Short Story Tanjung Rhu: Synopsis, Character and Characteristics, Theme, Value and Messages, Tone Mood and Atmosphere, Language Style
Synopsis Short Story Tanjung Rhu
Respect for the elders and traditional practices matter in Tanjung Rhu, the short story by Minfong Ho. Times can change, people can change but some things stay. Mr. Li who had lost his mother is nostalgic as he looks at the ships in the harbour. He uses the binoculars that he had bought for his mother to look at the ships and count them.
When he had given them to her, his mother had told him that she had everything she needs. However, she had been excited to think that she could see her husband’s old shipyard with the binoculars. Mr. Li had reminded her that it had been torn down years ago. But she tells him that she can always see Tanjung Rhu ‘behind my eyes.’ He invites her to his office so that she can see Tanjung Rhu from there. It was their home when they were not rich; a place where there was the smell of delicious food and the comfort of holding someone’s hand.
The next morning, Li’s mother tells Li that if something is to be done, it must be done right and carefully she follows the rituals at the altar while the granddaughter comments that ‘she always has to do just what she wants.’ Mr. Li tells his daughter to be more respectful of his mother.
At the office, Li’s mother sees the ships with the binoculars but remembers moments when she walked with a little boy who counted the ships. Mr. Li tries to communicate with her but it is too late. She is very ill. He wonders about those times and is sad that he never took the time to listen to her. His daughter seems to understand his mother better. After his mother’s death, Mr. Li follows the same rituals at the altar as his mother did. He feels at peace.
Themes Short Story Tanjung Rhu
Traditions and rituals count in life.
Being modern does not mean that old customs and practices should be cast aside. Mr. Li’s mother follows rites and rituals at the altar meticulously while the granddaughter wishes to hurry her. Her son allows her to do what she wishes but appreciates the real value of it only after she is gone. He then follows the practices too.
Filial love is an important quality to uphold.
Mr. Li loves his mother and wants to please her. Just as she looked after him when he was small and held his hand, he wants to hold her hand and guide her now. There is a slight communication gap which the granddaughter tries to bridge. But the granddaughter loves her father and cares for his well-being. There is much love and understanding in this family despite temporary lapses.
Material things do not really count
Li’s mother says that she does not need the binoculars as she can always see the things that matter in her mind. She has what she needs and things don’t matter. She does not need the things that can be bought. All the things that matter are in her mind. She remembers her late husband well. She still remembers the wonderful memories of Tanjung Rhu when Li was small and together they caught crabs. Li’s wife is trapped in the social activities which are superficial and meaningless.
Characters Short Story Tanjung Rhu
The 63 year-old, rich shipyard owner who has just lost his mother. He likes to count the ships at the harbour.
A caring man – bought binoculars for his mother so that she can see faraway things better. Hr advises his daughter Ying to listen to his mother as she prays.
Loves his mother and scolds the daughter for being rough with his mother.
Torn between believing in the age-old customs and modern ways.
He needs the blessings of his parents to find strength and comfort.
• A gentle lady, who has come out of tough times and is now old and frail.
• Her son loves her – takes her to the office so that she can see Tanjung Rhu through the binoculars
• She has no need for things and wants love and care.
• Has a good relationship with Ying, the granddaughter who is proud that she can do the right things for her.
• Has a strong belief in age-old customs and does them carefully and respectfully.
• A remarkable woman who holds the generations together.
• She is Mr. Li’s wife.
• Enjoys tea parties with friends, much to the displeasure of Mr. Li.
• She is Mr. Li’s daughter
• Young and modern but very kind and understanding
• Shows sensitivity and gentleness beyond her years–loving to the grandmother; understands her needs better than others.
• Tries to bridge the relationship between her father and his mother
Plot Short Story Tanjung Rhu
It was just after his mother died and Mr. Li feels an emptiness – as if he had not done something. He looks out of the office window with his binoculars and counts the ships in the harbour as he has always done.
He remembers that he had bought the binoculars for his mother. However he told his wife that he had bought them for the children. His wife, Helen was busy with her tea parties.
Li’s mother tells Li that she does not need things one buys as she has all that she needs.
But she is happy to think that she can probably see Tanjung Rhu with the binoculars. She wants to see her husband’s old shipyard in Tanjung Rhu but Li reminds her that it was torn down 30 years ago. She says that she can still see the shipyard in her mind. She agrees to go with him to see his office.
The next day, she prays at the family altar as she wants to tell her husband that she is visiting her son’s workplace. Her granddaughter Ying tries to help her with the rituals to hurry her up but she will not be hurried. She must do it exactly as she did it before. Mr. Li makes his daughter listen to his mother’s conversation with his late father.
From the office windows, Mr Li’s mother was not able to see the ships but she sees in her mind a small boy walking on the beach while counting the fishing boats. She sees their old hut and herself walking on the beach with the crabs they had caught.
Mr. Li wishes he could go back to those times when he could smell the salt and fish and rice cooking over the wood fires. He remembers a time when he walked holding someone’s hand. He wishes he had asked about it but she is dying and remembers little. His daughter Ying tries to help him reach her. But it is too late.
Mr. Li realises that he has to do one more thing and that is to go home and take care of the altar. He goes home, pays his respects at the altar and finds comfort in praying at the altar as his mother had done before.
It is set in Singapore. The family is fairly affluent as Mr. Li is a shipyard owner although at one time, he was living in a hut in Tanjung Rhu.
Mrs. Li has tea parties with her friends, a social practice of the rich where rich cakes and perfumes feature. The son is studying in Cambridge while the daughter is going to New York soon. The house, the altar and their lifestyle reflect their wealth and position in society.
It is set in the recent past and could apply to the present times too.
People should be respectful of their elders. Mr. Li reminds Ying to show respect to his mother. He himself does things to please her.
Traditions should be maintained
Respect to the ancestors must be shown for they will bless the living.
Kindness and consideration matter
Ying feels that what she does for her grandmother is more meaningful (she gives blood) than what the second aunt brought for her [burial clothes, page 31]. Some customs can be painful. Mr. Li remembers vaguely his mother holding his hand when he was a child while catching crabs. He wishes he had asked her more about that time. That he follows her rituals is his way of showing respect, love and consideration to her.
Point of View
It is written in the third person point of view. We see everything through Mr. Li’s eyes and perspective.
Tone and Mood
Since the theme is serious and tugs at the heart strings, the tone is essentially reserved and sombre. Love and warmth are subtly woven into the story and there is a gentle sensitivity that seeps through. Even though there is death, it is dealt with in a delicate manner. One comes away with a sense of loss but with hope for a better future.
Language and Style
The language used is simple and brisk. The realistic descriptions deal with ordinary and commonplace things but are charming and touching. Li’s mother’s memories are ‘behind her eyes’ and she uses ‘the see-far glasses’ to see Tanjung Rhu. The writer’s prose becomes almost poetic and is most suitable for the story of loss and nostalgia.
Many passages deal with the descriptions of places which form a perfect backdrop for the emotions at play.
The wind catching their sails (page 30); Feel of the sand between his toes (page 30);
Coldness of seaweed around his ankles (page 30); Thin silver line…night and day, sea and sky…. (page 33); Altar is the line between life and death (page 35)
Similes make the descriptions more vivid.
She, fixed at their centre like a tree…. countless fruits had grown (page 22)
Eyes…as blank as office windows (page 28)
Her face….. like a fruit left to dry… (page 30)
Eyes like colourless stones (page 31-32)
Fingers looked like a piece of seaweed (page 33)
Li’s mother looks back on the old days and remembers Tanjung Rhu with much fondness. (page 23 – 28)
Li himself remembers the things that happened in Tanjung Rhu and wishes to go back in time. (page 30)
Li uses a Chinese proverb to tell his daughter that his mother has lived long enough to have gone through many experiences and definitely knows more.
She has eaten more salt than you have eaten rice. (page 26)