Learn­ing to say sorry

A friend­ship is strength­ened over a bowl of sweet tang

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By TAN YONG LIM

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.

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