|Aunt M.Y with my mother Moon Loy in Johore Bahru, 1982.|
Sometimes it takes a while to register that somebody you dearly love is no longer around - at least not physically.
Those are but the barest facts of her life. What does it mean when you see the figures "1916 ~ 2009" engraved on a commemorative plaque in some airconditioned columbarium? Nothing much, really. Every human existence is essentially a multi-layered jigsaw of memory fragments stored in a multitude of contemporary minds. It takes a storyteller to assemble and reconstitute each life that has come and gone. To me that is what resurrection means. Each of us is a story unfolding in time and space and when we no longer inhabit our physical forms, all that remains are anecdotes.
I have only a tiny fragment of M.Y.'s story. I'm sure there are a couple of faded sepia photos of Aunt M.Y. tucked away somewhere in the appalling clutter of my study, salvaged from silverfish-eaten photo albums that survived a series of floods and stuffed in a manila envelope or two, but I have yet to locate them.
On one of my last visits to Aunt M.Y. in her Singapore nursing home, I was pleased to hear that a new edition of In Those Days... was in the works. M.Y. had just celebrated her 90th birthday and I thought it would be wonderful for a spruced-up version of her one and only book to appear as a celebration of her seemingly ordinary - yet in many ways extraordinary - life. I offered to proofread and help with the book design, as I had plenty of time on my hands and had since acquired some facility with computers.
However, as with so many good intentions, nothing transpired in the end. With my aunt's passing in early 2009, only a tiny handful knew of her humble collection of short stories. Family members are funny that way. I remember asking my own mother, M.Y.'s middle sister, whether she had finished reading In Those Days... and what she thought of it. "Oh, you know your Aunt M.Y. She loves telling tall stories!" That was all I could get out of mum.
When my affable and jocular Uncle Kong Beng (affectionately known as K.B.) died unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving his beloved M.Y. an attractive widow in her late 40s or early 50s, a few tongues began to wag, just because she began spending a lot of time in the company of Uncle Ho - who had been best man at their wedding. In 1970 I got a job in an ad agency and moved in with Aunt M.Y. She kindly let me sleep in a curtained-off portion of her kitchen and often cooked wholesome meals for me.
I often visited M.Y. in her cozy Bangsar home. She invariably insisted that I have something to eat and would busy herself in the tiny kitchen preparing a good old-fashioned meal while I tinkled on her antique upright or discussed current affairs with Uncle Ho. He struck me as essentially a pragmatist, torn between socialist ideals and a conviction borne from bitter experience that a great divide would forever exist between theory and practice because of the damnable recalcitrance of "human nature."
Ever since I found out about these artificial constraints imposed on human behavior I have felt nothing but contempt for those who actually believe God personally laid down those rigid rules and regulations. As a kid I had come to my own conclusion that if a God truly existed, he or she or it would most certainly be completely free of the mental shackles of society's Caucasian chalk circle taboos.
Aunt M.Y. had been a dedicated Methodist all her life. Indeed, she told me her grandfather had been among the pioneer Foochows who migrated to Sarawak at the turn of the 20th century and established the first Methodist church in Sibu. Yet she never once presented herself as a prude, and always showed a profound empathy for human frailty. To me, if one insisted on professing Christianity, the ultimate exemplar would be my Aunt M.Y., who was well-known as Mrs Grace Lee to all Wesleyans in Kuala Lumpur because of her vigorous efforts in community service. Indeed, she was perfectly comfortable sharing her modest home and her widowed life with her old buddy Ho, a lifelong atheist and pragmatist.
My Aunt M.Y. and I were, in many ways, kindred spirits, despite our generational differences. She told me about her adventures in the astral realms, revealing how she often found herself floating out of her body and moving around with utmost freedom and facility. For months after her husband K.B. died, M.Y. would encounter him in the astral. He apparently missed her greatly and she him. The last time she visited her departed husband in the astral zone, she saw him happily remarried. He was now a simple farmer, working his fields in an idyllic valley, where life flowed in harmony with natural rhythms. She was finally able to put closure to their previous life together.
Before she moved to Bangsar, M.Y. underwent surgery for a thyroid disorder. She reported to me, a wee bit regretfully, that she no longer astral projected after her thyroidectomy. Instead, she caught the physical travel bug and relished her speaking tours of the United States, representing Southeast Asian women at Methodist World Conferences. Back home, she devoted a great deal of time to serving in various church committees and providing free counseling to all and sundry.
In Those Days... has yet to be resurrected in print - and I can understand why, because publishing books involves not only money but an enormous expenditure of time and effort. Besides, very few publishers are prepared to invest in unknown quantities like a humble collection of personal stories written by a rank amateur, especially if there is absolutely no sensational content to be found - just a frank and sympathetic documentation of memorable episodes in a fairly ordinary human life.
Bersih 2.0 rally for clean and fair elections on 9 July 2011.
So I created a blog on her behalf, called... In Those Days... and when better to go public with it than on what would have been her 95th solar orbit? I have had to retype every single page, beginning from the end, so that when I finally complete this labor of love, the blog will be an online version of her first and only book. I've only managed five chapters to date, but will shoot for at least one more after I upload this post.
|Last photo taken with my Aunt M.Y. in Singapore @ February 2008|