Sunday, October 15, 2023

Han Tze Soh, Madam Sweet Potato. The Nightingale of Batu Pahat

Little did we know that an impromptu getaway to a lovely organic farm in Kluang would lead us to one of the most heartwarming stories of 2023. And the discovery of Han Tze Soh and her loving family from Batu Pahat.

We met Roy Chan and his wife, So-En at Talula Hills and hit it off straight away. From the get go, we chatted like we have been best friends for decades. We instantly forged a bond of similar mindsets and interests.

The following day, as we enjoyed a conversation over coffee, Roy regaled tales about his grandmother with equal amounts of fondness and pride. And that really left an impression.

Over the last few months, we have met up regularly and just this week, Roy invited us to visit his hometown of Batu Pahat. And that left us with a lingering memory which we will cherish for life. 

We met up with Roy’s aunty and daughter of Han Tze Soh. She’s 80 today but look hardly over 60. Full of vibrancy and warmth, we had an unforgettable few hours chatting and eating kampung durians like the days of old. 

And as we talked more, we began to get a sense of the character and personality that was Roy’s grandma channeled through Roy’s aunt.

Roy mentioned that her grandma was nicknamed Han Tze Soh, which is Madam Sweet Potato in Hokkien. An affectionate name for a grand lady full of affection for others. 

She worked as a mid wife for decades until she was 80, and lived to a ripe old age of 102. A true blue zoner by any standard. But more importantly, a great person by any measure of humanity.

She delivered countless babies in Batu Pahat, and as Roy would say, there’s not a family in town not touched by her in one way or another. 

She was also selfless by nature, and during those days mid wives usually received a fix payment. But Han Tze Soh preferred to take red packets containing varying amounts of cash instead. 

Yet, if a family was poor, she would not take monetary payment and simply keep the empty red packet and returned the money instead. 

She would even give free sesame oil for such families (as it’s needed for confinement cooking) and even provide free after birth care, amplifying her generosity and compassion to no end.

It’s no wonder she’s so fondly remembered even till today. Roy was telling us how he was just ordering a plate of roast pork rice and when the seller got wind that Roy was the grandson, he would be so appreciative and gave him “extras”. 

Such stories seem common and made us yearn to know more of the grand lady of Batu Pahat. 

We later learned that Han Tze Soh actually came to Singapore when she was just 4 years old as she was sold off to a wealthy Singapore family to work as a maid.

She must have had a difficult childhood during those times, but she never begrudge this part of her life and even reunited with the Singaporean family later on in life.

It was only when she turned 18 that she came to Johor to work as a cook in a hostel for nurses. She and a close friend would eventually end up in Batu Pahat where she went into nursing.

From there, she would impact many lives with her dedication to her work as a mid wife and helped many families bring their newest members into this world.

Spending time with her children and grandchildren, we also get a sense of who she is even though we can never meet her in person.

Her humanity, her passion, her integrity, her compassion, her kindness and her humour has passed down well.

Roy’s dad is 76 years old but possesses the wit and energy of a teenager, while Roy’s aunt who cared for Han Tze Soh till the end of her illustrious journey will light up any room with her youthful and joyous energy.

We came to Batu Pahat thinking we will find the most rewarding aspect in the food there. Indeed, we did find a lot of good eateries filled with nostalgic and comforting fare.

Yet, the most delightful reward was getting to know about Madam Sweet Potato through her family and stories. And how salt of the earth folks like Han Tze Soh can illuminate the rest of us on how to live our lives.

And her beautiful life story is an inspiration for everyone to use what we have today to touch others in a positive way without expecting anything in return.

The greatest reward is life itself. Living with true integrity and genuine love on a daily basis. It is that simple.

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