A couple of days ago, Noods’ grandfather passed away. This post is for the relatives who couldn’t make it to the funeral.
Tye Tek Thiam or Goong Goong as I called him, was a generous soul who loved a good chat and while unfortunately there was a bit of a language barrier between us I loved watching how passionate he became when he was trying to get his point across.
He had a sweet tooth that just about rivalled mine, I remember bringing home one of those epic large buckets of fairy floss from the Easter Show and offering him some and he managed to eat the entire pink layer in the time it took me to pour a drink. He would never pass up the offer of dessert and had the appetite of an entire football team.
During the day he was always at his desk reading a newspaper or poring over his dictionaries and writing meticulous notes on the meaning of words or proverbs. At night though it was teevee time and he would watch sports to the early hours in the morning. Sometimes he would angrily shout at the tv wondering why his boxing match hadn’t started yet not realising the different time zones.
He loved his family. It was evident every time I visited that he cherished his time with everyone. Married for 60 years, he and Poh Poh still held hands and they would seek out the other to see what they were doing. He loved his two daughters Lee Sun and Lee Moon with all his heart and I know he appreciated all they did for him. He doted on his grandson and I saw how he tracked Noods’ every movement and hung on to his every word, always asking him how he was doing and how his footy team was doing.
Tye Tek Thiam passed away on Thursday 23rd January 2014. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Goong Goong.
This was Noods’ eulogy:
My grandfather was born on 2nd February 1920, in Taipu Village in Kwong Dong province China. As a young lad, he immigrated to Malaya with his family and settled in Penang.
At the age of 19, he left his family and travelled alone to Taipei, Taiwan to attend military school from which he quickly rose from the rank of cadet to captain and continued to serve an illustrious military career.
Due to tremendous pressure from his family, his military career was cut short, and he returned to Malaya (Malaysia) where he became a schoolteacher until he retired at the age of 55. Due to his military background, he was the school’s disciplinary teacher. Interestingly, he was also the school’s only basketball coach.
In 1954, he married his wife, my grandmother, Chin Chee Ping. They have been married ever since for 60 years, and together, had two daughters, Lee Sun and Lee Moon.
Despite his strict disciplinary values (which may or may not have been transferred on to my mother), he was a doting parent and loving husband, and his daughters had a wonderful childhood.
My grandfather arrived in Australia in 1990, aged 70, when my own father passed away, to help out my mother look after me. Whilst I was probably too young to realise at the time, my mother and I are forever grateful for his and my grandmother’s decision to migrate to another country – one that would have been extremely different and difficult for them in terms of language and culture – just to help raise me.
But in the time that he’s been here he has definitely adapted – and one thing that he could easily relate to with me was sport. He loved sports of all kind. Soccer, tennis (His favourite player was Michael Chang)– he’d spend so many late nights up watching tv when the grand slams were on; boxing (absolutely loved his boxing), athletics, swimming, badminton, table tennis, Olympics. Anything. Even rugby league – he called it a little rough and always reminded my mother to make sure I never played it – but he would happily sit down with me to watch a game and share my excitement, or most of the time, to console my pain. AFL, he didn’t quite grasp – he called it the sport with too many numbers on the scoreboard. He wasn’t too keen on golf either – he never understood why grown men chased after a small ball.
The sport he loved above all was weightlifting. And as many of you will know, he was a bodybuilder back in the day. Bloody impressive one as well – and proud of it too. Can I get a raise of hands from all of those he has shown his famous body-building photo to? You’ll also probably know that back in Malaysia, he was Mr Penang over there. He’d probably want me to re-iterate that to all of you again as a reminder.
He had a body to rival that of Arnold Schwarzenegger – though with one main difference – His was all natural – none of this steroid filled bodybuilders of today – which he was extremely proud of. He would actively maintain his fitness levels throughout his whole life. Even in his 90’s, I would still see him still pumping iron (albeit with dumbbells of a much smaller weight), doing squats and keeping active.
Maybe part of this reason was down to his sweet tooth. He had a love for all things desserts – cakes, coca cola, Sarsi, McDonald’s apple pies, fairy floss. I thank my wife, Susan, for introducing him to a whole new level of sweets and baked goods. I recall one time, when Susan gave us some profiteroles– which I found way too sweet for my liking, so I passed it on to my grandfather. 10 minutes later he walks past me heading for the kitchen with an empty plate in his hand. He stops, looks at me with a cheeky grin on his face, points at the plate and says “delicious”.
Much of his knowledge of the English language has been self-taught over the years. He would spend his days trawling through his Chinese English dictionaries and books, magnifying glass in hand, pen in the other, writing out English or Chinese sentences and passages in his notepads. When his writing notepads became full, he’d switch over to scraps of blank paper in which he would painstakingly draw out his own ruled lines.
As a kid, I always wondered why my grandfather would always be studying in his spare time. I’d use to think, he’s not at school any more – why does he still have to do all these chores that I was forced to do? As I grew older, my perception of this changed a bit – maybe it was just something for him to do, to pass the time. But that thought was still naïve. It wasn’t until I went through the HSC some 14 years ago when I actually realised what it was all about. For me, studying had the simplistic reasons of passing an exam for fear of experiencing my mother’s wrath.
For him, well his reasons gave me a whole new perspective – I would like to share a few sentences with you all today from a letter my grandfather wrote to me during this period. Not sure why he chose the letter format considering we were under the same roof, but he wrote:
“The more I learn, the more I see my ignorance. I am already 80, I still want to learn”. And with that he made a pact with me in that letter.
“So we both study hard together. What about that? Good, better, best”. We all know you are good, but best is better than good”.
True to his word – he did. I still maintain that he studied harder than me during that period. He may have been a teacher back in the day, but I think he persisted to always be a student in life, to keep learning, and expanding as much as he could.
To give you a deeper insight of the type of person my grandfather was, I’d like to share with you another snippet of that letter:
“Money to me is useless, because I have no bad habit. What I need is health. I will support you with all my money. Money and matters is not all. The most important thing is character. Character is the first and last word in the success circle”
I’m sure you would all agree with me when I say my grandfather was all character.
Most of you would most probably have been roped into some lengthy, but interesting conversations with my grandfather at some point in the time we have known him. Whether his stories were philosophical, about politics, China, sport, history – he loved a good chat. I noticed there would always be a glint in his eye to accompany his cheeky grin when he was talking with any of you he definitely appreciated the time spent with all of you.
Whenever he told me any of his stories, and this may apply to many of you as well, there was always an accompanying proverb, which was one of his pet loves. Sometimes they were common English proverbs. Sometimes they were Chinese proverbs. Sometimes I think he just made up his own proverbs – either that, or otherwise they were just completely lost in translation.
But I’d like to finish on one proverb he left me in a letter:
“If you confer a benefit, never just remember it. If you receive one, remember it always.” To me, Ta Ta, you were not just a loving grandfather, husband, father or friend. – You were also that benefit, I will remember you always. We will all remember you. Always.