In loving memory of grandma

Grandmother, Mak Cheng Hai, who passed away peacefully at the ripe old age 103 on July 2, left us with a treasure trove of experiences from the years we shared together.

Breakfast at the hotel; cousin Malcolm [Centre] with his
aunts, [L to R] Lucy and Polly and Sylvia, and me
Besides a legacy of fond memories and mementoes, grandma’s life’s savings which she accumulated through her wise and frugal lifestyle, was a comfortable nest egg for her family.  A day after she was buried next to grandfather, details of her will on the division of her estate, was read out by the lawyer in the presence of her children.  Pieces of her jewellery that she had set aside for her daughters-in-law, were also distributed to her sons for their wives.

Many years earlier I witnessed grandma distributing her jewellery to her five daughters.  Seated around our dining table, grandma, who was then still lucid, specifically instructed that the items for her daughters-in-law, should be given to them after she was gone.  These were put into individual hong-pau (red packets) with their names written on the outside and kept by my mum, gran’s eldest daughter, until that day when the will was read.

Checking-in at KLIA2 for our flight from KL to Krabi
I just admire grandma’s wisdom in her decisions for her estate because she looked into details and even ensured that the families of her children who were deceased, also received the share due to them.  The executors of her will tallied the accounts for the final figure to divide and distribute her estate after the traditional 100-day ceremony for grandma. 

Almost as soon as grandma’s will was read, I received an email from cousin Malcolm saying that he and his sister, Eva, the children of late uncle Robert, have decided to use their share to bless the aunts and uncles who took care of grandma through the last few years of her long life!

Aunt Polly's idea to take a selfie inside
the elevator of our hotel!
He is aware that we have honoured gran’s wish, (who made it clear that she did not want to be put in a nursing home!) and stayed with our family for almost 20 years, before moving to live with aunty Polly and uncle Steven in USJ for the next 8 years.

Aware of the challenges and sacrifices in the practical care of gran in her advanced age, Malcolm and Eva, who live in Sydney, said that it was just their expression of appreciation to gran’s primary carers.  When they received our thanks for their thoughtful and generous gesture, this was Eva’s reply:

“It’s the very, very least we could do to thank these aunties and their respective families for all they’ve done over the many decades to take care of our beloved grandmother.  This gesture is incomparable to what they…and all of you…did for so long.  So from this small drop in that big ocean of care, I thank the aunties, their altruistic husbands and our cousins, who have given so much of themselves to extending their homes and infinite care to our grandmother when she needed it most.”

Aunt Polly caught a crab!  Note the Daniel Craig wanna-be
[Background Left] and aunt Sylvia [waving!]
Mal and Eva proposed that the aunts, Lucy, Polly and Sylvia and their husbands have a short holiday to a regional destination and offered suggestions on where to go.  The two uncles including my dad, decided that they will not join but encouraged their wives to enjoy the trip with Mal, as escort and tour-leader.  When they finally decided on Krabi, Thailand, Mal asked me to join them and I was delighted to say, “Yes!”

With the departure for the 4-day 3-night trip from KLIA, I drove mum from Johor Baru to USJ for an overnighter so that we may leave together the next day.  I had arranged to pick Mal on his arrival from Sydney that afternoon so while waiting, mum, aunt Polly and I browsed around the shops in Mitsui Outlet Park KLIA.

Picnic lunch on Hong island - Note the paper boxes!
As always, we found something to buy.  When aunty picked a t-shirt that she liked, we decided quite spontaneously, to buy similar t-shirts to wear on our trip.  This added to the fun and excitement as our time together was in honour of our late grandma.  Later when we showed our same t-shirts to uncle Steven, he laughed and said that Mal should wave a flag to lead his tour group (us!) clad in these uniforms!

The next morning, the husbands of our two aunts sent us to KLIA to catch our flight to Krabi.  After checking-in our luggage, we kicked off our trip by eating a local breakfast followed by coffee and nyonya kueh before it was time to board.  When we exited the airport after the short and uneventful flight from KL to Krabi, a limousine van-driver was waiting to meet us.

Mum [Left] with aunt Sylvia, looking
relieved at the end of their ride!
Our hotel in Ao Nang, Ananta Burin, is close to the beach and just a short walk to the main street which is lined by souvenir shops and restaurants.  Mal, our able tour leader, suggested that once we checked-into our rooms, we should have a small meal before dinner.  We headed across the road where we found three shops: restaurant, spa and tour desk under the same management aptly named, Feel Good.

Our first meal in Krabi was snacks of Thai spring rolls, prawn cakes dipped in chilli sauce and pad thai (stir-fried rice noodles) washed down with Singha beer (for Mal!) and fresh fruit juices.  The warm weather was cooling down for the evening as we filled our stomachs – we did not have any lunch – and discussed our itinerary for the next few days.  It was generally agreed that in between massage sessions, there will be short excursions like island-hopping and elephant riding and of course, lots of local food.

As we looked ahead to an exciting time in this meaningful trip, Mal proposed a toast to gran and we raised our glasses to toast to gran’s memory!  I know she would have wanted us to enjoy this blessing from the thoughtful generosity of our cousins, Mal and Eva.

Smart baby elephant trained to perform for visitors!
Mal suggested that we plan each day’s activities day-by-day because the tour desk was nearby and we could select the type of tour and make reservations just a day ahead. When our stomach rumbling was silenced by this tea-time snack, our first stop was the tour desk to select an activity for the next day.  

In addition to an island-hopping trip to Hong Island the next morning, we also bought ourselves a trip to the Krabi night market that very evening.  With an hour to spare before the 6pm pick-up to Krabi night market, the best option to kill time was to pop into the spa for a massage!

Enjoying street food along the street in Ao Nang
It so happened that the Feel Good spa had a promotional rate on its menu of massages and it made sense to take advantage of this best deal when the therapists were skilled, pleasant and professional.  In the next three days, we probably were this spa’s favourite customers.  That’s because we were there almost daily to enjoy relaxing and rejuvenating therapies at the promo rates that they extended to us even after the promo period was over!

Feeling refreshed after the massage, we hopped into a van assigned for our night market trip and headed to Krabi.  Every Friday to Sunday, this night market is opened from 6pm and we were dropped off near a shopping centre, a few steps away from the street lined with stalls.  Even before reaching the market, aunt Polly couldn’t resist buying a pack of toasted cashew nuts from a shop and opened it to munch as we walked along. 

Two who attempted to climb 1,200 over
steps to the shrine at top of this hill!
The market looked very much like our pasar malam with sections for household items, knick-knacks and souvenirs as well as cooked food, fresh food and fruits.  The aroma from the grilled skewers of seafood and whole fish was simply mouth-watering and quite irresistible.  And it didn’t take long for us to start buying a few sticks to taste.  

The crowd was quite overwhelming and as it was quite impossible to walk comfortably, we were glad to discover a centre court where tables and chairs were set up in front of a stage where a live show was going on.  Singers were taking turns to belt out Thai pop songs and dance artistes were performing to Thai techno music – played way too loudly!

The tables looked like they were all occupied but after a short search, we managed to secure a table to sit at for our meal.  Mal did not hesitate to hit the stalls to buy his favourite choices of grilled calamari and whole fresh coconuts while I ordered freshly made, green papaya salad or Som Tam and that tempting grilled whole fish for mum and the aunts to enjoy.  We truly did justice to all the food and that fish because when they were done, what was left was just a clean skeletal comb of its centre bone!

Fresh prawns in spicy seafood Tom Yam soup!
After our first experience of street food in Krabi night market, we had no qualms about joining the locals (a day later) to enjoy street food, literally by the side of Ao Nang’s main street.  We ordered same items like Tom Yam seafood soup, Som Tam and stir-fried noodles, among others but it was interesting to sample the different variations and presentations in the few days when we dined at a stall, café, restaurant and even a halal place.

Someone said, “Time flies when you are having fun” and this was true as we filled our days with food and fun activities.  On our island-hopping trip, we stopped at two islands before reaching Hong island.  Here, we were surprised to discover that we had to disembark onto a floating pontoon and must walk on it to reach Hong island!

It was a particularly challenging experience for me – and mum.  Stumbling and trying to keep my balance while my stomach roiled with motion sickness, I had to hold and help mum maneuver her wobbly legs on a surface that was constantly shifting on a choppy sea.  Meanwhile, Mal and the aunts were laughing their heads off at our odd way of walking, which Mal later confirmed, looked and felt exactly like when one was drunk!

Mal later also admitted that it was quite harrowing to watch mum board and disembark from the speed boat, particularly when the weather turned gloomy and wet at the end of our day trip.  In fact, he was even poised to dive into the sea to rescue mum if she missed her footing while boarding the boat!

Delightful desserts - crispy pancake with
trays of kanom krok, apam-like kueh 
It was challenging to move from the jetty to the bobbing boat but mum who is 83, did so with agility and great care.  Some of the boat staff were quite concerned as they helped us on and off the boats – three times.  They respectfully called mum, “mama” and one brawny guy even offered to piggy-back mum to help her board the boat!

When it was over, we agreed for no more boat trips and opted for a half-day tour to experience elephant trekking, watch a baby elephant show and visit Tiger Cave temple the next day.  While the day’s activities seemed rather tame, our elephant ride was another adrenalin-pumping experience! 

Once again, mum showed amazing courage to climb on the elephant and sit with aunt Sylvia.  Then it was a rocking-roller-coaster ride when the animals trekked up and down a muddy slope, through the jungle and into a pond, while we were losing our balance, our bottoms slipping and sliding off the smooth surface of seats perched on the elephants’ backs!

So after jumping on and off boats in choppy waters and jungle trekking on elephant backs on slopes and into water, riding a tuk-tuk was comparatively tame.  After browsing around the shops and eating a delicious local dinner, Mal thought that we deserved a chauffeur-driven ride back to the hotel.  So we piled into a tuk-tuk, a motorbike fitted with a canopied side car, for a short but thrilling ride!

One of the best meals we had must have been the dessert from street hawkers – mango sticky rice, banana/Nutella crispy pancakes and little apam-like kueh made from coconut milk the Thais call, kanom krok – which we shamelessly went for a second round on two consecutive days!

Our adventurous ride in a Thai tuk-tuk!
On our final day in Ao Nang, we had a hearty lunch at Bangboo Restaurant with mandatory items like Som Tam salad, Tom Yam soup and pineapple rice among other dishes and more fresh coconut drinks.  No, we did not toast to grandma’s memory with our coconuts but we all agreed that it was an eventful trip.  Our time together was indeed meaningful and memorable as Mal said a few words to formally thank the aunts for their love and commitment in the long-term caring of our dear grandma. 

Mal certainly enjoyed himself with us and even proposed that we plan another trip together.  But after aunt Polly saw the video he took of mum and I balancing precariously on that bobbing pontoon, she insisted that the next trip must be relaxing and in a cooler climate but where we can still wear our “uniform” holiday t-shirts!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11/13/2015

    Thank you for this wonderful detailed write up. Glad to hear that it was a memorable and enjoyable trip for all. Toast to Ahmah!