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Monday, February 11, 2008

A Bittersweet Return to Ipoh for Chinese New Year 2008

I'm back from Ipoh, mom's hometown.

Some of you may know that last Dec, my Alzheimer Disease-ridden grandmother was hospitalized after being attacked by two snatch thieves just outside her house.

These are two photos of her in the hospital early January.

Grandma in Hospital
Grandma with 1st Auntie and Mom

Grandma in Hospital 2

She was discharged from the hospital days later.

Fastforward to nearly a month later, and things were definitely looking much happier. Perhaps it has to do with the festive mood, or the fact that it's a big family reunion.

Here's a quick overview of my mom's side of the family. My grandma actually has 8 children (4 sons and 4 daughters, my mom's No. 5), and 7 of them went back to Ipoh to celebrate Chinese New Year (1, my uncle, is in Singapore)

To the non-Chinese-speaking readers: There are different variations for the words 'Uncle' and 'Auntie' in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects that separate the paternal side from the maternal side, so even though the words I call my mom's brother and my dad's brother are still translated as 'Uncle', they are different words in Chinese.

But to avoid confusion, I'll only reserve the words 'Uncle' and 'Auntie' for my mother's siblings in this blog entry. Their spouses will only be referred to as 'Uncle's Wife', 'Aunt's Husband' etc.

Anyway, after arriving at Ipoh on the 8th of February, we went out for dinner at this Chinese restaurant near grandmother's house.

Now, here are the photos, as you can see, my Grandma's looking much better:

CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008
Grandma (with 3rd Uncle's wife beside her)

CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008 (2)
We young 'uns are seated at this table

CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008 (3)
Grandma is happy!

3rd Uncle's Wife, cousins Foo Keong and Pui Kuan and Grandma
Grandma with 3rd Uncle's Wife, behind them are her children, Cousin Foo Keong and Cousin Pui Kuan

Cousin Fung Ming and me
Me and Cousin Fung Ming (poor Cousin Fung Ming was in my Mother's Day Celebration 2007 video)

Me, Cousin Fung Ming and Cousin Mun Kin and his girlfriend
(From right to left: Cousin Fung Ming, me, Cousin Mun Kin and his girlfriend) I thought Cousin Fung Ming was giving the camera the finger until I looked at the photo properly

Anyway, all these photos of the dinner were taken with my mother's iPhone.

Just a quick explanation on how I address my Uncles and Aunts and also the 'numbers'. I have 4 Uncles and 3 Aunts, so from eldest to youngest, the Uncles are called '1st Uncle, 2nd Uncle, 3rd Uncle and 4th Uncle'. Meanwhile, for my aunts, I call them '1st Auntie, 3rd Auntie and 4th Auntie', because my mom is the 2nd eldest among my Grandma's daughters, so to the rest of my cousins, my mom is '2nd Auntie to them'.

Now, here we go:

Mom, 3rd Auntie and Grandma
My mom, 3rd Auntie and Grandma

4 Beauties = Mom, 1st Auntie, 3rd Auntie and 4th Auntie
Mom and her 3 sisters (From left to right: 3rd Auntie, Mom, 1st Auntie and 4th Auntie)

1st Uncle and Family
1st Uncle and Family

3rd Auntie and family
3rd Auntie and Family

4th Uncle and Family
4th Uncle and Family

4th Auntie and her two kids
4th Auntie and her two sons, whose nicknames are 'Golden Pineapple' (the elder one) and 'Silver Pineapple'. Simon AKA Golden Pineapple is also referred to as EDMUND 2 due to his uncanny resemblance to me.

My family
And finally, Mom, Dad, Little Sis and I

I'll be honest. The visit to Ipoh, and my meeting with Grandma again, was a bittersweet one.

Grandma had suffered from Alzheimer's for quite a while (I noted the symptoms as early as 1999, but she was only diagnosed with it few years ago), but only the earlier stages, so she was usually forgetful, and tend not to remember things that occurred in the same morning, or the night before.

She used to forget minor little things, like the fact that three years earlier, my parents had brought her to Perth to visit me when I was still studying there. Though when asked whether she had ever been to Australia before, she would say yes (but not mention anything about the visit). She could remember some of my friends rather miraculously though. There was also a time when she mistook 'Golden Pineapple' for me. It was quite a bummer (for him).

However, the accident with the snatch thieves had in fact worsened her condition. (she fell facefirst onto the floor) At times, she couldn't recognize her own house anymore, and names have already escaped her. So when talking to her, she would talk about things that happened long ago, or get the people mixed up.

Somehow, she became like a kid, who needed comforting and constant cheering up from her children and grandchildren. Yet perpetually confused with her own situation, she would go through mood swings.

In the past two days, there were some moments when I sat with mom and my uncles and aunts while they were speaking to Grandma at home, unlike before, her speech had gotten a little slurred, but nonetheless, hearing things from, and about her children and grandchildren could still make her face light up. Just like a child.

The thing about Alzheimer patients is that, they tend to fade away slowly from you. That was how I've already felt since I suspected about her condition. It becomes weird because the person sitting before you is someone you know all your life, yet you are resigned to the fact that she has already forgotten, or will someday forget about you.

I've seen Alzheimer's Disease being portrayed in numerous films like the 1995 award-winning Hong Kong film, SUMMER SNOW, or the crazy Korean weepie A MOMENT TO REMEMBER, or the recent Oscar-nominated AWAY FROM HER. There's also the slightly overrated THE NOTEBOOK. (I also recommend the vastly underrated 1999 Hong Kong film, METADE FUMACA, starring Eric Tsang and Nicholas Tse, though it's really a movie about a person seeking lost memories and trying to cling to it) So I was kinda prepared to face the inevitable, although, at the age of 76 this year, I still think it was unfortunate that my Grandma was suffering from this.

But facts are facts, it's unlikely that my Grandma will ever revert back to what she was like prior to the attack from the snatch thieves. Even so, as long as she's happy and healthy for now, there's really not much to complain about.

I realized that my Grandma couldn't really recognize me anymore.

Or maybe it's difficult for her now to associate names with faces. Maybe, sometimes, she could still recognize me. Her expression was a joyful one when I (or my mom) said my name again, and she could still call my name in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Her reactions with me would alternate between 'Hi there, who are you?' to 'Ahhhh! You're here! That's great!', and occasionally mistaking me for another cousin (guess Golden Pineapple isn't alone anymore). Like the protagonist in Kazuo Ishiguro's WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS, perhaps I'll take comfort at the fact that even if she couldn't recognize me (most of the time), her love for her grandchildren, like most of her life, had remained despite her condition, like an instinctual feeling, brought forth even with a mere mention of their names. And in return, all her grandchildren, 21 of them, have always loved her just as much.

One night after the dinner, Cousin Lip Pin came all the way back from UK for Chinese New Year. And I'm giving a quick shoutout to him since he's a regular reader of this blog (heya Cuz!)

Cousin Lip Pin and Grandma
Cousin Lip Pin and Grandma

When she was about to return to her bedroom, and my family and I were preparing to leave Ipoh the following morning, I took a photo with Grandma:

Grandma and me

She liked the photo a lot.