68 LOVE LANE
Pigment Ink on Hahnemuhle Photo Luster mounted on Aluminium (26 pieces)
edition of 5
There was a walk-in refrigerator in 68 Love Lane. About 100 square feet and kept constant slightly above freezing temperature. It was like attending a McDonald’s birthday party, but only better because we can stay inside for as long as we wanted as it wasn’t fucking freezing like the ones in McDonald’s. The ones in McDonald’s are walk-in freezers. I fucking hate the cold.
My father is from Penang. He was born in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. His mother was born in Kota Bharu, and his father migrated to Kota Bharu from Nanhai (South Seas), in Foshan, Guangdong, China. My father is the third of 7 siblings. After he was born, his family moved to George Town, Penang in the early 50s, where they settled in lot no.49 Lebuh China. Soon after, they moved to no.102 Lebuh Armenia, and in 1972, they finally moved to no.68 Love Lane. There are actually only 6 siblings as the 7th one was given away to a friend. My father, made his way to Kuala Lumpur when he was 15. He told me it was because he was a real bad ass and my grandfather ‘kicked’ him to Kuala Lumpur.
Penang was an annual ‘balik kampung’ trip for us. We don’t balik kampung for Chinese New Year, but instead, we would only return for ‘Ching Meng’, where we pray and make offerings to my grandmother who passed away while she was in her 30s. She died whilst in labour. We only went back to Penang for Chinese New Year once. It was so fucking boring and we got very little angpow money. I hated it, but that’s probably because I was an asshole when I was a kid. My mother is from Kuala Lumpur and we are much closer to our relatives there. So I guess it only makes sense to celebrate the most important Chinese festival of the year with the people that actually matters to you, instead of the people that you only see once a year.
We don’t stay at 68 Love Lane when we are in Penang. There simply isn’t enough room for 5 additional people. There must be about 20 people living in that house. Our choice of accommodation back then was Hotel Malaysia, The City Bayview, and The Eastern and Oriental Hotel. Back then, the E&O wasn’t posh. You can get a big ass suite for the entire family for 300 ringgit a night. However, we stuck out like a sore thumb, as we would be the only Chinese family in a hotel full of Caucasians.
One of my fondest memories of staying in the E&O was this one night when my mom bought back a pack of ‘Kuay Chap, a mixture of a rice noodle type thing and a gamut of duck innards drowned in a thick black sauce. That night, in our quaint colonial abode, was the night I fell in love with Koay Chap. Fortunately for me, 20 years on, that stall is still there on Lebuh Kimberley.
My grandfather died in 1993. He was 76 years old. They found him sitting on his favourite chair with a cigarette in his hand. The cigarette had burnt through his fingers. It was when he died that I realized my grandfather was a fucking rock star. His wake lasted for 7 nights. About 30 tables were setup in the Shih Chung School compound next door. It was constantly packed and anyone who is anyone was there. Quite a few hobos came by and offered bottles of stout to him. Apparently, he has been quite generous to the local hobos. On the last night of his funeral, Love Lane was closed to traffic to accommodate the rituals for his final rites of passage. Being the only people proficient in English, my sisters and myself acted as tour guides to the many curious tourists who stopped by.
The above character is our family surname. Depending on where and when you were born, you could be an ‘Oh’, ‘To’, ‘Too’, or ‘Thoe’. Because my grandparents were illiterate in the Roman alphabets, the surname of their children depended entirely on how the nurse registering their children at the time, interpreted the Chinese names conveyed to them. I have always been super thankful that my father was bestowed the ‘Too’ surname. As a child, I had to take a lot of shit and endured a lot of nicknames. A strange surname would have really added to an already shitty childhood.
The Nanhai Association of Penang, which my grandfather was a member of, gave me 50 ringgit as a reward for obtaining 4As in my UPSR exam. My grandparents were Cantonese. Not many people know this, but the heritage zone in Georgetown is actually predominantly Cantonese. My grandfather was a bad ass in that sense as he refused to speak a work of Hokkien his entire life in Penang. I’m not sure if this is true, but that was what I have been told.
About 7 or 8 year ago, my mom told me that 68 Love Lane, together with 70 and 72 was available for sale for RM 1.2 Million. She suggested that my sisters and myself should buy it if we can afford to. We shrugged it off. About 3 years ago, they were sold for close to RM 7 Million. Besides the tragedy of me failing to avert the life as a poor artist, this also means that my uncles, aunts, and cousins who live there would have to vacate Love Lane. This finally happened in March 2014.
My uncles and aunties still run the ‘Kee Huat Fruit Stall’ on Lebuh Carnovan. Unfortunately, they can’t keep any stock due the absence of the walk in refrigerator at 68 Love Lane, building a new one in their 800 square foot public housing flat is not an option. They buy just enough stock to sell on the day and keep the remainder at the end of the day in the storage area of the neighboring lot. They used to have a proper shop on the corner of Lebuh Carnovan and Jalan Buckingham, but about 10 years ago, they were evicted by the municipal to make way for refurbishments. They were supposed to get the lot back after the refurbishment but that never happened.
My grandfather was a goldsmith when he was alive. This explains the presence of 2 working tables made of ironwood in 68 Love Lane. The 2 of them were placed side by side and this is where the telephone was placed. My grandfather had long since retired and the tables had ceased to function as goldsmith’s tables. When I found out about their impending eviction from 68 Love Lane, I had dibs on the tables.
I had the 2 tables shipped to my house in Petaling Jaya the day my relatives moved out of 68 Love Lane. The courier boys cursed under their breath as they unloaded the heavy as fuck tables into my house. Well, do note that these tables are made to withstand fire and the corrosive effects of sulphuric and hydrocloric acid, chemicals used in the cleaning of gold and silver. My uncle did a decent job clearing out the tables but there were still tons of junk left in drawers. They ranged from lottery tickets to angpow packets to an old sock in a bag. There were only 2 items I was able to identify as belonging to my late grandfather, 2 glass bottle caps, one for the sulphuric acid bottle, and another for the hydrochloric acid bottle.
I am able to recognize this, as my late father too, was a goldsmith.
Exhibited at Fall Into The Sea To Become An Island, Run Amok Gallery, Georgetown, MALAYSIA
Installation view photo by Run Amok Gallery