Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Great-Grandparents

In a previous post I talked about a remarkable family photo which I had seen in Penang. I was telling my aunt (or one of my father's cousins, rather) about it and she in return told me a story about my great-grandparents who are featured in that photograph.

According to my aunt, my great-grandfather travelled from China to Penang. There, he found a job working for a Penang businessman. He won the trust of this businessman, and more importantly (for me), the hand of his daughter in marriage. They then went on to have 11 children. My great-grandfather had 4 more children with another wife but the matriarch of the family was undoubtedly my great-grandmother.

I personally think that my great-grandparents were quite remarkable people. They did not follow the conventions of their time. Significantly, their many daughters were not brought up as traditional nonya girls, prepared for marriage and nothing else. Many of them were well-educated. One became a teacher, two doctors. In fact, one became the Chief Paediatrician for Singapore.

My great-grandparents shuttled to and fro between Singapore and Penang frequently, with assorted children in tow. Earlier on, my great-grandmother went back to Penang just to give birth to her children on the beautifully carved bed which her father had given her. Subsequently this bed was brought to Singapore and my great-grandmother donated it to the Singapore Museum. I visited it in the museum as a child (I remember that dusty old museum). I am happy and proud to say that I visited it yesterday, restored to glory.

My great-grandfather died when I was 1 year old and my great-grandmother, when I was 6 years old (I had just started Pr 1). But I do remember visiting her in her home (and running around) whilst she talked to my father and grandfather, the nonya matriarch to the last.

p.s. Sorry about the reflections. Bed is inside a perspex enclosure, probably to protect the hangings. Hard to photograph.


  1. Hi Katong Gal, there is no need to say sorry about your reflections. We like to reminiscence especially about our roots. Just like you I have blogged about my great grandfather, Chew Joo Chiat at

  2. It's great to read your blog today, Katong Gal. My daughter and I visited the Peranakan Museum yesterday. Although I have a few Peranakan friends, I do not know much about the Peranakan culture. The visit proved to be a real eye-opener for both of us. My 13-year-old daughter is so fascinated by the intricate Peranakan embroidery and the colourful bowls and other crockery that we have decided to do a mini project on the Peranakan Culture. It was so nice of your great-grandmother to donate her bed to the museum. It is truly a magnificent piece of artwork! We may one day travel to Malacca and Penang to discover more wonders and treasures of the Peranakan Culture.So keep up the good job! Oh, yes, we did take a picture of your great-grandmother's bed. The effect is the same as yours.It does not matter. What matters is your willingness to share with others the history of your anncestors so that the young generatins will not miss out in knowing and understanding their roots. By the way, we are not Peranakans but Chinese who are really interested in your roots.
    Do you know that Josephine Chia who wrote the book " Frog Under the Coconut Shell" is a Peranakan too? It is a great book. She is now residing in UK.


  3. Dear Nostalgia,
    Thanks for your very kind comment. Yes, I do enjoy visiting Malacca and Penang very much. The food is good, the shopping is fun and best of all, it is not expensive!

    Actually, I have not read "Frog under the Coconut Shell". Must look it up.



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