This is the story of my Yeye (my dad's dad) and my Kongkong (my mum's dad). Both were husky, gregarious men who ate a lot, drank a lot, smoked a lot and couldn't do it all in one place. They were gourmands -- for the best braised pig's feet, say, they might just have to take a weekend trip up to Penang, Malaysia. When my mum was pregnant with her second child, Yeye said that if it was a boy, he would host a huge banquet for anyone and everyone he knew. On the day my brother turned a month old, 200 people were invited to a 10-course Koh feast at our favourite family restaurant. When I was home for Chinese New Year, we went to brunch with Kongkong and under his direction, our table was soon filled with so much food we hardly had any room to eat. We might as well had invited 200 people to brunch, too.
Both my grandfathers are fighters, and I don't mean boxers, although if you came up against these tall, hulking men, you'd do best to run away. I know I did whenever I did something bad, which was about every hour on the hour as a little kid, but I always came back for the bear hugs. When Yeye was diagnosed with the double whammy of lung and colon cancer, the doctors said he had six months to live. He lived five years, four of which he spent traipsing the country (well, city) by bus, visiting all his favourite haunts and making sure he saw all his old friends before he was ready to take a break. Kongkong suffered a massive heart attack about a year ago in Sydney (of course he was abroad), while visiting Uncle Robert. The doctors said three months, but he bounced back quickly and in the last few months, has resumed his food travels.
On Friday, after a day of suffering through the freezing temperature and piercing northerly wind at the ballpark, after several rounds of the Goose Island Pub Pack and a large pizza and peanut M&Ms and chips and salsa and after everyone went home, my mum called and said that Kongkong had a mild stroke and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He was paralysed on the left side and his speech slurred, but spent all day gripping with his right hand and raising his fist in a thumbs up.
This morning, my mum called again and said Kongkong had another heart attack and had to be resuscitated after his breathing stopped. Now his brain was haemorrhaging and it may not be long before he joins his buddy, my Yeye, on a whole new trip. It's not an easy time for the family, but in the spirit of Kongkong, we've got our warpaint on as well. We know that he'll be going out at the top of the game -- he only just got back from Malacca, Malaysia, last week. We know that he's lived a long life filled with adventures we'd never know of, because we were never a part of it, from his stint as a purser on an ocean liner, his travels to China as an antique dealer and gallivants all over Southeast Asia. But what we know is that we always had a part of him, whether we knew it or not. I know it from all the times he got back in town when I was a kid, and insisted my parents brought me over to visit with him no matter what time of the night it was. I know it from him getting up at 5am the day before I left for Chicago after Chinese New Year to make me his famous chilli sauce from scratch. And I know it from the long conversations we've had about my new gig and he gave me all the support I needed.
I hope that I will be able to see him once more. I was not home when my Yeye died, and I don't want to make the same mistake again.