The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

My Dad’s Mum

on September 9, 2013

Today’s post has me rather torn, I want to write it but then again I don’t because I don’t know how it’s going to make me feel. It’s been ten years since the passing of my Grandma, my Por Por. I consider myself lucky that at this age the loss of someone close to me has only crossed my path a few times. I often think of my Grandma, more so since she has been gone than before. I suspect living in Singapore and seeing lots of elderly Chinese women and the Buddhist temples reminds me of her. She was 92 at the time, a long life by any means and nothing to be sad about.

I received the news at work one morning, it wasn’t entirely unexpected because her health had gradually deteriorated following a stroke three years earlier. Plans were already in place to fly out to Hong Kong with my Dad, Mr Li, to see her but it seems she couldn’t hold on.

In Chinese culture, the men inherit the land and the hierarchy of birth position is observed, though perhaps not as strictly these days. My Dad being the eldest of four is Head of the Li family, in name only. People are not simply an aunt or uncle, brother or sister, we all are ranked within the family by paternal or maternal relations and age. Everyone knows their place and their responsibility. This is no bad thing for the younger ones who are always protected by the older ones. I am protected by my older brother until the end of my days, a role he takes very seriously. Too seriously at times I might add.

It was a three day event held in a memorial hall with two anterooms, one to burn paper offerings for the afterlife and in the other my Grandma lay behind a glass wall so everyone could come and pay their respects. I thought I would feel nervous and I was but my brother said there was nothing to be scared of because she was family but I didn’t have to go in. I had to do it in my own time and when I went into the room, there she was; dressed in an Empress style traditional outift, her face made up in quiet repose. I had nothing to fear but I could now see that she really was gone.

Monks chanted; bells rang; people came and went whilst we, the direct descendants, dressed in traditional white mourning clothes, knelt on mats to one side. The following day was the burial and we arrived at the memorial hall to find my Grandma looking peaceful, ready for this final journey. In line with tradition, my Grandma’s younger brother would come to close the casket. I don’t know how many years it had been since my Dad saw my Great Uncle but something broke inside of him. I was mid conversation with someone when I heard the sound of heartbreak. I looked around but wasn’t expecting it to be coming from my Dad. I had never seen him cry before, always the one to be telling us to accept things as they are. Then it dawned on me, my Dad had lost his Mum. It didn’t matter that he was 66 years old himself. My Great Uncle, the elder protective figure had unleashed the grief in my Dad, the younger nephew.

I regret not knowing more about my Grandma. Since when does it occur to the young who are so excited about getting on with their own lives to notice the older people have already done as much. My Grandma may have lived a long life but at times it definitely wasn’t an easy one. She was widowed very early, my Grandfather was involved in an accident with an army vehicle I think it was. My Dad was 11 and my uncle being the youngest was only one. My Dad has known some really tough days where food was scarce, this much he has mentioned before. But in those days, the village was a community; neighbours who are family looking out for each other. Of course there are bound to be people willing to take advantage of a widow with four young children to raise and land worth much more was exchanged for far less because there was no one who could rightfully argue otherwise. My Grandma raised all four children by herself, you can imagine how much admiration and love my Dad had for her. He once told me that how difficult it was to live in Kowloon, barely half an hour cab ride away, when he had to start work. So you can imagine how terribly homesick he must have been when he had to leave Hong Kong for England in 1960 to find a better living to support his family because he was the eldest.

My Dad, my uncle and my two aunts in 2003.



My brother knows our Grandma far better as he was raised by her and as a young man starting out in his married life he returned to Hong Kong and lived with our Grandma so she saw the arrival of her great grandson. I know she must have been a strong, marvellous woman and my brother adored her and talks about her still. The wealth of history that she had experienced living through two World Wars, the advancement in technology (not that she really cared, a telephone and electricity were probably her greatest extravagances) and the wisdom of age.

Here we are back in 1990 with our Grandma. Is it ok to point out my particularly frizzy hair? I look like Rowlf from the Muppets! Of course I never realised it at the time. Humidity.



Where I come from begins in part with my Por Por and Gung Gung and in part with my maternal Grandparents, both who also passed away when I was very young and I know very little about them. If I could meet anyone from any time, it would be them. The people who shaped my parents, who in turn shaped me.

My Grandma currently rests in the hillside of our village. As part of the ceremony, coins were thrown and the ones we caught are saved to bring good luck to the new generation. This isn’t the end though, because in Chinese culture my Grandma’s final resting place will be with my Gung Gung and my Great Grandparents in the ancestral temple. The move won’t happen for a few more years yet and it will be an occasion I hope I will be there for. (Even though I’m not supposed to be part of the clan now I’m married off to the town of Pontefract). When it does happen I hope I will have a lot more to tell #1, 2 and 3 about the lucky coins I have saved for them.


One response to “My Dad’s Mum

  1. Martin Li says:

    I am lucky enough to know our grandmothers, maternal grandfather as well as our maternal grandfather’s sister-in-law in which we also called her “grandmother” because she treated us as her own kids! So we have three grandmothers and two grandfathers.

    Our grandma told me our grandpa was killed by a vehicle that looked like an army vehicle. She learned that the driver was from a village (name withhold) in Tai Po and the man (name withhold) who was responsible for our grandpa’s death was working at a nearly “Experimental Farm” (name withhold). People only talked about it when this man passed away during the late 80’s. I asked our grandma how did she take on the news? Was she angry? No she said, she was happy to see all her children were treated her well and grand children were doing well at schools. (ha ha! Education is so impt! )

    We will collect and rebury our grandmother’s bone say in 6 to 8 years time and put her to rest next to my grandfather. It will be us to carry out this for her! All her children and their off-springs can attend. She already told me what to do when I was younger. I used to pick on her that, when our grandpa died she was only 37, our grandfather might be unable to figure out who was that very old woman resting next to him. She used to reply it was all right, the most important of all was, she would be reunited with our grandpa, I could no longer hold back my tears.. While I asked her:’grandma, what would she like to say to grandpa.” Surprise! Surprise! She said, she would tell him who are the grandchildren.”

    “Ok, grandma, but don’t bring him up! I am scare of ghosts!”.


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