The Story Of My Life Nov 27, '07 9:49 PM
My mother had me when she was really old, the 17th of her many children, I was also the last. She had grown weak, from childbirth and became bedridden after my birth. Because she was too weak to care for me, she fostered me on my oldest brother's wife who was already 24 by the time I was born, she nursed me shortly after her 3rd child had been weened off breast milk. I was kept alive suckling at the breast of my own sister-in-law. My mother trusted no one else and my sister in law benefited as she was fed bird nest soup and other delicacies because of me.
We lived in a large family home spanning acres of land. There were 8 adjoining houses inter connected by a large courtyard and a common kitchen. The main house belonged to by grand parents and great grand parents - my father's of course… just the year before I was born, my great grandmother had passed away at the ripe old age of 123. Naturally I never knew her, but it was much later on that I heard one of the servants say, they kept her alive by feeding her fresh blood from baby mice mixed into her milk. I was so totally grossed out by the thought that I remembered it till this day. Needless to say, I never ventured much into the kitchen after either!
Where was I, ah the house. The second house belonged to my father, who was the eldest Loong son, in it lived my mother and my father's 2nd wife - whom I called Ah Ling. I guess Ah Ling was there because my mother could no longer give my father what he needed.
Have I told you yet that as the youngest male child in the family, I really did have a lot of privileges. I was spoilt rotten and a truly difficult child.
The third and the 4th houses were used by my uncle, his 3 sons, their 5 wives and 15 children. There were at least 10 chambers within the houses and these were shared amongst them. His wife, a very pretty songstress had committed suicide at the nearby river at the age of 30 - again, the servants told me it was because she found out that he preferred men…. Hahaha. So she only gave him 3 sons.
The 5th house was used as a guest house, we often had people visit us and stay for a really long time (seeing that everything was so far away). In this house, there was a separate hall, bath house, toilets, and about 5 to 6 resting chambers.
Finally came houses 7 and 8. These were for the children, the boys in 8 and the girls in 7. My father had 17 children from his first wife and none from the second. The first wife was for securing the next generation and the second was for his personal enjoyment. His marriage to my mother was arranged - they never slept together unless it was for pro-creation. Of the 17, 10 were boys and 7 were girls. That was a good thing, the more sons one had, the better in a chinese society. Anyway, it was quite cramped in our houses as some of my siblings had already married and were starting families. Still I think we had good times.
Apart from these proper houses, there were barns, servant quarters (we had at least 30 servants) and storage houses for rice, wheat, herbs, etc.
It was as though we lived in a tiny little township of our own. Still that was the way of life then. My father, although I never liked him much, was a shrewd businessman and up to the time when China went to war, he had a hand in over 7 types of businesses around the little town we lived in. We sold salt, sundries, ran a pawn shop, goldsmith, restaurant, brothel, casino and I can't remember what else. He went out after lunch everyday and came home late every night. We never saw him and preferred it that way.
Oh dear, I digressed again, sorry, the story I have to tell seems so long and windy, especially when my memories come and go and I have to tell them to you as I remember them.
At the time of this story, I am already 86 years old, I've had my own children / grandchildren, lived in a few countries and are now just about waiting for "the day", so I spend my time reminiscing about the good old days.
Now where was I? Ah yes the house…The home bustled with activity - there was always something happening, something to see, something to do and something to talk about. Gossip, drama and "back-stabbing" to get ahead of the pack was something I learnt by the time I could talk!
Such was life in an extended family community.
My mother passed away when I was 5, she just never woke up one day. It was strange, I knew she was my mom, but I was so distant from her that I didn't even feel sad when she did go. It was as though some part of me knew that I would never see her again, but it didn't really matter. She lay in her chamber, which my youngest sister (born just 3 years before me) and I used to call the chamber of death, and never came out. Servants would bathe and clothe her, feed her and look into her every need. I think she died not because of her health but because shortly after she had me, father took up with Ah Ling and never visited her at night anymore. He hardly even visited her, maybe once every other day, he would check in on her….she had a pale yellow face with watery eyes - her hair was always tied neatly and she was always dressed up nicely for her children's daily visits. All 17 of us would have to pay her a visit each day. It was on one of those days that she just didn't make it.
I used to go with my youngest sister - Yue Yue. We would run in, greet her and sit by her bed, allowing her to stroke our heads. That's all I remember of her. I don't think she said enough to me so that I remember her voice…
My father had a deep booming voice - which I use to hate. He never spoke to us unless it was to berate us for something or other. My brothers (all 9 of them) worked for my father. He used to say none of them were good enough. He drove us all away…eventually!
When my eldest brother was 26, he left the family home. Leaving his wife and kids behind. He promised to send for them, when he had made his money as a sailor. My dad threw such a tantrum I think he must have had a heart attack. He became ill after that for 3 weeks! In the meantime, my sister in law wept daily - leaving her kids to be cared for by sister number 3 (San San) and sister number 5 (Pei Pei). Sister number 1,2 and 4 had been married off, and I only meet them once a year when they are allowed to return to the family home to visit on the chinese lunar new year. I guess you could say that I really didn't know them very well, except to say that the sweets they bought for me were really tasty. San San had a really sweet voice and she would sing to us all the time, she was betrothed to a chinese official's son who had been killed at war, and because of this, she would never be married, firstly because she was considered a bad omen and secondly because she was someone else's betrothed. She really had such patience, she became the mother we never had.
Pei Pei and Yue Yue were still too young for marriage, but already I knew it wouldn't be long before Pei Pei would have to go too as I had seen the matchmaker pay father a visit several times. She was only 14!
Anyway, my brother left China and sailed to a place called Singapore. There he must have worked really hard because the year I turned ten, he sent for his wife and kids. But by then, it was too late, she had died of a broken heart. Wasting away from starvation and sadness. So we sent San San to him with his kids. She wrote back to us, saying that elder brother was now a rich man with a huge house and something called a car. I never saw them again, my playmates and my beloved sister, for many many more years. Elder brother remarried shortly after San San arrived in Singapore. He married a woman that looked exactly like his dead wife, according to San San in one of her letters to us.
Brother number 2 was 4 years younger than elder brother. We called him Peng - I can't remember what his correct name was now. But we knew him as Peng. He was the clown of the family, he would always have a funny story to tell anyone that would listen. He had been forced into marriage at the age of 18 by my father and he told us the only good thing that came out of it was the fact that sex was good. If my memory serves, I think he had 7 children. They were all boys. His wife was a happy cheerful lady with twinkling eyes. She made the soups for all the family meals. They were good soups.
Brother number 3 was the drug addict that dad put in charge of the brothel business. He was always pale and white and coughed a lot. He slept during the day and left the house in the evenings. We never saw much of him and he never married, dying at a very young age, just before the war started.
Brother 4 & 5 were identical twins. They were married off to the village's only other pair of twins to ensure double prosperity for the families and the entire village. They lived in their own section of the village which had been chosen for them especially by the village elders. We never saw much of them, they helped dad with the restaurant business.
I can't remember much about them - the story I share is that of my elder brother and the rest of my siblings.
Life went on, business as usual, until our blissful idyllic lives were turned upside down by the war. The soldiers came and set up camp in our house - they knew my father had businesses and so they took advantage of his resources. In turn, we were sheltered from the harsh realities of the war…somewhat….. I remember hearing torture tales from my servants about how they would use a hammer and drive a nail between the flesh and a victim's fingernails - I didn't like those stories much and so I've forgotten many of them.
It was during this time, that my father finally did something right for the family. He decided to send the younger children (together with my uncle's brood) to elder brother in Singapore. He packed us and our servants together with lots of gold onto a ship and put brother number 6 in charge of our well being. I was 13 years old.