(Reflecting on the book When A Turtle Cries)
BY Paul Kam
When a Turtle Cries is a glimpse into the pre war days and a walk down memory lane for some. As I read the stories, it made me think more and more of my own childhood and my grandmother.
In a wooden house in the Chinese new village, my memories of her has always been as my protector and guardian.
My popo as we used to call her house was huge as I remember it. The main house was made of wood and zinc and this was where guests were greeted and where my aunts and uncles all slept. But my favourite part of the house was the lower level kitchen and annex to the house. Wooden stairs going down to a concrete floor with huge steps leading to the dining and wood stove kitchen.
As a toddler, the wooden stairs were my Achilles heel. Each time I stood before them, I would tumble down. It was a wonder I never injured myself. I knew the steps were too far apart for my short legs to reach and there was no bannister to hold onto. And yet, the desire to go down the steps and join my popo and my aunts in their daily cooking was too enticing. And so, every time I was left upstairs and told not to go down, I would inevitably end up at the top of the stairs. Giving in to this desire to overcome the stairs. And each time I tumble my grandma would be there at the bottom. Instead of scolding me or screaming at me, she would calmly pick me up, checked me all over, and made sure I was ok.
Even as she picked me up from the bottom of the stairs, she would calmly tell me that I would eventually succeed. And not be afraid. This is a lesson that has stuck to me. Do not be afraid of falling. Eventually, you will succeed.
When a Turtle Cries reminds us to look for lessons in the past. And even now, it is making me reminisce.
She would spoil all her grandchildren. Mum would say no junk food, and popo would be the only one defying her each time the roti man rode past on his bike. and making us swear not to tell! What joy it was for us to have such an accomplice.
As we grew older, we moved in with her to her new brick house. Her silent confidence and motivation never changed. She would encourage us to try everything. With popo, she would look at us calmly and told us to be careful. But never once, did she stop us from doing anything. Because of that, we ended up experimenting with camping, trekking through the rubber estate, sitting on boxes and sliding down slopes.
Looking back, so much of what I am today, was influenced by her. There was no need for formal learning or sit down advise sessions. Just by being who she was, she taught me so much. Thank you popo. Miss you lots.