image quality is top notch, bar none. The creaminess, the sharpness of the lens, and the texture…
Here are some sample images in day time and at night time, when we went for a car wash. At ISO3200, the noise is not intrusive. I really, really love this camera, and am so tempted to add this one to the collection.
I love that we are able to enjoy the long National Day weekend, right here in Singapore. It has been a fairly chilled one, before we hit the road again. I’m looking forward to see the team and put another show out there. But I am really exhausted from the travelling as we have been so busy.
(On a similar work-related note: I’ve been having weird dreams lately. Last night’s instalment was of us at the International Emmys and winning an Emmy for ‘Asia’s Next Top Model’, which would actually be fantastic in real life. But also for ‘Boston Legal’, which somehow I also produced in dreamland. Absolutely bizarre.)
The Chinese believes that the gates of hell open every seventh lunar month, and the ghosts come out to play in our world. To keep them happy, we offer them food and drinks. Yesterday was the Hungry Ghost Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month.
So I recently acquired a Leica M240. It has been interesting, yet frustrating at times. Frustrating because it is like learning a whole new language altogether, especially having grown up in the digital/automatic era of photography. The Leica Rangefinder, is like a mythical beast of magical tales, and when confronted with it, one doesn’t quite know what to do except to tread carefully, get to know it and savour the experience.
I paired the Leica M240 with a 35mm and 50mm Summicron; and today, I bought the macro adapter, along with Erwin Puts’ Leica Practicum.
Am now really wishing that I have some time to read and tame the beast. Life really needs to be less hectic.
It’s Tuesday fun day today as it is a public holiday. (All photos taken with the Leica M9 / 35mm f/2 Summicron lens.)
I can’t believe how fast this girl is growing right before my very own eyes. She thinks and behaves far beyond her years. And she has a gorgeous personality that I am so proud of. 7.5 years on, I still can’t believe I got this lucky.