|Dai Moong Yang @ Grace Lee (left) with her middle sister Moon Loy in Johore Bahru, 1982.
A message to my children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and readers:
IT GIVES ME GREAT PLEASURE to share with you stories of bygone days. They are written to portray the struggle and joy of being human, as well as to entertain you.
In Those Days is a collection of stories about my Foochow, Hakka and Tungkoon Cantonese ancestors. It chronicles some of the adventures of three clans - the Dai, the Siew, and the Lee, who migrated to Malaya between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Land was granted free on condition they cleared it to plant rubber, or mined it for tin. The Dai Clan were teachers, preachers, small businessmen or Chinese physicians. They had been landlords in their village in China, unused to manual labour. As the clan proliferated, the ancestral land could only support those who farmed; the non-farmers were compelled to migrate to "the land of milk and honey."
Grandfather Dai sailed to Sarawak with his flock of Christians. Mama came as a teacher of Chinese classics; my father-in-law was a businessman, a pioneering entrepreneur. Grandfather Dai retired to Sitiawan, a kind of Foochow colony, and it was there that I first heard Grandma's numerous stories.
Maternal Grandma, a Tungkoon Cantonese, would regale us with stories of her clan and that of the Siew clan. She had married a Hakka, which was unusual.
My book is to be enjoyed like a big bowl of rojak (Malaysian salad). "I Remember St. Mary's" reflects my sudden change of culture, from a Chinese background to a typical English one, at the age of eleven.
In "The Bride," I had another drastic change of life; I moved from a Christian home into a Buddhist one at the age of eighteen. My husband's household consisted of forty members: a married son and two married daughters and their families. There were four unmarried siblings and ten maids to serve the family and extended families.
"Punchuri" represents the numerous Jaffnese neighbours I had, for my husband was a Court Interpreter and we moved a dozen times, to Pahang towns and to Kuala Selangor.
"Vignettes from Childhood" are happy, carefree ones, while "Refugees" relates the most dreadful plight we and all Malayans experienced during the Japanese Occupation.
"The Old Stone Bench" is a fictional story I wrote to show that age is no barrier to youthful pursuits such as falling in love, whatever younger folks may think.
Words cannot adequately express my thanks to my daughter, Dr. Dixie Tan, for her encouragement to publish my stories; to Kit Leee (now Antares), my nephew, and my granddaughter, Dr. Grace Tan, for editing and typing my stories - a painstaking, arduous and time-consuming task; and, last but not least, to my grand-niece, Belle Love Lee, for enhancing my stories with her lively sketches.
Dai Moong Yang