Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh
Fiction Friday: The Last Cheng Beng Gift
Today’s story is a very simple, yet touching tale. I’m reviewing Lightspeed Magazine’s The Last Chang Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh. You can find it here. It’s a tale filled with Asian culture and an old woman who has long since passed this world, who only wants what’s best for her grandchild. It’s a touching tale that’s sure to be worth the read.
Before I begin discussing the plot, I should discuss what a Cheng Beng actually is for those outside of Asia (like myself). Cheng Beng (known as Qingming in China) is a celebration honoring those who have passed on, whether it’s family related or not, many people pay their respects to their fallen kin by providing gifts or usually sweeping their tombs. It’s not uncommon for Asian cultures to pay respects to their ancestors who have passed on. In Indonesia, it’s referred to as Cheng Beng and Chinese citizens there celebrate it just as much.
At least, that’s what I could gather from looking on the net. I might have missed a detail here and there, so if I did, let me know and I’ll amend this.
Anyway, The Last Cheng Beng Gift is about an elderly woman named Mrs. Lim who is residing in the underworld and is watching her family support her during the holiday period. She then expresses disappointment when Hong Yin, who not only gives her unsatisfactory gifts, like a visit to a fish spa, but she watches as her daughter goes through an unusual phase that leaves Mrs. Lim furious. She leaves the underworld for the first time and visits her daughter to figure out what she’s been doing with her life. Naturally, she wasn’t pleased. Not only had Hong Yin married a Muslim man but she gave up her career to become an artist.
Yet Hong Yin is happy with herself, building a rollercoaster for Mrs. Lim. It’s here that she realizes that as long as her daughter was happy, Mrs. Lim was happy as well. A fitting lesson for both her and the reader.
It’s a very simple story that shows what parents might be thinking watching their loved ones grow without them. The interactions between Mrs. Lim and her underworld friends was cheerful, even with the broken English. It’s what many adults understand as they watch their kid go through life without support, letting them live life on their own.
It’s a heartwarming story, and the ending leaves off with a warm and fuzzy feeling seeing Mrs. Lim’s daughter, Hong Yin, become someone she truly wants to be. Mrs. Lim, knowing that her daughter is happy, leaves the underworld with a good thought about her kids.
The main character is Mrs. Lim AKA Ah Wen or Xiao Wen, an elderly woman who passed on and is watching her children support her during a respectful holiday. She is shown to be caring if stern for her children. Her interactions with her friends is a nice touch and show a little more of Mrs. Lim’s character.
The other character is Lim Hong Yin, Mrs. Lim’s daughter who she discovers is not living the life she wanted and gives her mediocre gifts, like the fish spa and a roller coaster. The whole story goes into the relationship between these two of a mother watching her daughter do things she would never approve of. By the end, we learn that Hong Yin has become happier living with her husband along with a passion for art. It’s here that Mrs. Lim learns what Hong Yin enjoys isn’t the same as what Mrs. Lim wants. Her final gift to her, a pond, was that made her accept who her daughter has become.
It’s this loving family mentality that is sure to resonate with anyone, even if they’re not Asian themselves. Familial love is universal and no matter what culture you or anyone else belongs to, it’s something that anyone can understand. The thought of a mother watching down on their child is something I’m sure most can understand. This is what I got out of the story. I lost my grandfather many years ago and I’m sure he’s happy knowing I set on a path I truly love. I can understand the mindset of Mrs. Lim because my grandfather would want me to do well also.
The writing is good. There are hints of broken English which I wasn’t sure how to think of that. It does add some authenticity that the Asian characters can’t speak English all that well. Once I understood that it started to make sense. Your mileage may vary in that respect. Other than that, the writing was well done and established the mood very well. It’s mainly description that gets into the mind of Mrs. Lim and how she reacts to her family’s gifts, especially Hong Yin’s.
This was a nice read and nice to see more work from diverse authors. I would love to see more material like this. I have a personal fascination with Asian culture, particularly Japanese culture due to my interest in Anime, but regardless, this is a good story centered around a holiday not many would be familiar with. There’s more to other cultures than what you see on the news. It makes you appreciate outside cultures and how family bonds are universal no matter what.
That’s all for today. Take care and remember, the inn is always open.