My father was a very quiet but well read man, the first of two Sibu Foochow Pioneering families' sons to graduate from university, the Yieng Ching University (now Peking University) in 1937. The other famous son was Wong Cheng Ang. My father always put educational pursuits above all else. And perhaps as a result my siblings and I never really took a fancy to making of profits or wheeling and dealing.
A gentle way of life was one of the most important lessons he taught us when we were young.
He would take me his first born to the market every morning.
His first stop was the Lok Huen Coffee shop, on the ground floor of the Palace Cinema.
Lok Huen was a special place in those days. In the day time, it was a coffee shop, served by the towkay and his sons. There were no Indonesian waitresses in those days and nor were there young girls from the villages. Every coffee hand was a man and every waiter was a boy who had wanted to learn a business. He would be working for food and board only. At night Lok Huen was a restaurant which catered for five tables. The towkay wanted to handle only a small business and he was not at all competiting with Hock Chu Leu.
The towkay(Mr. Hoo) was my father's friend and my father would buy freshly ground coffee powder from him. The aroma of the roasting coffee beans would weft out from the back of the coffee shop. The buttery flavour was unforgettable. People in those days practised "friend's price" and my father would always be happy to go home to mother and telling her that he brought back "special priced" coffee for her. Family budget was healthy if father was blessed with such special prices.
The coffee shop, which was quite near the Maternity Clinic (where my mother would in the years to come give birth to my younger siblings) would often see some anxious fathers waiting for the birth of their new ones. Fathers were not allowed into the clinic until the babies were delivered. I saw those new fathers waiting with their cheng ark or a soup container I was thinking how nice it was to be given chicken soup after the birth!! But naturally there were old grandmothers waiting for the birth of their grand children too.
Father would order a cup of coffee for himself and chat with the towkay about the day. Nothing very crucial, just nice chatting. Often words of wisdom would come out of their mouths, which I gratefully collected and committed to memory.
When the coffee arrived,he would pour more coffee into the saucer to cool. I suppose he was happy that he had two thirds of the cup and I could have the coffee in the saucer. In my young mind, it was a good way of sharing with my father. I did not consider it as something negative or otherwise.
How nice it was to sit in a coffee shop every morning with my father!!
But I did glean a lot of wisdom from the conversations my father had with his friends.
Perhaps I learned to be confident, self assertive, careful, cheerful,frugal and soft spoken by holding on to his hands, walking with him along footpaths, and drinking coffee from the saucer in the coffee shop.
One of the best lessons I learned from him was clearly stated in the Foochow saying, " Strong words are taught in gentle tones". We must never raise our voices when we need to teach a good moral lesson.
He was really teaching me by example.
Thank you Phyllis Wong for this photo which inspired me to write this reflection.
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