“Sister Ta, Sister Ta! Morning!” 8am, open space of a small park, where a group of women are passionately greeting the lady in a red track suit, “Morning, morning!”
“We have not many people here today. Where are those young people?” asks Sister Ta, slowly taking off her jacket and the little handbag.
Grinning, Mrs Hui replies, “The coldness! It was only 9 degree Celsius this morning. Young people cannot bear the chill.”
“Such a chilly day! What’s more, tomorrow will be the Winter Solstice Festival, starting the long vacation. That’s why those younger ones have gone travelling with their children,” replies Mrs Cheung, a younger lady among the group, who has almost reached her fifties. Six months ago, she was advised to soothe her menopause anxiety by learning Tai Chi at the park. “Yes, you’re right!” Sister Ta responds. Rising her head, she looks at the sun and says to herself, “Not that cold at all.”
In this small group, those younger ones respectfully address her as Sister Ta, while the others, of her age, as Anita. Just reaching 65-years-old, she is not the eldest one. With appropriate skin care and styling, she looks as refreshing as the 50-years-old Mrs Cheung. Kind, cheerful, open-minded and calm, as well as being an amazing cook, everyone enjoys making friends with Sister Ta.
“Here comes the Master,” says Sister Ta. Scattering in a small open space, the group takes a deep breath and follows the guidance of the Master to pose different positions: starting posture, grasp the bird’s tail, hands up, white crane spreads its wings, single whip, embrace the moon…Concentrating on the breathing rhythm with different postures, the learners indulge themselves in the warmth and calmness of Tai Chi.
Such an ordinary picture of a community often seen in Hong Kong: another group is training their martial arts, while some young men just pass by and hurry to work. No dancing aunties with extravagant feather fans and noisy music today, luckily. What Tai Chi brings to each learner is the sense of tranquility and order.
Some learners become good friends and tea-drinking mates. After the morning Tai Chi class, they always have a tea gathering, which is a rare moment for them to relax in a hectic day. Afterwards, they will be busy with all kinds of housework again.
Such gathering is a precious moment for them, so mostly they will try their best to make it. But sometimes someone will be missed. Last year, Mrs Lo got a stroke and half her body was paralysed, leaving her no chance to join the gathering again. Half a year ago, Mrs Fok passed away from cancer after fighting against the illness for a couple of months.
“Pork buns, chicken rolls, vegetable dumplings,” Mrs Hui places the dim sum on the table, while Sister Ta pours Chinese tea for others. Winter Solstice Festival is coming tomorrow. To prepare food for the big festival, responsible housewives are like fierce warriors at their battle field – the wet market.
“This year should be a better year. There were no live chickens last year. My children complained the soup was not tasty enough!” Mrs Hui complains with a smile on her face.
“What can we do? The government is afraid to see us sick,” says Sister Ta, and turns to Mrs Hui, “Are you alright? You aren’t eating much.”
“My daughter is taking me to body check in two weeks. I don’t want to have a bad report and receive complaints from the doctor about getting diabetes and high lipid levels, so I decided to eat less until the body check is over!” Mrs Hui sips the Pu-er tea and complains again, still, with a smile on her face.
“I heard that cereal can help, hot lemonade works too!” says Mrs Tsui.
“Your children do care about your health. Come on, eat less fatty food!” Sister Ta says seriously, and everyone joins the discussion. Suddenly, Sister Ta’s mobile rings as her little daughter is calling her. “Hello, my dear!”
Her daughter says, “Mommy, do remember tomorrow night’s dinner at Tsim Sha Tsui ‘The Ninth Restaurant’. Be on time at seven. We have to return the table by eight thirty…did you help me buy the dry scallops and straight ladybell root? I told you I had no more at home.”
This little daughter has already been someone else’s mother. She looks quite smart at work. Yet, she always turns back to an innocent child in front of her mother. Of course, Sister Ta does not mind taking care of this innocent ‘child-no-more’. As long as her son and daughter do love her, why not try to be their perfect mother, standing by all the time? Who knows how much time is left for her? “Of course, I have bought them for you. See you tomorrow and I’ll bring you some.”
After the tea gathering, Sister Ta brings the ingredients home. Cooking herself a simple lunch of vegetable noodles, she takes a look outside and finds that the sunshine has gone. Clouds gather and here comes the drizzle. Hurriedly she retrieves the clothes hanging outside.
Sitting on the long sofa in the sitting room, she watches a TV cooking programme while folding clothes. In the programme, it states that winter is the perfect time to teach those “elementary housewives” dishes like fish maw and sea cucumber.
The hostess is so clumsy and has no skills in knives. Watching her cooking, Sister Ta can’t help but laugh. She thinks to herself, “How can she cook like that? The fishy smell won’t go!”
That’s right. Sister Ta’s husband was a chef.
Friendly and kind, he was always treating friends to meals, and solving problems for them. When he returned to the homeland to visit his family, he would not forget to donate money for building houses.
Working hours for a chef are really long. When the couple were young, most of the time they were busy with work. One worked so hard as if having two pairs of hands. Thus, sister Ta and her husband rarely spent the day together. He set off to work at 6 or 7am and got back home late at night. On the other hand, not only did Sister Ta take care of the household chores and the children, she also brought home some semi-finished products from factories for extra income. What’s more, she even helped taking care of the neighbour’s children too. Everyone was just multi-tasking and busy like hell. Then, in the prosperous 70s and 80s, they bought a flat and invested in a small-scale business. Life gradually improved. After the children had grown up and entered society, the couple had nothing else to worry about.
Sister Ta’s husband is a role model to everyone; a perfect husband. People always say to Sister Ta, “So lucky for you to marry this husband!”
Indeed, he has been a good husband and father, but a bit picky on eating. Working in a Chinese restaurant, he is good at distinguishing inferior ingredients from excellent ones. He has been teaching his wife to cook step by step, and she is now an appreciated family cook.
How to prepare fresh and rich fish maw? One has to soak it in hot water for a whole night. Don’t forget to add large amount of ginger and green onion. After the water cools down, the preparation is done. Missing any procedure will make the fish maw too fishy to eat. Her husband would refuse to eat it smelling that fishy taste.
What about now? The price of those good-quality fish maws has been raised by shopaholic tourists from Mainland China. Very often Sister Ta would buy some nice fish maws for her daughter, but not for herself. She did try enough of them before and now she prefers to eating humbly. All she wants is a calm and quiet life. Regular exercising has strengthened her body. She has been very healthy lately.
Sun starts to set. Packing clothes back to the wardrobe, she feels a bit tired and took a nap. In her dream, she seems to smell that fishy, awful taste.
That was an afternoon in a summer. “Son, something’s wrong with your father. Can you come and take him to see a doctor? If you are too busy I’ll just call an ambulance.”.................. to be continued.
The full version is available in "Something Positive ─ 5 Love Stories of People Living with HIV" .