Our grandma

For our dearest grandma, everyone who knows and loves her, and for God, who makes all kinds of love possible.

The morning of 20th January, 2014 was exceptionally warm in the middle of a cold winter in Hong Kong.

Struggling to climb out of bed, I finally fell into my daily routine of preparing for my medical class, only to be interrupted abruptly by a phone call from my dad.  In a trembling and distressed tone, he informed me that grandmother had just passed away.

Grandma was already sick for a few months now; I just didn’t expect such news to come so soon. I was shocked and speechless, with my emotions caught totally off guard. But I knew of all things, I had to keep myself together to book my flight ticket back home, arrange leave from school and not break down at that moment. After seemingly countless of hours and minutes later, I arrived safely in my hometown, Klang, to meet my other family members and to get ready for the funeral service.

As I could recall, my grandma, or Ama as I fondly call her, was one of the most vivacious, headstrong person ever I knew.  She lived up to a ripe age of 84 years and successfully raised 3 beautiful children (One of them was my dad of course) with my grandpa (Now, 92 years of age) whom all married and produced grandchildren and great grandchildren based in different parts of the world.

Since young, my grandparents stayed with us to help out in the household as both my parents were busy working. It almost felt like yesterday, where my Ama will put me and my siblings on the back seat as she drove her vintage white Mitsubishi Lancer to the pasar pagi (morning market) for her daily grocery shopping. I could still remember the familiar whiff of stale air permeating at the back seat every time I entered the car. And just as the car was about to start, Ama would have this really endearing way of shaking the gearshift to “loosen” it. Well, more often than not, the air-conditioning of the vehicle would break down, and Ama would ask me to roll down the windows to let the cool breeze dry my hot and sweating body. After getting the groceries, she would sometimes stop by the kedai runcit (sundry shop) to get my favourite childhood snack: round, mini-biscuits topped with icing of various colours, stored in massive brown tin cans. In fact, the constant gratification for my sweet tooth was the main reason for my frequent visits to the dentist’s when I was young.

Well, it was pretty much hard to imagine life without my Ama and Akong (Grandpa). And this is the story of how they met.

Ama met Akong at the age of 15. Being the sister of one of Akong’s friends, and staying just opposite each other, they often played together in a big group. However, they developed feelings for each other in the course of joining Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Party Choir in Kuala Kangsar, Perak; as Akong said, “I don’t know how I started to like her, but anyway love grew as we sang together,” (唱唱一下就喜欢了咯,我也不知道我怎样喜欢她).

I remember Ama telling me over and over again how Akong was in his heydays; he was a state basketball player studying in Chung Ling High School, Penang, which was one of the most reputable high schools in the country. Not to mention with a flair for music. Ama would also often emphasize how tall and handsome grandpa was, “so I set my eyes on him from the very start“(所以我一早就看上他了). I’m sure I would be smitten by grandpa as well. It was a pity that Akong only managed up to Form 3 as his studies were later interrupted by the invasion by the Japanese into Malaya. One of our relatives also mentioned that akong’s grades were so good that he would have went on to higher academic greatness, he was only limited be history and circumstance of the war.

It was commonplace for one man to have many (unofficial) wives in that era, and this was also evident in Akong’s family. Ama knew what was in store for her if she married Akong; she would have to take care of his 3 mothers and also 3 of his younger brothers. One year after their marriage, Akong’s father was beaten to death by gangsters and their responsibility further increased. To support the family, Ama sold off all her dowry, gold necklaces, bracelets and all, without a single word of complaint (according to grandpa, up till now). Akong couldn’t really recall how they actually survived the early years of their marriage, just that they barely did. As they reached their 30s, they started a noodle and drinks stall in the local school canteen, which provided them with a more stable income, but it was tiring nevertheless. They would have to wake up at 3am every morning to prepare food, and often went to bed as early at 7pm (which is a practice they still maintain up till now).

It was in their 50s that they quit their canteen job and moved from Perak to stay with my parents in Klang (me being nonexistent at that time). They took care of my siblings till they left for US and Singapore, and later when I was born, took care of me since I was a baby.

Needless to say, Ama was a great cook. Her trademark dishes were her prawn fritters, fried popiah, and heavenly Penang Laksa. But she would always work with her assistant chef, Akong, to put together those delectable masterpieces. The three of us would later have a mini post-meal evaluation on what to improve next time, was it too salty or too sweet etc. Good things are meant to be shared, and I would sometimes bring her fried popiah to school to share with my classmates, and my mom would bring some laksa for her colleagues, always coming back bringing good feedback from her new customers.

Besides my parents, my grandparents were also my teachers in the early years of my life, especially when my parents were busy with work. I picked up conversational Hokkien from them, and also fragments of Hakka from Ama (who often discouraged my usage of the slang as I often got the terms mixed up). Akong would sometimes help me with Mandarin and Mathematics homework as well. Up till now, Akong has amazing calculation; he always sums up the exact amount of his goods in the sundry shop even before the shop owner manages to whip out his calculator.

Ama suffered from a mild stroke 10 years ago, and since then, she didn’t drive to the market anymore and my mom would help with cooking. But generally, she was still fit and active, and was always hospitable to all my friends who visited my house. She was always very inventive in coming up with nicknames for my friends who came; she called Chai Cheen, my friend who often came to bake cake, “the cake baker” (做cake的), and Suat Hoon who sometimes learned piano at my house “the piano learner” (打钢琴). Friends who were on the plump side would receive a bigger blow: “big fat lady” (大肥婆). But though I was reportedly their favourite grandchild, I was not spared too; she would call me “the rascal” (鬼马) behind my back (or so she thought).

As Ama’s legs grew weaker, my Akong’s eyesight deteriorated as well due to glaucoma. So then, she became his eyes, and he became his extra pair of legs. Ama would get food for Akong during dinner gatherings, and Akong and I would help Ama as we went from stall to stall in the morning market. As they grew older together, as my brother would say, it’s almost as if their love would grow just a little bit stronger to overcome their physical limitations. He would observe quietly very loving moments of loving banter between them as they would wile the time away in the long afternoons. In a way, it was a fairy tale romance that everyone dreams of, growing old together forever. While they watched TV, grandma would report the finer words of news to grandpa. As I helped mom with cooking over the holidays, grandma would be the executive supervisor, commenting as I cooked, and sometimes adding her own ajinomoto as she would always complain that my food lacked taste. I was named the “small chef”, grandpa was “middle chef” while grandma was “big chef”. When she was too tired to stand for long, she would assign grandpa to monitor my cooking progress (and add ajinomoto for her).

Old age never got to Ama’s brains; she was still very alert and cheeky up to the last few months of her life. Finally, it was heart failure that got to her, but thankfully she did not have to suffer long from her disease.

The night before she passed away, she was too tired to say anything at all and simply held my grandpa’s hand, tighter than ever. Maybe it was to declare her undying love for him, or it was her way of saying her final goodbyes and to ask him not to worry about her anymore.

The morning of 20th Jan, 2014 was exceptionally warm in the middle of a cold winter in Hong Kong.

That warmth reminded me her warm, firm hands that carried me when I was a baby up to the same pair of hands, now crinkled, which would be so reluctant to let go every time I said my goodbyes to her, leaving to Hong Kong where I did my studies. That same pair of hands also held the hands of many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and also her husband of a full 65 years.

Once a person feels the sun’s warmth, he will never forget it. Same goes to grandma’s warm, enduring love. She left the world without leaving anything behind, but of all things, love always stays behind, and this always reminds us of her.

Ama, you know we love you till forever.

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From Tze Hui, Tze Ching & Tze Ling

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the gift

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. – John 11:25

Attended my church member’s father’s memorial service last night, and as a choir we also sang “耶和华是爱” (Jehovah is Love). Although it was an occasion where one would find it hard to be happy, our choir conductor reminded us that it was a day to be thankful and celebrate that his father was in a better place, where there would be no more tears and suffering.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  – Revelation 21:1-4

It was heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time to hear the children recall joyful, funny and irreplaceable memories with their father, who taught them how to live a life of serving God and people, of loving one another and to follow His words. Thank God for all the wonderful moments they spent together as a family, especially in the last days, and thank God for the important reminder of how fragile and temporary life is.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~ James 4:13-14

Everyday is a gift from above. Everyday we are given a “second chance”, to love our friends and family, to tell more people about His goodness, to learn to bear the Cross.

Yet I know no amount of empathy will make me understand the depth of their sorrow and pain. Thank God that He understands, and may His comfort and love walk them through one of the darkest valleys in their lives.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
   he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

– Psalm 23

stomp stomp stomp

on some days, i feel like this.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

~ The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis.

loving is a risk we must take. no matter how many times people have stomped on our previously unblemished, shiny heart-shaped balloon. no many how many plasters it takes to keep it up and working again.

because if we do not love, we will suffer less but we will not reap more joy. we will prevent further injuries but we will never experience true redemption. we HAVE to love. we have to love in order to be reconciled with the only one who invented love. who IS love.

God, you risked it all for me. 

Teach me how to risk it all for You.

what i learned today

brought two of my juniors to the wards today as a warm-up to their clinical years as they would be seeing patients a lot more often this year.

after knowing that i would be bringing them to the wards, i went through a mental checklist of what to brief them on: how to use the computerised patient database to look up on the patients’ past clinical notes, imaging and blood test results, how to take a proper and systematic history, how to do a proper physical examination, and how to present their history and p/e findings.

we chose a surgery ward as both of my juniors were currently in surgery rotation while i just finished mine. some people use diet sheets/boards to choose the patient they wished to clerk but usually i just walk up to whichever patient is alert, awake and doesn’t seem to repel us medical students.

we ended up clerking a patient with a ruptured abdominal aneurysm with subsequent repair done. but he was currently admitted due to post-op abdominal pain.

while both of my juniors asked the patient about his condition, i stood by the sidelines with a list of questions and issues flooding my mind: they should also ask this and that. should not spend so much time exploring unnecessary history. should clarify the symptoms. my brain juices were churning constantly, trying to figure out if i would miss out anything basic and important to teach them.

midway through the interview, the patient started opening up and talked more about his own experiences eg with his previous heart attack which occurred on a plane. the patient seemed to take it all in his stride. my juniors were fascinated by his resilience in spite of all his medical problems and how he could control his “mind over matter”.

in fact, i was both fascinated and happy that my juniors found it very enjoyable talking to the patient (they shared this piece of information with me after we finished clerking). they expressed genuine care and appreciation for all the experience and advice shared by our elderly patient. 

and honestly, today i was more preoccupied about fulfilling my responsibility as a senior than learning to serve. both my juniors and the patient.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. ~ 1 John 3:16-20

let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

so i guess, today besides me teaching them the practicalities of clerking patients, they taught me another far more important lesson that would stay true all the way: i was dealing with patients, not cases. and us being medical students, we were given the privilege of having far more time than doctors. to talk more to patients. to understand their struggles. to lighten their emotional baggage for a teensy bit.

and i quote from someone, being a doctor is “to cure sometimes, to relieve often, and to comfort always.” to comfort always.

and with God’s grace, I hope I will never, ever forget what i learned today.

keloid or hypertrophic?

i’ve been ITCHING to write a blog post today for no special reason. having exams tomorrow but somehow i can’t fully concentrate on revision.

i watched two videos today struck a chord: one was a video of a DJ scolding a 16-year old girl on a HK radio station. the other was Lindsay Lohan’s interview on David letterman from youtube.

In the first one, the girl called in to talk about her recent breakup with her boyfriend whom she knew through the internet. they were together for 1.5 months, met up 3 times before they had sex on the 4th time they met. when asked by the DJ, she said this was not her first sexual encounter. her first was when she was 14 years old (with another boy). she is currently working as a waitress, although she claims to have good results in school but just wants to work. (?) she says now she is just glad that the relationship is over and she knows that she will meet someone better in the future. obviously she got reprimanded by the DJ (or else people listening would think that this societal trend is acceptable?!?!) for not loving herself and dumping her own future down the drain. The DJ asked her, “how do you picture yourself 15 years from now?” and she said she would most likely be a mother. Yes, she could be a mother, but probably one with many a burden to carry. being a single parent. contracting HIV. working as a prostitute. marrying an abusive guy. etc etc etc.

and the sad thing was, by the end of the conversation, you could tell that she did not understand the DJ’s point at all. she was still blinded. literally. by what she thought she was pursuing – true love? or that having sex at a young age would mean she was very desirable? was her life’s ultimate goal was to gain instant gratification of the flesh, live life in its moment and satisfy sex-hungry men?

Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law. ~Psalm 119: 18

i have no idea if she will continue living in her own world or one day she will wake up to find how she wasted her life. and then it will be another round of heartbreak for her. like how Adam and Eve found that they were naked in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. and she may end up broken/unable to believe in true love/learning to manipulate people for her own purpose.

the second video was a pretty harsh and degrading interview of Lindsay Lohan. David Letterman repeatedly mentioned and drilled her about her upcoming sessions at the drug rehabilitation centre. i don’t usually follow celebrity news so i have no idea what happened to her prior to that. but just from the looks on her face when the host probed her on her past, she seemed angry, helpless yet defensive of her current situation and she was trying to put her past behind her. she was a very, very broken young lady. (and yet in Tinseltown, celebrities just get poked and pried for every single mistake they commit. but to some extent it should be expected la)

The difference in the two would probably be that the first was not aware of her own mistakes, while the second was trying to change but being put under a lot of pressure at the same time. and regardless of the differences, both of them share a brokenness that people experience some point in their lives.

broken by a breach of trust. an irresponsible act. an indulgent mistake. unintentionally hurtful comments. sin in its various forms. people hurt us. we hurt ourselves. we use the past to hurt ourselves and others.

i have scars of my own too. they come back to haunt me sometimes and sometimes the brokenness leads me to think that pure faith, hope and love is sometimes so intangible and so out of reach.

But God often reminds me.

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.
~Ezekiel 36: 33-36

God restores. He heals.

Amazing Grace – John Newton

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

it’s overwhelming.

God’s love is overwhelming. It’s crazy to think that I overlook God’s love time and time again.

Been attending Christian revival seminars every night this week. The speaker is Dr. Ajith Fernando, a pastor from Sri Lanka. The topic is Radical Loving in a Complex World. The bible verse used is one well known even outside the Christian community: 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

People are forgetful. I am forgetful. Of all the things i can forget (lecture notes aside), i forget who I am. I guess I was reminded of this two days ago, when the topic was “love does not envy”. We envy because we compare with others and we seem to have less. We seek our identity through the recognition of us by others, but yet once and once again, we will be disappointed because people change. But God does not.

He tells us who we are. That we are His precious children. He loves us, He cares for us and He nurtures us in His love and righteousness. And that gives us even more reason to love others, because we are already made complete by His love. What is there more to compare/ask?

Yesterday’s topic was love does not boast and is not proud. We boast once again because we want others to know how good we are, cause in this world where everyone wants to be the best, we want the glory. But one cannot serve two Gods. And if we glorify ourselves, we cannot glorify God.

Was reminded that Jesus washed his disciples feet.

He knew that he was already exalted, therefore He stooped down to be a servant.

And isn’t this the same for us children of God? When we already know that we are exalted in the kingdom of Heaven, we have more the reason to bring ourselves to serve others.

A worship song that speaks my heart right now ❤