My mum is 76 this year and she is still as strong as ever. At least in my mind, she never aged a bit. Yap Soh Tin, my mum, was born in Singapore in the year 1938. But her identification card says she was born in China. My mum never knew her actual date of birth, just her year of birth. She remembered, however, based on the Chinese lunar calendar, that she was born on the 4th day of the Chinese New Year.
Mum never really went to school. The year 1950, at a tender age of 12, mum had to work to put bread on the table. Or in the Asian context, I should say “to put rice on the table” as bread wasn’t the stable food in those days. My mum did the dishes, cleaned houses, and cooked for her siblings. My mum made pennies doing household chores for others. But little by little, my grandmother was able to use the money my mum made to buy a television. To afford a television in the 50s, one would be considered rich.
That is how hard my mum worked, yet she had no share of every cent she earned. My mum only envied her younger siblings enjoying the novelty of a new television. But my mum had to clean again. Clothes to wash and iron. Iron that used hot coal to heat up the plates. That was my mum’s childhood. A parentified child at the age of 12. My grandfather used opium and was practically not able to provide for the family.
Growing up, I remembered my mum trying to make extra income by cleaning factories and people’s houses. I also remembered how my sister Mary and I had to help with the delivery of clothes that my mum helped to iron. My mum worked hard. Very hard.
I recall vividly how my mum will ask the children to collect disposed detergent bottles. We, the children will collect the disposed bottles home, washed it and fill it half with water and half with bleach. Little did we the children realized that we were helping my mum to cheat. Selling diluted detergent as concentrated detergent. But that was how my mum knew to put food on the table. With her hands, my mum successfully raised 7 children. Today, she has 17 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.
Mum, you are the greatest. Thanks for showing us what it means to love; love sacrificially.