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The filial crow

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Everybody hates crows. These birds like to eat rotten meats. But do you know that a crow is a very filial animal? It would bring its mother food without fail and make sure she ate before it does. The crow is so filial that one of them actually brought a young man to shame and ironically, this young man is now welcome in every Chinese household!

Once upon a time in ancient China lived a young man and his mother. They were poor and every day, this young man would toil his field from morning till evening. His mother loved him every much and every afternoon, she would cook lunch and bring it to him. He would eat the food under a tree while she would stand at a distance to wait for him to finish the food. But this young man had a very bad temper. He would flare up at any petty issue and used his poor mother as a punching bag. He would scold or swear at her and many a times, even beat her up blue black. As a result, the poor mother was very fearful of her abusive son and secretly hoped that he would change his temperament but alas, his abusive ways were die-casted.

One day while sitting under a tree waiting for his lunch, he saw a crow bringing home some worms for its mother who was resting inside a nest just above him. He was very impressed by this sight and a question came to his head – if a crow can be so kind to its mother, how come I, a human, am so cruel to my own mother? A sense of remorse washed over him and he quickly got up with the intention of going home to apologize to his mother. But as fate would have it, at that very moment, his mother was on the way with his lunch and on seeing her son leaping up from where he was sitting, she fled, thinking that he was angry with her for being late and was about to hit her again. The old woman collapsed onto the ground and died on the spot due to excessive bleeding. The young man was heart-broken to see his lifeless mother and he wailed and wailed until blood oozed from both his eyes. He wanted to treat her better, but it was too late and he had even caused her death.

The benevolent Jade Emperor looked down from his throne and pitied the poor mother and her grieving son. Finally, the heavenly king decided to bestow the title ‘God of Wealth’ to the young man and made him promised to bring wealth and happiness to everyone as a way to atone for his misdeed of ill-treating his mother.

If you go to any major Taoist temple, you will most probably come across the statue of a young man dressed in mourning clothes with blood oozing from his eyes standing at a corner under a banner that reads ‘Choy Sun, the God of Wealth.’ That’s him, the abusive son who had realized his folly only to find it too late.

This story was told to me by my late father and I am sharing it now to commemorate the timeless value of filial piety which is the theme of this current Ching Ming Festival.

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Tomorrow is the first day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. In some places like Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, this festival is very popular among the Taoists.

In Ipoh, there is a temple dedicated to Mother Dipper or ‘Duo Mu’ and her nine sons. This old temple called the ‘Tow Boo Keong Temple’ is more than a hundred years old and had gone through several renovations throughout the past century. It stood opposite my former school along the junction of Jalan Kampar and Jalan Tokong. Each year, giant joss sticks with the craftings of dragons were lit up at the entrance of this temple. Stalls selling tortoise buns, flowers, joss sticks and oil could be found at the entrance too. I remember there were Chinese opera shows held and vegetarian meals served throughout the nine days at this temple.

One particular year, my mother bought a dozen tortoise buns and left them on the altar inside the temple. After coming back from placing joss sticks around the temple ground, she found all the buns missing! Someone must have accidentally taken them, so can you imagine how packed the place was. From then on, she would always rope me in to ‘guard’ her buns. It is not an easy job – the smoke that came from the joss sticks inside the temple made me teary. But I love the buns – they were filled with kaya and very soft after steaming. Eating them will bring good luck, mother said.

On the last day of the festival, there is usually a grand procession along the major streets of Ipoh New Town. One of the routes is along Hugh Low Street. Each year, we had a clear view from the windows of our shop. I remember seeing mediums in a trance swaying the sedan chairs with the Nine Emperor Gods inside as they made their way back to the temple. Other mediums could be seen carrying swords and slashing their chests with these swords. Some would have their mouths pierced by a long skewer. Pretty girls holdings baskets of flowers and young men balancing large Chingay flags on long bamboo poles added more variety to the procession.

Mother is no longer around. I do not celebrate this festival. But the memories of her and the festival still lingers in my heart.

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the-haunted-wooden-clogs

In the city of Hangzhou lived a wealthy businessman and his beautiful young daughter Little Jade in a large mansion surrounded by servants and a lovely garden. Since there was no electricity at that time, most households used oil lamps to light up their places. For this reason, peddling oil was a lucrative business then. Uncle Lim and his son, a handsome young man, used to go around selling oil from large earthen jars held onto their backs.

One day, father and son came to Little Jade’s mansion to sell their ware. Out of boredom, Little Jade decided to follow her servant to the gate to watch the transaction. When the beautiful girl and the young man set their eyes on each other, they fell in love at first sight. From then on, Little Jade would always follow her servant out to the gate whenever the father and son come to her mansion to sell their oil.

This went on for months until one day, the old oil peddler fell sick and his young son went on the rounds by himself. When he reached Little Jade’s home, her father happened to be away on a business trip. Realizing this was the only chance for them to chat up each other, they decided to sneak out and headed straight to a beautiful park outside the city. Once there, they chatted merrily and in no time, were madly in love with each other.

When Little Jade’s father came home, one of his loyal servants told him what his daughter had been up to. Furious that his daughter would associate herself with a young man from a poor background, he ordered her to be locked up in her chamber. Little Jade cried and begged to be let out but no one dare to. But one day, when her father went on another business trip, she managed to bribe her maid to let her out and before long, she met up with the young oil peddler and once again, they ran to the isolated park. Little Jade did not come home again. Neither did the young oil peddler. When her father came back and was told of his missing daughter, he sent his servants out to look for her and days later, they found a young couple hanging from a tree. They held their hands together in death. Their bodies were taken down and quietly buried as instructed by Little Jade’s father to avoid gossips and embarrassment to him.

Years later, a clog maker came to chop down some trees to make wooden clogs. The tree from which Little Jade and her young lover hung themselves was one of those trees being chopped down and turned into clogs. Not long after this, news began to spread that some wooden clogs brought from this clog maker could move on around the house on their own and could even speak! Those who brought the haunted clogs came and returned these clogs to their maker and demanded a refund. Puzzled, the clog maker asked the returned clogs who they were. Out came the grievous voices of Little Jade and the young oil peddler, “Our souls were trapped inside the tree from which we hung ourselves and which you have chopped down to make those clogs. Please burn the clogs so that we could be released,” they begged him.

On hearing this, the clog maker then burnt the whole batch of clogs made from the trees he had collected from the park that day. In doing so, he helped to release the poor lovers’ soul and set them free…..

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The hot Malaysian sun is perfect for making ‘bedak sejuk’ or compressed rice powder in droplet form which is a cheap, natural, effective and chemical-free antidote for pimples and acne. Both my children are loyal ‘bedak sejuk’ users. The ones I have made years ago are almost running out and so today, I have made some for them again. I started soaking the grain six months ago with rain water collected on the night of the Festival of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl last year. The soaked grain is now soft enough to be blended into a creamy mixture. This mixture is then squeezed into little droplets before being left to dry in the sun. Some chopped pandan leaves were then added to the finished product for extra fragrance. I am lucky that today, I can use an electric blender to blend the soaked rice. During my grandmother and mother’s time, they have to use a big stone mortar to do this.

Finally, my ‘bedak sejuk’ or “sui fun” is ready, all packed in these glass bottles. Each bottle is going for RM22 (approx. gross weight 250g). You may place your orders now. Stock is limited.

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“If you could only read one book this year, you have it in your hands.”
—Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times number one bestseller Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

Make reading more books one of your new year resolutions. Reading enrich our lives.

Reminisce your childhood through ‘The Scissor Sharpener’s Daughter’ – a memoir of growing up in Ipoh after the collapse of tin during the 1960s and 1970s.

‘A Daughter Less Ordinary’ is a personal experience with a ghost of the past – haunting yet enlightening and also about intense sibling rivalry – the unspoken nightmare of many families.

Both books could be purchased online through https://www.facebook.com/188HughLowStreetOnlineBookshop/

 

 

 

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When I was 16, I wrote a poem called “The Executioner’s Song” for the school magazine. It was promptly rejected and got thrown into the bin by the teacher. The poem was about the injustice felt by some condemned victims on their way to the gallows. I was inspired by the two Aussie men sent to the gallows at Pudu Jail for drug trafficking. I have already forgotten the content of the poem, as it has been thirty-four years already.

Today, my daughter Alexandra, a poem lover herself, and who was very taken up by the title of this poem, challenged me to write another poem of the same title and also, about the injustice felt by recent condemned victims.

Why condemned victims? Because, to both of us, each life is precious.

This poem was composed just now (took me an hour to do it) and it is a tribute to a brave young lady called Reyhaneh Jabbari who was hanged in Iran last month after being accused of killing her rich and powerful rapist, a crime she vehemently denied till the end.

The Executioner’s Song (2)

In the solitary wards of Evin and Shahr-e Ray
You were brutally beaten beyond recognition
Your long and polished nails could not prove to them
That you will not kill even a mosquito or a cockroach

Wealth and power – how evil and cruel is this combination!
You, a young girl of nineteen out to defend her modesty
But was instead accused of killing her ruthless predator
All because he was so arrogantly high and mighty

Where have justice flee to or has God gone to rest?
Or are you simply His lesser child, not worthy of His love?
All pleas fell on deaf ears, even those from your poor mother
What has become of this world, where is humanity, I wonder?

Cry no more, Reyhaneh Jabbari, blame it on your fate
Of being born into a place where women are not feted on
But were treated like the lowest of the low, almost invisible!
Maybe you will find peace at the hangman’s noose?

Your heart, your eyes, your kidneys and your bones
Surely, they will bring some hopes and cheers
To those who got a part of you and values it dearly
Despair not, for in them, you live on, brave lady!

(Hope this one will not get throw into the bin!)

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A Poem For My Beloved Mother….

Chow Chiew Sai

Mommy dearest, fourteen years ago today
You left us without even saying goodbye
Outside our glass windows and metal gate
Laughter and chatters could still be heard
While my heart torn into a million pieces
And tears flowed like the Ganges River.

So sad was my father to lose his partner
A loving wife that Heaven bestowed him
Fifty years of tears and happiness shared
The void that you left in his heart and soul
No words of comfort could heal or lessen
It was a pain only he could feel and tell.

The days that followed were strangely hollow
But your sweet voice still rings in my ears
When the sun set below the horizon
I could feel your presence and your touch
Many nights I suddenly woke from my sleep
And asked where have you gone to, Mommy?

Seconds, minutes, and hours ticked away
Days, months, and years came and went
My children who were babes when you left
Now grown up and ready to face the world
Deprieved a taste of your kindness and kisses
Yearning for a grandma taken away too soon.

Now I have learned that death comes to all
That life is impermanent like the setting sun
My heart has surrendered to the eternal truth
The flowing tears have dried up in my eyes
But still, I will hold your memories tightly
As I whisper a prayer for you, my Goddess.

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