WOMEN IN MEN'S ROOMS

Other areas belonging to my grandmother were the kitchen (presided over by her Hainanese cookboy), the family altar (changed from Confucian to Christian after she converted), and the front room (where she entertained guests and played mahjong).

The only sit-down toilet in the house, on the other hand, belonged clearly to my grandfather. This was where he sat for as long as two hours in the mornings, reading the newspaper. When we grandchildren visited on Sunday morning, this was where we were hustled up, to greet him and receive his rather odours kiss.

 

My grandfather also laid claim to the right side of the front balcony, where there was a recliner on which he took evening naps before going out for the night. An upright chair which stood upright by the bookcases in the reception hall, was also marked. It was in this chair that he sat to put on his socks and shoes before leaving on his many mysterious errands.

Remembering all this now, it comes to me that my grandfather did not live in the house so much as visit it. It was a stop for his ablutions, naps in the evening and sleep at night. He had other rooms to call his own - the reception rooms, bedrooms, kitches and offices of the hotel he owned and managed, the rooms where he housed his other families, and the club which he visited daily at at which he entertained and was entertained by fellow businessme. My grandmother was given so much space in their house because she had only these private rooms to call her own.  My grandfather could afford to be generous. He had a world of public space to frequent. Besides, reduced to legalities, my grandmother's rooms were in the end, still his. Undeniably.