Hong Kong Sevens, the offspring of an all-day Halloween party on speed and a relocation of douchebag central from Lockhart Road to Hong Kong Stadium coupled with the adrenaline rush of contact sports.
Among my favorite costumes, guy in Borat fluro green teeny-weeny swimming trunks, the Gaddafi dude, girls dressed up as grannies in sensible shoes, handbags and floral dresses, and the couple of Popes.
I was amazed at the human capacity to consume copious amounts of alcohol (and guilty of it myself as well).
In spite of everything, the festive atmosphere was actually very family-friendly. Lots of happy children running about and having a ball of a time with their parents, grandparents or fellow kiddos from school.
Outside of rugby, we only accomplished one other thing over the weekend. We had gone to see the priest with my witness, a good friend coincidentally in town for business. Well, one more tiny step towards completing the almost-overwhelming amount of paperwork/ formal procedures in the run up to the wedding celebration in France.
As we grow older, inevitably we become more acquainted with death – a grandfather, a good friend, an uncle – yet nothing ever fully prepares us for the next.
We were with grandma just 23 days ago. She hadn’t been able to make it for the wedding celebration in Singapore so we had all trooped over to Malaysia during Chinese New Year to offer her tea – Jiak dair as grandma used to say. It may just be a cup of tea but to grandma, it meant everything, a sweet cup of everything that she had looked forward to.
A telephone call at past 12am, a flight booked hurriedly for the next morning without the usual price nit-picking. The sort of flight one dreads, this time from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, with swollen eyes and barely a few hours of sleep.
We call her grandma in Teochew – Ah-Mah (阿嬷) or Mah-Mah (嬷嬷) – and then you realize you don’t actually remember her actual name. You learn new things like how grandma used to be a social smoker, menthol cigarettes only (and she didn’t enjoy smoking all that much) or how folded joss paper does not just facilitate burning but they are more valuable in the netherworld.
Malaysia has always been about the grandparents since my earliest memories – after grandpa’s death 15 years ago, we travel up north to visit grandma twice every year. First Jalan Klang Lama then Bandar Puchong Jaya, and sometimes Jalan Ipoh, in recent years, we never did much sight-seeing. We mostly stayed at home, occasional trips to IOI Mall, Mid Valley Mall and Chinatown aside. Ironically, I know Shanghai, where I’d lived for just a couple of years, much better than KL, a city that I’ve visited since I was born.
Recent afternoons were spent folding joss papers at the funeral parlor under the whirring fan, evenings participating in traditional Teochew prayer ceremonies extolling the 24 paragons of Chinese filial piety and journeys of the newly-deceased to the netherworld (complete with subtitles on an LED display screen) – parts of which could have been extremely funny in normal circumstances (not this time).
On the day of the funeral, we collected grandma’s ashes by late afternoon. It is sobering to see grandma alive and well one moment, lifeless in the coffin the next and then no more – ashes in an urn. If only all the praying, kneeling, chanting, kowtowing and bowing could bring her back to us.
But that’s selfish speak I know since we are missing her very much. It doesn’t help that we were told grandma had been re-watching our wedding celebration video (thanks to a cousin who shot it on his smartphone) on her final afternoon. Malaysia holds a special place in my heart but going there would never be the same again.