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  • My Amma, Tamilselvi Chenathamby is Indian, and my Appa, Ho Kooi Sang is Chinese. My Amma is the seventh among nine siblings whereas my Appa is the fourth among seven siblings.

    Appa speaks four languages, English, Malay, Cantonese and Tamil, while Mum speaks three languages and understands a little Mandarin.

    The reason Appa speaks fluent Tamil is because of his childhood friends, Thana and Appu. He grew up in an estate in Glenmarie, Selangor and almost all his friends were Indian and Chinese. In his area, it was common to hear his Chinese friends conversing in Tamil, and vice versa, his Indian friends talking in Cantonese.

    Born in the Batang Berjuntai, Kuala Selangor, Amma had a poor upbringing like Appa as well.

    She started working from the age of 7 to help my maternal grandfather, Rajamah, to tap the rubber trees. By the time she turned 15, she then stopped schooling and started to work to help the family.

    In 1975, my paternal grandfather, Ho Kit abandoned the family after the delivery of his youngest son, Ho Kwai See. Till this day, the family is unsure why he left but they think it was due to their poverty and hardship. Because of this, Appa grew up in a poor household as his Mum ended up being the sole breadwinner in the family.

    Working in a rubber tapping estate, my paternal grandmother, Chua Yoke Kek, had a hard time raising her boys.

    After my grandfather left them, she was adamant not to remarry, and raised her children without a man in sight.

    From the age of 8, my eldest uncle, Ho Kwai Min began to help my grandma to earn some money while taking care of his younger brothers. Already at a young age, he was trust into an adult position and could not go to school.

    Luckily, for Appa, he had his education till the age of 15.

    Surprisingly, all of Appa’s siblings are boys - my grandmother never had the chance to have a baby girl. Being a mother to all boys, she was not used to having women folk in the family. I remember her saying that 'it's a curse from God'.

    When I was growing up, she was never close to me, and chose instead to spoil the boys. Mostly, she ignored all her female grandchildren and cousins. I have deep respect for her, as raising 7 boys on a measly income of rubber tapping must have been incredibly hard.

    After finishing Form 3, Appa decided to help Kwai Min and shoulder some of the responsibilities by doing some rubber tapping work. His other brothers were a spoilt bunch and would spend their time gambling.

    By the time he turned 16 years old, Appa had already worked in many odd jobs like a mini market, golf resort, night market and the Subang airport. With all his earnings, he gave them all to my grandma to help with the expenses.

    Appa and Kwai Min were close and supported each other. Sadly, the other siblings picked up a lot of bad habits and we don't see them as often anymore. While most of Appa's Chinese friends would be indulging themselves in beer and heavy liquor, Appa never picked up the bottle.

    I feel very fortunate to have my parents in my life. Although they had a hard upbringing, they always managed to do their best for us.

    Story of Ho Ling Jun for The Chindian Diaries
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