Celebrating our mother's 91 years


In our family, September is the month for many birthdays. Mum’s birthday falls on September 4 followed closely by my nephew Brendon’s birthday on September 5.


Mum with her siblings and their spouses;
[Seated L to R] Aunty Dato' Sylvia, mum, Aunty
Polly, Uncle Steven; [Standing L to R] Uncle Mok,
Uncle Dato' Billy and Aunty Datin Mary

My sister-in-law who was then carrying full-term, fondly recalls that our family had gathered to celebrate mum’s birthday with a sumptuous banquet dinner at Meisan, our favourite Chinese restaurant at the Holiday Inn in Century Gardens.


She claims that the dinner was so tasty and satisfying because right after our meal, she started to feel early contractions which signaled the time to get admitted to the medical center. She went into labour and the very next day, delivered a bouncing baby boy, Brendon.


From then on, mum and Brendon’s birthdays were always jointly celebrated.


September was also the birth month for mum’s second sister, our late Aunty Lily, whose birthday was September 6. Our eldest sister, Ruby, was born on September 8 and later in the month, our nephew Jamie has his birthday on September 11.

Another nephew, Jackson's birthday falls on September 19, followed by his Aunty Gillian's on September 20, and then mum’s youngest sister, Aunty Sylvia, will celebrate her birthday on September 24.

Aunty Polly and Aunty Dato' Sylvia 
presenting their warm wishes and gifts to mum

This year a small celebration was planned to celebrate mum’s 91st birthday, hosted in advance on September 3, a Sunday evening.


In this modern day and age, digital invitations were sent out via WhatsApp and replies were similarly received from dear friends and relatives who are based in Johor.


While invitations were extended to mum’s siblings in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, we were aware of the travel limitations due to advanced age or health reasons and were ready to accept their declines.


Mum’s two younger sisters, Aunty Polly and Aunty Sylvia, were however, well prepared to take a drive to Johor Baru with their spouses to join our celebration.


Charles and Siew Ying with mum at
our advanced celebration together

Still very much Johorean at heart, our aunts who are now based in USJ and Mont Kiara, always enjoyed a trip to Johor Baru to revisit familiar places, meet old friends and most of all, have a taste of local street food – which they say – cannot be found elsewhere.


That morning, this adventurous foursome enjoyed a smooth drive on the North-South highway and arrived on time to savour a local lunch before heading over for afternoon tea and to present mum with birthday gifts.


At 3pm, they left for their hotel check-in, all set to meet again that evening at the appointed restaurant for the banquet dinner celebration with mum.


We anticipated heavy traffic on the roads on Sunday evening – being a work and school day in Johor – and to avoid being stressed on the road, we wisely scheduled a comfortable drive to the restaurant.


Richard and his wife with mum, 
Aunty Sylvia and Aunty Polly

On our arrival at the front porch of the restaurant, several guests were already there to give mum a very warm welcome.


It was only fitting for mum to be celebrated and blessed with gifts on this special occasion as she had been such a blessing to others in her 91 years.


Our family friends, Charles and Siew Ying, had to decline our invitation as they had a prior arrangement to attend a wedding in Kuala Lumpur on the same day. As such, we planned an advance celebration with mum over lunch at home.


Dennis Ng with mum

“Both Charles and I are very blessed to have your mum’s help in our early years of bringing up the children,” said Siew Ying, a mother of three and now already a grandmother of three.


Mum, who is a retired midwife, often shares her years of experience and useful tips with mothers-to-be and young mothers on the mother’s selfcare and infant-care.


I can remember the fragrance that filled our house when mum cooked traditional nutritious dishes for young mothers during their confinement month. Mum would send it over to the mothers or the fathers would come to collect it from our house.


Her post-natal care to inexperienced mothers is fondly remembered by friends and patients alike, who cannot forget mum’s kindness to them in their times of need.


Mum cutting her cake with candles
designed in 91 digits

While the number of guests at our dinner celebration was small, it was good that three of mum’s siblings and their spouses were able to join us that evening.


They were Uncle Dato’ Billy and his wife, Aunty Datin Mary, Aunty Polly and Uncle Steven, and Aunty Dato’ Sylvia and her husband, Uncle Mok.


My brother and his wife, who arranged the seating plan, told me that the seniors will sit together and that mum’s two sisters will take care of her during the dinner.


Other guests included a couple of our cousins, Richard Tay and Felicia Ng, members of the Lui family who are my brother’s in-laws, the See family who are my sister’s in-laws, and a few friends who are near and dear to mum.


Young Ayden had his eyes fixed on that
white disc of chocolate on the cake... 

Two young men – Daniel See from Taiwan and Dennis Ng from Australia – who happened to be in Johor that very weekend learnt that their parents were invited to our celebration, they reached out to us for an invitation. They were, of course, welcomed to join.


It was a cosy gathering for a good meal and catch-up conversations, particularly for everyone to meet mum again after the long periods of lockdowns and separation over the past few years.


Cousin Richard and his wife have a tradition of coming over to pay their respects to mum every year, ahead of the first day of the Chinese New Year, bearing gifts and presenting mum with a traditional red packet filled with lai-see, fortune money.


Ayden attempting to feed mum that 
disc of white chocolate from the cake

During the lockdown in early 2021 when travel was limited to only 10km, Richard and his wife could not come over physically to pay their respects to mum but they still kept the tradition of sending gifts and that traditional red packet to mum.


This was done with the help of a trusted Grab driver. Richard sent me photos of himself passing the gifts and red packet to the driver and told me to expect its delivery at a given estimated time.


Upon delivery, the driver insisted on taking a photo of me receiving the package so that he could send it to Richard as proof of his safe delivery to us.


We know that it’s the thought that counts but mum deeply appreciated his effort in making such an arrangement to keep the tradition alive in spite of the unfortunate circumstances due to the global pandemic and lockdowns.


Guests gathered around to sing the Birthday song!

Since travel reopened, Richard and his wife resumed their visit to mum every year, bearing gifts and that traditional red packet to mum, ahead of the Chinese New Year.


Likewise, cousin Felicia and her husband also have a heart for mum and they often visited for Christmas and Chinese New Year.


While we were keeping mum isolated from visitors in the lockdown period, they politely asked if it was ok to visit and we welcomed them over. At that time, the travel ruling was limited to 10km and with no passengers.


Happy recipients of red packets with mum

The challenge for them was to travel with their young son, Ayden, who is a bundle of energy that could hardly sit still. In jest, we suggested that he should lie down on the back seat to keep himself out of sight…


Meanwhile, the borders opened for international travel and when it was June 2022, cousin Dennis returned from Melbourne to visit his parents and his in-laws in Johor.


And when Dennis turned up to visit mum for afternoon tea, instead of bringing cake or pastries to share with mum, he brought along fresh durians from his in-law’s orchard.


Dennis was such a good host when he welcomed my sister and I to join him, then based in Shanghai for work, for an unforgettable holiday in 2012. This exciting experience was shared in my Travel story, Venice of the East, and Dennis’ hair-cutting experience with a traditional Chinese barber.


In fact, he was in this part of the world again for work and would be heading off to the airport directly after our dinner together, enroute to Jakarta.


That evening, our dinner progressed smoothly as course after course of scallops, fish, duck, vegetables and dessert were served. The Chinese dessert served was a traditional Teochew yam pudding, or nee, Brendon’s favourite Chinese dessert.


My brother stuck a candle on a portion of the or nee to create a third ‘cake’ to join two cakes – a Pandan layer cake and Chocolate layer cake – for the Birthday song to be sung three times: first for mum (Sept 4), then for Brendon (Sept 5) and finally for our eldest sister, Ruby (Sept 8).


Mum with her two youngest sisters,
Aunty Sylvia and Aunty Polly

Meanwhile, young Ayden had got his eye fixed on a disc of white chocolate in the decoration on the Pandan cake and as soon as the candles were blown out, he was quick to pick up the white disc and attempted to feed it to mum!


The celebration came to a fitting close with mum – the grand old lady – presenting a traditional red packet to each guest who honoured her with their presence at this special occasion.


It was rather chaotic as one-by-one, the guests received a red packet as a token of appreciation from mum while Ayden was still trying to feed mum with that disc of white chocolate…


But it was all in good fun for a most memorable celebration to mark mum’s 91st birthday together. Thank you everyone for your presence and presents to mum.


P.S. Thanks also to all who could not join us physically but sent your thoughts and wishes to mum in birthday cards through snail-mail, WhatsApp and video calls. Your thoughts and wishes are deeply valued. Thank you.

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