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  • Writer's pictureWinston Peng

On Childhood Family Influences

Updated: Apr 27, 2019

My father has an indomitable wit. So much so his mom compelled him to join the armed forces. Grandmother was a highly disciplined, gracious woman. Back then, discipline and self-restrain were preferred over creativity. His creativity became more disciplined when he became an aerospace maintenance engineer.

My father met my mom in a Sarawak town. He was posted there during the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation. Mom has been a good housewife and an enterprising woman. Apart from taking care of her 3 kids, she made clothes and baked stuff whenever an order came along.

My father was born in Johor and his father was born in Johor too. He attended the English school. So many seniors in Malaysia speak good English. My mother went to a Chinese school and many Malaysians can speak good Mandarin too. His thinking was more Western, idolising Elvis Presley, Charles Bronson and Liverpool. My mom was more Eastern. Teresa Teng, Chinese and Korean dramas occupy her leisure times. Dad is intelligent and testy, mom is calm, and forgiving. A peculiar thing about my mom; she changes her phones and iPads more frequent than even me.

They make a couple for life. Nobody around them ever doubted that. After 50 years, they are still at it. The only thing that has ever come between them were their kids.

Our home was a combination of loyalty, curiosity, tenacity and compassion. Our dad stressed the importance of being tough. Perhaps it was because we had friends who lost their dads to air crashes during missions. So we had to be ready.

Growing up in military bases and having to move every 3 to 4 years, we learned to adapt quickly. We attended schools where all the kids of military men go to. We traveled in army trucks.

Life in the 1970s and 80s in military bases was filled with fun and excitement. Games we played were engaging. Many of them are already extinct. We made our own kites with bamboo and newspaper. We make our own 'lastik' (catapult) with dahan tembusu, a tree native to Southeast Asia. We make bamboo shotguns and shoot wet paper pallets. We dug bullets from the firing range to make reload-able firecracker instruments. We huffed and puffed decks of 'daun terup' to flip them over. At night, we shoot lizards with rubber bands to earn 'pahala' (spiritual credit points for Muslims when you go to heaven. Even though I am not a Muslim).

During festive seasons kids gathered and went around the neighbourhood. We knocked on doors like 'trick-or-treat' except we asked for duit raya (shillings) not mere candies. 'Makciks' and aunties who don't pay up, we label them 'kedekut' (stingy). Parents don't want their kids to be labelled stingy and face boycott. So festive seasons were a good time for kids to go around asking adults for 'protection money'.

Whenever we return to Kuala Lumpur to meet relatives, my father would take me to Jalan Masjid India to get my copy of Wildlife magazine.

We were not always happy, there were times when our dads went on call of duty for weeks and some don't return. Borneo terrain were hazardous for flights and missions.

The feeling of military versus civilian never really left me. In the military environment, there was a strong sense of unity, loyalty and colour-blind to ethnicity. Everything was pretty much equal.

Lower secondary school was interesting. I attended the Cochrane Road boys' school. It taught agricultural science in the lower secondary and we had a fixed plot of land for 3 years to cultivate all sorts of crops. We had a dedicated art studio where we get to mess things up and exhibit our works. In the upper secondary we have some serious science labs. But the part I remember most about the school was, we had a sports compound big enough to put two football fields and one hockey field, side by side. Today, the school has become IKEA Cheras. I knew every square feet of that field because I was in the Sports Assistants Board. We mapped the layout, maintain game equipment and train umpires to observe game rules. We had our own gym, tennis court and badminton hall too. Not bad for a national school. This is not even college yet.

How Childhood Experiences Define Me

Our childhood and family times are most influential in defining who we are today. When I look within, I notice there are clear traits that I inherited from my experiences as a child.

The creative ways my father solved problems and involving me in his DIY projects made me a handyman too. His time in the military influenced me to be passionate about planes, war history and technologies. His stress on self defense, tenacity and competitiveness passed on to me. He liked to draw and I ended up loving art in school. School was serious in art and that made me love the arts when I became an adult. His Elvis, Bronson and Liverpool evolved into my Guns n' Roses, Keanu Reeves and Arsenal.

My mother influenced me on the softer side. She made me a responsible and forgiving person and showed me the oriental side of things. She showed me the importance of culture and identity. I love to cook and sometimes bake. I am also peculiar about Christmas and Chinese New Year celebrations. I learn about loyalty, support and sacrifice from her. She balanced out my dad's western influences on me with oriental values.

I like Malay food and speak reasonable good Malay because I grew up in a Malay community. Back then, I spoke Malay and had Malay dishes at home. I began to like Indian food because of the late nights hanging out with friends at Mamak stalls. I only like Chinese food when I became an adult and could afford the cuisine in Chinese restaurants.

I could play in almost any sport and understand their rules and challenges because of the school I went to. Today I like to watch them on TV and sometimes at their live venues. I love boxing and UFC because my dad never missed a world title boxing match on TV. Occasionally, we went to watch army boxers fight in real life. I love sports competitions.

I like wildlife and natural environment because of the frequent trips to Jalan Masjid India to get my Wildlife Magazine. I am always curious about natural ecosystems and the unique ways animals and plants adapt to their surrounding.

Both my parents and my entire clan are Christians. Christianity has some influence on me. Christianity raised many questions that defined my thoughts. If God exists, why did he not prevent the 100,000 people from dying in the Aceh tsunami? And what about the 200,000 people in the Haiti earthquake? That made me think real hard. Is God personal? Today, I am beyond religion although I believe there is one God. I am not sure whether He is a person, a universal law or a super-algorithm that ignited one spark that put in motion an infinite chain of reactions to create the universe.

I believe family influences on one's childhood is very important. It shapes character and define the personality of an adult. So, remember to create a fun and conducive environment for your kids. That is the greatest gift you can ever give to another human being. Proper care and attention.

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