An article I wrote for SBS about my spirited Grandmother (or Por Por).


My 94-year-old grandmother has always been spirited. Although tiny in stature, Por Por’s got a big personality, with chutzpah in spades. She loves colourful furry hats and bold lipstick. I’ve even seen her pop off to church in a leather jacket and gold chains.

Recently, Por Por’s usually robust health took a turn. She’d been feeling extremely tired and, after tests found internal bleeding, was rushed to hospital.

I made it through the labyrinth of fluorescent-lit hallways to visit her. Por Por looked very small, as people do in hospital beds. Mind you, she’s only five-foot-two.

“Who’s this?” she demanded, looking at me.

Por Por didn’t have her hearing aid in, so Mum shouted: “IT’S KELLY!”

“Ah, Kelly?! Why you too skinny?” And then: “Are you still working in the transport?”

Despite her condition, the interrogation regarding my BMI and employment status was reassuringly familiar.

Por Por was born in a small town in Malaysia. She lived through World War II and went on to marry my grandfather, Kim, who worked for her father constructing buildings. Por Por and Goung Goung had four children and the entire family lived in two rooms above a wine shop.

Both of my grandparents were teachers, and Por Por eventually became a headmistress. When the school bell rang at the end of the day, she’d zoom off to her second job as a (self-taught) hairdresser. My mum was Por Por’s hairdressing guinea pig. “That’s how I ended up being the only kid at kinder with a perm,” Mum said ruefully.

Por Por was also the town’s only Tupperware consultant. In the ’60s, jelly moulds and tumblers in pastel colours were all the rage. She also ran the local regiment of Brownies, appointing herself as the all-singing, all-dancing, piano-playing leader who marched her troops around toadstools.

When they were in their sixties and seventies, Por Por and Goung Goung migrated to Australia, following their children who’d studied and eventually settled here. Por Por in particular was enthusiastic about trying new things. I recall her first attempt at making pizza. Expecting a carbon copy of a Pizza Hut pizza, my brother and I stared in horror at the semi-toasted pita bread with raw cabbage that eventuated.

More tasty were her curry-spiced chicken drumsticks. I remember gazing longingly into the oven and saying, “Ah, yum!”

“Yes, ‘ayam’ is the Malay word for chicken,” she agreed.

Thankfully, Por Por recovered in hospital quickly. When word got around that she’d been unwell, visitors came. But in true Por Por fashion, she imposed a rule: no visitors during The Bold and the Beautiful. She’s been watching the show for decades, and no well-meaning, flower-bearing visitor was going to interfere with her finding out why Sheila stabbed herself with Bill’s necklace just before he called the cops.

Por Por’s energy and sense of self is partly due to her religious beliefs. We used to have dinner at her place on Tuesday nights. As steam rose off the curry and garlic vegetables, she’d start her pre-meal prayer. No 30-second quickie, mind you. Eyes squeezed shut, she’d pray for everyone around the table, their significant others and anyone else she’d met in the past few decades. My brother and I often giggled rudely, but by the time the long-awaited “Amen” came, we’d be ravenous.  

Even though I’m not Christian, it doesn’t stop Por Por sending a good word upstairs for me. She was horrified when she realised she’d been asking God to send his blessings to the wrong address.

“You live at 267, right?” she asked.

“No, Por Por. 277.”

Her eyes widened, although I’m sure God knew where to redirect the good vibes.

When my grandfather died 20 years ago, Por Por said it felt like she’d lost an arm. But her faith kept her going. The funeral took place on a hot summer’s day. At the service, she sung their favourite love song solo in a high and shaky voice and, at the end, leant over the casket and said, “Zai jian (goodbye).”

My grandparents had pre-purchased two headstone and lawn grave options, but the cemetery workers had accidentally dug up the spot meant for Por Por. She waited patiently in the hot sun as a digger was ordered to correct the error.

That’s Por Por. She’s made it through war, children, migration, every scandalous affair on The Bold and the Beautiful and serious illness. Bored in hospital, she decided she was ready to go home. Phoning her son, she gave him strict instructions on how to break her out that night.

When her escape plan was uncovered, the doctors had to remind her she’d almost died and that hospital was probably the best place for her.

She’s currently in a rehabilitation home. She likes that there’s a piano in the lounge room so she can bust out a song. Although not when the other residents are watching TV, as she’s been gently advised.

2 thoughts on “Grandmother

  1. Hi Kelly,

    This is a beautiful homage to your grandmother. Who has made a courageous adventure of life achieving success in everything she tried her hands at with aplomb! Well done Por Por!

    I love Por Por’s photo; it’s gorgeous!

    I hope she is keeping well and keeping everyone alert with her singing! ❤️


    • Thank you for reading! Por Por is indeed irrepressible! Miraculously she is doing well. And you’ve reminded me, I need to try and visit her soon 🙂


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