Friday, November 18, 2011

The Descendants

We finally got a chance to catch a movie and watched 'The Descendants' in a jam packed theater, a block away from those crazy Occupy Wall Street protesters milling about Union Square. At the last moment, I chose it over Leonardo Di Caprio's cross dressing homage to J. Edgar Hoover, although I had been looking forward to seeing Leo once again after having spotted him in the flesh back in July at the Mandarin Oriental.

'The Descendants' is a two thumbs up movie - albeit a bit slow, causing my husband to check his Blackberry in the dark and getting a well deserved whack from me. It is a social drama/ comedy, a relatively new genre which in this case, lets you laugh and cry in the midst of a story involving infidelity, living will, 'DNR', squabbling entitled cousins and rude children who curse like sailors. The storyline is unusual and fascinating. I will not spoil it for readers. George Clooney is the lead character and authenticates his role looking every bit the over-the-hill graying father that his ex Elisabetta described him to be, not your imagined suave charmer that he usually is.

In one scene, Clooney as Matt King, meets up with his cousins. They are the descendants of a sprawling family attempting to cash in on a lucrative parcel of pristine land handed down by their ancestor, a Hawaiian princess. The cousins come to the boardroom dressed in Hawaiian shirts, bermuda shorts and sandals. This particular scene reminded me of my own father. Since the late 70s, my father's attire of choice has been similar to the King cousins', whether he is attending a family outing, visiting the doctor or celebrating his 80th birthday. His first few Hawaiian shirts were souvenir gifts from my sister after her vacation to the islands. He had never travelled to Hawaii until 2002 when I took him there to recover emotionally after my mother's death.

The movie also reminded me of another situation currently in the news. Lately, my sisters have been updating me about the Singapore government's plans to widen a major road by relocating the Bukit Brown cemetery. There has been much opposition and regret expressed about this proposal because the most illustrious pioneers in Singapore's history are buried there. It so happens that I have at least two ancestors buried there - Cheang Hong Lim, Cheang Jim Chuan and Gan Eng Seng. Yes, I can proudly lay claim to be descended from the lord of the opium syndicate in Southeast Asia - Cheang Hong Lim.

My sisters cautioned that I should not write to the authorities in case they come after us to bear the responsibilities of exhuming the bodies. Interestingly, the commotion surrounding this controversy has brought distant relatives out of the woodwork - people whom we have never heard of but who lay equal claim to be descendants of Cheang Hong Lim. I guess it is a revelation because we seldom thought of who these cousins were, let alone the fact that they exist. After all, my mother's maiden name was Cheang and I guess the situation was analagous to us seeing her as a Windsor and discounting all the Armstrong-Jones relatives out there.

One sister went digging further into the family history and expressed regret that Cheang Hong Lim's sons took sides, squabbled and sued over property, eventually auctioning off valuable tracts of land in what is now Singapore's prime District 10.

Pondering on a movie plot and true family stories of my own, I guess tonight's movie was not so fictional after all.


Paul said...

Hi Sharon,
I was there this morning at Bukit Brown and was led to the grave of Cheang Hong Lim. My wife is part of the team documenting the graves at Bukit Brown before the road is cut through it. There are 2 videos about this on Channel News Asia's site. I wasn't able to see Cheang Jim Chuan's grave today but will look for it on my next trip.
Paul Teoh (Aunty Mabel's son)

Sharon Wee said...

Hi Paul! I apologize for not seeing this comment sooner. Do let me know what you find out. It will be interesting to know if indeed the Cheang graves will be sacrificed to make way for the road.
By the way, Angela's daughter wrote a paper on the opium syndicate which featured Cheang Hong Lim.

Paul said...

Are you on Facebook? If u are, please befriend me and we can take this offline.

Paul said...

Hi Sharon,

We found Grandfather & Grandmother's tomb yesterday at Bukit Brown. We were unsuccessful in locating Great, Great, Great Grandfather's tomb as it had been overgrown by a tree. Will try again later this week. Sad news is that GG Grandfather's tomb will be exhumed to make way for the new road. Have also not located that tomb yet. Will do that this week.
Photos of the tombs are on my wife's Facebook.


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