Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mom's Eldest Sister

Back in my Mom's generation (she was born in 1946), parents were so anxious when their daughters have reached a certain age (i.e. 20 years old). They wanted to marry them off as quickly as possible with the best candidate that they could find themselves or the best candidate that the daughters could find themselves. My Mom's eldest sister is 10 years older than Mom. Mom kept on repeating her tale to me over the years.

I don't remember how she met her husband, but all in all, my Mom's grandma approved of him. Why? Whenever her granddaughters met a guy that they might marry or whenever someone told her about a guy that was attracted to one of her granddaughters, she would do some research on the family. She would "happen to" be in the neighbourhood of the guy's parents' house. And I bet she asked around about the guy's parents and livelihood from other people or relatives who knew about them to make sure that her granddaughter could have a decent living after she married the guy.

Anyway, so my Mom's eldest sister went on a date with that guy. Back then Vespa was still so fashionable and my aunt was happy since the guy had rich parents. After the date, Mom asked her about it. My aunt answered, "Well, we went out for a ride around the city on his Vespa."

My Mom was surprised, so she asked, "But you said that you were going out to the movies with him, right?"

My aunt said that he changed his mind. From then on, my Mom was determined NEVER to date any guy who was stingy he he he he he...

Then not long afterward the guy's family proposed. As some of you have known, a traditional Chinese proposal is a complicated matter. My Mom said that the proposal was really something to behold. The guy's family gave my Mom's eldest sister heavy yellow gold jewelleries (bracelets, necklace, and earrings). This was actually just for a show-off in front of my aunt's relatives and his own relatives as a traditional proposal included relatives from both sides of the family as witnesses.

Before the wedding, there was one incident that my Mom never failed to tell me. Just like any other girl, my aunt wanted to look pretty on her wedding day, so she had some facials and massage or something beforehand. Back then the facial mask must've been made of natural products like eggs, so you can imagine the smell. After the facial, the guy picked my aunt up to have a date and he said, "Ewwww!!! Your face smells like spit!" Ouch!!! Such a nice sentence to say to your bride-to-be, isn't it?

Anyhow, they got married at the appointed time and date, and what happened after the wedding? My aunt's mother-in-law took EVERY piece of jewellery back. You see, the purpose of giving jewellery to the bride-to-be before the wedding was actually to give some "financial capital" for rainy days. In Indo, even until today, when people are in need of some quick cash, they resort to selling their jewelleries. It's still easy to sell a piece of gold necklace or bracelet to some jewellery store. And it's NOT normal at all for a mother-in-law to take everything back from the bride.

My aunt is a very patient and meek person. She never fought back. Years and years back we found out that their marriage wasn't sanctified by the law. Back then it was possible for people to get married without going through any religious ceremony and without signing in the papers. What does that mean? That meant that my aunt had no right to own the house that her husband left when he died. Thus the house's ownership fell to her kids. My Mom has always been angered by that fact, because it means that the guy's family doesn't really acknowledge my aunt's existence.

Things went from bad to worse after she delivered babies and after the death of her husband's mother. My Mom told me that the husband was SO doted on by her mother, so when she died, he lost his ground. He became unstable. He had shown signs already right after their marriage. He wouldn't let my aunt visit her mother (my grandma), even though their house was only about 5 minutes apart on foot.

Then when he started having mental problems and my aunt told him that she wanted to sell food at the traditional market so that she could earn some living for the whole family, he allowed her to do that, BUT he started becoming VERY jealous. He got jealous to every male customer of hers. He even accused one cousin who was one regular customers of WANTING her, can you believe that?

Then he became more unstable as sometimes he would talk to himself when we visited my aunt. I had always feared that guy ever since I was a little kid, you know? He just gave off a bad vibe.

Another thing that my Mom told me was that one time my grandma asked her some private questions, like, "Did he ever hit you? Did he ever force himself on you?" My aunt wouldn't say a word, but my Mom and grandma could see tears trickling down her cheeks. Her teardrops were as big as pearls, Mom would say. Sigh...such a life!!!

Having two kids with an unstable husband made my aunt try hard to make sure that her kids could live a normal life. When it was time for her daughter to have a date, she would dress her up with a dressing gown and made up excuses for her daughter so that she could go out of the house. Beneath the dressing gown, her daughter had put on regular clothes for a date. I don't remember when my aunt's husband died, but eventually he died of a kind of disease if I'm not mistaken. At that time his mind was already so mixed up and he had been bedridden (if I remember correctly), so my aunt could live a "sort-of" free life.

Nowadays my aunt's kids have gotten married. The eldest daughter has no kid, whereas the youngest son has two daughters. She's stopped selling food at the traditional market and now she lives with her kids (she moves from one house to the other every few weeks).

One reason why my Mom got married late (at the age of 31 - she had me at the age of 32) was because she had witnessed something like this story. And I salute her since there must've been quite a HUGE amount of pressure from her surroundings to get married.


  1. Its amazing how similar our cultures are!

  2. Frasy: Ahhh...yours is also similar? Fascinating!!! I'd love to hear more about Indian cultures. ;-D

  3. The sad part is, no body took him to seek treatment but allowed the condition to go bad.

  4. That is sad. It's a shame she had to go through that. Keep watching mine about my mom and hopefully you will understand my relationship with her.

  5. Hi Amel;

    You have raised my curiosity; I would love to hear your thoughts on a few things…please understand my questions are coming from a respectful attitude…

    I am not Chinese but have many Chinese friends (after all I live in the Vancouver area; and the city of Vancouver is almost 50% Chinese so I am aware of the various aspects of the culture, it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world).

    I am very curious, Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, so what is it like being a Christian there?

    How do you intertwine Indonesian/Chinese/Christian concepts for these kinds of things that you are describing in this article?

    I have a very close friend from Malaysia she is Chinese and a Christian. There seems to be a very long list of “rules” that have to be followed or people feel disrespected. How do you feel about these kinds of things after living in Finland for awhile now?

    I sit at your feet prepared to learn…

  6. Mother Hen: I don't know much about how his treatment. I knew he went to the doctor when his physical condition got worse. I think back in those days (even now), going to a psychiatrist was still out of the question. Plus the family didn't have enough money to do such things. I know that there should be some Christian counseling, but I don't know whether back then they went to church or not. I know that nowadays my aunt and her kids go to church every Sunday.

    Kasper: Hi, Dawn...yeah, it was a bad situation for her back then, but it's over now he he he...I'll keep on reading your blog, don't worry! :-))) Hopefully I'll understand everything you write in a deep level.

    LS: I'll reply you later personally, OK? It's easier that way he he he he...

  7. Hi Amel...

    Ohhh what a tragic story! I hope she has found peace.

    How truly wonderful that she has done so much to ensure her children have a different life.

    I am reminded of how women have been treated for the past several millennia and how thankful I am for the many women who have sacrificed to bring us the opportunities we have today!

    Thanks for this Amel,


  8. It sounds like your aunt must have lived a hard life while she was married to this man. I feel so bad that the marriage wasn't recognized legally. I hope she is doing well today.

  9. It's sad that during that generation, women feel they are rsigned to fate and would stay as a couple regardless of how sad their situation is.

  10. Ah's still happening in some parts of my country. You know, even now there is still pressure from the parents, friends or relatives if one of the daughters in the family is not married yet. It doesn't matter whether the oldest or the youngest, but I experienced similar situations before I got married. The most common questions, "Who is next?" or "When's your turn?" etc.

    I think that's why there are bad jokes about this...When older people kept asking about when are you getting married each time there is a wedding ceremony of one of your relatives, the next time round when there is a funeral in the family, refer them the same question, "Who's next?"...He he he he he...real bad, huh??!!!

  11. Jen: Oh yeah, forgot to add that my aunt's fine now. No grudges and no cynicism or bitterness he he he...

    You're right about the sacrifices of many women to bring us the opportunities we have today. I'm also grateful for those who've paved the ways for us. ;-D

    Kathy: Yeah, it must've been hard. I was too small to understand everything, so I didn't know the details, but it seemed that way.

    Blur Ting: Yeah, that's true.

    Choc Mint Girl: Yeah, I know what you mean. Living in Asia means that there're still lots of pressure about marriage he he he...

    HA HA HA HA HA...that's a really bad joke indeed hi hi hi hi...but I understand the sentiment. ;-D