dear gong gong

November 13th, 2013

I’ve never really known my grandparents. I was born and raised in Amsterdam and my grandparents were some 20+ hours away by plane. Back then, there was no direct flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. Instead, we had to make on average three stop-overs. I remember having to make stops in Dusseldorf, Dubai and Bangkok before we got to Hong Kong. It took about 24 hours before we could set foot in Hong Kong.

In Cantonese, we have a different word for grandfather who is from your father’s side (ye ye) than from your mum’s side (gong gong). We have a different word for grandma who is from your mum’s side (por por) than from your dad’s side, ma ma, not to be confused with ma ma meaning mum. Different tones and all that.

I never knew my ye ye because he passed away early and even my dad never knew him. I remember my gong gong. He was big and strong. He didn’t say a lot. He liked it when I brought him his comfy slippers. He started the company that my uncle now is still running. His shop, the office used to be on Hollywood Road. I remember my uncles running the show there after my gong gong passed away. I remember there was a little family store selling all kinds of things, including toys, next to the office. My uncle would sometimes let me pick a toy from there. My gong gong passed away when I was very little. I don’t remember much of him.

I have stronger memories of my por por. She was also a strong individual. Not afraid to let you know her opinion. Very present. She also suffered from diabetes but she’d love it when we would go to have dimsum with her. We used to go to these two dimsum places in Aberdeen – that’s Aberdeen in Hong Kong for you. One was Jumbo, the giant floating restaurant. The other was Sun Kwong, the restaurant around the corner. I loved going to Jumbo, taking the little ferry to the restaurant. It felt like going to a different world, an adventure. I remember giant fish tanks near the entrance of the restaurant. Giant fishes swimming in the giant fish tanks. I remember my mum being super sad she passed away. I remember I was in Amsterdam West, in my room, it was late at night, when I got her call and got the news. I rushed back home and even as of today she still mentions how grateful she was I did. I find that curious: it was the least I could do but I’m glad I could support her a bit.

My ma ma was a real tough lady. She was a single mum before we had single mums as a concept. She raised many kids – my dad was seventh in line and my cousins call him “seventh uncle”. She attended my high school graduation in Amsterdam and I remember being proud she was there. She spoke in a very distinct Cantonese dialect, one I had trouble understanding at times. I remember her as someone who was real no-nonsense, who could take the beatings of life, and still smile at the end of the day. When she passed away, I remember my dad crying. The one thing that really breaks my heart is the thought, the memory of my dad crying.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with grandparents around me.

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book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata