Pillars I: My Ahma


This is my Ahma (better looking one on the left). Today I interviewed my Ahma. Here is a quick text tableau of her, since you and I pretend at history, but really only consume nostalgia like snuff:

My Ahma reckons her age at 78 or 79 this year, which means she must have been born sometime in the 1930s. That is a long time ago. From China, she came to Penggerang, Malaysia when she was only 9 years old. She has vague memories of the Japanese in her childhood, hiding in the hills of her hometown whenever they came past. She came to Malaya when she was 9, to join her father, a fisherman who reared chickens and ducks. Once they caught a great turtle, an old-man-of-the-sea which wept when they hauled it up their little sampan.

She doesn’t know how to read still, because she never had a chance to go to school. Between helping to raise her sisters and brothers and (later) her daughters and sons, there was never time to learn anything but the acrid taste of hardship a little better. Her sisters and brothers managed a little better.

Today, I of my impatient era interviewed her with my broken Teochew and my expensive smooth smartphone, asking about the shop she runs now.

“It’s for your grandpa,” she exclaims matter-of-factly, “I’ll jaga it for him until I’m gone.” Here is AhMa: strongwoman born in the year of the Ox, pillar of my childhood and matriarch of our little clan; the epicentre of our proud radiation. I need to talk to her more. And you, and us: this generation of the strangled tongue and the lost heritages – we all should.


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