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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Devil wears sari

When I was in Primary 3, I had a Devil as a form teacher. She had beautiful dark complexion and always went to school in perfectly made-up face. She had big eyes with very thick and long curly eye lashes. Her lips was crimson and glossy. Her hair was long and black. Everyday, she would go to school in different brightly coloured sari. She looked especially stunning in green. If she was not so short and stumpy, she would have looked like a Goddess.

She was very, very, very strict and very, very, very fierce. She would not hesitate to hit anyone with her long wooden ruler.
If you talk too much, you would get a hard smack on your palm.
If you had forgotten to bring something, you would get a hard smack on your palm.
If you made too many mistake, your book would be thrown out of the classroom onto the corridor.
When my letter F was sitting lower than the rest of the other letters, I got a hard smack on my palm.

All of us were terrified of her except for a few A-star students who sucked up to her all the time. As no one was allowed to utter a word in class, she made those backside-kisser students her class monitors to make sure we observed the 'silence is golden' rule.
If you asked the person next to you whether you can borrow his or her colour pencil, aha! your name would be written down in their black book.
If you dropped your eraser and you wanted your neighbour to help you picked it up, aha! Your name would be written in their black book.
When Miss Devil was not in class, her little minions would looked around with their sharp eyes and write names in their books. When she returned, those little black books would be handed up to her and .....
if your names were written in there, you would get a hard smack on your palm.
Most times there would be a long queue to get smacked. I had been in those queues many times and I really disliked those minions.

One day pale boy made too many mistakes in his homework, he got a scolding and his book was thrown out of the door. Naturally, he started to cry. The more Miss Devil told him to stop crying the more he cried and that made Miss Devil very, very, very angry. She told him to stand in front of the class and hold 2 plastic cups, one under each eye to catch the tears flowing down. When the school bell rang, I felt a sense of relieved for him because Miss Devil would be going to teach the primary 6 students for the next hour. But my hope was short lived. She made pale boy follow her to the next class with the 2 cups still in his hands under his eyes. I felt sorry for him as I watched him sobbing out of class in humiliation.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The coconut incident

One day when I was 9-10 years old, some boys found a coconut in our kampung. All the kids came out to see. We stood around the boys asking where they found it cos there wasn't any coconut tree nearby. Just durian trees, banana trees, palm trees, papaya trees and rambutan trees.

We were very excited about what juicy flesh and sweet juice we could find inside. We scattered and looked around to see if we can find anything to help us open up the coconut. Skinny boy found a rusty dented cleaver so he got to be the one to cut it up. We ran back to the where the coconut was.

Some of the boys dragged the coconut to an open clearing outside the tailor's house. Skinny boy stood in front of the coconut and raised the cleaver above his head with both hands. And he shouted, "Sy-am ah(move away)!". Everyone moved back. When we were a safe distance away, skinny boy took a deep breadth and brought down the cleaver. As the cleaver was about to hit the coconut, the tailor's young son suddenly dashed towards it. Everything happened so fast after that. He was holding the coconut and the cleaver hit his fingers. Bright red blood gushed out of his danggling half severed fingers. He was hopping around and screaming in pain while the rest of us were in shocked. I ran off to call for his mom and with a look at what what happened, she returned to wrap his fingers up with a towel and swept him up in her arms and dashed to the hospital.

Most of us were too stunned to say anything. Skinny boy was looking for moral support, getting anyone, who met his eyes, to agree that he did warn us to move away. He looked scared. We were all puzzled at why it happened.

Luckily the doctor managed to sew back the tailor's son's fingers and things went back to normal soon. Lessons learned here: disposed of dangerous objects properly and obey warnings!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WuXia Pian (sword fighting film)

When I was 10, together with my cousins and uncle, we'd watch Hong Kong cantonese drama series on TV every night. My neighbour's boys would run over to join us when the show start as their parents prefer English drama. One of our favourite and could not miss was "Yi Tian Tu Long Ji" (Heaven sword and dragon sabre). It was a Chinese period show where the heroes were great swordsman whose skills were unmatched.

After the show, I would imagine myself as the heroin and no one could defeat me. One of the heroes that carried a paper fan wherever he went was very skillful. With just a wave of his fan, he could kill his enemies in a flash. I had a fan too and in my mind, I could strike anyone down with it.

The next day, after I finished my homework, I strode around my neighbourhood with the fan in my hand and casting suspicious eyes at the 2 boys when they approached me. "Do not come any closer or I'll strike you with this special weapon.", I said. The fat one, who loved to snack on milo powder, told me it's just a fan and they definitely could beat me with a stick if we duel. I told him to get his weapon and we could see who was more powerful. And that was how the 'fight' was initiated. Fat boy glanced around and found a branch that had fallen off the durian tree. Slim boy cheered. Fat boy charged towards me, I waved my fan like the hero in the show.

Alas, the fan was no match for the branch. I was jolted out of my daydream when I felt great pain near my right eye. Slim boy shouted, "Ohhhh! ....Got blood!... Zhao(scram)!". And the 2 of them ran home. I felt very stupid after that. That's how I got the scar near my right eye.

Apparently, slim boy had reported the accident to his mom. That night after dinner, slim boy's mom asked for me and told the boys to apologies. Don't remember feeling too sad about it though. The matter was completely forgotten the next day while we searched for our next adventure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Out-house

Have you use an out-house before?

There was one about 100m away from my cousins' attap house. Four families shared this out-house. When mom told me I would be living with my cousins in Singapore, she didn't tell me much about kampong life and I was shocked to know I had to do my big business in that stinky hut. I live with my cousins for 1 and half years. I was 9+ then.

Our attap houses were built on a hill. That wooden out-house was situated at the end of the hill and standing on stilts! 2 to 3 pieces of wooden planks were placed on the grassy ground leading to the out-house like a bridge. When you stepped inside the hut, you had to be careful not to fall into a cut out hole in the middle of the wooden flooring that lead to the bucket below. Since the bucket was only collected once a week, you can imagine the offensive smell that rose up from there.

The odour was not the only thing I had to 'tahan'(endure). As I had to be careful not to step into the hole, I had to look where I was stepping. And no matter how hard I tried I couldn't avoid seeing what was in the bucket. Human excrete of multiple of ochre and brown. Hard ones, soft ones and cravvy like ones. I will never forget the time I saw the bucket covered with white, wriggling maggots! I screamed so loudly, I could hear it echoing through the hill. I still get the hee-bee-jee-bees and goose pimples recalling those fat wriggling white maggots.

Once a week a blue truck with many doors would come by. My cousin told me in Hokkien it's called the "sa-jap-larg-mng-jia" (36 doors truck). Whenever I see it passing by on the road, I would try to count the doors but could never be sure there were 36 doors on it cos I could never finish counting them on time before it went out of view.

Anyway, there were 2 persons in the truck. A driver that drove it and a skinny Chinese middle-age man with a cigarette hanging on his lips. I would always peek from my neighbour's house behind their wooden fence to see how the skinny man did it. I was curious if he would gag from the sight and smell. First, he would walk up the hill with 2 empty buckets with covers taken from behind the many doors from the truck. The buckets were hung from ropes at each ends of a pole which he balanced on his shoulder. The slopes he had to walk up on was just bare ground not cemented or anything like that. He would then set the buckets down on the ground unhooked the attached rope. Took a cover off an empty bucket and put it over the one under the out-house. Changed it with an empty bucket and hook the stinky one to the rope. He would then repeat and change the bucket of another nearby out-house shared by other families. Finally, he would walked down the slope with the buckets of excrements to the truck waiting by the road. Placed them into individual compartments behind the doors, climbed back onto the front seat and the truck would roll slowly to the next location down the road.

I often wondered if the skinny man had ever slipped or tripped on the way down the slopes while carrying the heavy filled buckets. That would be ugly (shudders). Anyway, he didn't gag even once! The smoke from the cigarette probably helped mask the smell. The sight of poops probably helped him keep his skinny figure. It's amazing what a man would do to feed his family! Very admirable don't you think?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I hate rats. Or rather, I am terrified of rats.

When I was 9+, mom sent me to live with my cousins in Singapore. She felt my brother and I would have better education here than in Sabah. Moreover it would be difficult to take care of us as a single mom while she worked so I remember taking the plane all by myself feeling unsure what's life going to be like in a foreign land away from mom. I arrived at my cousins' attap house at night. They told me to take a shower before going to bed. It was a creepy looking bathroom. It was quite big with a small wooden window. The floor is plain grey cement with some parts already corroded by water. Some parts had green moss too. There was a raised cement platform that covered about 1/3 of the flooring, also had corrosion on it. A big bucket was placed under a tap on the platform. A small scoop was in the bucket of water for bathing purpose. All the water was supposed to flow into a palm size hole at the bottom of the wall adjacent to the platform. There was also a waist height cement ledge where shampoo bottles and a bar of odd-shaped soap sat. On closer look, the soap seemed to have nasty teeth marks on it. At that moment, my cousin asked if everything was ok. I enquired about the marks on the soap and she said it was nothing I should worry about.

I was begining to feel uncomfortable standing naked on that platform and missing my mom already when, suddenly, a huge dark brown rat ran into the bathroom through the hole in the wall! It was as big as a puffy, furry bedroom slipper with a really long tail. I screamed and jumped and slipped on the mossy cement floor. The rat ran back into the hole when it heard me scream. Needless to say, I was terrified and cried....

I made friends easily with the neighbourhood's kids. All but one were boys. They were around my age and we played well together. We were generally left alone at home after school as all the adults were at work. One day, one of the boys came to say hi to me outside the house. He had something behind him and his brothers had smiles on their faces. "Guess what I found?" he asked. And then waved a plastic bag of baby rats in my face. They were still pink and blind! And there were so many of them! Screamed-screamed-screamed! I screamed and ran back into the house slamming the door behind me. There was a big hole in the floor under the door due to corrosion and they stuck that bag of horrifying pink, blind rats through it and waved again. Screamed-screamed-screamed! I jumped on the table and screamed again. Luckily one of my neighbour whose mom worked from home heard the commotion and came over to check. She chased the boys away but needless to say, I was terrified and cried.....

Just recently, Russell asked me if he can have a white mouse as a pet. I told him no because rodents creeps me out. He said "But mom...a white one would be so cute!" I shuddered at the thought of one in my home. I definitely don't want to be terrified and cry.......

Sibling Rivalry? Oh yes...

When we were children, my younger brother and I got each other into trouble a lot. We are 6 years apart. When I was 10, he was only 4. At that time, my parents were already divorced so I was sent to live with my cousins in their rented attap house in Rifle Range Road, while my brother lived with my 'ah ma' (maternal granny) in her employer's bungalow in Bukit Timah Road.

Every weekends, Ah Ma and brother will visit us. And being too young to use the out-house, my little brother will poo into a plastic 'tum-tong' (spittoon). After that Ah Ma will call out for me to dispose the poos at the out-house. When I refused, Ah Ma would criticize me for being selfish and a lousy big sister. She would then remind me that it was my duty to take care of my little brother since he was so much younger than me. I would then give a big loud sigh of contempt, picked up that poo-filled 'tum-tong' reluctantly, dragged and stomped my feet at same time to do 'my duty'. I was fuming...

When I was 11, my cousins' family was relocated to live in a 3-room HDB flat in Boon Lay. For some reasons, I had to move in with Ah Ma then. Ah Ma came from the generation where girls must do all the household chores and boys are the masters at home. To her boys are good, girls are bad. So living with her made my contempts towards my little brother worse.

I had to wash his school shoes, bring him to art class, take him along whenever I had to run errands. And being spoilt, he'd scream, cry and squat in the shop whenever I refused to buy him candy at the grocer. Oh! The embarrassement I had to endure! I would roll my eyes and walk away knowing he'd run after me shortly.

Ah Ma was given a small bedroom in the back of the bungalow that has a small wardrobe, a wicker bookshelf that contained her employer's sons old comics/books and a king sized bed. With those in the room we had only a little aisle of 2ft by 6ft walking space left. So we hung out on the bed a lot. Read, draw, play and sometimes we would bicker over things and start a kicking contest. Since I was older, my kicks were stronger and my little brother would start screaming for Ah Ma. When she appeared at the bedroom door, he'd cry and complain that I was bullying him. And at the blink of an eye, a cane would appear in her hand and I would receive the lashes for bullying and he received 1 lash for making too much noise. Ouch! it was painful but on seeing him received the caning too, I turned my body and face to a position where Ah Ma couldn't see yet in full view of my brother. I then placed a thumbs up sign closed to my body and mouthed the words "very good". I did all that while Ah Ma was lecturing us not to make such a raket. He was so mad, that he shouted my action to Ah Ma. Ah Ma was so mad that she was interupted that she gave him another lash! I could see him fuming..... in tears.

I was still living with Ah Ma when I was 14. That year, I had my first menstruation and had to start wearing thick bulky sanitary pads. Kotex ran TV commercials with a lady running on the beach and leaping into the air and the word "Freedom" rang through the commercial. Since our bedroom was so small, most of our belonging were stowed under the bed. One day, my little brother who was only 8 then, was rumaging through my stuff under the bed. When I returned home from school, I found him sitting on the floor by the bed, too engrossed in peeling off every single piece of sticker backing from my Kotex sanitary pads! I screamed at the top of my voice and Ah Ma rushed in to see the commotion. To Ah Ma, boys/men are not supposed to walk under women's underwears or touch anything that we women put under there. It is considered very 'sueh' (unlucky). And so, my little brother was taught a lesson by the cane. Poor fella.... he had no idea why he was caned at all besides for ruining my stickers.

Luckily, as we grew older, we became good friends. We often laughed till our belly ache and tears in our eyes recalling our silliness.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sibling rivalry? Non-existance :)

My boys love to tease each other about how they pronounced certain words when they were preschoolers. Russell will chuckle and burst out laughing and exclaimed that he felt embarrassed whenever we reminded him of his "opytus". That's supposed to be octopus.

Jonah on the other hand will pounce onto his bed, cover his face with his pillow and grumbled that he didn't like it whenever we reminded him of his "munty". Which was supposed to be monkey.

Here is their favourite teasing line:
1) Hey mom, What sounds like a munty and looks like a munty? You give up??...It's ha-ha-ha...( sometimes, Jonah will pounce on him instead of the bed before I hear the answer.)

I will then take side and reminded the teaser about his own silliness.

2) Mom, what moves as slow as a sloth and looks like a squirrel? (there will be a loud "Oii..." from Russell, and the verbal war will start)

I will then move in to back the losing side.

It's all fun in the end as both boys will end up laughing and rolling in bed. I love them for their brotherly love for each other. Makes me smile with content to see them getting along so well together 90% of the time. The other 10%? = 5% teasing each other + 5% annoying each other by not following each other's instructions.