Looking Back, They Were All Cute


As author Chua Lam mentioned in his book, every ba po 八婆 (feisty auntie) was once an angel. If not, they would never have gotten married. So how does a sweet angel undergo the scary transformation into a 八婆?

八婆 is actually not unique to Chinese culture. The closest Japanese equivalent is probably the obatarian (one-obasan battalion). And there are many menopausal Thai women who fit very well into the 八婆 mould. Strangely, the 八婆 phenomenon is not so common in the West.

To understand the 八婆 transformation process, we musty first take a look at what people do when they are bored. Most 八婆 are housewives. While some desperate housewives occupy themselves with all kinds of meaningful projects, those on their way to becoming 八婆 would spend all their time gossiping. While their husbands meet people from all walks of life in their jobs, the 八婆 to be interacts only with her hairdresser and beautician. As the husband becomes more successful in his career, the 八婆 will claim credit; her ego swells, emboldened by cliches like “the woman behind the successful man”.


When she was an angel, she was gentle and quiet. She listened to and trusted others. She was tolerant and forgiving. After her transformation into a 八婆, her tongue becomes set in perpetual motion. She can’t stop talking and she doesn’t just talk. She’s either lecturing, scolding, complaining or gossiping. When her friends all avoid her for her condescending attitude, she goes home to direct all her lecturing, scolding, complaining and gossiping on her husband.

At this point in time, the husbands also undergo transformation. Some end up in night-long beer sessions at the local coffeeshops to avoid the mental torture at home. 八婆s do get the message, but they don’t think that they are being obnoxious. They think that their husbands have gone crazy, preferring to hang out with drunk men and ugly beer ladies than stay at home to learn something from them.

Other men take a more direct, proactive approach. They turn violent and become abusive husbands. In the past, the 八婆 cried and sat on window ledges to gain sympathy from the neighbours. Nowadays, she can go online with Stomp and other forms of social media like Facebook to gain support from the ignorant masses. The abusive husband is quickly taught a lesson.

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If the 八婆’s sympathisers decide to get involved with the battered woman’s rehabilitation process, they may soon realise that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Behind every successful man is a woman. Behind every abusive husband, is a 八婆. But what can the tormented husband do in such cases? Divorce the 八婆? No, the 八婆 will never let go of her proverbial punching bag – something which doesn’t occur to many 八婆 rescuers.

Well, I guess the only way to deal with a 八婆 is to be worse than the 八婆 and let her have a taste of her own medicine. Unfortunately, most men are not capable of that. Those who have extra-marital affairs to get even with the 八婆 are being too kind and too foolish. What if the mistress grows into another 八婆? Digging their own graves.

© Chan Joon Yee

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© Chan Joon Yee

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