A Blog About An Asian Medical Student. Yes that's redundant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Grandmother's Eggs

aka The Week
aka Back Up Your Data
aka For Realz, Back Up Your Data
aka No Play Play
aka Ah Mah

I hate loss.

And I don't mean loss like a normal person (is there anything I do like a normal person?), but I mean I'm still upset that I dropped part of my pasta dish a decade ago.

I mean I paid for it. A whole 13 dollars tax included.

And more than ten years later, I'm still not over it.

In particular, some of the worst loss though?


And I'm not talking academic papers which you've renamed about 17 times, each with a longer iteration of the name. You know you have about 16 more copies of your wacky dissertation about which scrambled eggs pair with duck flavoured soy sauce saved in the cloud, or that free USB stick you took from freshman week at uni.

file folder / papers

etc etc.

Ultimately my academic papers are worthless (at least if you ask every journal I've submitted to).

The loss I really can't cope with are the memories. Pictures, videos, text messages with pictures and videos. They are the hardest.

I'm including every blurry retake picture of that half assed version of eggs with soy too. It's marginally more meaningful than the six shots of the McDonalds french fries I wanted to Instagram before I realized I wasn't #basic. And I don't have #instagram for food, I'm not Asian (just ask any Asian person I've submitted to).

I was in Malaysia for around two weeks and left about a week ago. The day before I left, some files were deleted off my hard drive (there is a technical explanation, but to the less savvy, it reduces to a simple "David Poon is an incompetent idiot").

These were the pictures of seeing my maternal grandmother, my Ah Mah, in the hospital. I flew over urgently because we were worried she was going to die. She was discharged and survived.

But the data didn't.

The pictures of seeing her after so long, the videos of her children celebrating a birthday with her, impressions of a Chinese New Year surrounded by family, the memories of a trip to be remembered.


I don't handle loss well.

And in this digital age where we can feasibly keep everything on an external hard drive that you can buy for less than a weeks worth of coffees?

I shouldn't be having loss.


I think I share that fear of loss with my Ah Ma.

Last year when I was visiting her, I recorded a long shot of a few of her stories. I was interested in her experiences during the Second World War. I #literally slept through high school history class, but as best I can remember, Malaysia was part of the war.

Can't remember which side.

Can remember the naps were FANTASTIC though.

Can't remember if I passed the class.

Anyway, turns out Malaysia was occupied by the Japanese, who I think were allied with the Germans, but they didn't use the verb allied. I think they were axis'ed with the Germans, or whatever the word is.

I slept through English class too.

Her story was translated to me, for two reasons:

1) I don't speak Asian
2) I don't understand Asian ladies anyway. Or any females in general. Just ask any woman I've ever spoken to.

As I understood, in Japanese occupied Malaysia, there were rations of rice and foodstuffs given to the people from the invading army. This would be collected by the man of the home.

For various reasons, Ah Mah had dressed as a young effeminate man (see where I get it from?) to get the rations from the Japanese, and hold a job as well. On the backdrop of beheadings and violence in a developing jungle oasis of a country, this in itself was quite courageous, but there was a story that stuck with me.

As best as I remember, at one point, there was a man (some sort of uncle or distant relative perhaps) who the Japanese were looking for around my Ah Mah's home. She hid him and, as a Japanese official approach, confronted him.

A young woman dressed as a man facing a powerful man dressed as a destroyer.

She faced complete loss.

And lived.


If this was in the digital age, I'm sure some bystander would have taken a video of the whole thing on her phone.

And then I would have somehow accidentally deleted it.


Because my parents worked so much, for about ten years, Ah Mah lived with us in Regina. She sacrificed a lot to be with us - essentially her life in Malaysia was put on hold just to make sure my sister and I were taken care of.

She said I was the best baby she ever took care of - apparently if you drew a circle around me I wouldn't leave.

She thought it was because I was well behaved.

Obviously it was because I was lazy.


After school on the walk home, there is a corner window of the house I would be able to see. Without fail, every day, Ah Mah was watching from there, making sure I got home.

Fat kids like me need to be fed after all.

Ah Mah's signature dish was something she called Grandmother's Eggs. A simple dish which was essentially scrambled eggs with dark, sweet soy sauce I'm not sure it was anything culinary but it was everything emotionally. It was synonymous with Ah Mah's cooking and immediately called to mind by everyone in the family.

It was my sister's and my favourite.

Always waiting for us at home.

Much like Ah Mah.

And I'm much like her.

She raised me after all.

Waiting for my sister and I after school wasn't the only time she worried about me. Even until my teen years, she was worried that after a house party at my place, someone would have stolen my items, or if I was out late, she was sitting in the dark, at that same window, making sure I was safe.

She actually worried about all of us a lot.

About money, about food, about loss.

This was before hoarding was a thing, but her part of the fridge was so full of food so old the entire family was convinced one day it would poison her.

I'm much like her. 

If we tried to take it from her she would snap and say it was for her, in some eventual doomsday scenario.

The inevitable someday where another war might take away her supply of food.

Or the someday where she may have lost one of us.

I asked a question on this recent trip.

"Has Ah Mah ever lost someone?"

My Mom and Uncles then told me about how her older brother left the family to join Chinese communists when she was very young. One day he was gone from her life.

And I think this fear never leaves.

Which makes letting go of it so much more brave.

Mom always told me that without Ah Mah, she would have never become a doctor, instead living out her life in the poor Malaysian kampung (small village) she was born in. While Kong Kong (grandfather) wanted as many children as possible to work the fruit selling business, Ah Mah insisted on the smaller family of three boys, one girl, and for them to have the chance to be educated. Ah Mah had no education but knew the future for us was within school.

My Eldest Uncle took responsibility, manned up and took the only job available to a poor family - joined the military. The second and third went away to Australia, and my Mom went elsewhere in Asia to study medicine, eventually going to Canada.

As hard as it was for her, Ah Mah said goodbye to her children to make sure they had their lives. That they were safe.

At the risk of losing them.

Ah Mah spoke seven languages and every one helped us understand how much she was afraid of losing us. It was her sheer intelligence she did what she could, mistakes and all, for her children, for her life.

My cousin sat me down about nine days ago and reminded me the value of family, and to not live with too many regrets. I had to get back to Canada to sort out of few things but I resolved to come back and see Ah Mah again.

Before I left I took some pictures with her. Just a few, dwarfed by how many which were deleted.

But some.

I kissed her on the forehead not wanting to lose her. I just had to go, but I knew she would be waiting for me when I returned.

Like always.


Ah Mah died this morning.

One week after I left.

Eight days after celebrating her last Chinese New Year surrounded by her loved ones.

Nine days after being reunited with all of her children, who haven't been all together for many years.

Ten days after having a birthday for one of her children.

Two weeks after being discharged from to the hospital

Twenty days after being admitted into the hospital.

A lifetime of giving, sacrifice, pain, tears, and giving some more to a world she was afraid of losing what little she had to.

A lifetime of building a family and keeping them safe as best as she could.

Imperfectly - but as best as she could.

About ten seconds after my data loss, I realized what happened. I immediately went to recovery, and a few hours later I was able to get some back. I haven't sorted through them all, but there is some back.

I can lament about what I've lost.

Or cherish what I still have.

Much like the precious moments and memories I still have of Ah Mah.


I hate loss.

And I don't mean loss like a normal person (every normal person grieves), but I mean I hate losing a woman who raised me for a decade.

I mean she paid for it. A life left behind in Asia, a husband an ocean away.

And a more than a lifetime later, I will never forget it.

In particular, some of the worst loss though?


And I'm not talking about physical safety, though that is of course important. I mean the security and false idealism that allows you to believe your loved ones will always be there the longer they live. Even by one more week. You always think, hope, stay staunchly ignorant that there is a safe tomorrow harbouring future memories that will keep you safely unaware of the pain you have yet to endure.

memories / ahmah

I love you, I love you.

Ultimately my grief will pass (I've made my mistakes and take responsibility).

The loss I really can't cope with are the futures. The pain all of us in the family will face knowing there is no tomorrow for her. They are the hardest.

I think Ah Mah waited for all of her children to come home before she could pass. I think as she lay bedridden, being tube fed, eyes glazed and barely aware, she knew that she had to wait for us.

She had to know we were safe.

And as she waits for us, watches us, it is finally a time where she does not need to be afraid of being alone.

As she was never alone.

Some things cannot ever be recovered.

But lessons, examples, feelings of love, fear hardship, pain, strength, compassion, and the recipe to the best soy sauce scrambled eggs in the world?

Some things are never lost.


The safety of love transcends the insecurity of loss. 

I think I will never lose my Ah Mah.

- David

One of the only pictures I have from the last trip to Malaysia. This is not one of the recovered files, but one of the shots I took after realizing I should forget regretting what is already gone. This is the last picture of us together. 

This song played in the background while I typed this at a cafe. I've never heard it before. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB6qsyq9YIE

I love you Ah Mah. Thank you for taking care of me and loving me. Be safe.