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Thank you, Dr Craig Eisemann, for introducing me to the attendees. Craig and I have many interests and things in common, not the least that our mothers both lived to 88 years old separated by five months, and that we both became motherless at roughly the same age, separated by three months. Also, both our mothers were only married at the relatively late age of 30.
Hello ladies and gentlemen! Many of you know me as Khai or Khai-Wei. First, please let me acknowledge your presence and your individual connections with my late mother, Khim. That you have taken the time to join us in celebrating the life of a lady so special and important to many of us right here at this very moment is a testament to your appreciation of these cherished connections with my late mother. I would like to inform you that this eulogy is permanently available on my website at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2019/08/31/khai-khim-for-always-and-beyond-goodbye/
Counting back from the day of Khim’s passing to just one day short of fifteen years and nine months ago, my late mother and I, my brother and his family as well as other relatives and friends mourned the departure of my late father, whose funeral was also held here in this chapel in late 2003, though it was very heavily imbued with Buddhist ceremonial activities then.
Now, let us return to the person of our main focus, the person whom many of you have come to call Khim. We are here to confer our love and respect on Khim posthumously. As an aside, let us concentrate on her full name, Khim-Kin Woon, for a moment. Does it remind you of anyone? Those of you who have been paying attention to news will soon realise that her full name rhymes uncannily well with that of a South Korean field hockey player and gold medallist, Kim Jong-eun, and more worryingly, with that of the North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. There is no wonder that my mother’s name alone had caused her to be mistaken for a Korean by some people. I usually informed them that we are Australian by introducing myself and mum as Khai & Khim, given that our pairing is akin to Kath and Kim as depicted in the Australian television situation comedy. Don’t look at moy, look at mum!
In delivering this special eulogy, let us entertain some deeper discussions. We may begin by thinking about the following question: Is Khim, my mother, special? Whilst I would like to think so, it is a fairly moot point, for I consider both the question and its answer to be perfunctory, if not superficial. To summarily claim that my mother is special, or that I have a special mother, is to offer little or nothing more than a straightforward declaration that I feel special about my mother, let alone the fact that under most circumstances, everyone’s mother is special to them. Rather than being confounded by a rhetorical question or being mired in relativity and subjectivity, we can and should come to a much better understanding of Khim’s specialness through how she had touched our lives, and in how she had interacted with us. Indeed, achieving that understanding is the gist of this eulogy.
Let us start from the most obvious, from that which can be observed and felt through interpersonal communication. As a whole, we can reasonably perceive or conclude that it was Khim’s gentleness and passivity, her unassuming smile and lovable gaze, demure nodding and attentive listening, that has left many favourable impressions on those who met her, whether briefly or regularly.
Now, let us go beyond the surface and the immediacy of face-to-face engagement to consider the social environment and cultural aspects in relation to her interactions with us. Overall, Khim was quite economical with words. This quietness or reticence became more pronounced in her old age, as her ability to remain articulate and coherent waned. Regardless of her age, Khim as an adult was amiable and approachable in public, though she usually waited for others to approach her first. This lack of initiative was mostly due to her shyness and reserved nature. Moreover, as personable as she had been, Khim was never outwardly a pleaser. A social butterfly she never was. Neither was she ever a person who habitually, flippantly or unnecessarily sought attention, approval, devotion or likeableness through sociability or conformity. In most situations, Khim seemed to be faring equally well whether she was the centre of attention or at the fringe of action. Since she was never interested in pushing herself through life with strategic moves or personal agendas, we can safely conclude that her acquiescences and praises as well as her supports and rapports that she had given us, however rare or frequent, were all genuine.
In spite of Khim’s calm and gentle demeanour, she was not untouched by fear or favour. On the side of fear, she loathed and avoided conflicts whenever she could, even when some recurring issues or outstanding problems had been detrimental or unresolved. Ironically, the consistency in her thinking could at times be a trap preventing her from welcoming certain changes. However, such a consistency could also function like a shield protecting her against facile ideas, superficiality and unruly influence.
It is worth noting that Khim tended to see the world or to evaluate certain outcomes from the perspective of the glass being half empty rather than half full. Khim’s veiled pessimism can be attributed to her innate temperament as well as her lifelong limited means. As a corollary, Khim was not easily excitable or tempted. Neither was she particularly driven to seek new excitements. Since Khim was generally unconcerned about selfishly meeting her own needs or mindlessly keeping up with the Joneses, she was able to enmesh herself in activities without undue distractions or unrealistic expectations.
Whilst Khim was not easily excitable or tempted, she could be easily moved to tears, especially when watching some movies and television series, such as Little House on the Prairie, as I observed in the 1970s and early 1980s. Khim was a long-term fan of certain TV stars in sitcoms, such as Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote. Some television miniseries leaving lasting impressions on Khim included Roots, The Thorn Birds, Shōgun, Centennial, and Scarlett. Other TV staples, variety shows and primetime serials that she watched with regularity included Donny & Marie, Lassie, The Wild Wild West, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Kung Fu, Charlie’s Angels, Mission Impossible, Fantasy Island, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Police Woman, Hotel, The Love Boat, Dallas, and Dynasty, as well as the more recent ones such as Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Adventures of Sinbad, Charmed, Heroes, Lost, Prison Break, Sleepy Hollow, Once Upon a Time, Under the Dome, Hawaii Five-O, Vikings, and Chicago Fire.
Unlike her female siblings, and also despite her largely Chinese-educated background, Khim seemed to have developed a considerably large number of interests in Western culture and popular media, all of which were cultivated and nurtured without sacrificing or compromising moral virtues and cultural values that stemmed from her upbringing. In other words, both her physical appearance and her cultural capital were dynamic mixtures and contrasting juxtapositions of the occidental and the oriental, not to mention that she spoke and wrote in several languages, and that she could also fluently converse in multiple Chinese dialects. To that extent, she was ostensibly both multilingual and multicultural, never mind whether she was ever (proven to be) truly Eurasian or biracial. In any case, some of her tastes in, and predilections for, certain western things and trends can be definitely traced to the influences of two of her older male siblings, to whom she was particularly close. From her late English-educated second elder brother (温旭京), she absorbed his liking for Western films and songs; and from her late Chinese-educated fourth elder brother (温墉京), she acquired a fondness for dancing.
As a result, Khim had an enduring penchant for savouring Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals created in the 1930s to 1980s. For instance, Khim’s favourite Hollywood idol was Tyrone Power, whom she contacted and asked for a photo, and whom she lamented to have died too young. Khim loved watching the lead actors in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind”, both movies of 1939. She also liked Linda Darnell, Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, Charlton Heston, Richard Chamberlain, Cornel Wilde, Robert Conrad, Audrey Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Shirley MacLaine, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds, Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Sabu Dastagir, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalbán, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Merle Oberon, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, David Niven, Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, Maureen O’Hara, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Betty Hutton, Dorothy Lamour, Susan Hayward, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Jennifer Jones, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Charlie Chaplin, Danny Kaye, Roger Moore, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole, William Holden and Glenn Ford, but not so much John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
Khim would sometimes recount to me what she could remember about her favourite movie stars in their films as well as their lives. For example, Khim had commented to me over the years on the looks, voice and multiple marriages of Elizabeth Taylor, and in particular, how Taylor, after losing her husband, film producer Mike Todd, to a plane crash, managed to marry her best friend Debbie Reynolds’ husband, Eddie Fisher, by causing the latter to divorce Reynolds, who, quite ironically, had had the good heart to console Taylor after Todd’s untimely demise. As another example, Khim seemed to believe that it was quite possible for an actor to be too beautiful or overly handsome, for she opined that Tony Curtis was so good-looking that he looked more like a woman than a man.
More recent and younger actors whom Khim liked and mentioned included Jane Seymour, Joe Lando, Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Dustin Hoffman, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Taylor Kinney. In particular, Khim had long admired Timothy Dalton for his portrayal of James Bond as well as his characterization of Rhett Butler in the sequel to Gone with the Wind, entitled Scarlett, a 1994 American six-hour television miniseries.
Regarding music, on the one hand, Khim adored the songs and sentimental ballads of Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Irwin Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Paul Francis Webster, Sammy Fain, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, as well as Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. On the other hand, Khim was enamoured by the singing of Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Mario Lanza, Dick Haymes, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Matt Monro, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Andy Williams, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Dinah Shore, Nat King Cole, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Elvis Presley, Mandy Patinkin, Barbra Streisand, Nana Mouskouri, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, the Carpenters, Julio Iglesias, the Three Tenors, Il Divo, and Andrea Bocelli, many of whom Khim could instantly name or recognise whenever she watched or listened to their respective singings with gusto.
Khim’s favourite musicals and musical films included Night and Day, Top Hat, Shall We Dance, Roberta, Gigi, Gypsy, Oliver!, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, An American in Paris, Meet Me in St Louis, The Band Wagon, Annie Get Your Gun, Hello, Dolly!, Evita, Yentl, Mary Poppins, Camelot, Kiss Me, Kate, Calamity Jane, Funny Face, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Sleeping Beauty, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Happy Feet, Mulan, The Lion King, Xanadu, and Moulin Rouge!. Khim’s most beloved operettas were none other than The Student Prince and The Desert Song, though she was also very fond of Carmen and The Merry Widow.
Periodic musical shows or events that Khim had been willing to be reminded of, and to follow with considerable interest, included the Royal Variety Performance, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Vienna New Year’s Concert, André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, the Eurovision Song Contest, Celtic Woman, Carols by Candlelight, the Australian National Eisteddfod, as well as the Olympic Games, specifically those involving dance and music such as gymnastics, synchronized swimming, figure skating and ice dancing. International reality television competition franchises such as The X-Factor, Idols, The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars also attracted Khim’s attention. In particular, Khim had always remembered Anthony Callea, Jessica Mauboy and Guy Sebastian from Australian Idol, and lived long enough to see the last two representing Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest.
As for instrumentals, Khim would always welcome the best of semiclassical, easy listening, ballroom music, light music, mood music, elevator music, Muzak and film music, composed or arranged by the likes of Richard Clayderman, Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, Percy Faith, Geoff Love, Yanni (Yiannis Chryssomallis), James Last, Paul Mauriat, Ferrante & Teicher, Liberace, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, John Barry, Michel Legrand, Francis Lai, Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Michael Masser, Marvin Hamlisch, Paul Williams, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Dave Grusin, David Foster, Quincy Jones, David Shire, Johnny Harris, Nelson Riddle, Ray Conniff, Gordon Jenkins, Mel Tormé, Billy May, Vic Schoen, Roger Williams, Tommy Dorsey, Walter Gross, Robert Russell Bennett, Buddy Bregman, Ernie Freeman, Bert Kaempfert, Louis Clark and Victor Young, as well as those of the Boston Pops Orchestra such as Arthur Fiedler and John Williams. Light orchestral music and film scores that attracted Khim’s attention were those of Albert Ketèlbey, Miklós Rózsa, Richard Addinsell, Eric Coates, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Charles Williams, Hubert Bath and Angela Morley.
It is noteworthy that Khim would generally be oblivious to the names and contributions of such composers and arrangers, even though she seemed to be instinctively cognizant of, and satisfied by, the overall quality of the music. At best, she would only know or remember a handful of those composers and arrangers if I were to mention their names or to comment on the styles and merits of their compositions, orchestrations or arrangements, let alone their choreographies, screenplays, stage productions or artistic directions when certain works also significantly involved dancing, storytelling, visual presentations or even interactive components. Since Khim was usually more interested in the singers and actors associated with the films and musicals that she already knew and liked, she naturally connected her favourite music and songs to the names of the lead singers or the titles of the musical films, and thus rarely the names of the composers or arrangers. By the same token, the music and songs of ABBA, Elton John, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Michael Jackson and so on would have been much more prominently appearing on Khim’s musical radar, had those songwriters also been prominent actors or film stars.
In any case, Khim enjoyed being quizzed by me about song titles, singers’ names, film titles and actors’ names. For instance, I would asked her to name two films in which William Holden and Jennifer Jones starred together. She could name Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing of 1955, but not The Towering Inferno of 1974. On occasions, Khim would reverse the role and be the quizzer, if not the teaser!
Khim had also enjoyed parlour music, pop music, and the less serious form of Western classical music, such as Sir Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour”, as well as the popular French song “Hymne à l’amour” by Édith Piaf and Marguerite Monnot, later adapted into English as “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” with lyrics by Geoffrey Parsons. The latter always seemed to melt Khim’s heart, causing her to brim with joy. Seeing that the love song had such a lasting and favourable impression on Khim, I bought her about ten years ago a Royal Albert musical jewellery box capable of playing the very tune after being wound up manually, in addition to my playing an instrumental rendition of the song for her on the electronic organ from time to time.
The following version of “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” from the 1973 album Songs from her TV series, as conducted by Peter Knight and sung by Nana Mouskouri in both English and French, is lovingly dedicated to Khim in remembrance of her fondness for this love song and her appreciation of my organ rendition. Accompanying the song in the video are beautiful images of Nature as well as panning still shots from the classic movie Gone with the Wind, one of Khim’s all-time favourite films.
The song title “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” easily reminds me of “If I Loved You”, a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. The latter was definitely one of Khim’s all-time favourite tunes, in addition to being one of the very few songs whose lyrics Khim could remember in its entirety. This tune was one that we could happily sing together once in a while, as I also had the option of willingly setting myself the challenge of instantly harmonizing against her vocal part, my accompanying us on the electronic organ notwithstanding.
Whilst Khim could show some interest in the exotic sounds of some world music, relaxation music and ambient music, she was generally indifferent towards rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, disco, soul, rap, hip-hop, experimental music and avant-garde music, even though I had continued to make some good efforts in exposing her to such diverse genres over the years.
For instance, I had taken the time and artistic liberty during 2004 to create 35 arrangements of “Tammy”, a popular tune that I had played for Khim many times on the electronic organ. The tune was nominated for the 1957 Oscar for Best Original Song after making its debut in the 1957 romantic comedy film Tammy and the Bachelor, starring one of Khim’s favourite actresses, Debbie Reynolds. Each of the 35 arrangements was performed as a separate musical genre, such that Khim could follow the melodic outline of the song no matter how much the music had been stylistically transformed by being arranged in a particular genre. The process can be likened to the formal technique of theme and variations used by many classical and later composers, except that each variation of the theme is in an entirely different musical genre. The project was more or less completed in November 2004, on the first anniversary of her becoming a widow. As shown in the sleeve note below, the resulting 35 variations were recorded onto two compact discs for instant playback.
Furthermore, I had purposely used only the first four lines of the tune (corresponding to the first 16 bars of the melody) as the source material for those variations.
The results of the 35 theme and variations on “Tammy” certainly imparted plenty of musical entertainment cum education for Khim, as well as hours of fun-inducing quiz marathon for some visitors who were invited to guess and name the nearly three dozen genres. Khim had comfortably enjoyed those variations created in the genres with which she was familiar, such as waltz, Argentinian tango, polka, big band, jive, bossanova and the like. As mentioned, since Khim liked Johnny Depp, especially in the film series Pirates of the Caribbean, the Caribbean version of “Tammy”, constituting the 24th variation on the tune, is hereby dedicated to Khim as follows.
In contrast, the musical complexity as well as the dramatic transformations of “Tammy” in some of the variations stretched or even strained not just the limits of Khim’s musical appreciation but also the boundaries of the genres themselves, especially hard rock, funk, house, hip-hop, gospel shuffle and the like, which are so remotely related in style and markedly different in instrumentation when they are compared to the gentle ballad that characterizes the original song. Such arrangements of “Tammy”, particularly the more extended and sophisticated ones, were indeed felt to be very novel and musically challenging to Khim, who had far fewer prior experiences in those unfamiliar genres by which to guide and orientate herself. Included herewith for demonstration is the hard rock version of “Tammy”, which constitutes the 8th variation.
Overall, Khim was considerably satisfied and amused by the process of theme and variations, musically skinning “Tammy” in so many ways to tickle her aural imaginations. In a nutshell, Khim had been taken along an extensive, multicultural journey across a series of entertainingly engaging sonic terrains, many of which she would otherwise never or seldom have come across.
To mention a few more examples, Khim’s preferred choices of music composed before the 20th century stayed mainly within the standard repertoires from the Classical era as well as the early and middle Romantic periods. In later years, I managed to stretch her listening repertoires to cover the works of late Romantic composers such as Rachmaninov and Scriabin, many of which she gradually learnt to appreciate nearly as much as those of Chopin, which she had always amply admired. Reaching beyond the Romantic era, the majority of art music, serious music and canonic music of the 20th century would tend to overwhelm or confound Khim’s musical expectation and aesthetic sensibility, especially those compositions crafted with advanced structural and theoretical considerations. At the earlier end of the Western musical canon lies the body of works from the pre-classical period, with which I tempted Khim’s musical palette by performing on the electronic organ the slower and more lyrical pieces by the Baroque composer Bach, such as “Sheep May Safely Graze”, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, “Air on the G String”, and “Sinfonia (Arioso) from Cantata BWV 156”, the latter of which is arranged in my own orchestral interpretation and dedicated to Khim as follows.
All in all, it would seem that Khim found herself to be somewhat out on a limb, and that she considered some musical genres to be incomprehensible, unpleasant, unmeaningful or unenjoyable, if her musical experiences were not hitherto bolstered, introduced, accompanied or enhanced by familiar or favourite films, musicals or operettas. That Khim’s focus had been on mostly accessible and enjoyable repertoires throughout her life neither invalidated nor detracted from her musical aptitude and sensibility that she managed to develop in spite of her lack of professional musical training. After all, Khim had indeed flourished and lived vicariously through the appealing artistries and prodigious talents of her favoured singers, actors, musicians and dancers.
It was thus incumbent on me to ensure that Khim had ample music and video materials to select from the home library according to her whim or mood, even though I sometimes spared her the effort of choosing, let alone the technicality of finding and putting them in the music and video players to start enjoying them. In addition, Khim had been given her daily dose of songs from the olden days to relish to her heart’s content via the Crooner Radio online. Apart from Western films and TV series, Khim of course enjoyed watching Chinese and Cantonese movies and serials, including sentimental films and action flicks. Khim would sometimes feel quite nostalgic and might even have a conversation or reminiscence with me about some bygone matters or persons, when or after I played her favourite movies or songs stored on DVDs, compact discs or memory sticks. For example, she particularly treasured the music and songs of Steven Liu Chia-Chang (劉家昌), a former composer, songwriter, lyricist, singer, screenwriter, film director and actor, whom she affectionately regarded as “鬼才”, an uncanny, remarkable genius. Khim would not mind listening daily to his musical oeuvres, which almost invariably lifted her spirit and perked her up, mentally transporting her back to the good times of her youth, and reminding her of the many Chinese movies and actors that she used to watch. How the lyricisms of such Chinese classics and popular songs from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s captivated Khim can be best exemplified by the solo piano music and light instrumental arrangements of the well-known Singaporean pianist Jimmy Chan (陳占美), which were originally released on analogue cassette tapes in the mid-1980s and later digitally preserved on two compact discs in 2005 for Khim, who, on being so thrilled by and satisfied with the upgraded amenity for savouring her favourite Chinese music on the digital medium that she was willing to copy by hand all of the song titles from the two cassette liner notes to the one CD sleeve note as shown below, which is immediately followed by the three YouTube videos containing respectively Jimmy Chan’s first three piano medleys, played in the order listed in the leftmost column of Khim’s handwritten sleeve note.
Green Island Serenade (綠島小夜曲); At the Riverside (在水一方); The Pearl Curtain of Dream (一簾幽夢); Unforgettable You (忘不了的你); Ode to Autumn (秋詩篇篇)
Where’s My Home (我家在那裡); Full Moon over the Western Chamber (月滿西樓); Sea Gull (海鷗); Inseparable (你儂我儂); Little White Sail Boat (小白船); The Plum Flower (梅花)
Subaru (另一種鄉愁); Spring of the Northern Country (榕樹下); Goodbye My Love (再見我的愛人); The Gift Of Love (愛的禮物); Sukiyaki (昂首闊步往前行)
The emotional ties and sentimental tugs elicited in Khim by music and movie were highly palpable, vicarious and touching to me, to the extent that they triggered in Khim the sense of joyful remembrance and visceral contentment, which she could thankfully access or achieve via the sounds of music, with or without the images of movie. They represented and constituted a potent nexus of mood elixir, diversion therapy and audiovisual entertainment, in which I routinely indulged Khim, even when she was gravely ill at home or in hospital, so as to soften the reality that many of the things and folks that she treasured had departed, and that she was increasingly facing her very own mortality, albeit never alone and always in my company, right up to the final moments. In concluding the discussion on Khim’s musical journey, I would hereby very much like to dedicate wholeheartedly the following composition of mine to her journey of life as well as music.
Away from the territories of songs and dramas, and far removed from the glitz and glamour of the motion picture industry, Khim had also found firm footings in diverse areas. Documentary films about Nature, animals and plants also interested Khim, especially those narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Apart from those pertaining to music and dance, she would readily engage in watching infotainments, educational programmes, variety shows and television series about food, health, cooking, gardening, travelling, jewellery, antiques, culture, history, Egyptology, Mayan archaeology, and the magic of David Copperfield. In recent years, Khim had come to appreciate astronomy and science more than usually ever since she took a very special liking for Brian Cox and his science programmes such as the Wonders of… series, Human Universe and Forces of Nature, even as her memory of the late Carl Sagan and his award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage gradually faded into oblivion.
In the science fiction department, she was very fond of watching the old TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Lost in Space, Space 1999, Stargate SG-1 and Star Trek, the latter of which is the same age as me, preceding my birth by just 22 days. Amazingly, I discovered that Khim and the two lead actors in Star Trek were all born in the same year and month, whereby Khim is four days older than William Shatner (as Captain Kirk), who in turn is four days older than Leonard Nimoy (as Spock). Now that Khim passed away recently and Leonard did so four and a half years ago, William is the only one alive. Beam Khim up, Kirk! Overall, Khim had continued to watch the two growing older and closer in the Star Trek films and television series, as she herself, the oldest of the three, also accumulated years of memories and interstellar wisdom as she witnessed the original cast of the series enduringly embarking on “the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!”
More importantly, Khim turned me into her silver-screen partner and her home-cinema chaperone, given that very early on, Khim was all too successful in instilling such interests of hers in me without much prompting or encouragement. As a result, she could share and communicate her knowledge and enjoyment of such interests with me more than with anyone else. It is as though Khim was preparing me very far in advance to be her eventual companion when she became a widow such that she could still admire her matinée idols and movie stars whilst having me around to share her excitements, and when necessary or requested, to clarify, explain, interpret or translate for her the conversations and plots of whatever she happened to be watching on TV or DVD.
Recorded on film and later transferred to video on DVD for posterity, like scenes leaping out of a Hollywood storyboard, Khim’s wedding celebrated in a partly traditional Chinese and partly western ceremony was as satisfying and glamorous as she could hope for, not to mention that she wedded someone of her own choosing and to her liking, his also having good looks notwithstanding.
The memorable wedding of Khim and her other significant half was neither a marriage of convenience nor a union based on financial calculus. In Khim, my late father, or anybody for that matter, found and witnessed a beautiful being whose social value and outlook had, in her own ways and through her personality, her consistency and her conviction, both resisted and transcended many of the limits and influences that had been imposed by her gender, racial, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, and that had been constrained and shaped by the cultural milieus and social circles available to her at the time. Having neither family inheritance nor family business to fall back upon, and having neither the means to receive tertiary education nor the luxury to enter the job market in which many occupations were often heavily reserved for the male population, she relied on her studiousness to ascend to the highest career available to those of her social standing and wealth or lack thereof, by becoming a primary school educator teaching six days a week for 36 years, later also fulfilling her roles as a wife and a mother of two sons. Not to be taken for granted and glossed over in this eulogy, Khim had gone as far as her circumstances and resources allowed, dedicating herself for about three-quarters of her life to many people’s welfare and education, both in school and at home.
As a long-term educator devoted to her profession, Khim retired in 1986 from teaching, leaving many students as well as teachers a lasting legacy stretching over 36 years, having taught all school subjects, including physical education. On Sunday, 12 October 2008, Wei Fen Zhang, the former deputy headmaster of Khim’s former school (中華女校前任副校長張偉芬) — one of Khim’s most beloved younger fellow teachers who blogs by the name of 窗户之歌 — wrote as follows in a heartfelt post entitled “痛击” about the often unspoken challenge, sacrifice and dedication of being a teacher, especially the honourable and stalwart kind that Khim had never ceased to be even beyond retirement.
Despite being limited in her means, Khim had been prodigiously generous and protractedly unstinting, especially in the case of providing for her own mother. Whilst staying and teaching in George Town, Penang, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Khim’s monthly allowance to her mother who stayed with her fourth brother always amounted to half of her monthly salary. After our whole family moved to Kuala Lumpur, Selangor in December 1967, Khim still gave away a quarter of her salary to her mother on a monthly basis, and continued to provide an allowance even long after her mother passed away at the age of 99, stopping only when her fourth brother passed away at the age of 82.
Khim’s humanity and virtue as expressed by her unremitting sense of love and sacrifice as well as her degree of filial piety and family devotion can also be amply demonstrated by the two inspirational idioms and one educational poem that she included with explanations in her following writing, which she specifically signed as a mother (母字, literally meaning “mother’s words”) on 12 Dec 2011. Though the writing was meant to be read by her child(ren), its moral values and relational implications are so universal, far-reaching and benevolent that they are broadly applicable to any human being who wishes or intends to live a principled and virtuous life.
(一) 飲水思源: 喝水的時候想到水的來源, 比喻人在幸福的時候不忘掉幸福的來源。
(二) 感恩圖報: 感激他人對自己所施的恩惠而設法報答。
我在裝剪報的紙袋裏, 找到一張複印的資料, 可作為座右銘。 座右銘的意思是寫出來放在坐位旁邊的格言。 格言是含有教育意義的成語。幸福家庭
孝敬慈悲愛鄰里 家樂世和笑融融母字 12-12-2011
In Malaya (the former name of Malaysia before independence), Khim’s parents spawned ten children in equal proportion of gender. All of her female siblings except Khim are still alive and reasonably healthy. Judging by the five sisters’ temperament and appearance, there has always been the consensus that Khim is the sweetest, gentlest, kindest and prettiest. Of the five, she was second in seniority. The eldest is eleven years older, soon to become a centenarian.
A cousin of mine once mentioned that Khim’s good looks were those of one in a million. From a very young age, Khim had always appeared to be a person of mixed race, sometimes looking more European than even a true Eurasian. So far, no one has been able to ascertain as to whether there was any trace of Caucasian on Khim’s maternal side of the family. The best account so far of the alleged infusion of foreign blood is that Khim’s six-year old maternal grandfather who migrated with his father from California to China had a tall stature and fair complexion, as recounted by Khim’s mother. However, there is still no one who knows with certainty whether Khim’s maternal grandfather was indeed Caucasian, Eurasian or Asian. Whilst pursuing family history and genetic profiling may shed light on Khim’s atypical looks, I have not yet entertained any detailed genealogical research nor deployed genetic tracing of her ancestry to resolve this mystery, though my having four locks of her hair could potentially provide some answers in the future through science.
Khim’s Caucasian-like features even resulted in my having brown hair as a child until the age of five or six, and my being called various names in high school. Khim and an aunt of mine joked at times that my mixed-race appearance was the result of my being born a jaundice baby and given blood transfusion from a Caucasian donor, and at other times that I was found abandoned in a bin and adopted by my parents. Khim’s second elder brother (温旭京) was even questioned by his friends as to whether Khim had married a Caucasian, when interracial marriages were still quite rare if not tabooed then.
Needless to say, Khim’s seemingly interracial appearance had garnered many compliments as well as confusions over the years, and twice nearly cost her freedom, or potentially her very life. During the second world war, one of the occupying Japanese soldiers confronted and asked Khim who happened to be playing outdoors, “Chinese ka? English ka?”, whereupon her neighbour promptly replied to the soldier, “Chinese.” The same sort of interrogation later happened again when Khim was at the entrance of a Chinese pharmacy. Had the Japanese soldiers not believed Khim, she would have been sent to an internment camp as an enemy alien, her life thus taking a dramatic and tragic turn.
Even more importantly, Khim’s looks was also the very key to her meeting her life partner. At the age of sixteen in 1947, she was the very student in her school chosen for the lead role to perform as the Swan🦢Princess in a drama similar to Tchaikovsky’s Ballet “Swan Lake”, to be a part of the fete to fund the school.
Khim later repeated the same performance at my late father’s high school, where he was standing guard as a member of the St John ambulance team, and where he first laid eyes on Khim. Their marriage took place 14 years later, during which no other suitors were ever successful in courting Khim and catching her heart.
Let us dive into more detail. After that performance, the Swan🦢Princess was not destined to truly meet and really know her prince until they were brought together by serendipity at another chance encounter eight years into the future. On that fateful day in 1955, Khim and her younger sister Yean Kin (温燕京) were paying another regular visit to their eldest sister (温寶京). On their return trip, they boarded the bus and sat on the seat behind the bus steps. Khim saw by chance a young man sitting in front of the bus steps. Impressed by the attractive aspect of his hair, she uttered, “Look, that person’s hair is beautiful.” Her sister listened and then told Khim to speak quietly so as to prevent the other person from hearing her. Khim promptly kept quiet and said nothing else. Soon, when the bus arrived at the front of an Indian temple, the two sisters dismounted.
Not long after, on one fine day, a young man suddenly appeared at where Khim lived and told her that he would like to find her sister. Khim looked at him and thought that he seemed to be the person whom she saw on the bus that day. He then introduced himself to Khim and mentioned where he currently worked, thus setting their slow-burning romance and the rest of their lives in motion. Khim later learnt from him that there was also another fateful coincidence: when Khim’s sister was working as a temporary teacher in Ipoh, Perak, unbeknown to her, she filled the very teaching position that he had vacated earlier after teaching there for two years and deciding to seek a new line of work back in George Town, Penang.
Since the introduction, it was to take six more years before the wedding bells rang. Regardless of the nature of those coincidences and chance meetings, Khim had since marvelled at my late father’s resourcefullness to locate her (and her sister) so that he could formally introduce himself to the Swan🦢Princess whom he first saw eight years earlier and still remembered. Moreover, there seemed to be the parallel contrast or ying-and-yang complementarity between my father and my mother in how they first viewed each other, insofar as he was silently impressed by her beauty whilst she danced with others on the stage in 1947, and she was volubly attracted by his head of hair whilst he sat by himself motionlessly on the bus in 1955.
On the whole, Khim had chosen her life partner wisely and patiently, turning down many suitors, including those who were far more affluent than my late father ever was. In other words, Khim had purposely forgone the opportunity of finding a financially rich husband to support her, as she put moral character above material wealth, regardless of her partner’s apparent social status. To that end, Khim valued and evaluated her partner by a standard of virtue commensurate with her upbringing and worldview without compromising her social values.
Indeed, they lived happily ever after in Malaysia and then Australia for 42 years, 7 months and 21 days, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.
Setting aside the unfortunate fact that Khim was the first one in all of her siblings to be widowed, it is not commonly known that Khim differed from her sisters in one significant way that ultimately hastened her physical decline and compressed her twilight years. The endearing distinctness and positive attributes that Khim carried with her seemed to have come with a cost, for in the genetic lottery, nature can also create deficits, which in my mother, had manifested as having a weaker constitution compared to those of her female siblings. Whilst Khim had been blessed with being born with appealing interracial features, she did not seem to have inherited fitness-conferring cross-bred genes, considering that her health had not exhibited much evidence of benefiting from heterosis, hybrid vigour or outbreeding enhancement. This was collaborated by Khim’s own account of her fitness and physicality. For example, she was all along aware of her subpar condition, having intimated to me that she could never match her siblings in strength, speed and endurance, that she would always be the one to pant and run out of steam first. By extension, I wonder how much or what proportion of Khim’s gentle temperament and sweet nature can be correlated or attributed to her congenital delicacy, to the extent that she lacked the extra robustness and vitality to be more feisty and assertive in her temperament.
As Khim aged, those physical deficits began to affect her memory, intellect, mobility and quality of life, and eventually spawned comorbidities and complications, which she had borne with acceptance, if not insouciance. In spite of Khim being given the benefits of Tai Chi, regular exercises, physiotherapy, supplements, medications, hospitalizations, as well as all of the care, love and attention that I could muster, she slipped inexorably into frailty and senescence, against my hope for her recovery and her will to live.
Only those who have had to deal with senescence and sarcopenia on a daily basis truly understand the extent to which what, how much and how often there is to endure when one’s life is marred by infirmity. As a close-knit duo, I and my late mother, known as Khai & Khim, managed to find sustenance and respite in our mutual love for each other, a love grown and adapted to our circumstances, a love forged and persisted in over a long period, in fact a period longer and in many ways closer than those of any other relationships in both of our lives, as evidenced by counting the actual number of days and hours that Khim and I had been together on Earth, and by the revelations offered in this eulogy.
Nearing the end of this special eulogy for Khim, we are now ready to ask what is essentially so noteworthy, conspicuous and memorable about Khim in the final stage of her journey through life. If we were to give more credence to Khim’s agency in fashioning what is nowadays an increasingly uncommon scenario of the son caring for his mother to the very end, then we must consider not only Khai’s filial piety as the fulcrum of this relationship, but also how and why Khim managed to touch and charm those who were kind enough to be perceptive and caring towards her.
Contemplating her life as a whole, especially since her retirement from a 36-year teaching career, Khim can be regarded as an indispensable agent and dedicated facilitator scripting an immigrant success story, a story in which she had been more than just a sidekick to my late father in implementing the family transplantation commencing in the 1980s, prompted by the prospect of a better future for their progeny. Whilst my ever-helpful and civic-minded late father also took on various organizing and executive roles as well as volunteering activities in the Brisbane community for 16 years, Khim quietly settled into the roles of a housewife, a mother to her two sons, and later a mother-in-law and a grandmother to three grandchildren for twice the amount of time, 32 years in total. In other words, half of her time in Brisbane was spent as a widow.
After my helping Khim to complete her application for citizenship, she was pleased to become an Australian citizen on 26 August 2005, exactly nine years and seven months after I became one myself. Keeping in touch with an ever smaller circle of relatives and friends who were themselves aging, moving on or passing away, Khim would remain a widowed senior citizen in her newly adopted country for 14 years, about one sixth of her total lifespan, during which she would increasingly turn towards me for unswerving support and companionship, and during which she would be summoning up the best that still remained in her to achieve unprecedented outcomes and invalueable legacies, as this eulogy will continue to reveal. Khim and I would become inseparable in the final eight years, the last one eleventh of her life, as she continued to forge ahead with grace and dignity regardless of the degree of her dependency and indisposition.
Khim took lessons and learnt to play the piano at around 20 years old, roughly three years older than the age at which I first taught myself to read music and music theory, and then learnt to play the electronic organ by taking lessons. Initially, Khim had to contend with a very old and poor quality piano that her father bought her. After two or three months, he sold it and bought a new piano, presumably on account of Khim’s good progress. From memory, Khim had only four years to learn the piano before moving away in 1955 with her mother and siblings to escape from her then increasingly abusive father who had married a new wife, who subsequently gave birth to five children, her half siblings, many of whom were to be professional musicians, as they followed in the footsteps of Khim to learn music, later becoming experts on the piano, organ, violin and conducting respectively. It would be quite fair and conceivable to think, believe, surmise or imagine that Khim had started the chain of musical dominoes, to the extent that had Khim not shown as much interest or aptitude in music and the piano, her father would not have bought her the old piano let alone the new one, and thus her half siblings might not have had the opportunities to begin taking music lessons about two and a half years after Khim began hers.
Though Khim would never to have the means to buy and own an acoustic piano for the rest of her life, during those brief few years, she managed to practise playing to her own satisfaction some familiar light classical music such as “The Maiden’s Prayer” and “In a Persian Market”. Nevertheless, Khim was never to return to playing the piano even after I bought a portable concert grand piano with fully weighted keys and graded hammer action in the early 1990s, mainly because after my encountering the Kawai electric organ that Khim’s fourth brother bought for his two children to learn in the early 1980s, my own journey of music began in earnest and triggered a different chain of musical dominoes, or rather, a musical rollercoaster, taking Khim with me on a long and joyful ride making music together for almost the rest of her life, as explicated by the ensuing discussion.
To begin with, Khim’s liking for music was plain to see. Akin to Khim’s passing on to me her liking for the abovementioned movies and TV shows, her musical inclinations had also somehow infected me even though she did not have the means to afford buying musical instruments and paying for musical lessons for her children during their childhoods and teen years. Regardless, I was later to be fortunate enough to complete tertiary music educations majoring in composition, music theory and analysis, apart from having other degrees and qualifications. Once retired from teaching and even more so during her widowhood, our home began to be filled with more music and songs. Khim’s desire to perform music at home for her own pleasure was revived as she had not only more time for leisure after retirement but also more musical rapport from me, who already possessed a sizeable repertoire of pieces that she could learn, having amassed a large collection of sheet music and song books. For many years during her 50s, 60s and 70s, she was quite able to enjoy playing the electronic organ competently and contentedly under my tutelage and encouragement, beside her asking me to play her favourite pieces from time to time.
Khim’s favourite had always been playing some of the catchy music from Book 4 of “The Kawai Way: Method for Electronic Organ Techniques”, including “Love Me, Please Love Me”, “Soleado”, “Goodbye My Love”, “Moon River”, “Let Me Try Again”, “Papa Loves Mambo”, and “I Kiss Your Hand, Madame”. The latter, also known in German as “Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame”, was arranged and played in real-time on the electronic organ by me as a tribute to Khim as follows. Though Khim struggled to play the pieces printed in Book 4 well and never managed to fully master any of them, she liked having me around not just to share her music-making endeavours, but also to perform her favourite tunes for her on demand when she was tired of practising them.
Considering that Khim and I were two persons who had shared the most amount of time with each other than with anyone else in playing and listening to music as well as watching TV and movies together, I would hereby like to dedicate one of my compositions to Khim, which can be savoured in the following two soundtracks. Composed in two parts, the composition comes across as introspective soundscapes, which musically depict and sonically symbolize our lives spent together during Khim’s twilight years. As the title suggests, The Sunset Lingers On is slow and lingering without a clear sense of rhythm or pulse to guide the listener, who is left with shifting colours of sounds and suspensions (or elongations) of tones, as well as the melodic sinuosity and subtle (ex)changes in instrumentation. Certain small sections of the composition also contain bitonality, being in two different keys, which soon dissolve into one, like the final coming together of Khai & Khim to be with one another, united by their love for each other.
58 years after first learning to play the piano, Khim was about to embark on an even bigger learning curve, for when Khim was nearing 78 years old, I made a momentous decision to initiate her into the realm of preserving history through the use of word processing. As someone who never hitherto used any kind of computer, Khim accepted the challenge. It took Khim several months of patience and practice to gradually master my list of the basic functions and most useful commands, which she eventually noted down as follows on a piece of A4 paper, which she always had around her for reference during any word processing session. I also made sure that my eldest nephew would help her to save and backup her file(s) before she finished a typing session.
Inputing traditional Chinese characters in Microsoft Word is never as straighforward as typing alphabets on the keyboard to form English words. Initially, Khim practised writing a diary to become familiar with using Microsoft Word to type out Chinese characters. After drafting one or more diary entries on a piece of A4 paper, Khim would transfer the contents to Microsoft Word, where each Chinese character required a few specific keystrokes to form, based on a predefined input template. Using the phonetic-based input method called Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or Zhuyin (注音), Khim would enter pronunciations by typing the keys with the corresponding phonetic symbols (注音符號), which were then converted into the relevant traditional Chinese characters (繁體字).
As one of the phonetic-based input methods for Chinese characters, Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or Zhuyin (注音) is one of the few input methods that are available on most modern personal computers without the need to download and install any additional software. Unlike stroke-based input methods, any phonetic-based input method only requires the user to know how to speak Mandarin and be able to recognize the Chinese characters. Entering the pronounciations rather than the strokes spares the user from having to construct the characters from scratch as required in writing Chinese. Consequetly, the phonetic-based input method is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is an advantage insofar as users can type all the Chinese characters known to them by their phonetics or pronunciations. It is a disadvantage to the extent that it may cause language attrition and skill loss in adults since they no longer need to construct the characters, and that it may be a learning barrier for written Chinese in children.
Armed with the new word processing skill, the very first two diary entries were thus created by Khim on 19-20 Jan 2009, as shown below.
一月十九日 上午十一時三十分 星期一
在幾年前, 我和親友之間在農曆新年的時候, 都有互相寄賀年片。 那時, 我先列出一張名單, 温家和鍾家的親戚及朋友等, 差不多有二十人。 我花一個早上的時間在卡片上寫名字, 寫信封, 然後用漿糊粘黏好, 貼上郵票, 這時我的肩膀累得酸痛了。 在三年前, 我們就不再寄賀年片了, 而改用電話來祝賀新年了, 這樣就方便的多, 而且可以聽到對方的聲音。
一月二十日 下午八時 星期二
前天收到世昌寄來的賀年片, 真高興。 他每年都寄賀年片給我, 真是難得。 我趁星期日有空, 便打一個電話給他, 祝他新年快樂, 萬事如意。 他說他最近幾天到檳城去給諸叔叔及姑姑送禮, 他很尊敬長輩, 每年都送禮給親戚。 記得去年我回去檳誠時, 剛好靠近農曆新年, 所以也收到他給的禮物, 即是三粒柚子及三包花生。 這些東西都是怡保著名的物產, 我因為麻煩帶回澳洲, 除了送一粒柚子和一包花生給金女同學, 其餘的就給兄姐們吃了。
Khim worked on her Chinese diary until the end of April 2009. Beginning in the following month, in the good spirit of having more variety and getting her to write about her past events rather than just daily matters that she had been digesting into the diary form, I heartily recommended to Khim that she could start working on several autobiographical projects, which eventuated via Microsoft Word as follows.
|Happy New Year||新年快樂||4||31 May 2009|
|Teaching at School||在校教書||40||20 Aug 2009|
|Family Stories||家庭故事||106||10 Mar 2011|
|The Story of Khim-Kin Woon||温琴京故事||23||11 Aug 2011|
Overall, Khim finally became competent enough to be a writer successfully capturing her stories for posterity. Meticulously recalling and typing out various events in her life chronologically across several autobiographical projects constituted one of Khim’s most significant achievements. Khim persisted in those projects for four years from 2009 to 2012, as long as she had played the piano in her youth. Undoubtedly, Khim’s monumental accomplishment as a writer can indeed be regarded as a crowning glory in its own right. So far, Khim remains the only one of all of the ten siblings to have documented her history through writing and journaling.
To demonstrate one of those four autobiographical projects, the first two paragraphs of her autobiography entitledare shown below as a handwritten draft and the finalized excerpt.
我的名字是温琴京 WOON KHIM KIN, 出生於一九三一年三月十八日。 我的父親温奈筠和母親陳瑾蘭是廣東梅縣松口人。 他們到南洋來之後, 父親在泰國康月管理表叔的樹膠園。 我有五個哥哥:兆京 旭京 飛京 墉京 穆京, 一個姐姐:寶京, 我排行第七, 下面還有三個妹妹:燕京 菊京 美京。 大哥在中國出世, 五年之後, 父親曾帶母親和大哥到檳城住了幾年, 大姐和二哥就在檳城出世。 後來父親又帶一家人回去中國, 兩三年之後, 又帶了一家人到泰國康月去居住, 其餘的子女都是在泰國康月出世的。
我們住的屋子很大, 一共有五個房間。 屋子裏最後面的地方很大, 右邊用來晾未乾透的膠片, 燻乾的膠片疊好就囤在左邊。 家裏的廚房相當大, 廚房外面是秤膠汁的地方, 旁邊有一口大井, 再過去就是製膠片的膠房。
Though Khim had stopped typing text in 2012, she continued writing several journals to record personal and family matters as well as to document her medical appointments and conditions.
In addition, I had also encouraged Khim to copy by hand a vernacular and illustrated version of the Chinese classic text Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons (了凡四訓), entitled Uncle Liao-Fan Telling Stories (了凡叔叔說故事). Almost on a daily basis, Khim began copying the 141-page text onto a 96-page exercise book from 11th April to 25th July of 2017, and then onto a hardcover journal that I bought her, entitled Finding Your Inner Goddess: A Journal of Self-Empowerment from 26th July 2017 to 17th April 2018. Two entries dated 19th and 20th of September 2017 are shown below.
The last four entries in the journal were copied from the text onto the journal on 22nd and 23rd of May 2018 when I brought the journal to her in the hospital where she was admitted for the whole of May, and later on 6th and 7th of August, barely two months after her discharge from the hospital. By then, it was clear to me that whilst writing continued to exercise Khim’s mind and her hand-eye coordination, she was very far from having the mood or energy to write everyday, as she found the task of copying text increasingly taxing due to her worsening health and frailty, which had begun to erode the beauty and neatness of her written words.
Three months later, I managed to encourage Khim to copy the Three Hundred Tang Poems (唐詩三百首), an anthology of poems from the Chinese Tang dynasty, onto a new and large 3D colouring book containing squares to guide her in writing those Chinese characters neatly. On an irregular basis between 3rd November and 19th December 2018, Khim was able to copy the first eight poems to her best ability. Though I was gratified by Khim’s spirit of tackling those poems, and was grateful that she could still write with reasonable legibility, it pained me a great deal to see that her speed and accuracy of copying were very much lower than what it used to be during her youth, and that the individual Chinese characters appeared to be significantly not as tidy and aesthetically pleasing as they did in the past. This deterioration was clearly visible in the fifth, sixth and seventh poems handwritten by Khim, as shown below.
Sadly, the ninth poem was the last entry in the colouring book, almost being copied in its entirety on the second day of the new year 2019, the day when Khim suddenly fell without warning near the entrance to her bedroom, hitting her head and then spending ten hours in the hospital. Even though Khim was declared by the medical examiners to have sustained no permanent injuries of any sort from the fall, she had somehow lost her will or willingness to copy any text or to write any more journal entries after the accident, thus signalling the very end of her prolific written words, the cessation of her memorable handwriting, and the termination of her disciplined penmanship.
I shall always cherish all that Khim had been able to express and reveal through her typing and writing. In hindsight, Khim seemed to have decided to lay down her pen and let her right hand rest in peace before its terminal decline could usher in illegibility, just as fatefully as she had departed from this world later in the year well before her mind could become a permanent captive of vascular dementia.
In the final analysis, what was really there between Khai & Khim? Perhaps it is all too easy, glib, flippant or perfunctory to just call it love, albeit an abiding love between a son and a mother. After all, the word “love” has been so indiscriminately tossed around, unreservedly brandied about and much overused across various forms of relationship throughout the ages that “love” as a universal term of recognition and devotion can easily become an overloaded cliché or a trite declaration, even if it can be (regarded as) the ultimate concept for capturing or encapsulating all of the diverse nuances of human compassion and tenderness.
What any perceptive and decent-minded person may learn, realize or appreciate from the story of Khai & Khim is that the personal(ized) relations and quintessential values (whether moral, spiritual, emotional or otherwise) associated with and entailed in caring for each other or others, with kindness, compassion, tolerance and inclusiveness, have to transcend the often rigid, constraining or stereotyped sociocultural frameworks and (inter)generational dynamics engendered or imposed by both our biology and our society, to the extent that such relations and values are ultimately broad, underlying human connections that are integral to our loving one another with truly unbridled authenticity, dependability and faithfulness.
In any case, Khai being Khim’s long-term carer and filial child had been a bittersweet experience and poignant journey, filled and defined by multiple roles and myriad duties. Through her hindsight and in her gleeful belief, Khim rationalized her saving me from becoming another case of infant mortality as a paramount life-changing event having karmic significance. Khim had been outwardly content, grateful and proud in both confessing and professing to Khai that she was able to rescue Khai just in time from death from jaundice in his babyhood, so that, decades later, Khai could in turn cushion her from the ravages and indignities of old age, as well as to save her from being overwhelmed by life-threatening falls and illnesses.
In that regard, Khai had become not only what was in her heart and mind the final object of love, her serendipitous saviour, her unwitting insurance policy for a better life against decrepitude, but also what was in reality her confidant, best friend, companion, mentor, teacher, poet, artist, musician, preserver of her history and heirlooms, fashion designer, hair beautician, milliner, jewellery maker, antique collector, interior decorator, librarian, shopper, cleaner, gardener, cook, nutritionist, therapist, nurse, secretary, butler, personal assistant and the like. These multiple roles and myriad duties carried out by Khai have unfolded for fifteen years and nine months since the start of her widowhood, evolving, improving and being refined to such an extent that Khim could thoroughly enjoy living at home, within which she found her regal palace, her ultimate sanctuary, her wondrous paradise, and without which she could enjoy being active outside the home, being out and about and stylishly dressed.
If we were to imagine Khim to be some kind of goddess, then we would consider it to be both notionally inspiring and fittingly endearing that Khim often called me “my little white rabbit (我的小白兔)” or “my small jade bunny (我的小玉兔)” as her term of endearment, for according to the Chinese folklore connected to the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), the mythological white rabbit is customarily portrayed as a constant companion of the moon goddess Chang’e (嫦娥), faithfully pounding the elixir of life for her.
To the extent that Khim’s fragility had increasingly signalled to me that our time together on Earth was becoming depleted, the ongoing experience of looking after Khim had contributed to my developing an improved understanding of the shared sense of empathy for the human condition as enacted within the relationship of a parent (care giver) and child (care receiver), whose interdependencies over the years had been both preserved by consanguinity on the one hand, and dramatically transformed by role reversals on the other, where(by) the care giver eventually became the care receiver, and vice versa.
In being with and caring for Khim, I had been routinely touched by her humanity, dignity and resilience, which had been at times severely tested by her frailty and melancholy, even as I attempted my best to assist Khim in ascending to the lofty realm of ageing gracefully and dignifyingly. Yet, there was always an underlying charm and understated cheer that came through Khim, often in the form of her loving and embracing me in ways that only she could, not just as a mother but also as someone who had understood me and appreciated us well enough in spite of our circumstances and generational differences, many of which we had endeavoured to overcome or transcend by virtue of mutual rapports, shared interests, creative pursuits and improvised merriments, in which we had not only forged a renewed closeness but also created worthwhile opportunities, memories and legacies.
Experiencing the vicissitudes of life notwithstanding, my being the sole carer and companion of Khim had ushered in an enduring reality in which I had to learn to face and bear the encroaching mortality of someone whom I had loved and cared for over a long period. Each extra day of having Khim around was not merely a precious bonus to be cherished but also a bittersweet dance with the ebbing away of life right before my very eyes. There were indeed inescapable moments when the taxing symptoms and mounting impacts of Khim’s debility cast a long and dreary shadow over our capacity to create or savour our joyful details of living and being together, which nevertheless had been bolstered by tender loving care and reinforced by joint proclivities such that love and affection could persevere. It was indeed the kind of love and affection that we both had confidently believed to persist and thrive in our togetherness through the years, even continuing beyond Khim’s time on Earth, being carried forward in time by my memories and her memoirs as well as this multimedia eulogy, which in itself is a labour of love, a product of devotion.
As I reflect on the limit of physiology, the price of our mortality, the impermanence of our existence, and as my academic interests and multidisciplinary backgrounds both inform and compel me to face the outstanding flaws in human nature pitted against and causing the looming global ecological crisis, and as I mull over my abiding love for my late mother and hers for me, I am concluding this eulogy by bringing you to an imagined scenario very similar to that of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a 2001 science fiction drama film directed by Steven Spielberg. Perhaps one day, some advanced form of humanoid, robot or extra-terrestrial can reconstruct our home from my memories and audio-visual archives, and recreate Khim through genetic material from her locks of hair that I keep, and through my memories and her memoirs that she meticulously typed out and wrote down. If it really turns out as the movie depicted that Khim can only live for one day, and the process cannot be repeated, then I shall spend my happiest day with Khim, and as she falls asleep in the evening, I shall be granted an eternal slumber and join her in the everlasting moment, forever, for always, beyond goodbye.