It’s Chinese New Year around the world and with half the population in Malaysia made up of Chinese it’s an exciting time in Kuala Lumpur.
The whole week is nothing but red lanterns, fireworks, lion dance competitions, and a special time to visit families. During one of these family gatherings I met one of the most beautiful women I think I have laid my eyes on. She is vibrant, young at heart, a chain smoker, and 86 years has not stopped this woman, she is on my top list of interesting people for 2013.
Great Grandma is the patriarch of several generations of Chinese families in Malaysia, revered, feared, and respected, I asked her son if I could take her picture. I introduced myself and she smiled a big toothless grin. We talked awhile and in her broken English she revealed to me all the gossip stories about the family.
Grandma points into the crowd, “That grandson has a child, not married. That granddaughter divorced.” She stopped a moment and took a big puff of her cigarette. “That son has two wives.”
“How is that possible?” I asked.
“One wife not registered as married.” She laughed out loud. Some heads turned towards us, me being the only Caucasian in the crowd will attract some attention, especially when the Gweilo (white guy) is getting on with Grandma. She continued, “Somehow they make it work. Been that way for years.” She whispers and points with her thumb. “That’s her.” A big laugh followed with more heads turning our way. She didn’t care and with the confidence of a regal queen she said, “Take your picture.”
Later on, other family members told me how Grandma made it through WWII scrounging for root vegetables to keep the family from starving. It was 1941 and the British just left Malaysia to fend for themselves during the Japanese invasion. The next four years were brutal for the Chinese in Malaysia, and by the end of the war 100,000 people were either missing, murdered, or starved to death.
I told Grandma I would send her a copy of the picture. She smiled that one-tooth grin and blew me a kiss that melted my heart. What a wonderful woman.