Mdm Seah Sor Yuan
“I am one hundred…plus…one!”
“Live for so long…very painful”
“I used to be fat, my jade bracelet is here [points to forearm], now left the bones, my bracelet can go all the way up!”
Madam Seah Sor Yuan was born in 1916, in Jinmen, an island considered a part of the Fujian Province of China. She married there, but left for Singapore to join her husband and his family who had a provision shop along Beach Road (near Golden Mile Complex). As newly-weds, they spent time managing the family business.
By the time she turned 25, Madam Seah had given birth to two young children, a daughter and a newborn son. On February 15 1941, the young wife became a single mother when her husband, then 29 was captured and killed by the Japanese, never to come home. She would spend the next months grieving while still hoping for his miraculous return, before accepting the fate of his execution. To overcome her grief, she busied herself by managing a thriving provision business. She had to shuttle to and from different shops located between Beach Rd and Tanjong Rhu.
The “running here and there”, according to her son, Mr Tan, must have been the ‘secret’ to her longevity. The other ‘secret’ is her carefree personality. She is also fiercely independent, without being intimidating. She also exercises regularly and has even developed her own ‘style’ of keeping fit! Madam Seah demonstrated her exercise stance, moving her hips from side to side and swaying her arms back and forth. Her family watched on and recorded a video of her doing so. Madam Seah did not lose focus of the television screen in front of her. “She has poor vision and hearing”, her daughter-in-law explains, “but sometimes she surprises us when she responds to what we are saying or points out something someone was wearing!”
Madam Seah also remains meticulous even at the age of 101. Her bedsheet is crisp, with the edges ironed flat and held down with metal clips. Her wardrobe contains clothes that she sewed herself—all hung neatly, arranged according to occasion and colour. It is her attention to the little things that endears her to her loved ones. She is also generous to her loved ones, placing her needs before theirs. When her son got married, she gave him her brand-new furniture, insisting that she preferred her older furniture. She wanted to bless them with the best, as a sign of good fortune, without making it look like charity. From a family of two children, Madam Seah has been blessed with five granddaughters, two grandsons and eight great-grandchildren. She remembers all of their names, and even their birthdates.
Madam Seah is also not one to forget what it means to have loved and lost. On February 15 every year, since her husband’s disappearance, Madam Seah makes a mark on her calendar and buys flowers to commemorate her husband’s life. When the base of The Cenotaph was extended to commemorate the lives lost in World War II (1939- 1945), Madam Seah would join fellow clan members from the Kim Mui Hoey Kuan (clan association) to offer prayers to their loved ones at the memorial’s steps. It was an annual ritual for her—getting flowers and heading to The Cenotaph. It was easier to get flowers before Valentine’s Day became highly commercialized in Singapore. “Now it’s harder,” her daughter-in-law sighs matter-of-factly. “People don’t focus on the dead for Valentine’s, but the living.”
(Madam Seah has since passed on)