Mama (1929 to 2020)

My mum called me at 815 am Tuesday morning. It was already 1115pm at night in Singapore so I had the feeling something was wrong. When she asked me to call the husband to the phone too, definitely something was up. she said my grandma had passed away. She was 91. We called her Mama.

I spent most of today thinking about Mama. Thinking about the times we traveled with her. When we went to Darwin to visit my uncle, how the customs officers poked and prodded and opened all the packets of herbs and other things that she had brought. How we had been the very last people to leave the airport. How they had to confiscate some items. How we were relieved to finally be allowed to pack up and leave. She went with us to London too when we went to visit my aunt and cousins.

I thought of the dinners she would cook for Chinese New Year. Her chicken curry, fish maw soup, steamed fish, vegetables, the table laden with food. We would always visit for dinner on the first day of the Lunar New Year. She and my grandfather lived in a two-bedroom flat.

And when we had our potluck family gatherings (she had 7 children, 14 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren), she would always cook a huge pot of that chicken curry. We would eat it with rice or bread.

As with my other grandma (my paternal grandparents died when I was in my 20s, my maternal grandfather died a few years ago), I couldn’t really talk to her much. She spoke mostly a Chinese dialect called Teochew (from the Chaoshan region of China), Hainanese, and Mandarin, and my dialect is nonexistent and my Mandarin is just not very good. And how I wish I could have known her better.

So I can only tell you what I know.

She was probably the only grandparent I had who liked to smile in photos. And not the slight smile with upturned corners of your mouth but the full beaming smile that makes you want to smile too. She delighted in being in the company of her great-grandchildren. She enjoyed her food. She loved red lipstick. She always dressed up nicely to go out when we took her out for lunches or dinners. The last time I saw her, in July and August 2019, she was still able to walk with the help of a walker, she knew who I was (or at least pretended to). She got to do some traveling, which wasn’t that common for her generation, like different parts of Australia, the UK, and California. My mum brought her to visit my uncle and his family in Perth, Western Australia, a few years ago. My mum said that Mama used to play mahjong with Jackie Chan’s parents when they lived in Australia.

I’m glad my kids got the chance to meet her. We visited Singapore every year, and had been all set to be back this summer, having bought our tickets on Black Friday, and everyone was sad when we had to cancel.

My mum said that Singapore has lowered its restrictions more and the number of people allowed at the wake is more than a few months ago. So I’m glad my family will be able to say goodbye to her properly.

So I guess this post is my way of saying goodbye to her.

Goodbye, Mama. I love you.


  1. When you can’t speak fluently with a someone, but you still know what a delightful personality they have, that’s a truly lovely person and someone who will be missed forever.


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