Thursday, 10 May 2012


This 1950’s tea set was my grandmother’s gift to my mother on her wedding day. I unwrapped only a few pieces for the photograph but the complete set is meant to serve six people, so there are 23 pieces in all.

I once mentioned to a friend that the set is Narumi but I was wrong. It was produced by Seyei, Nagoya. Is the set worth any value in the market today? I'm not sure.  Anyhow, I don't intend to part with it.

In 2005, when we were packing to move into our new apartment, my mother decided that she had no practical use for the tea set and wanted to throw it away, but I rescued it from its impending fate.  Some girls take over their mother’s wedding dress. I’ll have my mother’s wedding tea set.  It's a romantic notion.

A few days before the move, my aunt swung by in her car and asked if there were any small things of value we might want to hand-carry to the new apartment. She probably meant cash or jewelry but the first thing that went into the car was my precious tea set. Silly? That’s me, ever the sentimental fool.

Why did my mother decide to part with her wedding gift? Frills and laces mean nothing to Mom, who has always been a frugal, hardworking and down-to-earth individual. She was only 10 when her father was taken away during the Japanese Occupation. He never came home. My grandmother gave up a life of luxury - servants, chauffer, gramophone and a house with a courtyard - started working to make ends meet while Mom learnt to clean, wash and cook.  I suppose if you had to live a hand to mouth existence, you wouldn't have bothered whether your plate was fine bone china, would you?

Even till today my mother would opt for practicality over pretty, preferring stainless steel cooking pots over Corningware; enamel-coated tin plates instead porcelain. A guest who once stopped by at our place for lunch commented that our family ate out of  狗盘子 (dog dishes). Mom was the least daunted by the remark. Her motto is: “不管是瓷盘还是钢盘,可以耐久久的就是好盘啦!” (“W whatever serves the purpose!") We’re still using the same stainless steel dishes today and everything tastes great because, even at age 79, Mom is a fabulous cook.

Mom doesn’t remember her own birthday. During the war years not many people had time for birthday celebrations. Her IC indicates only her year of birth: 1932 but in reality Mom faked her age to get a job. She was only 15 (even though the legal age for employment then was 16) when she started working in a factory. For all her years of sacrifices, my grandmother must have felt that her only daughter deserved something beautiful on her wedding day. I can only imagine the love and sentiments behind my late grandmother’s choice of gift. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t too wild about imported crockery from Japan.

Does it mean that my mother hate the Japanese? No, she rarely laments about the past. She even vacationed in Tokyo (twice) and couldn’t stop praising its people, the food and how orderly and clean the city is. Cleanliness means a lot to Mom. Our home is spotless at all times and anything left on the desk or table top would be cleared almost immediately. There are times when I haven’t quite finished breakfast but she was ready to remove the bottle of marmalade from right under my nose! I once tried to place framed photos of the family on top of the TV console and two days later they’ve disappeared into the drawer! Mom detests clutter, fearing that things might become misplaced or lost. Although I get into heated arguments about it with her sometimes, I think I understand the psychic behind Mom’s desire for order and tidiness- and her fear of loss. Could it be, unbeknownst even to herself - having lived through the chaos of the war and having lost someone so dear at such a young age - left some invisible scarring on her mind?

As an early Mother’s Day celebration we all went out for dim sum today (I’ll be in Bangkok on Mother’s Day weekend). As usual Mom raised some protest when I suggested going out to lunch, “That would be expensive.  You really ought to save the money for something more useful!"  Then she looked thoughtful for a few minutes and said, “What I really need is a pair of new dentures!” That sent me into peals of laughter but that’s my mother, always the practical one.

As I carefully took the tea set out of its carton, Mom sat beside me, lovingly admiring each piece. “They are beautiful aren’t they?” she said. “Feel how light this tea cup is!” Yet she couldn’t resist adding, “Your grandmother was such a spendthrift!”

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