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1. A Humble Beginning

Chapter 1

A Humble Beginning

My family background

My name is Pearl Ye. I was born in a small town in the state of Johor, West Malaysia, in 1961. I have five siblings: three elder brothers, one elder sister, and a younger brother.

When my father was a child, due to poverty he was given up for adoption by his biological family in Xiamen, a sub-provincial city in southeastern Fujian, People’s Republic of China. He was five years old when he left China. He reluctantly parted from his biological family in China, and followed his adoptive father to start a new life in West Malaysia.

By the time my father had his own family, he had to work extremely hard to provide for his six children. Life was hard in the beginning because our family was very poor.

As for my mum, she came from a sad background too. I gathered from my mum that her own mother, my maternal grandmother, died of cancer when my mum was still young. After the passing of her mother, mum’s biological father could no longer cope with raising my mum and her two siblings, so he was forced to give my mum away to a family that would be willing to raise her up. My maternal grandfather found my paternal grandfather to be a kind­hearted man to whom he could safely entrust his daughter. That was how my mum ended up with the Ye family. The main reason my paternal grandparents accepted my mum into the Ye family was the intention that when she reaches marriage­able age, she would be my father’s wife.

Because both my parents came from very poor family backgrounds, they did not have the opportunity to attend school as did their peers. They only attended two years of primary school education. At the tender age of seven, my father had to engage in many labor intensive jobs, yet he strived to excel in life. He had endured much hardship in the course of learning to run a small provisions shop with my paternal grandfather. After many years of striving, he eventually become a wealthy businessman during the 50s.

Every parent’s wish is that their children would be their joy and pride! My parents were no exception. However, they had much higher expectations of their children than do most parents of theirs, because they harbored the deep regret of not having had the opportunity for further education. Since my parents were deprived of education, they wished for their children to perform better than other kids. I recall that my mum would say to me and my siblings, “Yes, we are poor but we must aspire to be somebody of higher social status! Your dad and I wish that all of you would perform better than others, both in conduct and in academic performance. We want to be proud parents of engineers, accountants, or at least school teachers.”

In the 50s, these were the most desirable and top-ranked professions. Every parent would be very proud to tell the whole world that their children are in these profes­sions.

Can you imagine the pressure I faced in trying my very best to please my parents? Seriously, I was under tremen­dous pressure. I experienced no joy at all when I didn’t have the freedom to decide what I wish to be, for I was left with no choice of my own.

We were a big family living under one roof

Back in the 20s in Malaysia, it was common to see the poor living in a house with an attap (coconut leaves) rooftop. Such houses had thatched roofs made of attap leaves while the walls were constructed of horizontal hardwood planks.

My family was living in one of these attap houses. We were a traditional Chinese family in which the men and their families, even after marriage, would live together with their parents under one roof. Besides my father, who was the eldest sibling in the family, my paternal grand­parents had one son and one daughter of their own. They also adopted another daughter. So I had one uncle and two aunts.

After many years of toil, the Ye family could finally afford to buy a piece of land on which to build a double story bungalow with a total of seven bedrooms. Our new house was completed in December 1966 when I was 5 years old. With a joyful heart we moved into our new home. My uncle, his wife and their 5 kids; my dad, my mum and their 6 kids; together with my unmarried youngest aunt and my paternal grandparents—altogether 18 people—were living together under one roof. Oh wow! What a huge group of people staying together! Can you imagine how hard it was to maintain a harmonious daily living?

In this big family, there were so many mouths to feed every single day. Thus my father became a workaholic. Every day he would wake up before sunrise, and work around the clock. And by the time he finished work, the sun would have set over the horizon. His mind was constantly filled with new business expansion ideas. He was devoting most of his time to expanding his business empire. My little mind could not comprehend why on earth he would resort to such a way of life. As I grew older, I had come to realize that his aim was to get out of poverty so that he could provide the best for his family.

Because I failed to understand my father, my perception of him was mostly negative. I regarded him as someone who was only concerned about earning lots and lots of money, and had little time for his family. I remember that when I was a little girl, I would hardly ever see my father smile. There was a thick barrier wall between us. As the days went by, I found it difficult to communicate with him. My sib­lings and I regarded him as a tyrant dad at home. All of us found it very challenging in relating to him.

Day in and day out my father would always be busy with his work commitment. I guess it could be that he felt that providing his children with all the daily necessities was all that mattered. As I paint a picture of my family’s pathetic situation, I guess you could more or less gauge that I grew up in a family that was totally deprived of fatherly love.

As for my mother, she was the typical traditional mum who exercised very strict discipline. She would compare the achievements of me and my siblings with those of my cousins. No matter what, she would always demand that our performance exceed that of our cousins all the time. Maybe it had to do with her childhood trauma; she would feel inferior if her kids do worse than other kids. As a result, I was reprimanded when­ever my school results were worse than my cousins’. Life was filled with misery as I was under tremendous pressure in those days.

I regarded my mum as the discipline master who strongly believed in the principle of “spare the rod, spoil the child”. She would cane us with a rod when we misbe­haved or did not acquire good results in our studies.

She measured success in life by one’s educational level. I did not blame her for thinking that way because she herself had very little education. Whatever she could not attain, she wished it could be fulfilled by her six children. I admit that I had no good impression of my mum either. My perception of her was that she cared too much about academic achieve­ments, imposing too many restrictive measures on my daily life to the point I felt I could hardly breathe.

Though we lived under one roof with our grand­parents, we had little interaction with them. That was because of some marital conflict between my grandparents. Grandpa did stay with us in the beginning, but he later moved out to stay in the small room of his provisions shop to avoid the constant quarrels with grand­ma. The only time I had con­tact with him was during meals. He would come home for his daily meals.

I have a very good impression of grandpa because he was a kindhearted man with a heart of gold. He had done a lot of charitable work in his lifetime. I have always held him in the highest respect.

As for my grandma, she hardly cared or showered love upon me and my siblings because she had drawn a clear line between the children of her adoptive son (my father) and those of her biological son and daughter. Ever since the day my dad was adopted into Ye family, she had never treated him well. My mum had her fair share of bad treatment too. In grandma’s eyes, my mum was accepted into Ye family as a lowly servant. I admit that I hated my grandma to the core for treating my parents badly.

If you were to ask me how my childhood was, it was sadly very lacking in love, understanding, and warmth. As the years went by, I had come to realize that there was a com­munication barrier between me and my parents. I grew up feeling neglected most of the time. Most of the time there was no one to lend me an ear. I would envy some of my friends who came from very simple yet fun-loving fami­lies. How I wish I could be like them, being loved and cared for by parents and grandparents.

My first religion, Buddhism

My pathetic home situation was the setting for my first religion, Buddhism. I will take some time to share about how I started as a Buddhist. My belief origin­ated from that of my pa­rents, who were devout Buddhists. Ever since I was young, my mum would teach us to follow the Chinese tradi­tions and to exercise filial piety. An aspect of filial piety is to follow your family’s religion. I obeyed my parents and followed their religion. In those days, although I didn’t know much about the Buddhist gods, I regarded myself as a Buddhist. That was the typical tradition of a Chinese family. We followed our parents’ religion which was passed down from generation to generation.

As the saying goes, “A house is not a home when love is almost non-existent.” I felt insecure most of the time in my home environment. I had a very low self-esteem and even­tually became extremely timid. Since young I believed in the existence of gods and goddesses. At the same time, I also believed in the existence of evil spirits, demons and ghosts. That was why I had decided, out of selfish motives, to become a devout Buddhist. At that time my little mind thought, “I don’t care what god or gods I pray to. So long as I cling on to some god or gods for protection from the evil ones, I am perfectly fine with any religion.”

As a fully devoted Buddhist, every morning and evening I would without fail light joss sticks and offer them to the Buddhist gods. My mum was well pleased with my volun­tary actions. In her heart, I was an obedient child. During my prayer time, I would utter some words to the Buddhist gods, asking them to protect me from harm. My prayers to those gods were mostly self-centered. I remem­bered that my prayers were solely focused on me, myself, and I. Although I prayed to the Buddhist gods faithfully, within my heart there was no peace or joy. My fear of bumping into ghosts or being possessed by some evil spirit did not diminish or disappear! That was my constant nightmare! Can you imagine that at such a young age I was afraid most of the time?

My exposure to Christianity

In those days, I had no know­ledge of any religion apart from Buddhism. I therefore continued to be a devout Buddhist for many years. One day, when I was in my first year of secondary school education (i.e., at the age of 13), I came across some Christian friends. They started preach­ing the gospel, and proclaimed Christianity as the only way to heaven. I was furious when I heard that claim. I refused to accept the view that I, a Buddhist, will never make it to heaven. In a fit of anger, I told them that all religions serve the same purpose which is to lead us to the god/gods in heaven. So they ought to stop proclaiming that Christianity is the one and only way to heaven. From then on, I began to blacklist Christianity. I also kept a distance from all Christians.

At that time, I gained a negative impression of Chris­tians. I could not understand why Christians were the only ones who would always try to convert or brainwash others. Why can’t they be like the Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims! Apart from Christians, I had never come across people who tried to convert me. I totally disliked the Chris­tians’ approach!

I vowed to keep away from Christians for two reasons. Firstly, I was afraid that I might incur the wrath of my Buddhist gods if I allowed the Christians to preach to me. Secondly, I feared that I might lose the protection provided by my Buddhist gods if I were to listen to the Christians’ words. As the days went by, my hatred of Christians mag­nified, and I eventually became a staunch anti-Christian.


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