A lesson to learn…an essay from a 15 year old

I am posting an essay by a 15 year old girl.  She is presently a student in Sinagpore, and as a 15 year old, this essay that she wrote won the Commonwealth Essay Prize. Although she is just 15, she chose to participate in the 16 to 18 category and won.

I do not know whether this essay is copyighted or not, but since this is a non commercial blog ( I donot accept any advertisement), I hope I did not infringe on anybody’s right on posting this. My intention is to show this excellent essay to more people, so that more will be able to read about the story she wrote.  If anyone objects to this posting, I will be most glad to make an apology and take this down… I hope the writer, Amanda Chong, would not mind about my posting it, and since I received this via email from a friend , I have no way to ask for permission from the writer. 

What she wrote is a true reflection of the society today… I believe it serves as a lesson to all of us, particularly those of us who is near retirement age…

This is the essay.


 What the Modern Woman Wants

… By Amanda Chong

The old woman sat in the backseat of the magenta convertible as it
careened down the highway, clutching tightly to the plastic bag on her lap,
afraid it may be kidnapped by the wind. She was not used to such speed, with
trembling hands she pulled the seat belt tighter but was careful not to touch
the patent leather seats with her callused fingers, her daughter had warned
her not to dirty it, ‘Fingerprints show very clearly on white, Ma.’

Her daughter, Bee Choo, was driving and talking on her sleek silver
mobile phone using big words the old woman could barely understand.
‘Finance’, ‘Liquidation’, ‘Assets’, ‘Investments’… Her voice was crisp and
important and had an unfamiliar lilt to it.

Her Bee Choo sounded like one of those foreign girls on television.
She was speaking in an American accent.
The old lady clucked her tongue in disapproval…… ‘I absolutely
cannot have this. We have to sell!’ Her daughter exclaimed agitatedly as
she stepped on the accelerator; her perfectly manicured fingernails gripping
onto the steering wheel in irritation.

‘I can’t DEAL with this anymore!’ she yelled as she clicked the
phone shut and hurled it angrily toward the backseat.. The mobile phone hit
the old woman on the forehead and nestled soundlessly into her lap. She
calmly picked it up and handed it to her daughter..

‘Sorry, Ma,’ she said, losing the American pretence and switching
to Mandarin. ‘I have a big client in America . There have been a lot of

The old lady nodded knowingly. Her daughter was big and

Bee Choo stared at her mother from the rear view window, wondering
what she was thinking. Her mother’s wrinkled countenance always carried the
same cryptic look. The phone began to ring again, an artificially cheerful
digital tune, which broke the awkward silence.

‘Hello, Beatrice! Yes, this is Elaine.’ Elaine. The old woman
cringed. I didn’t name her Elaine. She remembered her daughter telling
her, how an English name was very important for ‘networking’, Chinese ones
being easily forgotten.

‘Oh no, I can’t see you for lunch today. I have to take the
ancient relic to the temple for her weird daily prayer ritual.’
Ancient Relic. The old woman understood perfectly it was
referring to her. Her daughter always assumed that her mother’s silence
meant she did not comprehend.

‘Yes, I know! My car seats will be reeking of joss sticks!’ The
old woman pursed her lips tightly, her hands gripping her plastic bag in

The car curved smoothly into the temple courtyard. It looked
almost garish next to the dull sheen of the ageing temple’s roof. The old
woman got out of the back seat, and made her unhurried way to the main hall.
Her daughter stepped out of the car in her business suit and
stilettos and reapplied her lipstick as she made her brisk way to her mother’s

‘Ma, I’ll wait outside.. I have an important phone call to make,’
she said, not bothering to hide her disgust at the pungent fumes of incense.
The old lady hobbled into the temple hall and lit a joss stick, she
knelt down solemnly and whispered her now familiar daily prayer to the Gods.
Thank you God of the Sky, you have given my daughter luck all these
years. Everything I prayed for, you have given her. She has everything a
young woman in this world could possibly want. She has a big house with a
swimming pool, a maid to help her, as she is too clumsy to sew or cook. Her
love life has been blessed; she is engaged to a rich and handsome angmoh man.
Her company is now the top financial firm and even men listen to what she
says… She lives the perfect life. You have given her everything except
happiness. I ask that the gods be merciful to her even if she has lost her
roots while reaping the harvest of success.

What you see is not true, she is a filial daughter to me. She
gives me a room in her big house and provides well for me. She is rude to me
only because I affect her happiness.. A young woman does not want to be
hindered by her old mother. It is my fault.

The old lady prayed so hard that tears welled up in her eyes.
Finally, with her head bowed in reverence she planted the half-burnt joss
stick into an urn of smoldering ashes.

She bowed once more. The old woman had been praying for her
daughter for thirty-two years. When her stomach was round like a melon, she
came to the temple and prayed that it was a son.
Then the time was ripe and the baby slipped out of her womb,
bawling and adorable with fat thighs and pink cheeks, but unmistakably, a
girl. Her husband had ticked and punched her for producing a useless baby
who could not work or carry the family name.

Still, the woman returned to the temple with her new-born girl tied
to her waist in a sarong and prayed that her daughter would grow up and have
everything she ever wanted.

Her husband left her and she prayed that her daughter would never
have to depend on a man. She prayed every day that her daughter would be a
great woman, the woman that she, meek and uneducated, could never become. A
woman with nengkan; the ability to do anything she set her mind to. A woman
who commanded respect in the hearts of men. When she opened her mouth to
speak, precious pearls would fall out and men would listen. She will not be
like me, the woman prayed as she watched her daughter grow up and drift away
from her, speaking a language she scarcely understood.

She watched her daughter transform from a quiet girl to one who
openly defied her, calling her laotu, old fashioned…. She wanted her
mother to be ‘modern’, a word so new there was no Chinese word for it.
Now her daughter was too clever for her and the old woman wondered
why she had prayed like that. The Gods had been faithful to her persistent
prayer, but the wealth and success that poured forth so richly had buried the
girl’s roots and now she stood faceless with no identity, bound to the soil of
her ancestors by only a string of origami banknotes.

Her daughter had forgotten her mother’s value. Her wants were so
ephemeral, that of a modern woman. Power, wealth, access to the best fashion
boutiques and yet her daughter had not found true happiness.
The old woman knew that you could find happiness with much less.
When her daughter left the earth, everything she had would count for
nothing. People would look to her legacy and say that she was a great woman
but she would be forgotten once the wind blows over, like the ashes of burnt
paper convertibles and mansions.

The old woman wished she could go back and erase all her big hopes
and prayers for her daughter now that she had looked out of the temple gates.
She saw her daughter speaking on the phone, her brow furrowed with anger and
worry. Being at the top is not good, the woman thought, there is only one
way to go from there – down.

The old woman carefully unfolded the plastic bag and spread out a
packet of beehoon in front of the altar. Her daughter often mocked her for
worshipping porcelain Gods. How could she pray to them so faithfully and
expect pieces of ceramic to fly to her aid? But her daughter had her own
gods too, idols of wealth, success and power that she enslaved to and
worshipped every day of her life.

Every day was a quest for the idols, and the idols she worshipped
counted for nothing in eternity. All the wants her daughter had would slowly
suck the life out of her and leave her, an empty souless shell at the altar.
The old woman watched the joss stick. The dull heat had left a
teetering grey stem that was on the danger of collapsing.

Modern woman nowadays, the old lady signed in resignation, as she
bowed to the east bone final time to end her ritual. Modern woman nowadays
want so much that they lose their souls and wonder whey they cannot find it.
Her joss stick disintegrated into a soft grey powder. She met her
daughter outside the temple, the same look of worry and frustration was etched
on her daughter’s face.

An empty expression, as if she was ploughing through the soil of
her wants looking for the one thing that would sown the seeds of happiness.
They climbed into the convertible in silence and her daughter drove
along the highway, this time not to fast as she had done before.
‘Ma,’ Bee Choo finally said. “I don’t know how to put this.
Mark and I have been talking about it and we plan to move out of the big
house. The property market is good now, and we managed to get a buyer
willing to pay us seven million for it. We decided we’d prefer a cosier
penthouse apartment instead. We found a perfect one in Orchard Road .. Once
we move into our apartment, we plan to get rid of the maid, so we can have
more space to ourselves…..”

The old woman nodded knowingly. Bee Choo swallowed hard. “We’d
get someone to come in to do the housework and we can eat out – but once the
maid is gone, there won’t be anyone to look after you. You will be awfully
lonely at home and, besides that the apartment is rather small. There won’t
be space. We thought about it for a long time, and we decided the best thing
for you is if you moved to a Home. There’s one near Hougang – it’s a
Christian home and a very nice one.”

The old woman did not raise an eyebrow. I”ve been there, the
matron is willing to take you in. It’s beautiful with gardens and lots of
old people to keep you company! Hardly have time for you, you’d be happier
there.” “You’d be happier there, really.” her daughter repeated as if to
affirm herself.

This time the old woman had no plastic bag of food offering to
cling tightly to, she bit her lip and fastened her seat belt, as if it would
protect her from a daughter who did not want her anymore. She sunk deep into
the leather seat, letting her shoulders sag and her fingers trace the white

Ma, her daughter asked, searching the rear view window for her
mother. “Is everything okay?

What had to be done, had to be done. “Yes” she said firmly,
louder than she intended, ‘if it will make you happy,’ she added more

‘It’s for you, Ma! You will be happier there. You can move
there tomorrow, I already got the maid to pack your things.’ Elaine said
triumphantly, mentally ticking yet another item off her agenda.
‘I knew everything would be fine.’ Elaine smiled widely; she felt
liberated. Perhaps getting rid of her mother would make her happier… She
had thought about it. It seemed the only hindrance in her pursuit of
happiness. She was happy now. She had everything a modern woman ever
wanted; money, status, career, love, power and now freedom without her mother
and her old-fashioned ways to weigh her down……

Yes she was free. Her phone butted urgently, she picked it up and
read the message, still beaming from ear to ear. “Stock 10% increase.”
Yes, things were definitely beginning to look up for her and while
searching for the meaning of life in the luminance of her hand phone screen,
the old woman in the backseat became invisible and she did not see her in




14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Liew
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 13:32:09

    i seem to have read this somewhere before


  2. klm
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 14:31:12

    This is a hard driving heartless ruthless lioness Singapore woman. Isnt this the same as another story where a Singapore girl was hitting her boyfriend with her high heels.

    The materialistic and dog eat dog meritocracy culture of Singapore has its dark side.


  3. clearwater
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 14:37:38

    So….what is the lesson in the story for those near retirement age? Can it be any of these…

    1 Do not depend on your children to look after you in your old age, learn to look after yourself

    2 Do not expect anything in return from your children, notwithstanding what you have sacrificed for them, and you may avoid disappointment

    3 Do not give control of all your material assets to your children while you still live and breathe, chances are you’ll be kicked out of your own house sooner or later

    4 Do not pray too hard for your children’s success, it may just come too easy for them and they won’t value it

    5 Do not even have children….they are parasites who will use up all your savings for their upbringing and their education

    6 None of the above ( write your own version of a lesson to be learned if you have one and share it here)

    nb: The above is not meant to be taken seriously, even if there’s some truth in the comment. It’s just a lighthearted diversion.


  4. Meng
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 21:07:48

    “”What had to be done, had to be done.”

    What was done will come around, similar fate will follow.


  5. Justin Choo
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 21:15:21

    Dr Hsu,

    It was circulating in the internet some time ago. It’s quite a stereo-typed story. Be that as it may, consider the mother lucky. There are many in true life who are not so “lucky”.

    Life is like that.


  6. Justin Choo
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 21:25:24

    There is this Buddhist story. In short it is like this:

    One day this young man decided to throw the old and useless father away. So he took a big basket and put the old man in, and together with his young son took the old man to the edge of the jungle and dumped him there.

    When the father was to turn away, the young son asked him to wait awhile. He went over and took back the big basket.

    “What are doing, son?” asked the father.

    ” I need to keep this basket, so when you are as old and useless like grandpa, I can use it to dump you.” the young son answered obediently.


  7. A true Malaysian
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 22:27:33

    There is this Chinese saying,

    家家有本难念的经, literally interpreted as “In every home, there is a book that is difficult to chant”.

    Perhaps these are the the ugly side of humanity that causes much “sufferings” that mentioned in Buddha’s teachings, do not just derived from illnesses.

    In modern days context, drugs and medicines may lessen the pains of sufferings from illnesses, but has no cure for the pains of sufferings from these ugly side of humanity.

    The least we can do as parents is not to satisfy all material needs of our offspring, not because we reluctant to give them much love for this, but to teach them not to easily succumb to material temptations.

    Watch this video clip http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/1082/Binamban–The-Glorious-Food-of-Lagonoy-/VFZFOVBRPT0rVg==#videoDetail and you know what HAPPINESS is.


  8. disgusted
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 22:38:16


    Good to hear from you after some missing weeks. The karmic force will continue to the month of death, the 9th moon, October.

    Scums will meet their fate.


  9. klm
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 13:59:29

    Dr. Hsu. Have you read the latest on Teoh Boon Hock’s inquest. The unknown DNA found on Teoh’s blazer belonged to a dead person that was sent to the hospital for postmortem. Is the medical profession now so incompetent that doctors can screw up the postmortem?


  10. Dr Hsu
    Oct 03, 2009 @ 10:00:18

    it is entirely possible that if post mortem were done on the same table for 2 persons, the DNA from one can be found on the body of the later case.

    But I have some questions here. The one whom a post mortem was done on him earlier, ?Gopala if i remember correctly, was not a criminal case, but rather an accident victim. Under normal circumstances, DNA profiling would not be done on deaths caused by accidents unless it was carried out to identify unrecognisable victims in a mass accident like a plane crash.

    Then why the authority has the profile of ?Gopala? He would have been postmortemed and body released and buried/cremated long ago.

    How did they suspect that it might be from Gopala?

    It is of course still possible that some of the body fluids of Gopala was kept for toxicology studies. Andd that could have provided materials for DNA profiling.

    If that is the case, then the next question is f course why was the table not cleaned after the first postmortem before TBH’s body was placed on the table?

    It is a procedure that all tables and beds must be cleaned after finishing one case, before the next case is due, unless of course, the workers became so lethargic that no cleaning was done… If that was the case, then the entire supervision system must be overhauled..It is likely that ‘tidak apa’ attitude so commonly found in Malaysian life has pervaded the mortuary too. After all, dead ones do not complain..


  11. klm
    Oct 03, 2009 @ 14:17:09

    Dr. Hsu. I heard from a friend – a retired very senior police officer. Seemed the police had the identity of the second unknown DNA. It belonged to the chemist or something like that. Seemed the DNA was contaminated a second time. Seemed They are too embarrassed to release the data.

    There is no pride in the professions anymore. How can we be a developed nation.


  12. mccann105
    Oct 04, 2009 @ 03:10:23

    had a malaysian girl friend working in singapore, each time she come back (by virture of festivals) she would stay in her mum place just for few days.every time she ‘s back she would either end up quarraling with her ageingmum on how the house to be arranged, food taste and anything that seemed outdated.back here,she be busy calling few friends out for coffee chat do some shopping..most of the time it be branded..in the short coffee break she be boasting of her success in her work , new acquisitions, new fashion trend..i leave the rest to your imagination…she just hit her 40.she was lamenting , the lack of good man, a good suitor i did posted a question, what make a good man? what are her expectations? in quick , without hesistation, a long list seemed to be lined up…i supposed it must be so inate of her.without much ado, i posted another question? what do u have to getting a good man? that was fast..she started listing all her perceived assets , her success stories, and not forgettting her future earning?
    i stopped.i listened attentively.

    ” wish that good man all the luck he need”


  13. clearwater
    Oct 04, 2009 @ 11:27:53

    Ha ha mccann, your Malaysian lady friend appears ‘Singaporean’ in everything except her birthright and even that she may want to change eventually. A career lady in her 40s still has a few chances at getting her man but if she’s not realistic, her biological clock may well run out on her before she deigns to lower her expectations. What assets she can bring to the matrimonial table is not the core issue, what happiness she can bring a man is. Does she realize that? Did her mother not advise her? Marriage is a 2way merger, not a corporate takeover or acquisition.


  14. mccann105
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 02:39:07

    thanks …last call i got she just broke off with some chilean…seemed not much choice left….


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