Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
(Updated November 2020)
I was very fond of music since I was a baby. That was what my parents told me.
When they wanted to put me to sleep, they just had to switch on the radio or the cassette player, and played some music. As soon as they switched it off I would wake up naturally. They said I shook and bounced my body trying to dance any time that I heard music. I guess most babies have the same reaction when they hear music. Babies are naturally connected with music. That connection becomes less and less for many people as they grow older, but for some, they will continue to stay connected with music. I am very grateful for being one of them. That’s why I love dancing so much when I grew into a young girl, aspiring to be a dancer, with the ambition to be a dance champion once in my life, but somehow I became an aerobics dance instructor for over twenty years, which also unintentionally, had initiated me towards the path of teaching yoga.
Part of the earliest memories that I still remember is when I was maybe 3 years old, my family moved from Kampong Manggis to another village nearby called Kampong Pinang less than two kilometres from where we were. Kampong Pinang was built on top of an abandoned tin mine situated at the borderline of Kuala Lumpur and Southern Petaling Jaya where the older generations named that area Petaling Tin.
There wasn’t anyone living on that land at that time. My parents and some of their friends came to know about the empty land and started to build their own houses on it, just like what human beings would do in the old times to have a shelter. Everyone built a fence with barb wires to mark their own piece of land. My parents built their dream house with the help from some friends and relatives. They also planted many kinds of trees, flowers, fruit trees and vegetables on the land. I still remember one scene about my mother spreading the cement over the floor of our house while carrying me on her back by wrapping me securely in a piece of cloth around her body.
Our house was very big, especially seeing from the eyes of a little girl. It was built with bricks and wooden planks and zinc roof. It had two big separate living halls, a dining hall, five spacious bedrooms, a huge open space kitchen, a washing area with a well, a bathroom and a separate traditional squatting toilet with septic tank. The entire compound surrounding the house was very large too.
Very soon all the other empty plots on the land were filled with other houses and eventually it became a big village.
We didn’t have clean water supply from the government in the house for the first few years. We used the water from the well for washing and showering. We also collected rain water in big plastic barrel. Because the land was a tin mine previously, the water from the well was orange. Our hair and skin became orange from using the well water for showering every day for many years. We jokingly called ourselves the orange people.
My parents built a water filter with a big earthen pot. They filled it with layers of sand, gravels, stones, charcoals and dried leaves. We had to get safe water for drinking and cooking in buckets and water containers at a communal pipe a few hundreds metres away. We washed all the laundries by hand. There was no electricity. We used kerosene lamps at night in the beginning. Later on we had a generator to generate electricity for the fridge and to watch television. After many years living there our villagers got together and applied for electricity and water supply from the government.
There was a Chinese primary school built by the boss of the old tin mine factory. The school might be still operating but it would be in a complete different setting now. It should be more than forty five years old at this date. The reputation of that school wasn’t very good at that time, though it had improved significantly after the nineties. I didn’t go to that school because my parents wanted to send me to a better school in PJ Old Town which was a few kilometres away from our home. I am thankful and grateful that my parents had chosen to send me to that school to spend my early childhood with some good friends and great teachers that influenced me in the good way. For me, good friends aren’t necessarily the people whom I like to hang out with and spend some happy time together, but they are those who have good and positive influence to my personal growth and well-being, and who inspire and uplift me to be a better and kinder person.
I learned about the basic humanity of morality, truthfulness, honesty, humility, responsibility, discipline, initiative, tolerance and respect from the Chinese primary school which I truly appreciate. I also learned about all these qualities from my parents whom had allowed me and my brothers and sister to have absolute freedom to do whatever we wanted to do, without abandoning the traditional Chinese cultural values, such like self-control, acceptance, adjustment, adaptation, forbearance, generosity, forgiveness, gratefulness and appreciation. We were allowed to do whatever we liked to do, but strictly no stealing, speaking harsh words and telling lies. Once, my brothers were punished by my mother rubbing hot chilies onto their mouth because they had spoken bad words. We were free to go anywhere by ourselves. We could have any ambitions and we were free to express all our thoughts and feelings. Though my parents only earned enough for our living, they did their best to provide us with everything they could possibly give to support us in pursuing all our dreams.
Nothing is perfect. There are pros and cons in this type of complete freedom parenting. If we don’t know how to utilize this freedom wisely, we could end up with lots of unnecessary problems in life. But then there is nothing wrong about it as well because we will learn from our own mistakes and grow wiser eventually.
I grew up in the village house until sixteen years old. The government wanted to demolish all the illegal squatter houses in and around Kuala Lumpur to turn it into a modern city with high rise concrete buildings, shopping malls, flats, apartments and condominiums.
I remember during the twelve years we were living in Kampong Pinang, there was no such thing as petty theft or crime happening in our village. Everyone knew each other and were nice to each other. We looked after one another. We let the doors, windows and the front gate wide opened throughout the day and night without the need of locking the doors or closing the gate. My parents had no fear of letting us went out with friends to play outside the house at the nearby sand hills, the riverbank and the fields in the village. Sometimes they left us at home by ourselves.
Nowadays, it isn’t the same anymore in the big city. There is so much fear in everyone whether being at home or outside their homes. Everyone locks themselves in with thick metal grills on all doors and windows. There are very few people who know or have interactions with their neighbours, especially those who are living in the modern high density apartments and condominiums with higher security.
People don’t feel safe to hitch hike a ride like what we used to do in the past. Drivers don’t feel safe to stop their cars to pick up strangers, or if they see someone needs help at the roadside. Children are not allowed to go outside to play by themselves without the supervision of the adults.
The children have very little freedom to do what they like to do, or choose what they want to become when they grow up because their parents have already decided for them what they shall become. The parents who have better income will arrange their children to attend extra tuition classes and activities that the parents think are good for the children’s future, hoping that they will become successful people in the society, or in another term, to be able to find a secure good income job and attain a higher standard of living. But, how many people are truly happy with themselves and what they do, or in harmony with the world that they are living in? Why do some people need to depend on doping or drugs to relax themselves, to feel good, or to escape from something that they aren’t happy about?
Some parents send their children to dance and music lessons even though the children aren’t interested in dancing or music because the parents want to revive their own childhood unfulfilled dreams that they hadn’t accomplished when they were young. They want to fulfill their own dreams through their children. Of course there are children who love to take up dance and music lessons, but not all parents can’t afford it. Most children don’t have enough playtime like what we used to have in the old days, especially outdoor activities in the nature, as the children are too busy with studying the school text books preparing for ongoing exams because of so much expectation coming from their parents and from themselves, so that they will be able to compete and survive in a competitive materialistic society when they finish study.
I really loved that old house very much. When we saw the house and all the fruit trees and vegetable garden were all gone after the housing developer sent in the bulldozers, I felt so sad, and cried. My parents couldn’t hold their tears too.
We had big area inside and outside the house to play and run about. There were trees surrounding the house providing shade to the house and there’s a beautiful garden with colourful flowers. We had a vegetable garden and lots of fruit trees – durian, rambutan, mango, chiku, guava, papaya, custard apple, ambarella, pineapple and starfruit.
My father built two concrete fish ponds beside the house. He loves fishing. Sometimes he brought me and my brothers with him to go fishing at the big pond not too far from our house. The big pond was part of the abandoned tin mine where the garbage trucks and the villagers threw the rubbish at. There were lots of Tilapias and cat fish in the pond. If we were lucky we would get a few Tilapias, my mother would cook them for dinner on that same evening. If not, my father would keep the fish that were still alive in the two little fish ponds beside our house. There were more than a hundred of Tilapias and cat fish living in the fish ponds before we moved to Pantai Dalam long house.
I still remember the Tilapias tasted like mud. My father said it was because they grew up eating the mud in the rubbish pond. It is so expensive to eat fish like Tilapias nowadays, but back then they were just a common food on the table for poor people.
There was a big carport for my parents’ cars and a big open store room beside the house. Though my father worked as a mechanical fitter for weighing machines, my parents could afford two Ford Cortinas when we were living in the old house. One was white and the other one, blue. One for my father and one for my mother. There were not many women who could drive a car at that time. Once my father had a Volkswagen Beetle which we called it the frog car in Chinese. My father adored all the cars like his family. Nowadays, many people working hard for many hours a day six days a week also can’t afford to buy a house under the exploitation of capitalism and high cost of living.
Once my mother asked someone to build a big chicken cage behind the house to breed live chicken for sale and for our own consumption. I remember my mother had to watch out for Monitor lizards as they like hunting for chicken. She also needed to monitor the temperature inside the cage so that the chicken wouldn’t get heat stroke. She would spray the ceiling of the cage with water from time to time when the weather was hot. She kept the cage as clean as possible to keep away diseases. Some of the chicken died of heart-attacked during new year celebrations and other kinds of celebration day because of the loud noise coming from the villagers playing the firecrackers. My mother buried those dead chicken at the back of the garden. She said that dead chicken were not good for eating as chicken had to be slaughtered while they were alive. I watched my mother many times when she slaughtered the live chicken. After my mother tided the chicken’s legs with string and hanged the chicken upside down, she gently hold the chicken head back with one hand and used a knife cutting just a little of the chicken’s throat with the other hand, to allow the blood drained-off completely while the chicken was still alive.
At one stage, my parents also grew beansprouts to sell at the local vegetables morning market and night market. They bought a few big earthen pots with several holes at the bottom of the pots to allow water-draining. They lined the bottom of the pots with a hemp sack and placed a thick layer of mung beans over the hemp sack. Then they place another layer of hemp sack over the mung beans to keep them in the dark and give a little bit of pressure on the beans, so that they wouldn’t grow long and thin, but fat and short, as the texture would be much better and crunchier when eaten. My parents needed to water the beansprouts every two hours, even during the night, as the mung beans wouldn’t sprout nicely and evenly if they didn’t get enough water, and the sprouted mung beans would rot from the heat built up under the hemp sack, if they didn’t get watering on time to cool down the temperature.
Our living was close to a self-contained way of life. If it wasn’t because of my sister and her late husband needed money for starting a business and had failed in every business that they ventured, as well as the government had taken away our house and the land we lived on, we wouldn’t have financial problems later on.
My father was a mechanical fitter for Avery Weighing Machine Company for forty years from sixteen years old until the day he retired. He was the longest working employee for Avery Malaysia and was very loyal to the company (that’s what he told me) and never worked for any other companies. He was very passionate about his job and he was very thankful to his English boss who had employed him when he was only sixteen years old and without any educational background. When I was little, my father told me that he always felt indebted to his English boss for being very kind to him. The boss trained my father for his assigned job and also taught him how to read and write in English. That was also the biggest reason why my father never left the company because he treated the company like his home. But during the last ten years or so after the English boss had retired and went back to England, my father was very disappointed and unhappy with the new Malaysian boss whom my father said that he was a very arrogant, selfish and unthoughtful man who never care for the welfare and well-being of the employees.
My father was born in Johor and grew up during the Japanese war time in Malaysia. Like many other children who grew up at that time, he didn’t receive any formal education. His widowed mother brought up six children by washing clothes for the Japanese army quarters somewhere in the Southern Malaya at that time. My father said he had studied Japanese at the Japanese army camp for two weeks when he was a small boy, but he didn’t know why he was sent there to study Japanese.
My mother was born in Perak. She was the eldest daughter and had to help her parents to take care of her six younger brothers and sisters when she was growing up. My mother told us that she went around a few wealthy families to wash their laundry everyday helping out my grandparents financially when she was just nine years old. She said that she had to bring her toddler brother with her and carried him on her back while she washed the laundry.
Like my father, she didn’t receive any formal education, but both my parents learned to read and write in Chinese through self-effort. My parents first met each other while attended Chinese language class at a night school in Kuala Lumpur for a few months when my father was sixteen, while my mother was fourteen. My father had just arrived in Kuala Lumpur to find a job at that time. My mother’s parents house happened to have a vacant room to let. And so, my father rented the room from my grandparents. Very soon, my parents were fond of each other. My grandparents had no objection and were very happy when my father told them that he liked my mother very much and asked for permission to have a relationship with my mother. My grandparents also liked my father very much as he was a very down to earth and hardworking young man. When my parents went out for a movie, my father would take my mother on his bicycle to the cinema first, and then came back to take my grandmother. When the movie finished, he would send my grandmother back first and then went back for my mother. On the way back, they would take-away fried noodles for my mother’s whole family for supper. That was their love story that my parents told us.
My mother was a good house wife. She was very multi-talented and independent. She did many types of small business to help out our family living expenses. She was a tailor, a driver sending children to school, a hawker selling many types of local delicacies, a vegetables seller, a chicken livestock seller and some other direct-selling works. She was an active member of Amway and was very active participating in local community activities and services. She was a very good cook. She made most of our clothes and school bags. She also cut the hair for the entire family.
Even though my mother never went to school, but she had a huge collection of books written in Chinese about cooking, tailoring, parenting, healthcare and medicine.
My parents were down to earth, honest and modest people. They were very generous towards other people and had helped countless people who were injured in road accidents. They sent the injured people to the hospital in their car. It didn’t matter to them when the car seats were tainted by blood. They also helped many of the villagers countless times. May it be someone needed a car ride to somewhere, or there were emergency cases and someone had to go to the hospital. There weren’t many people had cars in the village those days. Because of my parents’ generosity, there were many people always came to them asking for help and to borrow tools, food, or money, even though my parents weren’t rich.
I remember there were snakes frequently coming into our house and the neighbour’s house. Our neighbours would come to ask for my mother’s help to chase away the snakes. My mother was a fearless woman. Sometimes she had to kill the snakes. This was something that she regretted when she got older in life, which she told me before she died.
My parents never asked anything in return from the people they had helped. When people wanted to give them some presents to repay their kindness, my parents didn’t want to accept the presents at all.
These were the values my parents had showed to us. My grandparents taught my parents about living everyday life with enough food on the table for that day, and needless to worry about tomorrow. We must always live in the present moment and be grateful for every little thing. They also taught us to stay humble all the time and be grateful for other people’s kindness and generosity and never forget to repay them. My parents insisted that we must repay other people’s kindness to us, but we should let go of what we had done for others.
Unwittingly, I learned from my parents about depriving the ego. We don’t ask to be credited or be acknowledged after we have given or done something to others, or have helped other people through action or speech. This is exactly the spirit of the teachings and practice of yoga. Nowadays, in the worldly society, most people expect other people to show appreciation and be thankful, and they expect to be credited or acknowledged for what they have done for others, or else they will be disappointed and unhappy. They will only be happy to give or do something for others only if other people say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ to them, or else, they aren’t pleased to give or do something for others. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of worldly social ethic and cultural practice, but it is not what yoga practice is about. We don’t need anyone to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ for us to give or do something for anybody. We don’t need to be credited or acknowledged for what we have done. We renounce the fruit of actions.
We were satisfied and contented with simple living and weren’t ambitious to make lots of money or to have many material and leisure enjoyments.
Before the financial crisis, my father liked to bring us to the beach in Morib or Port Dickson to have picnics and enjoy the sea breeze on the weekends. But we couldn’t afford to have such leisure anymore during our family financial crisis.
Though my parents made just enough money for our living, they still managed to bring up the four of us and provide us with enough basic education and some other moral supports that money couldn’t provide. They loved us so much. Though my mother would discipline us if we did something really wrong, which I appreciate very much. My mother didn’t have to discipline me at all, as I was very self-disciplined and be careful with my actions and didn’t want to commit any so called ‘wrong doings’. My father never scolded anyone of us even when we were playful and broke something in the house. Only once, I overheard my parents arguing over some money issues after we all had went to bed that night. I still remember I felt very sad and cried under the blanket as I never saw or heard my parents arguing before.
Although our family had went through some financial difficult time and everyone was very unhappy and frustrated, but we were fine. We didn’t steal, rob, or cheat anyone.
There were days that we didn’t have any money left for food. We were in debt because of some other people’s selfishness and greed. One day, when my father sent me to school, he was crying with tears down his cheeks telling me that he didn’t have money to give me to buy food at school because we have no more money left. It was the first time I saw my father cried. At that moment, I was very sad, and very angry as well, because we didn’t do anything bad to other people and we were always kind to others, but somehow all the bad luck and hardship came to our family. That moment had inspired me to do well in life, so that I could look after my parents and my family. Those few years of hardship was the reason why I am not a fussy health food freak. I am always grateful to be able to have food on the table every day, where I don’t have to suffer hunger like some other less fortunate people out there.
There aren’t many Chinese families that have such openness to allow their children to have the freedom to do whatever they like to do and make their own choice to be what they want to be. Though I was very angry with the financial problems in my family because I was ignorant at that time, I am glad to be born in this family. I didn’t understand about life and suffering at that time. But when I realized the truth about life and suffering, I surrendered my ignorance and unhappiness to forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. Since then I was glad to have this family and was grateful to have such parents to love me, to accept and support me as I am.
My mother passed away in 2006 on the day before Christmas. She loved me so much and gave me the freedom and guidance to grow, to do what I wanted to do, and to be what I am now.
Most of the conservative Chinese people from the older generations might categorize dancing as something bad and evil for girls, that we must be bad girls if we dance. It’s because dancing is usually being associated with night clubs where there were ladies who wear sexy clothing and heavy make-up, and they would dance with any men to make a living. In many artistic dance performances, dancing is a form of intimate physical expression of feelings and emotions. And hence, for the people who have conservative thinking, dancing is something immoral and indecent. But my open-minded parents had no problem with my enthusiasm towards dancing and they encouraged and supported me to pursue my dreams to dance and take part in many dance competitions.
Dancing was something spiritual for me. I felt like I was dancing for life, for nature, for the whole universe. I danced from within. There’s no specific steps, or rules, or styles. It didn’t matter what types of music I heard, I just moved and danced to the music. Even when there was no music, I danced in my own rhythm in silence.
This is part of my scattering memories remembering about my parents and the old house that I grew up in. A childhood in a village called Kampong Pinang from 1974 – 1986.