The red packet

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By CHONG MING KUA

FROM 1980 to 1991, a RM10 ang pow was a lux­ury. Es­pe­cially if you were liv­ing in a small kam­pung in Malacca. And if you were not yet in your teens, McDon­ald’s was as alien to you as VCRs, and junk food was sold for as cheap as 20sen a packet.

Ten ring­git then could buy you a whole lot of good­ies. While my cousins, all 20 of them, would usu­ally revel at the coins in their ang pows, I was ab­so­lutely sure I would get one RM10 ang pow at least!

While I was at that age, I was fo­cussed on the money. Which kid wouldn’t have been? My life was not ac­tu­ally brim­ming with lux­ury.

My young mind could not grasp the love and hard­ship, or the sen­ti­ment, that came with the cash. It was not to buy my love, but it was due to love that I got it in the first place. And that made it very, very spe­cial. I must elab­o­rate. This ang pow did not come from my par­ents. Nor did it come from any mem­ber of my fam­ily. It was given to me by a friend I called “Datuk”.

Datuk was eas­ily as old as my grand­par­ents. And he was more of a grand­fa­ther to me than my grand­fa­ther ever was!

Imag­ine this, on my first day of school, my mother was in school long enough to in­form my teacher that if I ever stepped out of line, the teacher had her per­mis­sion to dis­ci­pline me! Af­ter that, my mum had to go to work.

Also, my mum wanted me to be in­de­pen­dent. I was old enough to iden­tify my school bus and my kam­pung-mates were on the same bus as well.

With­out me know­ing, Datuk was there as well, watch­ing from a dis­tance, mak­ing sure I was safe.

It was not just about him be­ing there, it was about him cy­cling all the way from home to be there. It was a good 30-minute ride, but he did it ev­ery school day in my first year.

I would be home ev­ery day at ap­prox­i­mately 1pm and lunch time was spent eat­ing with Datuk at his din­ing ta­ble.

As he was my neigh­bour, I would bring food (my ma­ter­nal grand­mother would cook) and cof­fee, and we would spend time eat­ing, talk­ing and look­ing out his door, watch­ing cars go by.

I was an ac­tive child back then. I did not sleep in the af­ter­noon (an af­ter­noon spent sleep­ing was day­light wasted un­nec­es­sar­ily!).

Datuk taught me how to play check­ers. We did not have Nin­ten­dos or Xboxes back then. In­stead, we spent hours play­ing check­ers and walk­ing out to have ais ka­cang in be­tween games. Nat­u­rally, I won most of our games; I was that good!

Most nights, I would just fall asleep in Datuk’s house. We spent the nights watch­ing tele­vi­sion (he loved P. Ram­lee movies) and weekend morn­ings watch­ing car­toons. He was my con­fi­dante, my best friend.

As I grew up, Datuk grew older. As I gained more knowl­edge, he be­gan to lose some of his mem­o­ries.

I learned that Datuk was a wid­ower; his wife passed on long ago and his chil­dren went to Kuala Lumpur to look for a bet­ter life. They would visit him once in a while, but al­ways for a short pe­riod of time. He never com­plained; Datuk was an in­de­pen­dent man and a proud one at that. He never asked for money or sym­pa­thy, and I guess at that young age, I gave him some­thing he truly craved – un­di­vided, sin­cere com­pany.

Datuk passed on in 1993. He was in the com­pany of his grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren. He suf­fered a stroke a year be­fore that and they took him in.

One day, I cy­cled for an hour, from my house in Ujong Pasir to his grand­son’s house in Telok Mas. That was a week be­fore he ex­haled his last breath. I talked about check­ers and school with him.

He al­ways stressed the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence till his dy­ing day. He be­lieved ed­u­ca­tion freed a per­son’s mind and shaped one’s per­son­al­ity.

Have I men­tioned Datuk was a Mus­lim? Me ... a young Chi­nese boy from a typ­i­cal Chi­nese fam­ily, brought up partly by a Malay man.

He never judged me, nor did I ever judge him. I loved him as a grand­son could and should. To him, my kun­ing langsat skin was no dif­fer­ent to his sawo matang. I was a boy and that was that.

Ev­ery Chi­nese New Year, I think of his RM10 ang pow. On a per­sonal note, I miss him, his guid­ance, his laugh­ter, his sport­ing spirit when it came to play­ing check­ers to make a young boy happy.

I look at Malaysia to­day, 20 years af­ter th­ese events and won­der, will there ever be another odd cou­ple like us.

For in this beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try we call Malaysia, we do not need to learn how to live to­gether. We can live to­gether, hap­pily and har­mo­niously. The main in­gre­di­ents? Hon­esty and love for one another.

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