The Women Behind Two Great Men

My girls screamed when they see insects around the house.  I thought how fortunate they are to be living in this comfortable environment with only tiny carpenter ants and spiders to deal with.  Growing up in Malaysia, we have to deal with lizards and flying roaches.  I slept with two blankets each night; one on the top to cover my eyes and the other the rest of my body leaving just enough room for me to breath.  Our threshold is different when it comes to little critters.  Mom was the bravest one of all because she has seen them all. 

As I recalled my childhood at the age of five, I spent some time at Grandma Lee’s old Atap house located adjacent to the railway track.  The house was huge with cement floor with big cubicles partitioned to accommodate a large traditional Chinese family.  My mom used to tell us that she woke up one day to find a snake lying next to her bed.  The bathroom was located outside in the open air.  I cannot imagine how Mom grew up in that environment where she will have to walk in the dark to go to the bathroom outside.  Both Grandma Lee and Grandma Chong had to cooked in stove powered by burning wood blocks.

Life is always tough when we entered into this turbulent world of ours.  Amongst the people who impressed me the most are my two kind-hearted grandmas who are instrumental to the building up of the Chong and Lee’s families.  Both our ancestors are first generation immigrants from China to Malaysia in the early 1905.  Our grandparents traveled from Malaysia (Malaya then before Malaysia achieved her independence in August 31 1957).  During those days, airplane was unheard of; therefore, traveling by sea on the frail boat across the South China Sea was precarious and dangerous. However, both grandmas made it to Klang and KL and set up their own families by dint of hard work, industry, and perseverance they managed to survive under the most trying circumstances and establish a happy home, started their own families from scratch to what it is today

The Lee family under the leadership of Lee Boon Teh and the kind-hearted, generous, and magnanimous grandma gave birth to 7 sons and 5 daughters and 50 grandchildren.  This stupendous human feat is admirable.  To be able to feed the whole family under one roof is already a great achievement barring the consequences of maintaining great harmony at home; educating all the children is a gargantuan task for both grandpa and grandma.  The establishment of building the eating Bak Kut Teh business and the plying the Ang Ku Kay and glutinous Chinese New Year cake business in Klang.  Credit should be given to the ingenious craftsmanship of grandma in running single-handedly to ease the burden for my grandpa who has to take care of the business outside the house.  She is a bulwark of strength in molding and united a big family under one roof.  She is a compassionate woman who always helps those who are less fortunate than herself.  Sometimes, she gave away foodstuff and cakes to those who are needy and in great financial hardship.  This gift of sharing with the poor people has inspired great admiration from the general public.  When grandpa and grandma passed away, they were endless stream of crowd to pay their respects to them as a mark of respect for their good deeds they have done during their life time.

As stated earlier in the article about Grandpa, Grandma Chong is a great woman who has to support a family of five children after the premature death of grandpa in a Motor car accident at Fraser’s Hill in 1950. This untimely tragedy has caused the Chong’s family untold hardship and mental anguish. If my grandma is a weak woman she would have succumbed to consider remarry again as she was young then around the age of 35 years old. She has continued to struggle with the pang of hardship, obstacles in life. She brought up all the 5 children and gave them a good education up to Secondary school level and one third son sent to study Physics at the Nan Yang University and he achieved success as a Geophysicist and later lived in America. What a remarkable grandma!  She toiled and worked hard for a living. She sacrificed her youth brought up the children, and instilled in them the ethics of “filial piety”, “respect for parents” etc. She has taught the children the family values of “success will only comes to those who work hard” and “help those who are in need and in great financial hardship. She sacrificed her own happiness to provide a safety net to her children and paved the way of success and happiness for her family. Grandma is a paragon of virtue and a beacon of hope and an inspiration to those in the quad mire of depression and sorrow. She is an example for us to emulate.

Thanks Pa for helping me write this article about Grandma Lee and Grandma Chong.  Pa, I am 36 years old and many times, I still behave like a small child.  At even younger than I am now, Grandma Chong had already the sole responsibility of providing for 5 children.   It is no wonder you have so much respect for your Mom.   Ooh, I cannot imagine growing up without a father’s income.  How many extra hours did Grandma work to buy you a pair of shoes?


As a little girl, I remember eating this dish at Grandma Lee’s house. The kitchen was very rustic with a wooden stove.  Grandma Lee had lots of mouth to feed, 12 children and many grandchildren. This dish certainly satisfy the taste buds of the young and old.  This photo was taken before I know met fellow blogger WMW.   I apologize for the quality.  When I make this dish again, I will repost.

Grandma made her own popiah skin.  Mom used to describe the way that Grandma did it,  use right hand to swirl the batter on the heated plate and voila it was done.  I buy the individual wrapped Lumpia or eggroll wrapper (individually wrapped helps with the separation between the sheets).  However, I am tempted to make my own wrapper because the store bought quality has degraded. 

8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 tbsp salted soy bean paste
1 pound jicama (shredded)
2 hard bean curd cakes, fried and sliced thinly
1 tsp black soy sauce
1 cup cabbage (shredded)
1 cup green beans
4 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt

20 large po piah skins/lumpia (individually wrapped is preferred)
sweet black sauce (tim cheong) to taste
long leaf lettuce
fresh chilies (optional)
bean sprouts (blanced in hot water briefly and drained)
roasted peanuts (remove skin, coarsely ground)
fried shallots

(The following can be omitted if going completely vegetarian)
8 peeled shrimps
3 eggs lightly beaten and make 3 thin omelets. After cooked, cut into thin strips and set aside.

To make the filling, fry garlic and salted soy bean paste until fragant. Reserve 3 tsps of this. Leave the remaining fried paste in the pan and add the jicama. Cook for 5 minutes until softened. Then add the fried bean curd. Season with black soy sauce.

In separate pan, use 1 tsp of the reserved garlic and soy bean paste mixture to fry the shrimp until cooked. Repeat with cabbage and then with the beans.

Mix cooked cabbage, beans and shrimp into the cooked jicama and add sugar and salt. Leave to cool.

To serve, put all the prepared ingredients on the table. Place a po piah skin on a flat surface, spread with a little sweet black sauce if desired. Place a lettuce leaf, a little of everything from the jicama mixture, egg, bean sprout, peanuts and shallots. Fold in the sides and roll up.


Filed under Stream in the Hip Desert 新沙漠甘泉

3 responses to “The Women Behind Two Great Men

  1. alice

    Just a quick drop by to say hello. Your dad writes very well. Is he living in US too? Both your grandmas are women of substance and pillars of strength. My garage sale is on April 21 (tomorrow) but it takes us 6 days to prepare. Hard work but it’s for the Lord as the garage sale in the past has brought university students to our church when they came to buy the cheap goods.

  2. Dear Wonda,
    How nice of you to come by in your busy schedule. To answer your question, my Dad lives in Sydney Australia with my Mom, youngest sister and brother. Two other younger sisters live close by them. If you know of any God loving Christian brothers living in Sydney Australia, please help me out. My Mom is always worried for my one younger sister who is still single. My Dad does write well, doesn’t he?

  3. Kenny Mah

    The women behind two great men? True, but also what great women themselves. I guess many of us these days forget the sacrifices our ancestors made for us to be where we are today. My nephews and nieces certainly don’t know half of it.

    You’ve inspired me to collect stories from my grandmothers, of their lives and struggles. My grandfathers, unfortunately, aren’t with us anymore, but I remember some tales still from my father’s father. Perhaps it’s time to put them down to paper…

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