Confucius said, 'A fool despises good counsel, but a wise man takes it to heart.' Grandfather continued working as a shoe repairer but never forgot his father's wishes, even though he felt at a loss as to how to fulfil them. He used the few coppers he earned to buy Chinese herbs for his ailing mother, whose grief was as caustic as a bitter melon. In the evenings he swept their home, chopped kindling for the charcoal stove and scallion for their supper. During windy winter nights, while combing her long black hair, he told her mythical stories of imperial dragons and magic monkeys. In humid summer afternoons he fanned her asleep with Hakka lullabies.
But time is a spark – no sooner lit than gone forever, and his mother never really recovered from her husband's untimely death. Poor harvests depressed her spirit further. When she passed away, Grandfather was nineteen years old.
He bought a plot of land for her coffin from a local landlord and arranged a simple ceremony for her burial.
A week later, he fixed a rope around a meat hook on the ceiling of his cattle shelter, stood on an iron anvil, tied the two ends of the rope around his neck, and jumped.
By chance, Uncle Suk, a cousin of a second uncle, was visiting from Thailand. He was walking past Grandfather's rice-papered window when the shadow of the swinging rope caught his attention. Barging through the wooden door, scattering a sow and her piglets, he rescued Grandfather before he breathed his last.
Chinese whispers echoed round the village, but Uncle Suk's were the loudest: 'Come and seek your fortune in Siam.'