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“The Rules for Students”… Priorities in life according to ancient wisdom

Although the Lunar New Year has yet to commence, Yang Xiaodong is already stocking up on New Year goodies in preparation to sell them during the festive period.

Xiaodong and her grandfather, Dong Jianye, run 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 in an innocent puppy-love kind of affection, although he’s already got a girlfriend from his varsity days.

Jianye is 70 years old and a known loner with no kin. Xiaodong is an orphan he’d adopted after her mother, Jianye’s neighbour, was killed in a fire. Although Xiaodong isn’t highly-educated, 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 does not dare ask more. That is, till she unintentionally finds a family portrait under her grandfather’s pillow one day. In the photo, she sees Jianye, his wife and three youths with similar looks. 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 wonders.

On the same day, Nariyasu returns to the shop. 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. 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 passes on, 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 has 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. Shuixing remembers 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 around this time with the intention of getting Nariyasu to attend a matchmaking session. Nariyasu begs Xiaodong for help, to pose as his girlfriend. 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. Muxing, however, is living in reclusion. He 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 works as a stand-in for any worker who’s absent. 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

Over a decade ago, both Muxing and Jinxing had courted Mei-e. Jinxing lost to Muxing, resulting in some enmity between the brothers. During a quarrel between the brothers, Jianye’s wife fell to her death. Aggrieved, Jianye blames his wife’s death on Jinxing, causing the latter to run away 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…

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.

Catch ‘Happy Family’ when it debuts 19 Jan 2009, Monday – Friday at 9pm on Channel 8.