It was a beautiful Sunday morning when my auntie and I entered a cozy chapel to witness a baby girl’s christening. We along with a number of little children, teens and godparents eagerly bopped our way to God’s little gift wrapped in a white floral dress and a Minnie mouse hat. She was a beauty. A few minutes later, an old lady, medium built in size with her short grey hair cleanly combed, came by alone. She walked with grace and held her posture high and confident. She came to our direction and greeted the baby’s parents. My auntie and the baby’s mom called her “ma’am.” She is Mrs. Ng, their 88 year-old manager in the bank.
Unlike other elder Chinese people, she is independent. She didn't rely on anyone to carry her arms as she walked from the car to the door, from the door to the baby, from the baby to a chair, from a chair to the door and then back to the car. She didn’t mind not having the special treatment that is usually given to the “angkongs” and “amahs.” She was quite different from them actually. She could speak very well in Chinese, in English and in Filipino. And as I talked to her, I realized she was learned. I got a lot of tips from her.
She told me how so many Chinese families spend as much as millions for their weddings, and yet the guests leave the place disgruntled. These families “ayaw nila magpatalo”. They tell the guests to arrive at the reception by 7pm, entertain them with colorful programs and then start serving dinner only by 9pm. Sometimes, she said, the simpler the better, less is more.
Then I asked her about her health. She’s already 88 and she’s still working in a bank. Mind you, her job is not ordinary or routinary or just something for her to pass time. She is a manager handling at least 50 people. She has a big responsibility resting on her back. I asked her why she doesn’t opt to retire and enjoy life. She said she is preventing her brain and physique from deteriorating. She wants to live normally. Once the lifestyle is changed, sicknesses will come and attack her. I commended at how young she looked. She told me one of the secrets is to “Keep your posture straight.” This indeed made her look two decades younger. Then my aunt interjected, “Do you know what she eats everyday?” Mrs. Ng laughed and said “Fruits, I eat four kinds of fruits everyday. Most of them are the popular tropical fruits like papaya, bananas, pineapple, melon.” And she told me, “Never, never skip your breakfast. Even if it’s just a slice of fruit or oatmeal, take it.” Probably we should follow her advice, we don’t want to learn it the hard way, do we?
Just another trivia: Do you know that she had an older brother who at 92 still played badminton?
She also shared about her family. They were mostly scholars who graduated from ADMU and were sent abroad. Two of her sons were accepted in P&G as brand managers. It was the first time in the history of P&G that two siblings worked together in one department. Her grand children were mostly doctors. Some stayed in New York, some in Europe, some in Singapore. I told her, “WOW!” Without an ounce of boasting, she told me “They’re God’s gifts,” and emphasized again, “God’s gifts.”
Earlier in her life, when she was 29, she enrolled her daughter and son in Maryknoll (I think it’s a school in Manila) and after a couple of days her husband died from a heart attack. Ever since then she had to support her four children on her own. Good thing there was a policy in the bank where her husband worked that stated if one of the employees were to die and he was the head of the household, a family member could join the company as a teller. Mrs. Ng took this opportunity but it was still not enough to cover all expenses. She looked for another job and worked for at least 2 jobs in a period of 20 years.
How did she train her kids? I wondered. She asked them to aspire for excellence (or was it perfection?). If they had gotten low grades in school, she would tell them “Do not think that you are stupid, because you are not. It just means you didn’t try hard enough.” She molded and honed them for excellence. I wanted to ask how else, but time was short and she was about to leave. I told her I’d walk her to the car. She said I didn’t have to. But I still decided to join her. It was my simple way of thanking her for the nuggets of wisdom she imparted. I now understand what people mean when they say “grey hair is the splendor of the old” (Prov. 20:29b).