Rui En, Ann Kok, Cynthia Koh, Darren Lim, Chen Tian Wen, Pan Ling Ling, Remus Kum, Chen Shu Cheng, Marcus Chin
“The Rules for Students”… Priorities in life according to ancient wisdom
Although the Lunar New Year has yet to commence, Lin Xiaodong is already stocking up on New Year goodies in preparation to sell them during the festive period.
Xiaodong and her Gramps, Dong Jianye, started a little shop in Chinatown selling sundries. There are other shops selling dried pork (Bak Kwa), CDs, lingerie, etc. around. Everyone gets along well and she’s especially close to Chen Haojie, whom she holds a torch for, the guy who sells lingerie next door.
Haojie is actually a graduate who had been retrenched during the financial crisis. As he’s been out of job for about a year, he’s temporarily helping out at his uncle’s lingerie shop. Xiaodong likes Haojie, an innocent puppy-love kind of affection, though he’s already got a girlfriend from his varsity days.
Jianye is 70 years old and a known loner with no kin nor kith. Xiaodong is an orphan he’d adopted. Xiaodong’s mother used to be Jianye’s neighbour, and she’d perished in a fire. Though Xiaodong hadn’t studied much, a verse her mum made her memorise as a child, and which she frequently recites, is deeply etched in her mind:
“The Rules for Students” are the Sage’s teachings.
First be good to parents and respect elders; next be reverent and trustworthy.
Love everyone and become close with the kind-hearted.
If there’s energy left over, then study books.
A dying old man’s last wish: to be reunited with his estranged family
A young Japanese man visits the shop one day and addresses Jianye as “Grandpa”. He tells Jianye that his name is Noguchi Nariyasu and that his father is Dong Jinxing, Jianye’s son. The moment he hears Dong Jinxing’s name, Jianye chases Nariyasu away and though immensely curious, Xiaodong daren’t ask more. That is, till she unintentionally finds a family portrait under Gramps’ pillow one day. In the photo, she sees Jianye, his wife and three similar-featured youths. Obviously, this is Jianye’s family portrait. But why is it that Jianye has never mentioned anything about his family? The photo was dated 1992, 17 years back. “Where has Jianye’s family gone these 17 years?” Xiaodong wondered.
On the same day, Nariyasu comes to the shop again. Nariyasu tells Xiaodong that Dong Jinxing is his stepfather and that Jianye has another son and a daughter, though he isn’t sure why the family had become estranged all those years’ back. Nariyasu knows that his stepfather misses his family all these years. He’s in Singapore on a business trip and had taken the opportunity to find Jianye, hoping to find out more about the family’s dispute. Xiaodong feels even more baffled.
Jianye is rushed to the hospital after fainting due to hypertension. Feeling that his own death is near, Jianye finally confides in Xiaodong, telling the latter that he hopes to see his children one more time before he breathes his last, and to have another family portrait taken.
To fulfil grandpa’s wish, Xiaodong and Nariyasu embark on the search for Jianye’s children with the intention of reuniting the family…
From what little clue provided by Jianye, Xiaodong finds Shuixing and is shocked to realise that though Shuixing is 34 years old, she’s got a 16 year-old daughter, Coco. Shuixing gets agitated at the mention of Jianye’s name and chases Xiaodong away. Xiaodong tells Shuixing that Jianye has fallen ill and wishes to see her, but the latter is unmoved. Nonetheless, the hurt and pain that Shuixing had kept hidden for over a decade surfaces. Shuixing remembers that how, pregnant and helpless as a teenager, she hadn’t been able to get her father’s understanding and forgiveness. On the contrary, he had hit her with a rod, laming her. Wanting to stand up for her, Shuixing’s boyfriend had reported Jianye to the police, resulting in the latter’s imprisonment and the estrangement between father and daughter.
Jinxing and his wife, Nako, arrive in Singapore at around this time with the intention of getting Nariyasu to attend a matchmaking session. Nariyasu begs Xiaodong for help, to pose as his girlfriend, thus going against his mother’s wishes. Nako is enraged. Jinxing meets Muxing’s wife, Fei-e (Fatty E), by chance, and learns that Muxing currently stays around the Redhill vicinity.
Putting the matchmaking session aside, Nariyasu and Xiaodong go in search of Muxing. Coincidentally however, Muxing is in reclusion at this moment. Apparently, Muxing is an impractical man who only wants to be a boss. But every time his business fails, he would escape, choosing to ignore all and dumping the responsibilities to his wife, Jiang Mei-e. Only when Mei-e has resolved the problems would he emerge from his self-imposed seclusion (aka his room). To provide for her family, Mei-e has become a full-time employment substitute. She no longer harbours hopes for her husband, placing them instead on her two children (Cheng Long and Cheng Feng). She wishes that her children would be successful in life.
Xiaodong asks Muxing to visit Jianye but the latter refuses. Apparently, a sibling-rivalry and father-son-estrangement are involved.
Over a decade ago, both Muxing and Jinxing had courted Mei-e. Jinxing had lost out to Muxing, resulting in some enmity between the brothers. Subsequently, Jianye’s wife fell to her death during a quarrel with him over Jinxing. Aggrieved, Jianye blamed his wife’s death on Jinxing, causing the latter to run away from him in shame. After Jinxing’s departure, Muxing mortgaged Jianye’s house to start his business, but lost everything. Incensed, Jianye threatened to severe ties with Muxing… Piqued, Muxing swore never to return home until he strikes it rich… And he really left. Hence, father and sons never kept in touch.
No one knows the remorse and guilt kept hidden in Jianye all these years, having chased his children away. The portrait of the happy family taken 17 years ago becomes just a memory, doomed never to be repeated. Seeing the ailing Jianye pretending to take everything in his stride, Xiaodong and Nariyasu decide to reunite the family, to help them dispel all enmity and get them to embrace each other whole-heartedly.
Blood is thicker than water: whatever the differences, a family would put aside differences and reunite in the end.
A happy family had estranged over some small issues for over a decade and through Xiaodong’s persistence, they finally reunite, happily gathering for a family portrait.
Xiaodong, the irrepressibly happy-go-lucky girl who had united the family, would finally find her long-lost father and having grown close during this period, would settled happily together with Nariyasu, having placated Nako’s vehemently objections to their relationship.