An uncle with a surname

We have an aunt that separated from her husband long ago. I was only a couple-year-old, few years before Bro was born. I don't remember seeing that uncle of mine. Later, she met a new man in her life. They never got married. Just living together.

This man, is our new uncle.

My parents and friends call him by his surname. We, Chinese are so used to add an "Ah" at the front of names. And that's how people call him.

The first time I saw him, my parents were at my aunt's flat to dropped something off. We were in Father's beige, carburetor-ed Datsun. My uncle just got back from work. He came by, and said hi. I was told, this is yi jiong, and Mother asked me to greet him.

Mother's elder sisters are called yi mah. The husband, yi jiong.

"Oh! Yi jiong!"

I never remember the term "yi jiong". It is unfamiliar to me. I've been hearing people called him differently. And that is what I supposed to call him too, I thought.

The next time we were there, I greeted everyone as I was taught. I then saw him. With high spiritual attitude, and manners I thought would make my parents proud, I greeted him.

"Ah Surname!"

Mother knocked on my head. Father told me off.

He defended me. That doesn't bother him. Ever since, my parents always reminded me to call him properly. I still ended up calling his surname. Up to a point, he told them to let it be.

As we were getting closer, I call him Surname Surname.

No matter how open-minded a person is, it is still not right to call your elders by the name. I tried calling him yi jiong a number of times. I can't – it sounded really, really weird. I guess he felt the same too. We were so used to the "improper" way.

When Bro learn to speak, he was taught the same.

We still call him that, even up to now.


  1. I could never remember all these "correct way of address according to family hierarchy/ relationships" thingy either. I think the only time when I had to do all these in a formal manner was during the tea ceremony of my wedding day (and it amused my Dad to no end, I can assure you). After that, I just addressed my hubby's relatives who are older than me as Uncle/Aunty; even tho' my nieces and nephews call me "Ah Kim" and my sister-in-laws call me "Ah Soh". :)

    1. At least you have the luxury of just calling them by uncle/aunty, Andrea. It took me years of growing up to differentiate father's and mother's side.

  2. I like the traditional Chinese way of addressing elders cause it helps me remember how we're related (mother or father's side) and the heirachy too ... like who's elder between my tai yi and sam yi.

    Chinese life hacks, haw haw.

    1. Yup, Goldfish. Great system invented by the Chinese.