11 May 2012

Ninety-nine Years of Worry - Special Mother's Day Double Issue 長憂九十九 - 母親節雙刊

This November my parents will celebrate their 25th year in Canada. For two and a half decades, they have lived out their retirement dream in a quiet Toronto suburb, a world away from the humdrum city life they left behind in Hong Kong. Scattered around the world, their five children and half-dozen grandchildren take turns visiting them. I, for instance, take the 16-hour trans-Pacific flight from Hong Kong to spend a week with them every winter. In their house, they have kept my room the way I left it 15 years ago. When I go to the kitchen, I will see my name written on the wall calendar in bright red ink, with a squiggly line that runs across the days of my visit.

My mom and her two oldest children, taken in 1965

When I am in Hong Kong, I am supposed to call my parents twice a month. There is always an excuse not to: the twelve-hour time difference (or is it thirteen?), my travel schedule, a writing streak that cannot be interrupted. It doesn’t bother my dad nearly as much as it does my mom. Indeed, every phone call she picks up begins with the same question: “Why do you never call?” To make up for it, I try to buy her something nice each time I see her...


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Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.




25 comments:

  1. Jason,

    Thanks for the sharing ! Can't agree more with no substitute at all ! None !

    Happy Mother's Day !


    Jean

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  2. Really beautiful story, Jason! Thank you for sharing.

    Joe

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  3. Bravo, Jason, another heartfelt n clairvoyant piece that brought tears to the eyes, n total empathy. Comments ( and sharing) to cascade down soon.

    Christine

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  4. Beautiful article, Jason. Made me think of my mom too.

    Winston

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  5. Great article. I read it with tears in my eyes. BTW, I just gave my mum a call yesterday night and she asked me not to go the gym that often.

    Kelvin

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  6. Haha, Kelvin, that's so typical of mom!!! :-)

    Jason

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  7. Brought back many sweet memories, it's so true that 養兒一百歲,長憂九十九.

    Margaret

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  8. So good....Mom just asked me a couple of days ago to wear more clothes and do not have cold drink.

    Ada

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  9. And to think the daughter of a wealthy landowner could tackle all that in the midst of the turmoil in China then single-handedly !!! Your mom is awesome, man : >

    Christine

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  10. Andrea is going to translate it for mum.

    Margaret

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  11. Haha, Jason, now I understand why you said I sounded exactly like your mum. LOL! I love this article so much, very sweet!!!^^

    Lily

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  12. Jason, a beautiful story. Didn't know that your mom is from 台山。that explains why in my recollection that you could speak 台山話.

    Eva

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  13. Thanks, all! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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    Replies
    1. Jason,

      This is one of the most beautiful pieces you have penned, like some of your other pieces that keep plucking on one heartstrings long after one has read it. Like some of your other pieces that brought tears to one's eyes. I am still thinking about this piece of yours every now and then in the midst of what I am doing everyday.

      I am not even married yet. But by looking at my married brother and cousins and friends with children, and how they have changed, I totally empathize what YOU feel and can understand what YOUR MOM would have been thinking of or worried about. : p

      Comments and sharing to come soon (as I said earlier). Apologies about the delay.

      Love,
      Christine

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  14. 記得伍太太20年前第一次往加拿大, 留下她最小的兒子在港, 有次造訪, 看到廚房貼了許多可黏貼memo紙,提示她的小兒子怎樣管理屋企和照顧自己,但從當時廚房的情況推斷, 那位小兒子顯然沒有怎樣遵從那些指示!!

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  15. Oh wow Jason, now I know more about your mother. Your parents were very good to me when I was in HK from age 7 to 11. We lived in the same flat, they rented a space next to my room. I still have a baby picture of your oldest brother, and your aunt Katherine was my best friend.

    Jeanie

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  16. Good on you, Jason, visiting your parents every winter (and lucky you, you get to ski in Canada or the States every winter then). And good on them keeping your room the same it was 15 years ago (so you return to HK about the same year I did then). Lots of parents won’t, and there is always a nostalgia seeing old toys and books and the manner things dear to oneself were being kept before. When my home in HK got renovated a few years back and we had to throw away lots of toys my brother and I had when we were very young, I nearly wept and I gave all my stuffed toy such a tight hug before letting them part from me forever.

    Your mom looked gorgeous in the picture, and the two kids were so cute. I totally empathize with the telephone calls scenario. When my brother and I were studying in Sydney, we were supposed to call them every Sunday morning. From their respective tones, I can tell my dad is just concerned whether his daughter is safe and sound and everything that matters to her (primarily my study then) is going smoothly. My mom would be so agitated about everything, my health, whether I am eating properly, keeping the house clean, seeing and dating (she wished) the right people…. You name it. And the cream of the crop, (even if I call), why are you always in a hurry to cut the call short? Why don’t you ever tell your mom anything (this comment has persisted till the present moment). I don’t shower my mom with all that many gift, one reason being that she never seems to use them. The other being that she is always somewhat critical of them, a bottle of perfume that didn’t match the colour of her dressing table, a scarf that didn’t go with the complexion of her skin or the tone of her clothes, you name it. Though they shouldn’t be in their original shopping bags at the time of speaking, (she wouldn’t have taken them out to look at them before she could comment on them) she would have put it in other clean cases or packages before putting it in her closet.

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  17. As for being a worrier-in-chief, I don’t think anyone can emulate, or even rival, my mom. Though admittedly she has gotten slightly better these days. She worries about her health, coz’ she certainly isn’t built like a horse. She was born around the time of WWII when food and nutrition for adults and toddlers were scarce, but she worries about every possible thing there is under the sun about her daughter: I am too fat and unattractive enough and doomed to a solitary or hermitic life, I work far too long hours, my health is not good enough, I am not seeing enough friends nor guys (she thinks, though admittedly I am seeing a lot less of my friends since they got married and have kids), I eat out FAR too much (well, who wouldn’t with our work schedules), I spend too much or buy too many things and books, I am never at home, I never talk to her… and the list goes on and on. (As an aside, it never strikes me that you are not saving enough. I somehow got the impression that anyone working in an investment bank knows perfectly well how to do their own financial planning) And my dad is about the most doting dad in the entire world over his daughter (I know this is a mothers’ day and not fathers’ day piece, but I have to give full credit to my dad for the fact that I am still alive and kicking and doing what I am doing today – but that’s another story).

    I admire your mom, coping with your grandfather’s death and the turmoil in China then. It must have taken her utmost courage to flee to the unfamiliar Hong Kong in those times. Both you and I have seen, if not personally experienced, what the Mainland government could be. Can you imagine what they would do to these people if they were caught? To go from being the 千金小姐” of a landowner to losing everything and become one having to earn and save her own bread, it takes a lot in a person to fulfil that. Tell your mom one of your fans really admire her apart from her son’s writings!!!

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  18. I admire her all the more for having married your dad out of love, and owned up to you so honestly about it even though you are her son and so close in blood relationship to her. Many just wouldn’t. Very true, if that hasn’t happened, there may not be a Jason Ng today, or there may be a very different Jason Ng today. We wouldn’t know, just as the butterfly wings’ effect over in Brazil. Any action, of sentiment, of one, can change the courses of histories for many. We will never know, and wild surmises wouldn’t help. It’s up to us to do the same and re-shape the world we want to live and keep growing in, right? We don’t necessarily need to do something as big as the land reform movement or even the Obama healthcare program, or even marrying Mark Zuckerberg (as you wrote a few days back). But what we do and say and be will certainly colour the lives of those around us. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t want to marry someone so much in the limelight, I don’t want the reporters to be stalking every step I take !!! And I guess the key thing is, if you see something you should do, whether out of love or care for another, you should do it irrespective of the monetary concerns and work a way out together once both are oriented towards the same direction. Love is above giving, not even sacrificing, and not taking ! (or maybe I’m an even more die hard romantic than your mom).

    Haha, my mom has long since given up trying to convince me to go to bed at 11pm, but my dad still does. They always check tht I have all my passport and air ticket and whatnots and that I’ve packed everything immaculately before I leave on a trip. I admire her, that a “spoiled brat” would do so much to keep the family together and to earn the bread for her family and for her relatives. Guess I am lucky to have gone though school and University and Masters and my professional exams without a big worry as to who is going to foot those fees (and my current practicing certificates in HK and in NSW). I have never seen such an antiquated sewing machine as the one shown in your picture though. And she is so good to the relative, to the needy one, the way she soaked te loaked before sending them up. I never knew there was such a way. Someone I found it hard to believe you mom, being born into such a family, would instill capital punishment, or were you guys really naughty. I remember I did get spanked every now and then, but the worst punishment at home is (apart from my academic studies) I would never to cry before my dad or parents coz’ they can’t tolerate crying kids. So I would end up at home with a bad fall outside my school on the tarmac road and bleeding knees and I’ve still got to choke back my tears when they apply the medication onto the wound. And you know that can be painful. Not sure whether that or the spanking is worse, coz in that sense I got the feeling that I have to fight to get well and I can’t rely on my parents to shelter me like a cry baby and use lollies and the stuff to cheer me up. Maybe that explains why I am a bit hardened and that I only believe in getting up and fighting back after one has fallen down despite my religious beliefs.

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  19. Never trust my mom to take care of creepies crawlies very well, though I remember once there was a mini – dinosaur / reptile looking thing at my house in Sydney that is multi-coloured (always not a good sign) and I was on the veryge of freaking out, when my mom did manage to shoe it out into the courtyard, Thank goodness I never saw that thing again.

    Your analysis of what the true motherly love at the end is certainly true, the last thing they need from us is another handbag or necklace of whatnot. It is actually a boost to our ego that we are feeding with our mom with all these good things when we are unwilling to give her more, our attention and time and sharing with her deeper as to what is happening to us or what we are feeling. As my mom always complain, I never tell her anything and that she hears everything about me from others (who are the tell-tales? They’d better own up) And given the huge pressure my mom gave me as a kid as to my studies and how to behave like a girl and a lady (which you can see from your book launch party I am far from it), actually sadly my relationship with my mom is a lot more distant as I couldn’t cope with the constant pressure and expectation as to what I should be and not what I actually am. I can’t even cope with my own expectations on myself sometimes and another layer of expectation is not making my life any easier. Apart from my religion and ever since the major Chapter in my life, my belief is if you don’t pick yourself up after all, no one is there to help you up. Since when have I become so cynical ??? Worst of all, you know I am a Roman Catholic, I think this distant relationship with my mom has actually distance me from the Blessed Virgin Mary as well, I can never seen to get into so deep a relationship with her as my other Catholic friends coz’ I tis not in my nature to approach my mom as the first point of assistance if anything happens. Still I have to give her credit that despite her poor health, she is still fretting far too many thing sbout me unlike your mom. Mybe it really is time for me to practice filial piety better.

    Christine

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  20. The best gift you give your mom is your time with her. remember the old saying: 樹欲靜而風不止,子欲養而親不再
    seems like you already know that you make up excuses, it's easy to say than to do. don't let yourself regret in the future.
    best wishes for you and your family. and glad that your parents are still healthy.

    - Connie Chiu

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  21. Christine,

    Everyone has their own "mom" story and thanks for sharing yours. I can easily picture the way mothers pressure their daughters to get a boyfriend and, better yet, get married. That seems to be at the top of every mother's list: to marry off her daughters. It's part of the genetic programming.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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    Replies
    1. Thanks zillions for your response, Jason, despite your busy schedules.

      Yup, but apart from getting me a boyfriend or a husband, my mom used to worry about whether I was top of class / year at school, whether I was multi-talented in all things you could possibly learn under the sun (or actually, maybe a bit less, just under the moon), whether I am ladylike enough, docile and sweet and alluring enough, and why I never tell her anything and above all, why am I not like the daughter she would like me to be.

      I remember her telling me once that she named me "Christine" coz' she used to have a friend when she was young who's stunning, sweet and docile and ladylike, and basically everything that I am not. At least I am sure she doesn't read Franz Kafka nor Walter Benjamin nor Kierkegaard nor Freud nor Paul Coutinho nor John Berger and the like, and as far as I know (could be wrong) she is not a soprano singer. And my mom was wishing "her" Christine would be just like that Christine. How I've failed her...

      And thanks Connie, I am much more closer to my dad (who actually got quite sick the Christmas before, but he's OK now, thank God literally). My mom is not in the best of health and I know I should be more caring about her, but at times the only thing that I could ever wish for is a bit of peace at home and let me be the individual that I am (not that I am a grave criminal or something anyway). Talk about expectation gap which Jason should know very well : p

      Love,
      Christine

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  22. Your are right, Connie. I hope your mother is doing well. I know what you mean when you talked about regrets. It came from the heart.

    Jason

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