Cute Cute Ah Mah

22 Jul 2011By Bob Lee, Johor, Malaysia

I was in primary school over 20 years ago. Back then I would occasionally sneak out the school bus along with cousin to go to grandma’s house.

At that time, grandma would only be home about 2 or 3 in the afternoon from selling vegetables at the market. Once, grandma wasn’t home at all. So grandpa had to cook. He boiled two eggs – one for cousin, one for me. That touched my heart. But truth be told, the eggs weren’t all that great.

Each Saturday, cousin and me would attend drawing classes at the the clan house at Dafeng Gardens. And after class, I would take a ride from uncle to grandma’s house. Then I would stay over.

I recall
The instant noodle suppers,
The four wheels on the foldable mattress,
The tin mugs of coffee,
And the buttery saltine crackers.

It all seems like yesterday. But two decades have gone by, and everyone has changed.

Cousin is now a mother, and her brother a dad.
My youngest cousin is taking the Form 5 exams next year.
All the other cousins have left for the city to build their own careers.
I left the paper and there are fewer assignments now. Yet finally I have more time with family. But since everyone now lives separately in Kuala Lumpur, Johore and Singapore, we’re seeing each other less often.

Today I stayed over at grandma’s.

It has been 20 years and the instant noodles are gone, and so is the wheely mattress. And there was no one to go with to the mamak stall for roti-prata and mee-goreng suppers.

I wanted to photograph grandma again because now she is suffering from dementia. She has not gotten any better in the last year, and the fall she suffered a few months back made her health a lot worse.

Grandma, who used to manage everything herself, now depends on help around-the-clock. Although her mind is muddled because of the disease, she clearly knows that her freedom has been taken from her. She’s smiling less now. This afternoon when I held the camera up to my eyes, she stared through the lens and snapped, “What are you trying to photograph?”

But after her evening bath, dressed in pajamas, grandma asked, “Where’s that set of clothing?” We brought her a few sleeping gowns to choose from, but she rejected them all. Exasperated, we had to let her choose among her wardrobe. She changed, and walked into the living room.

“How about now?”

So that moment was captured on camera.

Bob Lee is a photographer based in Singapore. He has brought many social issues to light and has won international acclaim for his photography. Bob is contributing his time to hold a Photojournalism Workshop for the best 5 photographers in the Before We Forget Photo Challenge.

Translation from original Chinese contribution to English by Lee Xian Jie.