Nov 12, 2013

To Have and To Hold

12 November 2013 : Today marks the 25th year of my life as Mrs Benny Lim. Benny never wanted us to celebrate our anniversary for reasons he believed that if you chose to marry someone and to love her for life, then you better wise up and do it daily. Why pick a day to remember her or to give her flowers or bring her for a meal?We learned over time to show love, concern, care and kindness to each other every day. Some days we get it right, some days we frowned at each other. But each day, we closed it with a bit of contentment. Sure, there were days I wanna strangle him for making me upset and some days he was just downright angry with me for reasons I couldn't give in to him because I am typically a woman who thinks she is always right.

On the eve of our wedding, my mom took me aside and told me what is expected of me as a wife and a daughter-in-law. She says to me :

"Ting, don't be so bull-headed, such a spoilt child. Once you are married, your duty is to serve him. Not to be his servant because a servant works for money. 

But to be with him, for him and by his side. 

Whatever you do, you must always think that your actions will affect him. 

When you go out with him and eats with his friends, never speak up unless you are spoken to. 

Never walk in front of him, but always be by his side or behind him.If he comes home late from work, you are to stay up and wait for him. 

Make sure he is fed before he turns in.If he is tired, let him rest and don't disturb him."

But Mama, that's a slave, not a wife! 

 Then my mom told me "in everything we do, we do for the future. If you plant a seed and it grows, you must nurture it daily, pull out any weeds that grows around it, pick out all the worms that tries to eat the leaves, water it, and soon you will get a pretty flower. So with our husbands, we as their wives, have to do the same. As God has instructed us to be. Be the wife the Bible talks about. Sure, you will not go wrong.As it has been written."In the beginning of our early years, it was easy to be that 'slave' like wife to him.   

Over time, when our girls came into our lives, with work, housework, almost seems impossible to be the wife like it was said in the Bible.Some days I swear I could just melt and die. Some days I was overwhelmed with just the normal things we go through each day. There were heated words exchanged. We are definitely not that perfect couple. We have our faults and differences. In the way we saw things that needs done, right down to how dishes are to be washed, cleaned and kept away. In the ways how we should educate our girls. Yet each day, I am reminded of what my mom told me. And I would go back to God and ask Him to teach me and to show me how to be that perfect wife to him.In all my days as his wife, all I could think of was "how can I be better to him? How can I please him?" It was never the thoughts of "Why can't he give in to me? Why can't he be nicer to me"   

Its in my wildest dreams that should a day come I became my own boss, then I wished he could stop work with others and work with me. And when he does that, he would be my boss and I would be his assistant.And so, in 2011, he quit his job, swallowed his pride of working in a high profile job and work alongside with me. Many who knew me, thought that we are that perfect couple. Well, to be perfect, you have to work on it.25 years and still counting. We are definitely not perfect, still work in progress you might say. As God has intended us to be, on the day we swore to family and friends to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer and till death do us part.   

"Till death do us part" was Benny most hated words/phrase. He told me years ago : "Let's do everything together, go everywhere together. So if some thing unfortunate happens, we go upstairs together too and no one gets left behind."   

If you have  wondered why my mom called me a spoilt child. Well, she is right about that. My mom spoiled me since young. I never had to help in household chores. Or learn to cook or bake. In the early dating days, my mom told Benny that I was the youngest child and utterly spoilt. Marrying me would mean alot of expectations and adjustments on both ends.  

So what did I do to please him? You must know that in my family(aunties, uncles, cousins, etc), they knew I can't cook or bake. During family gatherings with pot luck, I would get KFC or Pizza Hut deliveries. That's me! I have really big shoes to fill in as  Benny comes from a family whose parents are good cooks. He grew up on teochew cuisine, simple home fare meals. I can't even figure out what it means to boil water to cook instant noodles, let alone make soon kueh. :(So a year before we got married, I started practising and honing in my cooking skills. I would go to my mother-in-law's house and would try to cook there. Because my mom would kill me if I mess up her kitchen. And my late father-in-law would come and poke around and watched me. Most of the times, he would just barged in and cook and Benny would argue with his parents to stop telling me how things are done and let me do everything myself.When we finally marry and we got ourselves a flat, I would struggle at home and sometimes cried because I burnt the rice in the rice cooker or the soup too salty because I over-boiled it. I will forever remember our first anniversary in our new home. 

All I could figure out back then was instant noodles in a soup base using the packed ingredients. I tried to cook an egg but its over cooked. The chicken was under-cook so blood was oozing out. Benny tried to please me by smiling and said "the soup is nice, the chicken is like Hainanese Chicken, so its okay". Then tears rolled down my face because I can see that he is trying very hard to please me. So that was how our tradition started..and so he told me "

We will NEVER celebrated our wedding anniversary but always to love and care for each other daily. All the time"And I swore to myself from that day onwards, I will learn to cook. And to cook anything he wants and likes to eat. No matter how far fetched or how difficult that dish may look or seem, I will try to figure it out.

So what you see of me today, the so called any-how cook and still look pretty on a plate, that's LOVEA good 4 letter word. For all these years, Benny did more for me that I ever knew. He always tell me "you tired? then we go ta-pao(take away) tonight". When he says that , I know what he wants. Its home cooked meals, any kind, any simple fare. Even though its just soup and rice, that's good enough for him.When we open the retail shop in 2009, I asked him why..because I am not into retailing and have no knowledge whatsoever. And he said to me "You are resourceful, quick witted and has a good marketing flair for culinary stuff. And I have at least 30 years of retailing experience. Together we can rock this part of the world with our mad-skills. Plus, I want this shop for us, to grow old together, to be like last time when we use to see each other."Its not the same with being married and stay in the same house and you see each other every day. With us working together, we had our set of differences emerging. My bull-headed ways seem to get into his ways too. He was so used to be at the top and ordering people around. It will  take time for him to mellow down and to take a step back to work things out.Trust me, it wasn't easy. We prayed about this, put the matter to God to fix for us. And God showed us the Bible, and taught us that if its LOVE we have for each other, then we learn to do things together again.Ok, I am still spoilt. And I still want to win. ALWAYS! But if I needed him to be with me at work, then I have to swallow my own pride, my ego and all of it and step back. And being the first to admit its my fault, brings out the best of someone too.     

Marriage is not something you swore to God or a piece of paper contract you sign and sealed. Marriage is something you need to work on it. And if its 'torn' up somehow, you need to get tape to stick it back. You need fix it as and when you can. Not when its all torn up and crumbled and beyond repair.I have always want to love someone and when I find that someone to love, I already told myself, I would do anything and everything I can to make him happy that he chose me..and only me.For Benny, I made a drastic change to my lifestyle, my character just to suit his needs.And everything I have done for him, in turn, he returns it back to me double fold.So to many who visits my blog and read the occasional story here and now, Love is not something you heard of or read of or gossip about. Its something you want for yourself, something that will keep you happy and joyful but you need to work on it and keep it. If you don't, it will 'run away' from you.As I look forward to the next 25 years, each day I know and I breathe the joy and the love Benny and I have sworn to give to each other..May you be blessed too..

Apr 28, 2013

When the dust settles

I was to write about something else a few days ago.  A testimony by my hubby Benny Lim. But this supercedes everything now. I shall write about the testimony on another day.

With a heavy heart, I penned down my thoughts, my feelings and my tears for a dear family friend whom we affectionately address her as Aunty Chu Gim. Who recently passed away after a long illness. She was my Aunt's best friend since her high school days. As far as I can remember, I would always see Aunty Chu Gim in all of our family parties, gatherings and festivities with the family.  And everyone greeted Aunty Chu Gim, asked about her, and of her daughter, Ru-Shin. 

I remembered asking Mom who is this lady? Mom told me this and I remembered it till today, she said :

"This lady is Aunty Chu Gim. She is Aunty Aileen's best friend from school. And our close family friend. Whenever you see her, you must go and greet her and call her "Aunty". Remember that..she is a part of my family now"

Aunty Chu Gim became extremely closed to me in the recent years when her only daughter, Ru-Shin was to get married in November 2009. She wanted to bake the fruit cakes for the wedding, but due to ill-health, she was unable to. It was always something she wanted to do.

So she called me one day..sometime early February 2009, just after Chinese New Year that year. And she asked if I could bake the cakes for the wedding. And she said I don't have to decorate it, just baked, packed into little favour boxes to be given away at the Church reception. 

To me, I felt such an honour that Aunty would ask me to bake the cakes. And I wanted the cakes to be decorated for photo taking. Not just to give it away. Aunty Chu Gim told me this :

"Gina, is it possible for you to cut down on sugar for the cake? Like a lot,  a lot and a lot? Because I am diabetic now and I have many friends, family who cannot take too much sugar too."

I don't know what got into me...I just said "Yes, of course. Anything for you, Aunty" and I said it in a gusto and a smile on my face. 

After the phone call, it sank in that I have no idea how the cake would be or how it will be without sugar??? I spent several weeks, to months figuring out how the cake would be, how it will taste like. I googled for sugar free cakes, and most are yucky looking or tasteless. After all, while many of the family friends can't take sugar, the rest of us can. So it has to be a cake that "one size fits all".

I sat down to pray and I ask God to give me the Knowledge, the Wisdom to figure this out. And to give me the strength to bake and build a 3 tier Wedding cake for Ru-shin's wedding and also to bake 500 little cakes to be packed into the wedding favour boxes for the guests.

By His grace, I figured it all out. Baked, decorated and delivered the cake to the wedding. 

I remembered seeing Aunty Chu Gim at the entrance to the chapel, she was so happy to see me and she told everyone by pointing at me, saying I was the one who baked the cakes, did the wedding cake..I think I wanted to go and hide somewhere.. It was my First time..baking, decorating a wedding cake. I have no idea how the guests would like the cake or not or whether the cake would come crashing down. 

Aunty Chu Gim also ask for a favour, that I set aside some 200 more mini cakes, all packed so she could bring to Taiwan for her family/friends as soon after the wedding, she's all packed to go. And again, without hesitation, I agreed. But during the wedding reception, the 200 mini cakes went missing..and I was wondering how come the guests took more than their fair share of mini cakes.

We figured that our so-called well hidden mini cakes were removed by mistake by the catering staff who could have thought that these are extras for the guests.

Aunty Chu Gim was a bit upset, I could see..and I quickly ran up to her and say "Don't worry, Aunty, I would go home tonight and baked a new lot for you. I still have the Cointreau-soaked cherries at home"

Because of this wedding, Aunty Chu Gim kept in contact with me via email and sometimes via SMS through the phone. And her emails to me were always about food..about asking of a particular ingredient or where to get it. It was always in her heart and mind and soul to cook, to bake for her family, her loved ones. 

I find her to be the most endearing person. In all our family parties, she was very much a part of our lives. Mingling with all of us as if we are related. We have grown so accustomed to seeing her, uncle Look (her hubby) and Ru-shin that if she didn't show, we ask Mom if Aunty is coming.

In the recent years, Aunty Chu Gim suffered a stroke and sms was forwarded to each and everyone in the family. We set aside time, to sit down and pray for her recovery. And always without fail, we would enquire about her well being and the elders(my aunts) would visit her at the hospital. When she was discharged from the hospital, Aunty Aileen would visit her and tend to her basic needs. 

For years, Aunty Chu Gim was very much loved and adored by all of us. Of late, she suffered a stroke, sometimes mild, sometimes a little difficult. But in the recent months, her health deteriotated. Christmas seemed awfully quiet last year. Aunty Chu Gim was in and out of the hospital. But most recently she stayed there longer. 

All my aunts visited her as much as they could. In the last 2 weeks, she was put on the life support system in the ICU(Intensive Care Unit). 

I count my blessings everyday..but my biggest regret was not visiting the hospital to visit Aunty Chu Gim and telling her face to face that I will be here always for Ru-shin and for her granddaughter, little Claire. So she could be at peace and not worry for them.

It was also during this time my hubby was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and the doctors suspected that he may have Tuberculosis as he has blood in his phelgm. During the crucial week of Benny's hospital, the other half of my heart felt torn because I couldn't visit Aunty Chu Gim. I had to open the shop, I cancelled all my classes, and rush up and down to the hospital to be with Benny..and still have to go home, kept the family informed all that has happened. My mom is worried sick for Benny and I dare not tell her too much. 

I cried on some days in the shop..and in the still of the night, I also cried. I cried out to God and ask Him to give me Strength, and Peace..

When God healed Benny, my first immediate thoughts were of Aunty Chu Gim. And without cause or reason, I knelt down and prayed to God for Aunty Chu Gim. I don't know if I have some lingering virus/bacteria from Benny's pneumonia, and I don't want to risk it to visit Aunty at the hospital too. 

Now I look back, I wish I kick myself now..I should have just show up at the door where it leads to Aunty Chu Gim's ward..even that, I think she would have sensed my presence and I could tell her all I want to tell her.

When Ru-shin announced Aunty's passing on 25th April 2013 on her Facebook's timeline, I cried in the shop. The next day, they held the funeral wake at a local casket company. 

When Benny droved me to the shop on 26 April, he ask me about how Aunty Chu Gim became a part of our big extended family. And when I told him, he said 

"Take the afternoon off, I will run the shop myself. You go and visit Aunty for the last time. And to give your love and support to uncle Look and to Ru-shin.."

I went to the wake that afternoon, Ru-shin seemed composed and she tried to hold back her tears. I ask to see Aunty..and Ru-shin lead me to the coffin where Aunty was laid to rest. When I saw Aunty, I couldn't control myself, I burst into tears, with loud sobs and I hugged Ru-shin..

I told Ru-shin everything, of how our families came together as one. Of all the days we prayed and loved her mom. And I told Ru-shin my regret for not being there for Aunty.

Ru-shin said to me 

"Aunty Gina, mom was really very happy when you baked the cake for my wedding. And it was so successful that even after the wedding, my friends are still asking me "do you have cake left?". It was the cake that mom loved and she said it was very delicious.."

"And I think I would like to bake this cake every year and eat it to remember her because she liked it very much. You fulfulled my mom's wishes to have a special cake for me..That I think is the best gift. She knows you cared. Even if you couldn't visit her, I know she knows it in her heart"

Ru-shin also told me that her mom planned the entire wake of how it was to happen, what clothes she was to wear, what kind of flowers to be used, how long the wake should be and she also wanted a water burial after cremation. Because she didn't want Ru-shin to worry and wondered how mom would have wanted things done. 

This is the Aunty I grew up knowing..the one who cares and feels for others. Whether it is someone so close to herself or just a family friend. When my mom was hospitalised, Aunty Chu Gim came and prayed with us, and she cried with us too. Every night, without fail, Aunty Chu Gim would visit my mom at the hospital too. And she would say her prayers for mom.

I told Ru-shin that I would write my blog about her mom. And I would find old photos of her in our parties..but now I decided not to post photos as its private. But I would write about the eyes of someone who grew up loving her over the years.

This brought me to be reminded some many years ago as a child, my dad told me this:

"When its time for me to go, find a good singer to sing this hymn "In the Sweet By and By" Because its a beautiful song for the one who has just passed away and for the living to tell them they will meet again, on that beautiful shore. As Christians, our life on earth is not the end of the journey when we die, but its only the beginning of another journey. Until that time comes for you to go, I will meet you at that beautiful shore.."

This Blog entry is Dedicated to Aunty Chu Gim, Uncle Look, 
Ru-shin & also to Little Claire. 
May God bless them and keep them, 
in His loving arms forever and ever, AMEN!

And Aunty Chu Gim, I will meet you at that beautiful shore. 
Love you always, Ting Ting

Feb 12, 2013

Loving Mama

The Moon Represents my Heart, sung by the late Teresa Teng in Chinese

This is one of my mama's favourite old chinese romantic songs. She has many..but this is always her favourite. I grew up knowing it. When I wedded Benny, I told him about it too. When my girls were born, they grew up listening to it in the background when Mama takes care of them in her house.

Its been a while since I last wrote. My usual ramblings is always about work, and more work. Its never easier now, even with Benny quitting his job and helping me full time at our shop. My days are filled with only work at the shop, designing and scheduling baking classes for the studio. Finding new products to sell, etc. 

But my post today is not to talk about work..but to talk about loving mama. For the past few years(sorry, I actually lost count!), I have been hosting Chinese New Year lunches at home..inviting only my parents, my sister, and her husband, my niece..and also Benny's friend and his wife. 

After all, every year I do the same, why talk about it? I want to talk about this because my mom told us over lunch yesterday, that she is 80 years old. And she thought that God wanted her home some 6 years ago after her major surgery to remove cancer cells in her pancreas. Well, apparently not..!  But also the fact that I slaved the day before or should I say, the wee hours into the night, cooking and cooking and prepping everything to make it perfect for lunch with mama. Why?

Because everytime I cook for her, I am reminded as a child, how I loved Chinese New Year and the reunion dinner I have with her. Where she slaved into the wee hours right up to dinner time. To cook up a feast for us. And she knows who likes to eat what, she does it so perfectly. In the early years, almost every family comes from humble beginnings, many are poor. Having a father who works day and night just to put food on the table, a shelter over our heads while a mother sews and mends every torn clothing, bedding and saves every coin so as to keep her family together. So when it comes to Reunion Dinner on Chinese New Year, every dish is a eating gold and diamonds. Even though its just chicken and soup that is only filled with cabbages, leeks and fish balls. Some stir fry vegetables on the side, possibly some hard boiled eggs too. If the year has been good, mama would get some fresh sea prawns, steamed and lightly doused it with Chinese wine. But having a steamed fish is a must too.

Such simple fare, these days we eat such dishes on a daily basis. But I remembered with great fondness, how much I adored and loved these simple dishes mama used to cook for us.

And that is why these days, the young people do not favour Chinese New Year, nor the food on the table. Some don't even show up for dinner or come on time.

With many of us now earning a good salary, having chicken is nothing special. But yet every year, mama would cook the same dishes..and serve us her very best. The fattest chicken, the slurpy-drool-worthy soup that is all just fish balls and cabbages.

After her surgery, mama became weak and many times she would throw tantrums and every Chinese New year, I saw a side of her which no one saw..she was sad. That she couldn't cook for us again. It was there and then, I decided and I swore to God that I would carry that burden for her. 

And so now, every year since then, I would slave into the night, cooking superior stock, get the biggest slab of pork and cook it for her. Because she loves pork. And she still has that adventourous streak in her to try all the new each year, I created a new pork dish for her. 

And I instilled that into my girls..that they must have respect for mama..

This year, our Chinese New Year lunch at home, even Benny took out his laptop to run a couple of old Chinese Songs like the one above and show her about how others sung it. 

here's mama having a king prawn sauted for her by our eldest daughter, Natasha..

Why is it important for me to continue to learn to cook? Or to try out new ways to cook? If mama did it for us, why shouldn't I do it for her? And I shall continue to cook for her, not just Chinese New Year, but also Christmas and all the other festivals or birthdays we are to have with her.

And it is also through this simple lunch, our values and culture are once again renewed. We were raised by mama to always have respect for our elders and we cannot sit at the table or dig into the food until mama says so. And everyone waited for mama's instruction to say "ok, let's eat now..". And we will all take turns to cook for her, scooping soup on a bowl for her, serving her as if she was the Empress Dowager from the Imperial Court.

Here is the Roast Pork I did for mama this year. The sauce is home made. Using Mandarin Orange to cook into a marmalade(jam) and later used to marinate the pork for 48 hours..and slow baked in the oven for 4 hours..

She had many slices of this..and took a couple more home so she could eat it again the next day. To many more years ahead, Mama, you are loved..and thank you for teaching me the right way to love and to respect my elders..