Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by loving parents and relatives. They were good role models and their actions spoke louder than words.
One special memory I have of my grandmother and my maternal uncles and aunts was their frugality which led to many “ halving” of things.
1. Apples and oranges were not only halved but quartered so that more could be shared amongst the 14 kids or more in the big household. Sharing was a very important practice which we continue to practice to this day.
2. Grandma would always buy biscuits, kompia and other snacks when she went to Sibu to sell the family smoked rubber sheets. And she would always tell us…”please share or halve the piece and share with the next one”. When a child got a whole biscuit, a younger one would always ask, “Can I have half of the biscuit?” And the older child would always give half away. The act of giving was so meaningful and significant in those days.
3. After doing the laundry by the river side, the heavy load would have to be carried in pails back to the old wooden house. To enable every older sister or cousin, or aunt, to have lesser burden, we would always divide the loads into two. It was a joy to be sharing the load, with each one of us carrying “only half a pail of the washing” to be dried on the bamboo poles. Most washing was done before sunset. Sometimes the kids’ clothes would be wind dried before sun rise. So there would be no worries about shortage of the small clothes for the small ones. Doing laundry by hand using the fresh river water was a part of our childhood which left a big imprint on my mind. The older ones would always happily do the laundry for the younger ones with joy in their hearts.
4. During the Chinese New Year, we would never have a whole bottle of F& N orange all to ourselves. We would have to share. But after the 15th Day of the Chinese New Year we were all given a chance to share the booty, and my mother would allow us to divide equally the remaining bottles of drinks. It was indeed heavenly for us to be able to put away 6 to 7 bottles of the lovely aerated water under our bed, for us to savour the drinks slowly. But some years when we had more visitors we did not have any left to share. Very much later, the novelty of aerated water dissipated and we did not hanker for any share at all.
5. Whenever we visited our grandmother in the down river farm house, my third uncle, Pang Sing, would make a huge bao or two, the size was the size of a basin (2 kg), grandma would always call Aunty Yung to come and get HALF of the bao for their breakfast the next day, while most usually, another one was already steaming in the big kuali over the wood fire. In the evenings we enjoyed the extra aroma of steaming baos from the kitchen. Flour was so cheap in those days and grandma would always buy by the whole bag of flour for less than 2 Straits dollars in the 50’s and 60’s. To give away half of something was a sign of generosity practised by our beloved elders in those days.
There is a famous English adage or proverb which says a Burden shared is a Burden Halved. So in many ways, our Foochow upbringing in those days paved for our cultural and Christian attitude to this day.
Our Christian Bible also ensures us that when we share our burdens with God, he will sustain us and lift some or all of the weight from our shoulders.
“CAST YOUR BURDEN ON THE LORD [ RELEASING THE WEIGHT OF IT] AND HE WILL SUSTAIN YOU;…” Psalm 55:22.
and “PRAISE BE TO THE LORD, TO GOD OUR SAVIOR, WHO DAILY BEARS OUR BURDENS.” Psalm 68:19
On the PRACTICAL side, many things were halved in the olden days. Milo tins would be halved and fashioned into containers for scooping water. Kerosene could be sold in half tins to the housewives who did not have the budget to buy a whole tin. And of course those huge tins of biscuits also come in half tins. Whenever my third uncle, being the stronger man in the family, collected a runaway timber log in the river, he would saw the log into two and older uncle Pang Ping and his family would have half of the log for firewood.
Grace Methodist Church, Miri