Learning to say sorry
A friendship is strengthened over a bowl of sweet tang
C’MON young men, keep it going,” my grandmother urged Rajan and I. With all our strength, we held on to the Tshaped wooden handle of the stone mill. We had to turn the handle to spin the stone mill as my grandmother kept spooning glutinous rice and water into it.
We were just two young boys trying to help my grandmother grind rice to make flour on the stone mill behind her house. Actually, we were not much help. We could hardly get the mill going for more than two rounds before we were out of breath.
As usual, my elder brother would take over the milling. It was more of a fun time for my friend Rajan and I during the year-end school holiday back in the 1970s.
Every December, a few days before Christmas, the Chinese celebrate the winter solstice festival. This is when family members gather together to eat tang yuan, multicoloured glutinous rice balls served in sweet syrup or ginger syrup. Even back in those days, most people would just buy the glutinous flour to make the tang yuan. But my grandma preferred to grind glutinuous rice to make her flour.
We also enjoyed helping grandma roll the glutinous balls. Rajan and I would gather at the dining table around a big enamel tray with the colourful dough. We were supposed to roll the dough between our palms into small balls.
But being mischievous, we secretly shaped some of the dough into heart shapes, cubes and pyramids.
Rajan and I had been good friends since Standard One. He lived a stone’s throw away from my house in Kimsar Garden by the Prai River in Seberang Prai. We were always together.
Come weekend and school holiday, we roamed around the neighbourhood in the afternoons, or spent our free time reading our favourite comic books, The Beano and The Dandy.
Then one year, Rajan did not go with me to my grandmother’s house to help make glutinous rice balls. We had stopped hanging out together because we had a spat over a missing comic book. In the heat of anger, I kept accusing Rajan of taking it. He insisted that he had returned it to me. But I was adamant that the comic was with him.
From that day onwards, we stopped seeing each other. I was set on believing that Rajan had taken my comic until I found it under my bed a few days later. I must have accidentally dropped it there after I dozed off while reading it.
I felt awfully ashamed of myself, but I dared not own up to falsely accusing Rajan. I regretted what I had done, but I did not know what to do.
“Why are you feeling down? And where is your good friend Rajan? Why is he not here with you to help me make glutinous rice balls?” asked my grandma in a concerned voice.
I did not answer her but kept rolling the dough with my head down. Before my grandma uttered another word, I confessed to her about my terrible mistake.
With a chuckle, my grandma advised me: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes. The important thing is we must admit our faults and learn from them. Be man enough to admit your wrongdoings.”
She told me it was not easy for a person to admit his mistake and take responsibility for it. No one likes to lose his dignity and feel ashamed.
My grandma understood my predicament and told me that avoiding Rajan and not apologising wouldn’t solve the problem. Furthermore, I’d lose his respect, trust and confidence. By admitting my mistakes, I’d also be acknowledging I had hurt my friend.
“Why don’t you go over to Rajan’s house to apologise to him and bring along some of my tang yuan?
“The round glutinous balls symbolise closeness and togetherness. The syrup signifies the sweetness of friendship. So it is a good way to patch things up,” said my grandmother.
I loved my grandmother’s take on friendship and tang yuan.
That afternoon, I brought along an aluminum food carrier with glutinous rice balls to Rajan’s house. The first thing I did was to admit my mistake and say sorry to him.
To my surprise, Rajan readily accepted my apology because he strongly believed in our friendship. The moment he said that, I was relieved, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders.
That day, I learned admission of guilt can bring absolution.
Come every winter solstice festival, I still enjoy a bowl of tang yuan with my family. As I sip the sweet syrup, I recall those sweet memories of my late grandmother, the old stone mill and my good buddy Rajan who now resides in Melbourne, Australia.