This trilogy is loosely based on stories from my grandmother, late mother and my own life. It is mostly real as I remembered sitting on my grandmother’s lap, listening to her tales while I visited my kampong near Tapah during Chinese New Year. At the same time, memories and the stories of my mother lingered on although she passed away for some time now.
My intention is to document three different lives : a hard-working and kind-hearted Chinese girl who came to Malaya for a better future; a young, highly-intelligent and ambitious girl from a small village in the early days of Malaysia as well as a post-globalization, modern techno-savvy Malaysian young lady. It is an interwoven tale of three generations of Malaysian Chinese, as told in three distinctly unique female voices.
“The first time I set my eyes upon Nanyang was at the port of Penang. I was too ill when we made a brief stop-over at Singapore, thus Penang was my first glimpse of the Promised Land. 5th Aunt was praying to the gods that I will not end up being fish-feed. All I remembered about the long and treacherous journey across the South China Sea was a lot of vomiting, chills, poor appetite and the endless blue sea.
Penang in the 1920s was a bustling port city with half-decaying shophouses, noisy hawkers, rich tai-tai dressed in finest qipao and many people of different skin tones and mother tongue. For most of us from China, this first port of call is a heaven-sent destination, a key to a much better life in the many tin-mines and rubber plantation in this warm and sunny land they call Malaya.
The moment I stepped gingerly onto the rickety wooden gang-planks bridging the gap between the junk and the jetty, I was very indifferent to the sights and sounds of this Pearl of the Orient. As we passed through the many trishaws lodged outside the colourful and grand Khoo Kongsi, 5th Aunt mentioned that Penang was pivotal in our motherland’s liberation and independence.
Apparently, Sun Yat-Sen was here to broker many deals and helped with the early days of our nation. I wondered deep inside on whether I still have a nation. Although I was born in the southern province of Guangzhou, near Sun-de where some famous martial arts exponents came from, I never found belonging to anyone or anything in particular. I wonder if I could find ‘home’ in Nanyang, especially in this British colony.
When my parents told me in a very cold tone that they are sending me off to a foreign land so hot that it’s perennially summer, I thought I was sent to ‘hell’. Actually, upon landing in Penang, I actually thought I was delivered from hell. The journey in the cramped boat was beyond my darkest nightmares and as I wobbled weakly after 5th aunt towards our quarters at Burmah Street, I thanked the heavens for sparing me from the wrath of the oceans. I was almost sacrificed at sea!
After a few more steps, I reminded 5th Aunt to make some offerings at the nearby temple as I blinked, took in a deep breath and slowly gobbled up the wondrous sights, smell and sound surrounding me. What I could behold was amazing…the cacophony of foreign languages, the riotous mix of colours in the streets and a heady, chaotic potpourri of scents and aroma wafting from the marketplace! I was turning dizzy from the massive sensory overload.
So, interested to read more about this tantalizing tale? Do pray that this budding ‘novellist’ could find the time to actually complete her most ambitious project to date.