My Mother …A Defining Moment

Abstract: Today is Mother’s Day. I thought that I should pen a post in tribute to my Mother, for all the love, care and guidance she has showered upon us through all these tough and rewarding years, to raise her 3 children through thick and thin. When we were young we were not well off, but we were indeed a very Happy Family as we have both a loving father and a loving Mother.

I came from a medium size family of 5, my parents, my elder sister and a younger brother.

My father had passed on 3 years ago at the ripe age of 94. My mother is 91 this year, her mind still as sharp as ever, though her hearing is somewhat impaired and her ambulatory movement is slow. She walked with the help of a tripod walking stick and for short distance she can walk unaided. Her eyes are still good and she reads the vernacular Chinese newspaper daily.

She has a mini iPAD cum iphone, so that she is connected to all the members of the family and relatives on Facebook. She can even pronounce ‘Facebook’ though she knows not an English word. And she browses through Youtube for her favorite Chinese opera, some oldies mandarin songs or reads up about life. Occasionally, her two great grandchildren of 7 years and 10 years would give a helping hand on her iPad to check for missed calls, to charge her phone or do some miscellaneous house-keeping.

As we grew up, we savored Mother’s love and care at her best. There was no favoritism and all three of her children were first among equals. However, I did have more of her attention as I was quite a sickly child when I was young.  

When I was sick, she would nurse me back to health, often staying up the whole night to check on my fever. At times I could still feel the bitter taste of those herbal soup of goat’s gallbladder, which was steamed for over 6 hours in a slow fire, and which my mother made me drink every drop. It was an expensive item, but to her she would make sacrifices over other things.

Strange as it might be, I could still remember the fragrance of her hair or her body when she held me in her arms. Perhaps at times when one was hovering near death, the clarity of that moment would be seared and branded inside one’s soul, and in later years it would surface and be recalled clearly in our conscious mind.

I loved to listen to her stories. She would tell me her life story in China and her early years in Malaya. And she would also tell me about my eldest brother and my second sister who died of illness. But it was not a story of bitterness, rather it was a story of fond remembrance and that in life something would go and one would have to accept the inevitable and move on with living.  

And her life story was one of determination and faith, one who understood the moral and ethical value system of family and humanity and she was the one who devoted herself unselfishly to the family. 

Throughout my childhood years, we lived in a village in Ipoh, a small town about 230km north of Kuala Lumpur. Predominantly, a Chinese community, the houses were all of thatched roof and wood construct. On a hot day, the heat within the house could be scorching and on a rainy day, water would leak from above. A few houses from us, we saw a house being reduced to ashes in a matter of an hour during Chinese New Year when fire crackers landed on the roof.  

Our village was notorious with triad gangs that ruled over certain sections of the village.  They had such names like ‘08 Tong’, ‘14K’, ‘Wah Kee’ or ‘Flying Dragon Bong’ where titles were invariably drawn from romantic and revolutionary Chinese classics where the hill bandits fought the tyranny of the government and formed brotherhood to protect themselves.   Each member would be marked with a very small tattoo on certain parts of their arms and they too had a verbal code where they would recognize each other. 

These triads were territorial. There were clear invisible demarcation lines where each triad could hold court in certain sections of the village and if other triad members would to stray over accidentally there would be serious blood letting gang fight with parang machetes, iron rods, wooden spears and meat cleavers.  Their main income seemed to come from operation of gambling dens, black market 4D lottery, rent-seeking and the smuggling of contraband goods.

Although most of them were early school drop outs, these gangsters had a code of ethics and conduct.  They did not extort money from us nor do they threatened us.  Our parents always reminded us not to fall prey to these gangsters as they were always recruiting and looking out for new blood.  Once you swore allegiance to them and joined their brotherhood you could never get out without losing an arm or a leg.

There was an incident which my brother and I could recall clearly, even to this day. I was probably around 9 years old, and my brother was two years my junior.

It was late afternoon and both of us were in the house. Suddenly, we heard a huge commotion on the gravel road outside our house. A lone man was screaming and running, and in his hand he was holding a parang machete. He was being pursued by a group of men, wielding menacing weapons.

All the houses quickly slammed their door shut. Mother was quick to rush out and dead bolt the door. She knew that it was another gang fight. We peeked through the slats of our wooden house as the horrible event unfolded just outside the road two houses away from ours.

Another group of gangsters were coming in from the other end of the road. The lone man was boxed in and there was no way to run. The doors of every house were shut tight. When they closed in, the lone man was no match for the ferocity of the gangsters.

He was hacked to pieces.

Much later the police came to take away the remains of what was a whole body. They did not ask for witness. It was just another routine gang fight. The police had bigger fish to fry. At that time, the national security of Malaysia was confronted by two issues, the Malayan Emergency where the communists were fighting along the fringes of the jungle and The Confrontation with Indonesia where Indonesia was claiming that Malaysia belonged to them.      

Both of us were paled with fright. Mother quickly came to hug us and asked us to forget what we saw.

However, the most critical moment occurred when my mother had shown herself to be the towering Mother Hen when it came to protecting her own brood.

The small area of about two roads where we resided was ruled by the ‘08 Tong’ triad. There were a few members who lived in a hut at the entrance of the road leading to our house. There had been no trouble for us with the triad as they had a rule not to disturb their neighbours.

One day a newly recruited gangster broke the rules.

My elder sister was walking home from school one afternoon. She was probably about 14 years old then. She was the type of homely docile girl who had never raise her voice even when we played some harmless pranks on her.

As she passed the hut of the ’08 Tong’, a young man with a pimple-scarred face jumped out and blocked her with a bamboo stick.  He was a new recruit with the nickname of ‘Big Mouth Dog’.  A welt of narrow deep scar ran from his left eye to his forehead behind his ears, most probably being knifed during a gang fight, which he wore like a badge of honour and which indicated that he had passed the baptism of fire in a fierce gang fight.  He was trying to show off his mettles in front of a few member gangsters who were much younger than him. 

He kept taunting my sister to the cheers and exhortation of the group behind.  My sister shouted back and ran to our house. They followed closely behind. My younger brother and I were in the small garden in front of our house and seeing my sister running home we quickly opened our wooden front gate and let her in.  The 3 of us ran into our house and closed the front door.

Then the gangsters shouted obscenities and pelted our house with stones.  Villagers began to gather in front of our house and soon a sizeable crowd was building.  They were only spectators and none did anything nor enquire what was the commotion all about. They too feared these gangsters.  Big Mouth Dog worked the juvenile gangsters to a frenzy and more stones were thrown.  Each stone landed with a loud thud and the situation worsened as bigger stones were being hurled at our house.

The 3 of us were cowering in a corner and my sister was in tears.  My mother rushed in from the kitchen and my sister related to her in between sobs of what had happened.

Suddenly, I was fully aware of what was happening. My fear for the worst evaporated in the comfort of the serene poise of my mother.  In the semi darkness of the house, I saw the determination and grit on the face of my mother as she was framed against the few slats of light that came in. Awareness created permanent memories and to this day, I can still remember the crystal clear image of her resoluteness to defuse the situation.

To me this was the most defining moment of my mother. She was going to take the devil by the horn.

She told us to stay where we were. She grabbed a feather duster from the table. Then she walked to the front door and swing it open. A flood of light came in. She stood inside the corridor for a while as stones were still raining in. 

From behind our view we saw a lone brave woman facing a hostile crowd of herd mentality. Big Mouth Dog was having fun, shouting aloud as his followers were raising their fist or stones in their hands.

At the defiant stance of a lone woman the stone throwing stopped.  She walked out of the front door, opened the gate and faced Big Mouth Dog. She gripped the feather duster firmly in her hand, as if a small feather duster could withstand the onslaught of stones being hurled at her.

“What do you want?” My mother said in no less severe tone.

Big Dog Mouth mumbled some unintelligible expletives that my sister insulted him.  All he wanted to do was to slap her.

My mother shouted to my sister and asked her to come out to have a face off.

My sister obediently came out trembling.

“I did not insult him. He blocked my way and I asked him to make way for me.” She pointed at Big Mouth Dog and she was gaining confidence in the confrontation.

Big Mouth Dog was agitated by now and was getting nervous to be confronted by a woman and a young girl. His gang of young men quickly dropped the stones they were holding onto.

Just then a man pushed through and the crowd stepped back.  Ah Chuen was the gang leader of the group.  He was of medium build with stout muscles.  He wore a white short sleeve shirt and loose short pants. Over his neck he wore a thick gold chain. He sized up the situation.

He had a commanding presence and there was an immediate silence among the crowd. He asked my mother politely and enquired on the event of the day. 

Mother was quick with her wits. She knew that this was the leader of ’08 Tong’. She addressed him as Big Brother and explained that her daughter would not dare to insult Big Mouth Dog.

Ah Chuen turned around and slapped Big Mouth Dog hard on the face. He reeled and stumbled onto the ground. Then Ah Chuen gave a slight bow and apologized to my mother.

Ah Chuen pointed his index finger at Big Mouth Dog and said aloud slowly, “If ever you disturb any of our good neighbours, I will personally castrate you!”

The show-down was over and the crowd dispersed.

From the day Big Mouth Dog would wave at my sister cheerfully whenever she walked home. She just nodded her head.

Mother is great!

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