If you could go back to the past, would you change anything?
Annegret Fang, Division 3, College freshman #ws18e-s2d3

If I could go back to the past, I would change my attitude towards my grandmother. The main reason why I have this revelation is due to my experience abroad. By visiting different countries during my summer vacation, and interacting with various locals, I learned how important it was to know your roots. Where I come from, the history behind every revolution, the languages used in every dialogue, the clothes that allow others to have a good impression, and the delicious food that gives us strength to fight another day, defines who I am. Therefore, it’s the utmost essential that I understand my origins. Looking back, I realized just how precious my grandmother’s stories were. That was the stepping stone to how I would have a deeper understanding in what it means to be alive. Her stories about my family history, every native song she would sing doing the laundry, or how she seemed to change into a different person whenever she was in the kitchen, and every traditional clothing she made for me and her customers --- all builds up a rich history of my family. In my arrogance, I missed the best opportunity to learn from the best.

As far as I could remember, my grandmother was the best story teller of our community. Family and friends would take their time of the day, to sit at her front porch to have her whisk their imaginations away to a fallen kingdom in the past, or to a strange and different part of the continent, she was popular, indeed. There wasn’t a single story that she didn’t know by heart. Before Twitter, Facebook, or LINE, there was my grandmama. Everyone was impressed, everyone but me. I used to think her stories were but tall tales derived from gossip, either miniscule or obnoxious. Once she starts to move from the porch to her soft flower-patterned sofa indoors, a life story about a famous Hakka family, according to her, up north or how her great-great-great grandparents fled the Mainland to seek a better life in Taiwan, would be underway. Her huge audience would jeer and gasp whenever she came to a twist in her story. As for me, at the time, I would be straight out the door or barricaded in my room faster than you could say, you want to join in?

There’s also the case, with my grandmother back then, where she loved to hum or sing traditional Hakka songs. I vaguely remember the actual lyrics, however, there were a few about crossing boarders or climbing mountains, or even about the lady in the moon, seemed to be a current theme in those songs she often sang. I remember how much I despised her singing, even though she was talented. The biggest reason to my resentment of her perfect notes was because when the neighbours overhear her enticing tune, they all join in, especially the song with Tangshan. While my classmates were excited for Jolin, Jay-chou, or Britney Spears, I was stuck with the nickname the siren’s grandchild throughout my entire elementary school years. My pride was left bleeding down the very streets I walked from school and back home. Even though I enjoyed her singing, which I never admitted back then, I would throw tantrums on purpose to make her stop singing when I was in junior high. Looking back now, it was a shame I seldom sang with my grandmother because I was so focused at the idea that she embarrassed me in front of my friends.

Apart from her alluring singing, I loathed how obsessed she was with personal hygiene. My grandmother was lenient with my temper, yet she could be ruthless if one crosses her in her territory --- the kitchen. She knew how to boil the toughest of meats, she could pickle any fruit or vegetable one threw her way, she could even save a dish that was practically ruined by my aunt on a random Saturday morning. All of the above are not enough to tick her off, but, if one does not clean up after oneself after one uses the kitchen, you might as well pray she does not give your sophisticated cellphone a nice big warm slap in return. Hygiene is the basics of everything you do, it’s the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, is what she used to shout at me. I was sloppy and a hoarder, it was difficult enough to navigate myself through school work. It completely set me off my rocker whenever she started a tone with me for not putting the milk back in the fridge or the dishes in the sink. If I rolled my eyes and pouted, she would smack me so hard on the butt I swore she was a decedent of bears, which would earn me another smack. I later learned to dart for the nearest exit to distance myself from a raging grandmother. It was a shame I never considered how fortunate I really was to live in a tidy environment as long as I did before university.

Nothing could compare to my grandmother’s storytelling, singing, or slapping, but maybe, perhaps, her fashion sense. Most of my wardrobe was filled with her handmade clothing. I never appreciated how she tailored every dress to fit my shape. Nor did I admit to her how comfortable her clothes were to wear. I never appreciated what my personal tailor did for me. She believed practical over fashionable. She owned a small tailor shop near my old elementary school. Most orders she received, were requests for the most hideously sorry-excuse, in my opinion, for clothing. She would shrug and continue her sewing, if I still had disapproval plastered upon my face when she looked up, she would repeat the same words, it’s better to have one good shirt than returning a bad one for the tenth time. I just couldn’t understand why her sell point were on clothes that were mainly dark blue, with or without flower shaped dye. Every year, she would give me a “special” handmade dress for my birthday, I don’t even like dresses. Before my revelation, I never wore it in public. I was so fixated on this imaginary revolution that clothes made from the US or UK were far more superior to hers. I was embarrassed for all the wrong reasons.

In university, I was so ecstatic to move away from granny-bear. I was determined to live the life I saw fit and deserved. I soon found out that life as an adult was more complicated than I previously imagined. For one, my roommates were filthier than I was. There was a cup of rotten instant noodle in the far corner of the room for several weeks. I asked whose it was and there was no answer. Before I knew it, I was the maid of the dorm. All the tips on how to clean and where to store things, my grandmother’s constant reminders, flooded my mind like it was yesterday. Soon I found myself organizing my stuff and my roommates’. Many classmates started to ask me for advice on how to keep stains out of shirts or bags. One time, when I was cleaning the sink, I hummed a random Hakka song in reflex. To my surprise, someone started to sing the lyrics behind me, it was my class leader. I found out that almost a third of my classmates were of Hakka origin. And we made plans to go abroad to visit various countries that peeked our interest. I had an intense experience. It was a good feeling that there were things I knew about my ancestry, though most I Googled online, for more accurate references. I realized then how much I was missing for neglecting in my relationship with my grandmother. That’s when I made plans to visit her for a winter vacation. The dreadful news, came a few days later, my grandmother had fallen ill.

It’s easy to think that everything is more glamourous when it’s foreign or expensive. One never really takes the time to think about how it’s the little things that are the most precious. I thought that my grandmother was outdated and boring. However, it was far from the truth. She was in fact the most memorable part of my life. She taught me how to remember my roots. The importance of personal hygiene, is the kind of life I should lead for a healthy body. And there are different ways of connecting with people, whether it’s through stories or song, it can be harmonious and enjoyable. This topic is something I have been eager to share with many, the utmost importance of cherishing the ones you love and never forgetting their stories. They live on in you and you push the stories of your origin further down the path of humanity. We thrive not by chasing glittery fashion, but by passing on the torch of our culture to our next generation.
Shared publiclyView activity