Sunday, April 03, 2005

happy birthday gramps

My grandma's been the only surviving grandparent I remember.

I say this because my maternal grandmother was alive until I was about 1 or 2 (I think) before she passed on.

This paternal grandmother though, is now celebrating her 87th hale and hearty year. She travels round the world on her own, even has a flat kept for her in Guangzhou for whenever she decides to pop in, and indulges in the odd philanthropic move- like donating an ambulance to the local hospital or something.

She's a phenomenal woman, and not one who's perfect - there's plenty of things I can pick fault with, but one thing- she's essentially a very strong and highly intelligent woman.

She comes from a family of insufferably intellegent people. College professors who have become HODs, doctors, the odd knight of the British Order, ambassadors...the usual garden variety. It seems her (warning! pic could be distressing!) feet weren't bound not because her doctor father decided not to, but because her mother said N.O. I guess their family was a little ahead of the times.

She's written 3 books, had a TV program, does life drawing, potters in the garden and oh yes, speaks at least 3 languages on an almost everyday basis: English, Cantonese, Mandarin. She may not speak English well, but she understands it perfectly and manages to get her point across clearly. Her mandarin is in fact almost on par with mine.

All this is great. Except that I seem to have lost my knack for understanding Cantonese.

Somewhere in the depths of suburban and metropolitan Melbourne, I seem to have lost it. So when my gramps speaks to me, I nod. And get equally startled and distressed that I can't seem to understand a word she says anymore.

There's so much I want to ask her, but can't. And she thinks I can still understand her while she rattles on in Cantonese because I used to answer in Mandarin and/or English and/or both in one sentence. And it's the most awkward feeling to have someone talking AT you in a language you used to understand and are supposed to still understand.

I called her to wish her happy birthday today, and spoke in Mandarin. She replied in Mandarin and English while I heaved a sigh of relief. However, it was obvious she couldn't sustain the conversation for long due to her difficulty with both languages. Perhaps my father has told her.

I'm sorry gramps. And happy 87th.