Chen Ya Xuan, 12
Png kueh (glutinous rice dumpling) is the first thing that reminds me of my ah ma (grandmother) because she makes them all the time to give to her friends and neighbours. When she was younger, she used to sell them below the block. At home, both of us are like CCTVs watching each other’s movements all the time! I am her only grandchild who can speak Teochew, so I’m also her translator.
Chen Ya Xuan and her grandmother Sit Ah Moi share a relationship in which bickering with each other is a part of daily life. Yet it is in their close observations and interactions with each other that unspoken care and knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next.
Have a listen to Ya Xuan's reflection in this journey of documenting her grandmother making Png kueh or read on in the transcript below.
Shiyun: If you could only choose one photograph to show to the public, which photograph would it be?
Ya Xuan: This
Shiyun: (laughs)... why this photograph?
Ya Xuan: She’s smiling, or should I say laughing?
Shiyun: Actually she’s not smiling, don’t know what happened to her
Ya Xuan: I think she’s laughing while talking to you. She laugh a lot ah… when she see TV, her friend call her
Shiyun: So you feel that this laughing self, is her most natural self?
Ya Xuan: Yeah. She always laugh like that one
Shiyun: What other expression is the… next most natural for Ah Ma?
Ya Xuan: (laughs) holding the cane… shouting “Oi!”
Shiyun: She still cane you meh?
Ya Xuan: Sometimes lah. Not so often now
Shiyun: One of the things that I remember very clearly right, but it was not at your house, it was when she came to TTKC with you to make Peng Kueh. She will come to me and she said that (in chinese). “Do you know? She hold my hand!”
Ya Xuan: (mimicking) “She hold my hand!” (laughs) Eh that is not for the first time lor. Walau, so dramatic
Shiyun: Maybe (laughs)... that’s the only time she remembers? How did you think that your Ah Ma express love?
Ya Xuan: Hitting! When she laughs, she also (mimics hitting) “Pah! Pah!”
Shiyun: Maybe, that’s why you also express love like that
Ya Xuan: Yes
Shiyun: By hitting people ah?
Ya Xuan: Yes
Shiyun: (laughs) Okay, maybe for the listeners right… tell us a story about your Ah Ma
Ya Xuan: She’s from… where again? Fu Zhou ah. She used to sell all these kueh, below (the) block, and then when she saw her mother-in-law making this Peng Kueh, she was like “Oh, I wanna learn!”
(mimicking mother-in-law) “Nooo, cannot cannot. Only can see” so she (Ah Ma) wasn’t allowed to touch anything, so basically she just go back to her own house, and try to make it herself. Now, (me) growing up, telling her “Eh I want make also!” (mimics Ah Ma) “You stand there see, I tell you!”
Shiyun: So she will not let you, she will not teach you, but then you have to-
Ya Xuan: (mimics Ah Ma) “You see ah! I teaching you now, you see you see”
Shiyun: Maybe last time, the old people are all like that lah
Ya Xuan: Yeah
Shiyun: They teach, by not teaching… you must only see
Ya Xuan: Yea… that’s why I can’t teach (laughs)
Shiyun: That’s why you can’t teach? So you always tell people “Just see ah!”
Ya Xuan: Yes (both laughs)
Shiyun: Then your Ah Gong eh?
Ya Xuan: I don’t know him ah
Shiyun: You don’t know him much ah? So you don’t really talk to him
Ya Xuan: Ya
Shiyun: So the person that you talk to everyday is Ah Ma?
Ya Xuan: Yes
Shiyun: Because she has a lot to say
Ya Xuan: My Ah Ma and my Ye Ye, they only talk about 4D (laughs), and my uncle aunty coming. Most of them, they will be like “Eh Xuan ah, go give your Ah Gong this, go tell your Ah Gong this”
Shiyun: So you are the balancer between your Ah Ma and your Ye Ye
Ya Xuan: Yah lah
Shiyun: They don’t talk to each other, they talk through you
Ya Xuan: Ya lah, macam more like “eh send message” liddat
Shiyun: Let’s say, there are 3 things that immediately come to your mind, when you think about Ah Ma. What are these 3 things?
Ya Xuan: (laughs) There will only be one - shouting lor
Shiyun: Two more
Ya Xuan: Maybe her Peng Kueh? Actually I don’t know leh… there’s nothing else what. Most of the time she only watch TV mah, and talk to my unclew
Shiyun: But she calls you everyday, and waits for you everyday
Ya Xuan: Yes, yes, yes, yes, sometime she calls just to say “Oh you eat already then you come home hor, I never cook” (laughs)
Shiyun: And you talk to her in Teochew
Ya Xuan: When she talk to me in Teochew, I reply to her in Teochew lor
Shiyun: When did you learn to speak Teochew?
Ya Xuan: I don’t know, maybe because everytime she downstairs, talk to her friends, all use Teochew, talk to my grandfather, talk to my uncle aunty, all use Teochew
Shiyun: Do you watch Teochew shows?
Ya Xuan: No
Shiyun: So most of your Teochew actually is from her lah, like talking to her friends
Ya Xuan: Yes, I think so, most of my cousins don’t know any. It’s like I’m the only grandchild, out of all her grandchildren, who knows how to speak Teochew like everything
Shiyun: So maybe, you actually observed her a lot lah
Ya Xuan: Yeah (laughs) got 24 hour CCTV over there one
Shiyun: What you mean 24 hour CCTV over there?
Ya Xuan: Both of us looking at each other “Eh what you doing?” “Eh what you doing?” (laughs)
Shiyun: Why is Peng Kueh so special to you?
Ya Xuan: She always make what, then she will give all her friends, give neighbours all those
Shiyun: Maybe that is a thing that makes her proud, or that’s what people recognise her for
Ya Xuan: Yeah actually kinda true. Everytime people see her, “Eh today you never make kueh ah? Eh why never give me?” (laughs) Like sometimes, you know all her friends jealous one - “How come that day you give her you never give me?” (laughs)
Shiyun: Yah lor, so her Peng Kueh is like her sense of pride, like she can also get friends by making a lot of Peng Kueh (laughs)
Ya Xuan: Yes (both laughs)