Sunday, February 2, 2014

For Old Times' Sake

This year's Chinese New Year celebration's a little quiet, isn't it? 

Perhaps it came too soon after Christmas, or perhaps it's just me who is feeling this way. Been thinking a lot about the past lately. Old memories sneaks in on the train of thoughts and decide to stay. We've always traveled around druring CNY (Kuantan-KL-Sitiawan-Kuantan) but now that all the grandparents are gone, we're staying put in KL. 

Earlier today I visited some relatives from mom's side. This old couple (mom's cousin, if I'm not mistaken) used to live in Sitiawan but moved over to KL so that their children can take care of them better and they could be closer to their first grandchild as well. I haven't meet them in several years and today I learned again that time brings forth changes that are not always pleasant, but we have no choice but to accept them and make the best out of it.

I remembered my uncle (don't know how else to call my mom's cousin's husband lol) as a healthy slender man whom I meet a few times each year when mom and I return to Sitiawan during the school holidays. He owned a little stationery store at the corner near that popular kompiang place in the heart of Sitiawan. I've always loved stationeries as a child so I looked forward to dropping by the store to look at all the wonderful stuff while munching on a freshly baked kompiang. Usually the conversations between my mom and her relatives go on for quite a bit and I'd soon be bored out of my mind. There's only so much stationeries you can look at in a day haha and this uncle was always, always welcoming. He greets everyone with an sincere smile and he spoke gently, almost too soft sometimes.

Often he invites us to take the chatter over a cup of tea at the kopitiam on the same row but rarely do we take that offer because mom has to go off somewhere to catch up with others. She has so many relatives in Sitiawan that dad likes to state that if you throw a stone in Sitiawan you're bound of hit a relative. Of the many many relatives, he's one of the few that I remember well because he's also the few rare ones that can speak Cantonese with me while the others go all Hokkien all the time. He was always so kind and spoke to me properly as if I mattered, even as a child. The complete opposite of his bubbly and cheeky wife, with whom mom loved to tease and laugh with.

So today I met them again and was surprised to see my uncle looking rather frail. 


He is definitely a changed man, physically speaking. It seems that he have had health difficulties in the past couple years and couldn't sustain the stationery shop anymore. Now he is dependant on daily medication and could not see nor walk as he used to. Despite the obvious pain, he slowly made his way to the door to greet us with the same old warm smile and proceeded to make conversation. 

Mom was cheekily arguing with his wife on the CNY gifts - she insisted we take back all the biscuits and mandarin oranges and only compromised by accepting the siew yoke that my dad made - in their usual Phuah-family nonsensical style peppered with name-callings and hearty laughter hahaha I couldn't join in that conversation at all so my uncle starting asking me little questions about how we're doing and next thing I knew we were both at the balcony and chatting about the condo's great view and location. 

I asked how he was getting used to this place and he said at first it wasn't easy but having given a little time to get used to things he gradually learned to enjoy it. He also gushed about his little grandson, unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to meet the toddler yet as they weren't home that day. By then it was time to leave and as we were saying goodbye, mom was asking him to pick a day where my dad would take time off and they could all drive back to Sitiawan together for a short trip. No walking no rushing, just a chillout drive to wherever they wish to visit.

I observed him closely when my mom said that and he went quiet for a quick second or two before nodding in agreement to the proposal. It wasn't exactly his style to respond with expressive bursts of emotions so to be honest I couldn't really tell how he was feeling. He is always so smiling that it gets difficult to read. It wasn't until we were going down in the elevator that mom said he's mentioned to a relative a while back ago his wish to go home to Sitiawan for a while, to meet old friends.

I suppose this little trip could really ease the ache that comes with feeling homesick. Heck it took me pretty long to finally get used to the idea of living in KL, what more an elderly man who used to be surrounded by familiar faces in the comfort of his beloved hometown. Small town people are the best, really. Since that moment this afternoon, a queer feeling entered my heart and these old memories, along with many others, pushed past reality and circled my mind all day. 


It's a real quiet Chinese New Year, isn't it?


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