Big family in Singapore


big family singapore
Image adapted from: Victoria Quek

Most of my memories as a wee child consist of watching Taiwan and Hong Kong dramas with my great-grandmother, or as I call her, Popo. What many of these TV shows had in common: huge families, which equated to huge drama over the family business or inheritance.

But I’ve personally never experienced conflict of that sort. As part of an enormous family with 34 people on my Dad’s side, I had the best time growing up without a care in the world. Of course, it wasn’t always a bed of roses. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be part of a big family in Singapore, here’s a look into mine:


Family tree – having uncles/aunties who are younger than me


I’m sure we’ve all had a go at drawing out our family tree back in school, but I’ve personally never ventured beyond the branches of my parents, brother, and grandparents because one piece of paper simply wouldn’t be enough. Well, here it goes:

family photo of 4
Image credit: Victoria Quek

For the first 4 years of my life, I was an only child who was doted on dearly by my parents and relatives. Overseas trips, weekly playground outings, all-out birthday parties – you name it, I got it. But just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I was blessed with a lil’ brother, aka a playmate I could hang out with 24/7. Little did I know, there was going to be many more additions to our collective mischief. 

siblings drinking milk
Siblings that drink milk together, stay together
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Before I knew it, my cousins started to pop out one after the other. Currently aged as young as 10 to me as the eldest at 19, we’re the youngest generation and are considered the monkeys of the family. 

kids birthday celebration
Image credit: Victoria Quek

The next generation consists of my parents and my 3 aunts, who each have 3 monkeys to call their own. Other than my grandparents, I also have 2 grandaunts and 2 granduncles with their own kids as well. So, I technically have uncles and aunties that are years younger than I am…nuff said.

Ever since I was born, we’ve been having family gatherings every Saturday at my Popo’s house. As my family size grew, so did the bustling atmosphere. Oh, and if you weren’t keeping count, the grand total here is 34. 


Early childhood – having multiple homes and never feeling lonely or bored


Little ol’ me was blessed with 2 different homes, as my parents would drop me off at my Popo’s house every morning at 7AM before they headed off for work. Because I attended the afternoon session during primary school, early mornings were spent watching TV dramas with my Popo as I munched on slices of bread and a cup of warm Milo that she’d lovingly prepare.

eating fried rice
Masterchef-worthy fried rice
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Come lunchtime, I’d get a daily helping from a big wok of egg fried rice with my fave luncheon meat and fishball bits – all to myself! Afterwards, my Ah Ma and Ah Gong would send me to school, and I would return back to my second home on the school bus for dinner.

kids outing
Sunny day out with the kiddos
Image credit: Victoria Quek

But that’s not all – my brother and I would get to be “adopted” into homes of my aunties and uncles as well whenever my parents went overseas. Frequent sleepovers, picnics, and outings were just the cherry on top which made school holidays that much sweeter.

overseas trip with family
We even travelled together in a pack
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Understandably, most people have heard tales of kids belonging to big families receiving little attention. But in reality, I was super pampered, spoilt, and – dare I say…the favourite.

As the oldest of the bunch, I crowned myself Queen Bee. I’d love to say that I was a fair ruler – but ask any of my cousins and they’d expose how I used to always get my way by hook or by crook. 

Whenever my brother and I would get into fights, we’d split into 2 “armies” of boys versus girls. As time passed, our neighbours grew used to the ruckus and thus, us kids also grew immune to our parents scaring us with the typical “later neighbour call police and file noise complaint!” threats.

I was always so excited for the weekends as it meant getting to meet my cousins for more shenanigans. I was never lonely or bored, because it felt like I was always surrounded by lots of bosom buddies.


Teenage years – responsibilities and resenting the lack of personal time


While the stereotype of the eldest kid having to kena left-right-centre for their younger siblings’ actions stands true, it’s nothing compared to assuming the responsibility of the role model for a grand total of 10 kids. As I grew older, I found myself in a peculiar grey area of being one of the kids, yet having to set a good example for them – such as not wearing crop tops in case the younger girls took after me. 

car ride with cousins
Me and the gals

Image credit: Victoria Quek

As with all other adolescents, the waves of emotion and teenage angst soon crashed into my life once I hit secondary school. Puberty is never fun to deal with, especially if you’re trying to figure out who you are amongst the never-ceasing noise from rowdy kids and concerned relatives. Going through a very legit emo phase, I began to retreat into a shell where I never wanted to see anyone – much less make conversation.

Whenever my friends would jio me out on the weekends, I could never go because in my household, “weekends are for family time”. I so badly wanted my own personal space that I found myself growing resentful of having to spend time with my family, eventually starting to perceive Saturday bonding sessions as a burden. Seeing my friends post online about their hangout sessions while I was stuck with a bunch of kids in a small room was the pinnacle of FOMO. After continuously making excuses like having to rush homework – I eventually stopped turning up for family gatherings altogether.

Although it was a decision made entirely by myself, I remember subsequently feeling completely alone and lonely in this world for the first time in my life.


The turning point – realising that family will always be family


After my ‘O’ Levels, I made the big decision to pursue my passion in writing through applying for a Mass Communication course in polytechnic. After years of blindly memorising numbers, chemical formulas and historical facts just to ace the next test, the transition to handling real-life clients and giving mega presentations to an entire lecture hall gave me a peek into adulting.

As the woes of puberty slowly but surely wore off – goodbye unpredictable mood swings – I felt like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Out came the original me, now with an added element of maturity. Due to the growing stress from school, I found myself deeply cherishing every second of family time with my folks and brother. 

sg50 national day
Durian party for SG50

Image credit: Victoria Quek

On a fateful Sunday, otherwise known as the memorable SG50 to Singaporeans, I decided to drop by for a family gathering after much convincing from my parents. I went in expecting awkwardness, tension and invasive questions following my unexplained disappearance – but all my worries were for naught. Instead, I was embraced with resounding choruses of “we missed you!”. It felt like such a long absence on my part, yet nothing had changed in my big family.


Celebrations as a huge family – some things never change


As the saying goes: Some things never change. For my big family, celebrations and festivals have always gone the full nine yards. And we certainly show no signs of stopping!


Birthdays


first birthday celebration
My very first birthday shebang
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Birthdays mean 3 things: Homecooked Mee Sua and hard boiled eggs, yummy cakes, and 3 versions of the Happy Birthday song: English, Chinese, and Christian – which is sung in the same tune, but with the words swapped out for “may the good Lord bless you

ah gong's birthday
Ah Gong hits the big 7-0!
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Till now, I still find it unbelievable that my Popo had everybody’s birthdays memorised – was she secretly a human calendar?!

For as long as I can remember, birthdays meant the world to me. While I used to wish for everything from a cute doggo to an L1R5 aggregate of 6 points, I no longer make any wishes as I blow out the candles. Because when I look around the room in that very moment, there’s nothing else I would ask for.

making birthday wish
Image credit: Victoria Quek


Chinese New Year & Christmas


Taking family gatherings to the next level, CNY reunions are a time for grand festivities. 

To keep ourselves occupied till the midnight countdown, we would watch old movies on TV while snacking on goodies. Our bai nian traditions include a photo sesh, which isn’t as effortless as it sounds. It requires top-notch coordinating and countless chants of orange squeeze as we grew in family size, but we finally invested in a timer camera and tripod a few years ago – phew.

lou hei session
Fitting snugly in the kitchen for lou hei

Image credit: Victoria Quek

Of course, we have our yearly lou hei, where we would parrot the Hokkien well wishes chanted by my Popo as we made a vibrant mess out of the various ingredients. 

gingerbread man
May the quirkiest gingerbread man win
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Tied with Chinese New Year, Christmas is my other favourite time of the year. If choosing gifts for someone during Secret Santa gives you a headache, imagine how my yearly gift exchange goes. Chaos is an understatement, but before it comes the best part: sitting together in the living room singing Christmas songs with only a guitar and our voices, and a gingerbread man cookie competition that comes with messy icing, chocolate, and rainbow skittles.


Mid-Autumn Festival


making tang yuan
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Most people are satisfied with pre-packaged tang yuan, but not my Popo. Made from scratch, the pink and white glutinous dumplings have become an annual Mid-Autumn tradition for us. Cue the Hokkien chanting of well wishes (that I still don’t fully understand) as we roll up these balls of flour.

Next comes the fun part: neighbourhood night walks, where we hold lanterns and make our rounds throughout the neighbourhood in a group of over 10 people. In all seriousness, I’m pretty convinced that we’d be mistaken for a gang if we were to continue the tradition even as teenagers.


Setting off for the neighbourhood lantern walk
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Plus, with new boxes of mooncakes introduced by my relatives every week, I unknowingly overdosed on more than 20 of them this year. Not mini pieces, but thicc whole ones.


I grew up in a big family and I want the same for my future children


Like every family unit, my big family has had its highs and lows. But the love-hate relationship I had with Saturday gatherings have turned into a genuine appreciation for the huge blessing it actually is. Looking back in retrospect as a current 19-year-old, every milestone and memory I have is peppered with snippets of the time spent with my family.

cycling
Spending the weekend cycling with my cousins
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Even though it’s not common among my peers, my friends take the back seat while family comes first – and that’s entirely my choice. 

A few months ago, my Popo passed away after months of going back and forth to the hospital. Being so close to her ever since I was born, it hit me really hard. As I stood by her side in her final moments, I wondered if a time would ever come where I wouldn’t cry at the mere thought of her. But as I looked around the room, an unexplainable wave of reassurance and comfort washed across me – I knew that I would always have loved ones by my side, no matter what.

ladies cooking in kitchen
My cute aunties cooking up a storm for the fam
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Even the funeral was a celebration of sorts – for my Popo’s entire life’s dedication to raising a whopping 3 generations of kids. The following Saturday, we met up as usual. Except this time, my aunties were the ones who took on the cooking role, and it has been that way ever since.

family photo
My big 4-gen family
Image credit: Victoria Quek

Being in a big family isn’t something that most people can relate to or ever get to experience. While it may seem daunting and crazy at times, I realise that I’ve been showered with more love than any 1 person could ever expect to receive. Even if people might make fun of it or find it hard to comprehend, I hope that my future kids can experience the same as I did – it’s truly like having a gang of your own, for life.

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