Meeting The ParentsI met Choi's mother within in the first few months of us dating one another. She flew over from Malaysia to stay at his apartment in Surry Hills for a couple of weeks. I recall Choi was very tense about his mother's arrival and wanted to make sure that all the foods she liked was stocked aplenty in his home.
She arrived on a Saturday afternoon and Choi wanted me to be there. I must admit I was apprehensive because for the weeks leading up to her arrival Choi had been a bundle of nerves. He asked me to wait at his apartment as he caught a cab to the airport to collect her.
Then the moment of her arrival. Choi threw open the door announcing the arrival of his mother and introduced her to me as "this is my mother" (and for the rest of the 14 years we were together I only ever knew her as that, Choi's mother). In marched a stocky dark woman dressed in a light, button down cotton frock covered in faded blue flowers with the hem falling away in places. I recall her face with the moles and brown spots scattered all over. Immediately she glared at me as I walked forward to welcome her, my hand extended. She ignored my gesture and, without even a glance in my direction, spoke harshly to Choi in Chinese. Then immediately began to march around the apartment flicking the light switches on and off, running the taps and opening and closing cupboard doors (the way one would do if they were inspecting a home they were considering for rent or purchase).
For those entire two weeks Choi's mother was in Australia she never spoke a word of English so I assumed naturally that she couldn't. A year later I was to discover she spoke English just as good as I and understood it perfectly when on a our first annual visit to Malaysia she referred to me in Chinese as "gweilo" When I turned to Choi and asked him what did that mean his mother responded loudly as if announcing it to the entire room and in perfect English "it means foreign devil! That's what you are a foreign devil!" and proceeded to laugh as she repeated the word gweilo over and over. Needless to say this didn't endear me to Choi's mother at all and our relationship remained strained for ever after.
It was at this first visit to Malaysia I met Choi's father for the first time. He was a quiet old man with a smiling face. During our visits to the parents' home in Johor Baru his sisters and old school friends would come over. They would all sit around the dining room speaking in Chinese, eating and laughing and never once paid me any notice. It was as though I wasn't even there. I couldn't go out for a walk because the house was always locked shut with large steel gates over the entrance doors and windows (according to Choi the neighbourhood was quite dangerous and so this was a safety measure). We'd only ever stay a week before moving onto to Hong Kong or Thailand or some other destination (apparently it was my reward for persevering a week with his family even though I paid for the trip).
I remember one day during our second visit as I sat on the brown vinyl sofa staring at the Chinese calendar sticky taped to the beige painted wall while Choi, his sisters and mother sat at the dining table talking in Chinese to one another, Choi's father appeared from his own room and as he limped across the room towards the television he smiled at me, then switching on the television he searched for a channel that had some form of english on it, smiled and returned to his room again.
I dreaded going to Malaysia each year for new year, but it was something I actually insisted on because Choi's family would make no attempt to contact him (even on his birthdays) and I wanted him to always have some type of family relationship. Many times he would tell me to "let's skip it this year" but I would insist and duly purchase the tickets for us to go there. It took me 11 years before finally I had enough and would send him to Malaysia on his own each year.
I guess at this point you're wondering why on earth I would stay in a relationship surrounded by such family and friends? To be perfectly blunt because I loved him. In the early years he was very kind to me. He would often compliment me on my appearance, my cooking or my approach to day to day life. We would talk often about what we'd do together when we retired and where we would eventually buy a home together. I believed our relationship was to be forever.
Choi would tell me stories of his childhood and I felt sorry for him. He said they lived in a very small apartment in Johor Baru when he was growing up and whilst his sisters slept on individual beds he slept on a foam mattress on the floor. He told me how his mother bought 2 white shirts his first year he started high school that were very large in size so he would grow into them as he had to wear those shirts for the rest of his years at high school while his sisters all got new uniforms every year. Accordingly his sisters always went on school excursions, but Choi was never allowed.
Choi would tell me about the relationship he had before he met me was a violent one and the one prior to that with Terry was fraught with Terry's promiscuity. I pitied him and wanted to make him feel loved... and I did, I really did.
(next - Choi Looses More Than Just His Mother)