My grandmother is a woman of many stories. If you spend an afternoon with her negotiating Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, or Hakka, she might even go into what she was wearing the day she met my grandfather, and the mundane details of their first date. My grandmother is a closet romantic.
Ahmah can be quite a vain pot too. She never allows you to take photographs of her unless she has put her dentures on. She earnestly screens all the photos on my phone with a conscientious critique. In one, her eyes are “one big and one small”. In another, her “skin is crinkly”. In another, her teeth “cannot be seen”. My grandmother is a supermodel.
Some days, she tells me she is 88-years-old. Other days, she says she is 90. I once called out her inconsistencies in jest. She retorted that she never knew her own birthday, and that the date on her Identity Card was a loose estimate she came up with when the state decided to issue every citizen officious documents. “Haiyah I am 90 but my skin is still so nice. I always use Hazeline Snow. Why do you have so many pimples? No one is going to marry you. Do you want pimple cream?” My grandmother is a beauty expert.
I swung by Singapore for a bit this month and transcribed more haphazard wisdom from the lady. Let’s call this Grandmotherly Folklore.
“Make sure your friends are honest people. You can tell by looking at their face. Don’t be friends with people who look like bad people. Don’t always hang out with people who smoke. Or people who always wear black.”
“When I was younger I used to have tea with my suitors. My mother had this book where I was made to list where I went and who I was with. I never lied. I always wrote down every thing. I think you should also put a notebook by your telephone and record all these things to be safe.”
“On dates, if I left the table for a while, I would never drink or eat any thing that left my line of sight. You never know what your date might put in your drink or your food. You never know who might want to drug you or cheat you. Always bring your bag with you when you go to the bathroom. Don’t accept food from people on the way there and back.”
“The doctor tells me to go for walks, but my legs are weak and I’m afraid to go out on my own, because I might slip and fall. At this age, if you fall, you’ll end up with many problems. Things break easily. You are still young, you can still fall as much as you want. Your body will just heal. Young bodies are good like that. Just make sure you don’t fall so often when you are older.”
“I want to go out, but I don’t know the routes. The roads are always changing. Every thing is always new. There are always new roads popping up. Every thing is moving too quickly. I’d rather stay at home. I know where every thing is at home.”
On pimples (seriously, my grandmother’s favourite topic of all time)
“You have so many pimples. It’s not pretty. You’re a girl. Your skin should be like tofu. I used to be very fair and pretty. I took very good care of my skin. I am very tanned now, but I used to be very fair, like snow. You should use pimple cream. I have pimple cream. You should use my pimple cream. Your pimples look like rice.”
Okay, ahmah. I will religiously adhere to your pimple cream regime from now on.
PS: An earlier edition here.