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Malacca Grandmother
Thursday, March 28, 2013 | 11:34 PM | 0 comments

Malacca Grandmother by Robert Yeo


Grandmother, departures
such as yours
And your brother to Southampton
Snap something in me
I don’t know what.

It is not that you won’t come back
Neither that your brother may not return
Nor that more than a person
An age has passed, of whom you were
The sole remaining representative.


Could it be that I realize now
How your going has severed
(Something I could not then acknowledge)
Relationship to a family rich
In history, name and wealth

But aloof and strangely antique
Like the silver
kerosang1 their nonyas wear?

Your generation trespassing on mine
Left me with two tongues that I sputter
Recurrent memories of the
towkayneo2
Who would only sell me things in Teochew,
And an aggressive sense of modernity.


On Heeren Street3
The past peels in paint,
Even on this midday

Twilight is trapped in long, grey interiors.
Do the womenfolk here
Still grow up
In kitchens and bedrooms?
Is there a house here which is the source

Of my indifferent Malay
And my Hokien splutter?


page1image17760
Grandma, you have broken now
The tenuous
4 links between
The Tans and the Yeos

Malacca and Singapore.

I guess
That is what 

Departure’s about. 


Brooches usually used in a set of three by Straits Chinese women to fasten their blouses as part of their traditional costume or kebaya
The boss’s wife
Heeren Street is located in Malacca, and was where many wealthy Peranakan and Chinese merchants used to live in grand mansions and longish houses. ‘Peranakan’ is a term used to describe descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in Malacca and neighbouring regions who assimilated Malay language and culture into their own.


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