Gifts Of Love

What affect a child’s values -  education system or the family? CSC ponders.

“What are you doing here?  You look like you are in pain!” An acquaintance bumped into me in a shopping mall. 

My toes were hurting from the new sandals after an hour of search through the huge complex to find a particular ice cream parlor.  I wanted to treat my parents some low fat frozen yogurt that tastes like ice cream.  They have restrained from their favorite ice cream as they are wearied of the fat content.

“You are always doing things I don’t understand……” She commented.  “Just get any ice cream from any store will do!  Why torture yourself like this? It is interesting to see you acting like a villager even though you have been educated and exposed overseas.....”

By the time I found the store, there was a big, bloody blister on one of my toes.  I walked bare foot through the complex to the taxi stand with two tubs of frozen yogurt, attracting curious glances from other shoppers.

I thought about the acquaintance’s comment in the taxi.  “Why is it that I don’t see this yogurt incidence as something silly or a torture to myself?”

“Didn’t Cousin A and Cousin B went all out to do something special for Uncle C and Auntie D?” I searched my mind for answers.

Photo by Tzer Haw
It wasn’t long ago, when my immediate family took my father out for Father’s Day.  After a big dinner, my brother decided to treat my father with one of his favorite foods -- ice cream.  We unanimously agreed to go to the ice cream parlor with the low fat frozen yogurt. Since we hadn’t been there for quite a while, it took several rounds of cruising to find the block of shop houses.  Two cars of occupants then walked all around the block trying to find the parlor with conflicting directions from passer-bys.

Finally, a police patrol confirmed that it had moved. Then we cruised to another area and found the ice cream parlor had closed down.  It was 10.30pm by the time we found the third one who had by then closed for the day.  My sister called her friends asking for suggestions.  We went to Bangsar but we couldn’t find any parking place. 

It was 11.30pm when we cruised down the high way to go home without any ice cream. The kids were all sleeping in the cars. My sister’s mobile phone rang. It was one of her friends whom she called an hour ago.  “You guys are crazy!” he laughed.

Unfazed, we went to the ice cream parlor the next day.   

Some of the things my family does sound very silly for outsiders, but the family doesn’t think so.  A few of my cousins are known throughout the extended family for their caring acts. My brother still carries bags of special fragrant rice from a neighboring country to Ipoh for my parents who love the rice. Although the rice could be purchased in Ipoh, his reasoning is: the brand I bought is certified 100% top grade fragrant rice. Years before, he hauled cans of foods unavailable here to treat my parents.

Doing things for our parents aren’t burdens. The attitude has to do with the education system we came from.  All of us studied in Chinese schools where ‘shio’ (filial piety), a Confucian value, was taught earnestly in our days. We grew up knowing that we must return the care our parents shower on us.

In other words, ‘filial piety’ is a part of living.  When one receives, one must give back.
We have all studied the classical Chinese literature, the “Twenty Four ‘shio’ “. I first read some of the chapters when I was in Standard Four.  The teacher, Mr H, who was a father himself, told us why we must ‘shio’ our parents and expressed our gratitude in many ways.  He asked each one of us what we had done for our parents for ‘shio’.  The class giggled whenever someone couldn’t answer or when the teacher cracked jokes on our lack of enthusiasm. 

He reprimanded me once when I couldn’t tell him what I would do for my mother in a similar situation cited in one of the chapters. “She carried you for nine months in her belly and have been taking care of you since, you don’t even know how to make her smile?”

I don’t remember what Chinese characters I learnt in his classes, but I remember his vivid stories about ‘shio’, moral values, undying family love, patriotism, and true friendship. “Shio’ was embedded in my mind even more when I had to study some chapters from “Twenty Four ‘Shio’ “  in classical Chinese while in secondary school.

Now that I’m a mother, Mr H and the ‘shio’ stories have come back to my mind symbolizing human values I want to see in my daughter, Little R.

Sadly, the education system now is so exam oriented that teachers have little time to tell moral stories like they used to.  The Chinese text books in primary school hardly teach students with classical legends.  Students are force-crammed with vocabularies and the exact answers to exam questions to get high marks. Getting 60 and 70 marks mean you are a failure in certain schools.  Their worth is now evaluated by how much they can absorb from the spoon-feeding, not how much they actually learn in order to decide how to live their lives as grown ups.  

When Little R, started Standard One this year, I went back to Ipoh to my parents’ house to look for “Twenty Four ‘Shio’” among stacks of old books.  I brought it back to KL and started reading it to her at bedtime.

There are stories about men and women who took care of their aging or ailing parents in many ways.  Stories such as laying on the bed in the winter to warm it up first before parents slept on it, laying on icy river to attract the attention of a particular kind of fish that a mother craved, quitting an official’s post to return to home town to take care of the ailing father and tasting his feces and urine to determine the extent of the illness. (There was no litmus paper to test feces and urine several centuries ago!)

Little R likes the stories very much for one of them is about Mulan, the girl who bravely went into battlefield on behalf of her father, knowing that she would be beheaded if ever anyone discovered that she wasn’t a boy. 

She has translated ‘shio’ into English -- Love You Forever. 

I am relieved that she understands what I treasure in life.

By Chong Sheau Ching


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