Celebrating 102

Traditional Chinese peach buns, a symbol of longevity
eaten during grand birthday celebration for the elderly
It was just two years ago when we celebrated our grandmother’s 100th birthday and she was featured in the cover story as The Real Champion (NST 20 May 2012).  As we planned the grand celebration that was to be held in Kuala Lumpur, I remember working on the story and liaising with Life & Times Associate Editor, Theresa Manavalan, about the photography.  She was quick to assign a photographer to take some shots of grandma so I contacted my aunt Polly whom grandma is staying with in Subang Jaya to prepare grandma for the photo shoot.
I explained to Manavalan about the timing for the photography because our aged grandma has her good days and bad days, and was usually more alert in the morning.  It was quite a challenge to manage this because even though we agreed on the appointment, the photographer mistook the address for Petaling Jaya and went on a search before we communicated again and he finally arrived but totally missed the arranged time.  However, on that particular afternoon grandma was amazingly alert and the photographer managed to capture a few interesting shots of her.

Grandma and her birthday cake
baked by my niece, Amanda
It was my privilege to share grandma’s story to encourage readers about caring for the elderly and giving them the time and attention they need in their advanced age.  While we are busy with our careers, family and the hectic pace of modern lifestyle, we hardly spare a thought for them and very often, our seniors are relegated to the background.  Some of us hardly know our older relatives because there is no interaction with them but through my conversations with grandma, I learnt a great deal about local personalities and got a glimpse of life in JB in bygone days.

Grandma Mak Cheng Hai may have been just a homemaker but she had a wealth of wisdom and was a fountain of information.  After all she brought up a family of 11 children and looked after a bunch of school-going grandchildren while she did the marketing, cooking and hand-washed laundry for the whole household.  To go to school more conveniently while our parents were based in Masai, my siblings and I lived with our grandparents in their home at Jalan Ngee Heng for several years.

All the children were assigned household chores and I learnt to manage my time to complete my chores and homework to be free during our designated play time and even watch a bit of television.  In those early days of black & white TVs, it was a treat to watch cartoons and comedies in the evening but after dinner, it was grandma’s turn to watch Chinese movies.  On school nights we ought to be in bed but I remember sneaking down the staircase to watch the shows from the steps and if grandma did not send us back to bed, we could enjoy the movie till the very end!

Our dear 102-year old grandma is still able
to drink from a cup by herself!
Ah Kong would leave the children’s discipline to grandma and I remember she had a range of thick and thin canes that hung within handy reach at the side of a cupboard.  Grandma’s word was always final and nobody dared to disobey or risk facing her wrath and reprimand.  She was also the powerful family matriarch whom everyone consulted for advice on any major decision and she earned their respect for giving wise counsel. 

Looking back, I can understand the tremendous stress grandma had when she ran the entire household almost single-handedly to ensure that we had food on the table, clean clothes to wear and the house kept clean.  At that time, Ah Kong and our uncles used to train every evening on the badminton court in our compound and the laundry was always full of their wet and heavy T-shirts.  My sisters and I took turns to fold the heaps of sun-dried laundry so we learnt to recognize the identity markings on similar sports shorts and white T-shirts for each of them. 

Weekly market days were always the busiest when grandma arrived home on a trishaw and the rider would help to unload her rattan baskets while we, the children were assign various tasks like plucking vegetables and peeling prawns.  A great deal of food was required to feed such a large number of people so our tasks always seemed endless as we plucked through a mountain of bean-sprouts or smelly small prawns.  But grandma took her responsibilities in her stride and often boiled delicious soups and created innovative dishes to whet our appetites.

Grandma [Left] and grandfather [Right] with
their son, Uncle Dato' Billie Ng, holding the
Thomas Cup when it went on tour in JB, with
Tan Sri Khir Johori in 1967
Even in her advanced age, grandma remains in general good health – free from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes – and I’m often asked, “What’s her secret?”  I don’t have any pat answers because grandma lived an active life as she supported her family in their personal, career and sports pursuits.  Now with her eyesight and memory fading, she may sit in silence but she continues to be loved and cherished and on her good days, she may be coaxed to recite the names of her children and even count from 1 to 99, not only in English but also in Malay!

Grandma’s 102nd birthday on the 28th day of the 4th lunar month was celebrated a day in advance which coincided with the live telecast of the 2014 Thomas Cup finals and she joined the family as they watched the game that grandma used to play in her youth. 

Her son Dato’ Billie Ng was a member the 1967 Malaysian team that brought home the prestigious trophy and I remember that it came to JB on a nationwide tour.  Besides the players and officials, not many people can claim that they ever had a close encounter with the Thomas Cup but our 102-year old grandma certainly can because she did.  Happy 102nd birthday dear grandma!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 29 May 2014


  1. Can I have the contact of the longevity bun? Do u recommend ?

  2. We have used this supplier for grandma's previous birthdays and is highly recommended. When we peeled open the large bun, we discovered many cute tiny buns inside! Contact Mrs Goh of Uniq; No. 4 Jalan Kenari 11, Bandar Puchong Jaya. Tel: 03 - 80700686, 012 - 421 7509. Enjoy the sau pau!