When we were first discussing Grandma’s funeral arrangements,
I asked whether we would be following the Chinese tradition of handing
out towels at the service. My parents said: “Oh no, we won’t be giving
out towels. Towels are only for when the family is grieving a death.
Grandma lived 101 years – we are going to be celebrating her life.”
And so thank you everyone for coming this afternoon to help us celebrate
the life of our grandmother, Chan Yook Hai Choy. [I am Kenny and
Rebecca's daughter] and this is my sister Cindy Choy. The service
today is going to be all about sharing some of the stories about Grandma’s
amazing life, and some of the teachings she left with us.
First of all, we would like to call our long time family friend, Mr.
Sergio Lee, to provide a eulogy in Chinese.
was born in Toisan, China on July 10, 1909. At the age of 16, she
married our grandfather, Soo Choy, who sadly passed away in 1983.
She is survived by her four children: Gene (Susan) of Seattle, Sue Sem
of Burnaby, Kenny (Rebecca) of Brandon, Sue-On (Bill) of Brandon, 11 grandchildren,
10 great grandchildren.
Life in China was not easy for Grandma, for although our family was
prosperous, it was largely due to the fact that Grandpa and Great-Grandfather
were overseas in Canada, working hard to send money home to support the
family. Grandma remained in China with Great-grandmother, and was
left to take care of the children largely on her own. Grandma was
known for her resourcefulness and success at providing for her family.
During times of famine, our family never went hungry as Grandma was able
to successfully grow enough rice, potatoes and taro to keep the family
fed. She used to cut the potatoes and taro into small pieces and
dry them in the sun. When times grew lean and rice became scarce,
she would add the potatoes and taro to the rice rations to stretch it out
further. This foresight in storing and saving enough food kept our
family fed during the famine, and she even had enough to share with the
neighbours, which she did do.
Grandma lived her life by the real golden rules – be kind to others
and help those in need without expecting anything in return. Another
story about Grandma’s generosity was that she was returning from working
in the fields one day, after tending to the rice and potato crops.
It was very wet and rainy. She passed by one of the neighbours on
the road, who was just heading out. The neighbour had no cover, so
Grandma took off her hat and coat and gave them to the neighbour so she
could shield herself from the rain. That act of generosity was never
forgotten by the neighbour, and decades later, after both had successfully
emigrated to Canada, every so often the neighbour would send Grandma gifts
to repay her for her kindness. Whenever the Greyhound station called
to say that there were some live chickens from Langenburg, Saskatchewan
for us to pick up, we knew that the neighbour had sent another token of
As a mother, Grandma made some great sacrifices during her lifetime,
by sending her young children away from her to ensure their safety.
She had to part with each of her children, leaving them with family, and
sometimes with friends, to get them out of China and the communists.
Auntie Sue-On was only 2 years old when Grandma had to let her go and trust
another family to smuggle Sue-On out of China. As our family was
prosperous and owned land, the incoming communists did not look kindly
upon us. There were times where Grandma and Great-Grandma suffered
harassment and assault by the communists. On one occasion, Grandma
tried to escape to Hong Kong to be with her children. She went to
a location off the road and had to wade through a river to get to safety.
Unfortunately, as she was crossing, she got caught, and was put into prison.
There was a period of time where she vanished and no one knew where she
had gone. Thankfully, she was later released and returned back to
As many of you may know, in the early 1900’s, the Canadian government
imposed a head tax on Chinese people. By law, each Chinese immigrant
had to pay a tax in order to come to Canada. The tax was more than
the family could afford to pay and therefore Grandma remained back in China
with the children, separated from Grandpa. In 1923, the government
passed further legislation which effectively excluded any new Chinese immigration
into Canada. These laws were not repealed until 1947 and prevented
the family from being together in Canada for many years. In 2008,
the Canadian government finally acknowledged the injustice of this legislation,
and Grandma was one of the last surviving Chinese widows to receive restitution
from the Government of Canada.
In 1958, Grandma finally immigrated to Canada and she and Sue-On joined
Grandpa in Newdale, Manitoba. They ran the “Paris Caf?” and people
came from miles around for Grandma’s banana cream pie. They lived
in Newdale until 1972, when they moved to Brandon to open Soo’s Chop Suey
House on 10th Street. She worked there beside Grandpa and her family
until 1982, when she and Grandpa retired.
During their years in Brandon, Grandpa and Grandma were very social
in the southwest Manitoba Chinese community. I remember going on
car trips with them to small Manitoba towns – Gladstone, Neepawa, Strathclair,
Langruth, and Minnedosa to visit other Chinese families who lived and operated
restaurants in these lonely prairie towns. Grandpa and Grandma also
used to enjoy entertaining people at their little house on 26th Street
and there would be 20 or more people crammed around tables set up in their
basement to feast on shark fin soup, BBQ duck, steamed chickens, noodles
and Chinese mushrooms. We would get out all the fancy rice bowls
and serving dishes and everyone would be so loud and happy. There
wasn’t a lot of this kind of authentic Chinese food available in Brandon
in the 1970’s, so the feasts were always special.
Grandma was always a good cook, and could elevate a simple meal into
something special. Her grandchildren all have favourites that only
grandma could make. The Hillman grandchildren swear by grandma’s
toast and scrambled eggs and say that no one could make it like her.
(Cindy) my favourite was … (Daugher) I dream of the burnt rice from the
bottom of the little pot she used to make rice, and we would dip the lok-lok
in the hahm yue jup.
After Grandpa passed on in 1983, Grandma stayed in her house for another
year with another Mrs. Choy (Hant Choy’s mother). She then moved
in with our parents, Kenny and Rebecca, and continued to live with them
for the next 25 years. Her retirement years were easy and she lived
a very comfortable life. The advent of satellite t.v. was a great
thing and it was wonderful for her to be able to finally watch t.v. shows
in Chinese. She especially loved the Chinese soap operas. Grandma
also had some North American television shows which she watched faithfully.
The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and the Lawrence Welk shows were favourites.
She also watched the Young and the Restless religiously for probably 2
decades. Despite the fact that she did not understand much English,
somehow she always knew when Victor Newman was misbehaving and you could
her hear saying “tsk tsk” to herself as she watched the show.
In her last year of life, Grandma became unable to walk, and therefore
needed the 24 hour assistance of a nursing home. She moved into Fairview
Home in April, 2009 and lived there until she passed away on February 18,
2010. Grandma never lost her faculties and remained mentally sharp
right to the end. She also never lost her determination and perseverance.
In February, 2009, after she moved out of our house and was temporarily
staying at Assiniboine Centre, she was frustrated because the physiotherapist
wasn’t coming regularly to work with her. Even though she was 100
years old, she was determined to work hard to try to regain some functional
ability in her legs. She was successful at this and became able to
transfer herself in and out of a wheelchair. Last summer, she had
developed a blood clot in her eye which was impeding the vision in one
of her eyes. In order to regain full sight, she would have to travel
into Winnipeg, stay overnight, and have eye surgery at Misercordia Hospital.
Now, at age 100, many people may choose just to put up with the blurred
vision, rather than travel 200 kms to get a needle stuck into their eye.
Not our Grandma. Rather than put up with poor eyesight for the rest
of her life, she chose instead to travel the distance and get the procedure
done. She was definitely not a quitter.
Grandma was spiritual and had a real connection with plants and greenery.
When the famine struck in China, Grandma would talk about how the bamboo
trees responded and provided seeds for the family to eat. Bamboo
only rarely flowers, approximately once every 50 years. Grandma said
that when food became scarce, the bamboo dropped abundant seeds and they
would scramble below the stalks to gather every last grain. Another
example of Grandma’s connection with plants is when our father fell ill
with cancer in 1987 and he had to go to Winnipeg for treatment. After
a long course of chemotherapy, Dad recovered. When Grandma was told
that Dad was going to be okay, she said that she already knew this.
She knew because the Christmas cactus plant, which my parents had in their
house for years, had stopped wilting and was starting to bloom again.
Grandma said that she knew this was a sign that Dad was going to be okay.
Grandma lived a very successful life and is survived by 4 children,
11 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren. Grandpa and Grandma’s
sacrifices were not in vain, and their unselfishness has allowed us, as
their legacies, to flourish in North America and establish lives as doctors,
professors, architects, lawyers, accountants, therapists, computer programmers
and more. We are so fortunate to have her genes flowing through our
bodies, but we do recognize that it is not all genetics that got her to
the ripe old age of 101. Grandma lived by many rules, and we’d like
to share some of the things which Grandma used to say, which we assume
were her secrets to a long and healthy life:
Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life
• Never go to bed with your hair wet.
• Eat bok choy every day.
• Exercise regularly – do calisthenics every day and take a daily walk
for as far as you can go. When she lived on 26th Street, this meant
walking around the block. Gradually, as she got older, this decreased
to a walk on the balcony, and then a walk around the house. But she
kept on doing as much as she could every day.
• Eat all the rice in your bowl, or else you will have an ugly spouse.
• There were special rules related to pregnancy. You were not
to eat oranges, or bean sprouts or lamb while pregnant. After birth,
you were not to go outside of the house for 1 full month. Auntie
Sue-On almost got busted on this one after Ja was born when she and Uncle
Bill went to Woolco for diapers, and almost ran into Mom and Grandma who
were there buying cute new clothes for the baby.
• Let your children watch lots of t.v. – it will make them smart and
they will learn about the world.
• Liberally apply A535 every day to keep your body limber.
• Scrub your heels for good luck on New Year’s Eve and don’t wash your
hair on New Year’s Day. Also, don’t wear white, green or blue in
your hair because it is bad luck.
• Have hot water or soup with your meals to aid in digestion.
• Always keep candy on hand to give to young children, and they will
be sure to visit you often. Lifesavers, Werther’s candy and Kit Kats
are particularly effective at drawing the children in.
• Eat your meals at regular times. Grandma followed a very strict
schedule of breakfast at 9, lunch at noon, tea at 3, supper at 6, and snack
at 10:15. On her last day, she wasn’t feeling well and took to her
bed at about 4 pm. She drifted off to sleep and her breathing became
unsteady. The staff recognized her condition and called Mom and Dad
and Sue-On to come and be with her. As they were sitting by her bedside,
true to form, at 6:30 pm on the dot, she suddenly became more lucid, and
spoke her last clear words: “sik faan” (time to eat) and “bang jie” (cookie).
She ate a couple of spoonfuls of pudding, then went back to sleep until
her last breath later that night.
• Most of all, Grandma lived with an easy laugh and she loved her family
We are so lucky to have been blessed with Grandma's love and presence
for such a long time. The family would now like to light incense
for Grandma. The red incense pot was grandma's favourite burner which
she always brought out for celebrations.
Thank you everyone for joining us in this celebration today. We
will now accompany Grandma to the Brandon Cemetery, following which there
will be a reception at Kam Lung restaurant on Victoria Avenue.