I nearly forgot.
“I’m only at this train station on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Other days, I’m at Yishun train station,” Grandpa Zhou had told me the last time.
And there he was on Christmas day by the dirty steps, playing a broken tune on his harmonica.
“Zhou yeye (Grandpa Zhou)!” I called out, before sitting down next to him. He broke into a smile, the kind I never saw when my heart was angry with pettiness at his seeming arrogance previously.
I squatted down to take his order. “Christmas dinner on me,” I joked.
He replied gently, shaking his head, “Anything will do. But 2-dollar meal only, okay? Extra rice will do. I love to eat rice. Two dollars okay? Fish all that, I like, but too expensive.”
I returned with dinner and wanted to leave. Having spent a lot of time this holiday being overseas on a mission trip in China, celebrating Christmas with family, spending time at church… I was very tired, and the Practical side of me wanted to go back and sort out a little work. A major exam in less than two weeks suddenly loomed into view. So much work, so little time.
And then I remembered what Christmas meant. It meant God loving us so much that all He asked was for us to love others as deeply as He loved us. It is something you and I can do, very simply, to share the joy of love with whoever we meet, wherever we are. It was all God asked for on Christmas Day a long, long time ago.
Sometimes, stuck in a dilemma, a voice in my head whispers, “What would you do if that person were Mister God himself?”
I looked at Grandpa Zhou sitting by the steps, his harmonica by his side- If he were God, I would most certainly want to sit with him, I thought. Buy him a meal, chat, and ask for the annihilation of Crocs from the face of the earth.
So I sat down. I have never seen such a small, old person eat so much for a meal. There was a thick slice of fish the size of a large palm, a huge cube of tofu, vegetables and a double serving of white rice. This time, I ordered more food than the last time, and just like the last time, he finished everything.
“ You call me Grandpa Zhou ya? Please call me that from now on… Don’t call me ‘Uncle’ anymore, is that okay? ‘Grandpa Zhou’… it makes me feel so good to hear that. You know, people look down on us… People look down on us, how many people will stop to talk with us? I have a license to busk, but people still see us as beggars. Don’t leave yet okay? I have some questions for you after dinner.”
I looked at him as he tucked into his warm meal. Not too long ago, I was one of those people, angry with pettiness at him for seeming to be a prideful, lowly thorn.
“You know, how many people will sit down and talk to us like that, buy us a meal? I will never buy this for myself… Fish… I like but so expensive. This morning I ate cup noodles- it’s so cheap. Cheap and filling. My daughter… thirty over years old, she’s never bought me a meal and sat down to talk with me like this… Thank you so much you know.”
“Grandpa Zhou,” I said in mandarin, “You know, we all struggle with different issues in our life. Meeting you has been a great blessing to me, you challenged me to open my eyes to what it means to love my own family more deeply.”
He looked at me, stunned. “Really?”
I nodded. “Looking back, I think I’ve a lot to learn about gratitude and being filial… maybe… maybe this is something your daughter will come to learn in time… Just like how I took a long time to realise I took a lot of things for granted.”
He eventually finished his meal.
“My first question. Why is my leg like that?” He pointed at his swollen distorted feet, the skin cracked painfully at the sides, “You’re a medical student ya? Can you do some research and tell me why?”
Then, “Second question, what did you do at church yesterday? Singing and dancing right? Must be… Christmas is special for you Jesus-believing people. That, I know, haha! “
I answered his questions faithfully and was about to leave when he said, “One more question, one more. But don’t be angry okay? Don’t be angry okay?”
He paused, then said, “ You have boyfriend?”
I laughed. All these old people always ask the same thing. “No Uncle, I mean, Grandpa Zhou. No.”
“Good,” he said. “ You finish studying first, concentrate in school, graduate and be a good doctor. All this romantic stuff can come later. Girls will always have suitors, but study first, that later. Ya, you’re not angry, are you? ”
I laughed. “No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’ve to go, Grandpa Zhou. I’ve got to spend time with my family tonight… It’s Christmas Day ya. Cant stay too long this time… So sorry.”
“Yup, sure. Oh yes, the last time I told you I couldn’t sleep ya? And you said you would bring me some oils or something like that?”
I had told him about some bottles of essential oil I had bought from Nepal, from the missionary who helps women support themselves by offering them jobs to make essential oils, soaps and candles. “ I’ll bring it for you this Saturday, okay?”
“Okay. Please remember okay? Cannot sleep ya… And beer is bad.”
Grandpa Zhou taught me many things. Loving your family, loving God, and loving people in small, humble ways. He opened my eyes to see that for every mile we are willing to go for Strangers we love, we should be prepared to go twice the distance for family. Twice, because family aren’t Strangers- shouldn’t be, at least.
He taught me many things. That for all the time we have in the world, there can never be too much time spent Stopping for someone who needs love, stopping for someone, family or Stranger, the way we would stop in our tracks if we knew that person were… God.
Christmas is every day, every person, all the time.
I gave him a side hug, and wished him a merry Christmas. As I turned to leave, he called out behind me, “Thank you so much. Call me ‘Grandpa Zhou’, okay? Not ‘Uncle’. It makes me so happy.”
“Bye, Grandpa Zhou. Merry Christmas.”
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me.”