Mama has always been part of our lives. Papa was busy with political work, so she did most of the bringing up of the children - me, Ling and Yang. She nurtured us, taught us, disciplined us, took care of us, and fussed over us. She would be home for lunch every day when we came home from school, spending some time with us before going back to work in the afternoon.
Loving but strict, she enforced clear rules, encouraged us to do well, and took pride in our successes. She kept the first school prize that I ever won, for doing well in kindergarten - a pencil sharpener in the shape of tiny trophy, which is still today, in the display cabinet at home.
Not surprisingly, Mama did not shower us with expensive toys, and rather disapproved when the grandparents sometimes did. But she would visit the textile shops that used to be in High Street, and bring us home the long cardboard rolls- the tubes, which were at the centre of the rolls of fabric, and had been discarded after all the fabric had been sold. They cost nothing, but they were great fun used as telescopes, for sword fights, and endless children's games. When I had my own children, my wife and I did the same.
We would visit our maternal grandparents at Pasir Panjang regularly. Their house was on the seafront, and at high tide the water would come right in to the seawall. We would swim in the sea, and Mama would sit on the steps watching over us. Once when I had almost learnt to swim but not quite, I got into difficulty- fooling around with a pair of goggles and a snorkel, and nearly drowned. Mama had to plunge in fully dressed to rescue me. She was not amused. Today, it's dry land.
When the boys went away to university, she fussed over us at long distance. She was a skilful knitter, and knitted us sweaters to stay warm, one after another. I still have one of them, a favourite rust-coloured one, patched many times at the elbows but still warm.
When Hsien Yang and I got married, she embraced her daughters-in-law as her own children. When grandchildren arrived, she helped to look after them, especially my two elder children - Xiuqi and Yipeng - after their mother Ming Yang died. She and the Popo supervised the maids, took the very little ones for walks every evening, and more than made up for what I could not do as a single father.
The years passed. Even in old age, Mama kept a motherly eye on her children. She would follow my public appearances on TV and in the press, and comment on my dress or demeanour or makeup, by the make-up artiste. After one particularly long evening function which both my parents and I attended, she reproached me and she said: "You were bored stiff, and looked it". When I fell ill with lymphoma, she worried about my children again, and also about me, fretting over whether I was eating enough nutritious food like bird's nest to stay strong and fight the cancer.
On Sundays the family would gather for lunch at Oxley Road. For a time it was with all the grandchildren, who would make a fine hullabaloo. But as the kids grew up and went off to national service, or went away to study, often it would be back to just Papa, Mama and the three children and our wives, plus Shaowu, the youngest grandchild.
One Sunday in May two years ago, we had the usual family lunch. I had spent the morning on a constituency visit to Tampines, and told her they were debating whether to allow bicycles on pedestrian footpaths. She reminded me that when I was in Cambridge and was mostly a pedestrian, I had written home to complain about the bicycles being a menace, because they crept up quietly on one from behind, giving no warning except for sinister whirring noises. I had completely forgotten, but she was right. She said: "The older I get, the longer ago the things I remember". But she tracked current events too, and knew what the hot topics of the day were. I think the hot topic at that time was serving beer at coffee shops.
The next day I was in my office when my security officer told me that Mama had fallen down at home, and Wei Ling was rushing her to NNI. She had had her second stroke. The last two and a half years have been difficult on her and on the family. Now she is at peace.
All of our lives, Mama has been there for us. We have rejoiced together, grieved together, and shared many milestones and critical moments together. Now we will all have to learn to live without her. But she lives on in her children and grandchildren, in our cherished memories of her, and in the persons she has nurtured us into.