Thursday, July 4, 2019

Chapter 6: 30.6

They say passing 30 is like a big milestone. The proof that you've moved onto the bigger challenges in life.

These days I call it adulting.

I'm laughing at my younger self now. Calling it the "end" of something. He wasn't wrong, yet he didn't cover everything.

Now, especially now, as I spent more time sorting through my emotions, it's become somewhat clear that I need to write this to clear my head. The last chapter was 9 years ago. It has been a long time.

I never really ever set a goal for myself when you hit the big three-o. I was always on the track of you'll figure it out when you do. These days, well a lot of my friends are getting married, having kids, taking care of them. I'm here wondering if my life experiences could match up with everything they were doing.

My other grandma passed away last year. Her 90th year. She was the same zodiac as me, Dragon. 60 years apart. She was the one in Shanghai. The one I couldn't really leave behind, and yet I did. My memories of Shanghai, the time when I was young, was completely with her.

From what I remember, she single handedly brought up my dad and his four other siblings. My grandpa died when my dad was in his teens. Everything from that point onward she raised them all by herself. I have scant memories of the old place they used to live at before the siblings got married one by one. It was cramped. Traditional one big room, and because it was a big family, they had... I guess what I would call them would be "bunkbeds" that are on top of the kitchen area. As time went on and everyone started moving out, it was decided that my grandma would move in with us. I think it is because of me being the only male born son in the family (and because of the one child policy).

I really have fond memories of her. She didn't receive any education when she was young, so she couldn't read. She couldn't speak Mandarin Chinese either. It was only Shanghainese (specifically a particular variation of Shanghainese) that she could speak. She took care of me from birth really, and from what I can remember from other people, did clash with my mom on how to take care of me. I have to assume that this may be a rite of passage for all moms to go through.

My memories of her were she would always come to me with a smile on her face, with her fake teeth implants, asking me what I wanted to eat. I remember afternoons with her where I just "help" with making rice dumplings. I would try to get the leaves to make the rice dumpling shape for her. However, I would evidently always miss a spot with my small hands somewhere where the raw rice can leak out, causing her much annoyance.

I love eggs. When I was young, I love it when it is... I guess in English it would be over hard (crispy please!)? That was not the main attraction for me. It was the crispy egg white sides that were amazing to me. Even now, I don't think I can get to that level (or maybe I shouldn't?). Coupled with the amazing soy sauce (宴会酱油) I can eat that for days. FOR DAYS. I remember my grandma being super excited that I was enjoying her fried eggs that she burst out crying exclaiming how happy she was.

That... did not last long.

My grandma was heartbroken. She would continue to live at our old place, alone. I would see her only during June and December school holidays. This was still in the late 90s. I would want to get a laptop and use the internet, but of course in those days... it was dialup. She would get exceeding frustrated at me for hogging the phone line, and me at her for disrupting my download (Commandos Demo was a ~50MB download IIRC, that would take forever). Even more important than hogging the phone line, she would lament her phone bill. It was much much more than what she was used to.

The other change... was more drastic. My grandma took up religion. She became a devout christian. I actually do not remember how she got into it, but I do know why. She would ask me to pray with her, to pray that my parents would get back together. She would ask me to go to the Sunday mass with her. I was extremely uncooperative, in my mind it was ... something that was not going to happen. That or it took up time on my holiday. It would be a source of disagreements that I have with her.

That being said, I do appreciate her new faith. It led her to start reading, actually reading. At 70 years old, being a completely uneducated farmer, she read the bible, page by page. It was tough, but she persevered. She would ask whomever was around for help when she didn't know how to read a character. It was difficult for me. All of my Chinese I learned in Singapore, and my grandma did not know how to pronounce words in Mandarin, only Shanghainese. I had to do some leaps in logic to help transition those words into the dialect. I did what I could.

There was a time when my mom and I were very much into puzzles. We did quite a bit of puzzles together, Disney ones, scenery ones. One day we were browsing the store and we found something interesting. It was a 1000 piece puzzle of the Last Supper. Completed the puzzle in three days, glued it up, framed it. My grandma was overjoyed when we presented her with the puzzle. It hung on her wall till the day she passed.

She moved around after we sold the place. That was an ordeal on its own. She first moved to one of the places that my aunt lived at. However, it was on the top floor of a 6 floor apartment, and there were no stairs. I remember she would try to climb the stairs and then tell me to go first, that she will be resting for a little bit. They ended up buying a place for her that had an elevator after I entered university.

It was here that I was taken aback with how much I reminisce about my younger more innocent/naive times. My grandma kept all of our old furniture. The dresser where she kept a lot of photos. Some of them me of my various trips back, some dating back to when I was younger with her. Photos of aunts and uncles weddings, of cousins sharing the time together. There was one that was bigger than the rest, it was the photo taken at the airport when I left for Singapore.

I remember the time when I got the call, my dad told me. She fell at home. Undergoing surgery, she had metal installed in her left leg. She was not the same as before. From that point on, she started losing cognitive function, she would forget people, forget names, forget. Cerebellar atrophy, that was the official name. It got worse and worse until remembering was the shorter period, and even that period got shorter and shorter. The family got her a maid, and did a really good job taking care of her.

I went back as much as I could. Then there was a period of time that I couldn't visit her, I couldn't go anywhere. I was praying, praying that I would be able to see her the next time I could fly. She pulled through, but she became bedridden. Everyday was assisted, solids became liquids, words became gibberish, and soon not talking at all. When I finally was able to visit 1.5 years later, I broke down. She had deteriorated to something I was not expecting.

The family moved her to emergency ward care. The maid came everyday. She would bring her the three meals, wipe her back, wipe the drool off of her mouth. When I'm in Shanghai, I would visit. I would talk to her, tell her what has been happening, to me, to my cousin. Tell her about my life, my work. Most times, I would say nothing, sitting there holding her hand. Every time I leave, I would tell my dad... take care of her.

Shortly after my trip, she was transferred to an old folks home in May. She couldn't stay at the hospital anymore. A couple days later, she passed away. My dad told me not to come back, I had been there just a month ago. My mind was a blank, that month was especially hard to go through.

I flew back for her funeral. Winter Solstice, it was the same time as my uncle who passed.

Writing this look longer than I wanted to admit. This past year has been challenging to deal with.

My best friend is getting married in a month. I'm happy for him, truly truly am.

Listening to: 田馥甄 - 爱着爱着就永远

No comments: