Singapore Life

.

.

Part III

Right from the beginning, I have the inborn knack to create. Plans and elevation seems to be the only subject in mathematics I could comprehend otherwise I would have failed. My dad recognises my talent and I was even doing interior perspectives of our home that my dad really had them done up exactly the way I drew them. I was only 13 then. Some of the furnitures are still evident in Hutton Lane. Somehow my dad saved some when we lost our Jones Road home. The boss of the interior firm was so impressed with my handiwork, he told my dad that I should pursue this. And there you are, my career path was already written. And I was setting new standards with my brother’s double set of LEGO. I was building electric guitars, robots, buildings, and airports.

.

.

My first ambition was to be an Interior Designer. No doubt about it and I actually became one. My results was good enough to enter Bournemouth College in UK where I set my sights on but then, because my overall results weren’t impressive and funds were limited or because I didn’t exude enough trust and confidence, I didn’t get that privilege to. My sister went, but I was sent to work in the petrol kiosk we owned at Chain Ferry Butterworth instead. The reason why I was so fascinated about interior design is common sense. Without it, buildings look lifeless, just like how cosmetics could enhance a woman’s feature. I termed it ‘cosmetic architecture’. I too like fashion design and when I was working inside the architectural firm, I found myself sketching fashion and oogling at fashion magazines. My colleagues thought it crazy, not like my results in architecture was bad. I was outstanding. I even got distinctions in building construction in the second year, and not only architecture. That made my classmates from Singapore disenchanted with me. My concept was also plagiarised by a classmate in my final year design.

.

But my interest waned.

.

Because if you could have seen the firm I was working in, it was dull. My colleagues was also dull, and so was lunch. If you can feel how we need to stand in line at ‘Lau Pasat’ or the basement canteen of the building the firm was situated in, you’d understand me thoroughly. Our office was at Finlayson Green in the old Asia Insurance building now known as The Ascot. I began to appear work late. Sometimes I came up in the same lift as my boss, to the dismay of my colleagues. In fact I was propping myself not to sleep each time I was directed to work on something, and I always looked forward to my office sending me to the Building Control Department to submit proposals or do amendments. There, I got to talk to some of my Poly classmates and lecturers. It was a long walk across Stamford Road and Cecil Street no doubt but I enjoyed it. I can also drop by to MPH bookstore to entertain myself. My boss was kind. He looks a bit like Tony Curtis. In my four years, my paycheck doubly increases each year I was there. And he left it all to the draughtsmen who guided me. What I learnt from Kah Chong was his perseverance and dedication to his craft. Although I was annoyed with him once, he taught me how to measure buildings with our eyes on plan without the use of scales. My boss, Soo Seng gave me books on architecture to read. But he has an odd habit. He carries the type of school bag we use in primary, sort of a flipped open brown colored cardboard hard case. He was outstanding amongst the occupants of the same building and he moves as fast spending only two hours before noon and two hours after lunch in the office each day. At other times he’d be at the share market. And when his friends invited him for lunch, he will reduce their wishes to merely ‘Char Koay Teow’. I knew he was prudent but over excessive, but he’s nice. Really nice at least to me. No doubt about it. In office we also had Margaret who started off as apprentice whose uncle was Kah Chong and a clerk, can’t remember her name who used to speak like a melted cartoon each time her husband calls up. But I felt I was in the wrong job. I kept asking myself is this the life I want? Working for people and working eight hours a day for a mere pittance? And how long then could I save enough for a car or a home? The more I thought about it the more I felt distanced from this job.

.

.

After work, I will take the no. 176 bus and head to Dover Road. Where poly is situated. I was the gallant gentlemen in buses back then . Beit from office to school or from school back to home, never for once did I not give my seat to others. And the same few women whom we meet inside the buses would always glanced at me.

My classmates was fun too but because most of them went into National Service, our intermission is inundated with just that. Their life in the army is interesting to me, considering we don’t need to, over in Malaysia. And because I attended it part time, most of my classmates was working in different aspects of the construction field during the day and so we exchanged notes. I even received a note from a female classmate expressing her interest in me. But i wrote a note nicely back declining her advances. I can’t remember her name. But right after that, the entire gang of female classmates ignored me after that. I felt chastised but what can I do? I was not there in class to be liked anyway I thought to myself. I remembered Pulau Tekong as we went there for a camp at one time.

.

.

Outside office, Singapore life has it own fun. My daily commute from home in the East to office in the Central then to Poly in the West and then back again., makes me feel like a molecule in motion. There wasn’t MRT in those days but buses and taxis. So, depending on my schedule, it’s either one or the other. So it was year in year out (except for my regular diversion to Orchard Road to meet my friends and modelling) That became the addicted routine.

.

.

In Singapore I have three branches of friends. Colleagues, classmates, and casual ~ a bunch of outside friends which I got myself acquainted to. They are the most fun and treated me well as a friend and guest of Singapore. I must mention some of their names in particular- Desmond & Derek, Ronnie, Steven, Ivy, Connie, Janice. All in all I garnered about 100 friends. Roughly 25 a year not counting those women who always come knocking at the doors. Today there’s only one left. Her name is Ivy. A professional model turned talent scouter living in Hong Kong. They all left a big impression on me and of how naughty we were, sneaking out with Ronnie’s parent’s car in the middle of the night for supper and enjoyment, and even drove to Changi Airport from River Valley Road which was just completed. There we sat playing guitar in the stairwell. We went Sentosa island, we went swimming, went drinking, and not to mention the haggling and fights, and girls. When the cable car collapsed, we were just nearby. That was to me, the days of wine and roses. We always hung out at Orchard Rd, and I earned my badge as one of those Mc Donald boys back then at Liat Towers. Sometimes we’d meet at Yaohan Plaza or Paragon. Sometimes opposite Lucky Plaza to the sound of breakdancers performing their stunts to the beat of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It!’ Those were the days when Richard Gere and Julia Roberts was the idol, starring in hit movies like ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘The Officer and the Gentlemen’. Also it was the age of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Boy George and George Michael with his famous hit ‘Careless Whisper’. Sometimes we hung out at Key West, or Shangrila’s ‘Xanadu’ Discotheque. If we are hungry, we’d go to Newton Circus for a nice bowl of Soup Kambing or to Katong, for the famous Hokkien Char Mee or Murtabak. A classmate of mine came to work in Singapore too, contacted me and for months, he stayed with me, at my 2nd aunties place in Joo Chiat until he decided to leave for Holland to be with his mom. We also had a pop band of our own and we used to go Fort Canning jamming and use the studios up there!

.

.

After a while, I went into modelling. That was my first exposure to backstabbing, treachery and deceit. Believe me, no one is no one’s friend. And as a model you are expected never to have friends because with friends, the agent finds it difficult to offer one but not the other. We were trained in stage makeup, catwalk, deportment, etiquette, I even got a certificate in that! We used to carry with us Liechner Foundarions and rouge sticks, a back with three colours of shoes, black, brown and a pair of sports shoes. In fact it was Edwin whom I got acquainted to who helped me a lot to understand the mechanics of modelling, he being seasoned in this. I helped him once out of a fight being a hot blooded man I was, and ended up nearly sodomised by him (or was it him wanting me to sodomise him?) in his room when he invited me home. His hands were all over me in the middle of the night when I was asleep and until I realised that, I quickly turned, face down and ran off from his home in the wee hours of the morning. never to see him again. If there is anything sweet about modeling life are the women, the wild encounters and night rendezvous. Some came knocking at the apartment doors of my auntie’s home.

.

.

But the beautiful most surprising thing about these guys I knew outside my workplace and school was, they all come from well-to-do families. I even get to visit Run Run Shaw’s personal viewing room at Shaw Towers once. But we didn’t connect well to sustain for those were the days devoid of internet.

My 2nd aunt was a shifting cultivator. When I first arrived in Singapore, I was staying with her in a rented apartment in Joo Chiat Rd together with her lived in boyfriend and her three girls and a boy who rented a room from her. Then she moved to Fidelio St, then to Bedok. By the time she wanted to shift again, I was at loggerheads with her and went to stay with my 3rd Ee at Hougang and then Tampines. But my 3rd Ee’s family wasn’t like my 2nd aunties. They were modest and I could feel a genuine warmth. My 3rd Ee works hard for a living having initially two daughters and an adopted son from the brother of my 3rd Tniau. They gradually bore one more son Kenneth and again another daughter named Alvina.

Out of the few places I ever lived, Fidelio Street was the most memorable. We moved into that scruffy one story old terrace which was once occupied by my 3rd Ee now becomes my 2nd auntie’s abode. As a tagger , she gave me a room at the very end which in those days I believe, was used by the maid. She didn’t inform me we are moving till very late and when I found myself there, she told me the whole family is going back to Penang for Chinese New Year, leaving her youngest daughter Janice (she works as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant) here. I couldn’t leave because exams was nearing I think! Janice is today Dennis by the way, after having a legalised sex changed operation in Singapore. So alls good as I remembered the new bus route I needed to take and carried on my routine as usual. On the first night, I found myself alone after unlocking the gate, then the main door and back to my tiny ‘cell’. I cleaned myself up and rested on the double decker bed, with my right side face exactly facing the room door. Right where my toes are, the end of the bed, is the wardrobe with its side facing me and another wardrobe facing it which is the wall the entrance to the room sits. Thus, where my torso was till my legs, there was a retro sideboard with a low table top and a large mirror. Very fashionable in those days. There, I placed my powder, comb, hair gel, etc. As I was about to catch forty winks, I could hear the main door opened, then closes. By the way, between my room and the main door which is the family cum living is the air well and the bath stall we use with a separate water closet. But all’s good as I was expecting my cousin to be home. I could hear the footsteps walking in , but instead of stopping where her bedroom was, the steps came behind. Just next to my bedroom is the bath and the toilet so there was nothing unusual about that but then, the footsteps walked right in, into my room without even opening the door! And I was like “Oh my God!” And the steps went to the sideboard and I could feel the presence of someone fiddling with my things! I dare not open my eyes then because my bedroom door was a latched type where it can’t be opened from the outside! I closed my eyes tightly but with my toes fiddling with the blanket I was given which is at the end of the bed! When my hands could grab it, I pulled it up and hide under. And I was sweating profusely hoping the sound would end. It did not until I chanted some Buddhist mantras we were taught when young for protection, the usual ‘Amithaba’ that all Buddhists are acquainted with. Suddenly, my mind envisions a room full of distorted furniture. Then fades away and on the next scene it was total darkness! But out of nowhere, a door of light opens up! Only then did the whole nightmare disappears and my experience normalizes. I shared this with my cousin the next morning so we promised to wait for each other at the bus stop before we walked back together each evening for about a week or so, each of us taking turns to stake out as we bathed until my auntie is back. And many many years later, as we sit back with my cousins reminiscing the old days, my cousin Madeline who used to stay there before us recalled the time when her family was at the living watching tv when her adopted brother, then still young came in to inform them that an old lady with long hair is waving at him at the air well!

.

Anyway, I returned to Penang after four years, to escape the concrete and clay and the color grey, as how my lecturer Tay Cheow Bin puts it. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I felt I was in the wrong job. I kept asking myself is this the life I want? Working for people and working eight hours a day for a mere pittance? And how long then could I save enough for a car, or even a home? The more I thought about it the more I felt distanced from this job. Although I miss my friends. I couldn’t stay there illegally after giving up my work permit. Thus, I went to clear my taxes etc. My auntie was surprised with my decision telling me I should not have and how stupid I was to cancel that work permit I was carrying which is very difficult to obtain. She claimed it could be kept for other jobs. Who knows? But Poly life helped in a way and taught me alot about architecture and what I’ll be getting into if I decide to become an interior designer. Where I worked, the firm did not procure enough projects that would make anyone of us excited plus the laws then was strict, pardon the language. Still is, but I believe the degree of flexibility is much better now than it was before. When I left, Raffles City just opened up, and so is Marina Tower designed by John Portman. My dad aspires me to be an architect so he could be a developer. That did not happen..

I left Singapore for good.

.

.

((To be continued))

Mom was a Socialite

.

.

Mom was a socialite, but dad always insisted that meal time is when everybody sits together at the dining table. The irony was mom seldom sits at home lest to watch us eat our meals. She adores outside food and thus with all her ‘Tai Tai’ friends, they’d cluster together over meals in the most popular of Chinese Restaurants. And because we have lived-in maids, the maids are the ones who cook for us. They are simple dishes. Tau Eu Kay or Bak Cho, and Chai Tau Char. But we enjoyed it. Since young we relish what’s served to us. But she does however prepares herbal soups needed for us to grow. Our breakfast was usually liver with fresh ginger and soy sauce basked in hot water . Sometimes bread and butter with sugar sprinkles, fresh milk from the milkman, sometimes outside food and at times, boiled eggs with Milo. Except for my brother who is quite picky, otherwise we have no trouble adjusting ourselves, my sis and I. We too enjoyed the lavish dinners combing functions, celebrations and dinners my dad is required to attend. As children, we tagged along everywhere they go. That’s executive privilege. When dad goes to work, we usually remind him in sync with this daily recital “to be good, make a lot of money and come back soon.”

.

.

Mom was close to her three sisters too. Especially my Jee Ee (2nd aunty) who is somehow always around. My 2nd aunty hos a company which organises variety shows and events in Penang. Inside her stable were Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore film stars and singers. I think she is quite successful in what she does because most of her stars are the very famous ones of that era. So are the band boys she manages. And together with my mom, both of them comb night clubs and bars sought of after dinner ritual if ever they are obligated to attend. Their favourite sport, drink, dance and chat till they drop.

.

.

Thus in every aspect, our school life is inundated with our parents social preoccupations so much so that we hardly have evenings of quietness. My dad had his name inscribed on the plague in his alumni , attributed to the largest donor of his ex pupils association. He was also wearing many other social hats. That shophouse in Presgrave Street is our usual haunting ground. There, we played table tennis, mahjong games or simply scribble onto the blackboards. As children, we accompany them and we had our fun. Mom’s favorite sport is talking and there, she is at utmost ease, as she acquaints herself with members of dad’s club. She has her own alumni too. In that era, there wasn’t plenty of fun places to go to. And so I guess, that’s how our parents enjoyment is integrated with ours.A one stop fun club for families. Inside this association are also a full set of musical instruments my dad had donated. They have a band of their own which were regularly invited to perform at functions or religious ceremonies such as Ko Tai’s.

.

.

Back in those days, beit at Great World Park or New World, where my dad’s association band sometimes perform, there are amusement games, merry go rounds, ferris wheel, open air cinemas and ad hoc stage. And there are in the midst, candy peddlers, kacang putih sellers. The grounds are usually sandy and wet on rainy days. Where the bands play, they usually have a sort of battle where the best of bands is judged by the crowd they could garner and thus, in between Chinese Pop songs. they will also belt out Western numbers by the spurts.

.

.

My maternal grandma’s house was smacked right in the middle of town at Aboo Sittee Lane. And her tyre shop was in Prangin Road (now Lim Chwee Leong Road). Grandma was shrew. It could have been that after the war, she took over the business left by her deceased husband (my maternal grandfather) who was tortured and died in the hands of the Japanese. Or it could have been she managed that tyre shop for there were cousins and in laws in the business registration. Grandma used to ride on human powered trishaws, her grand Mercedes on three wheels, to and from work. Because of her, we had fun riding on these trishaws , to arrive at Goh Phar Teng where we’d have the best Koay Teow Thng, Hokkien Mee and Char Koay Teow. My grandma loves to cook Kiam Chye Ark, a salted vegetable soup broiled with shitake mushrooms and duck or chicken meat. That was my sister’s favourite soup. And from Kiam Chye Ark, the soup will transform into Chai Boey which from the same soup, leftover dishes were thrown in for the extra flavour and they’d relish and relish as they keep on adding the salted vegetables and soup in. Sometimes it takes them weeks to finish just this one dish. My sister is very close to my maternal grandma so, during those days, she sometimes stays with her. And together they’d go watch those Taiwan love movies and have a good cry. I really shook my head at this ‘paying to cry” movies. That is beyond my understanding because if dad brings us to movies or makan-makan (eat out), he’d usually order more than enough beit a Sunday at the Seafood restaurant at Tj Tokong or the cafe besides Cathay Cinema.

.

.

On weekends, dad sometimes play hosts to his foreign friends and relatives who visits. He usually brought them sight seeing beit to Batu Maung, the aquarium, Batu Feringghi beaches, seafood restaurants, Snake Temple, Kek Lok Si temple or the Reclining Buddha. As children, we follow where they go to, with our Singapore cousins (mom’s side) , if and when they are are down on holiday. That is because both my Ee’s had their homes in Singapore.

.

.

At home, we too had fun. When none of the relatives are around, we will play with our Lego set, Chinese or English chess, Happy Family, Ludo, Scrabble, you named it, we have it. Outside of the semi detached house, we’d cycle, roller skate ar play basketball all day. Dad had a net fixed at the balcony corner and we too have our own personal pond. It was a landscaped feature pool, but with a bit of imagination, it became our private wading pool. Actually it started as a fish pond where dad rears his Japanese carp. Later it became a tortoise pond after the hoards of tortoises we brought home found at the land in Jln Tengah. But we had them donated to Ket Lok Is temple years after because no one likes to regularly clean the pond. We also played kites, because our neighbours kids all play kites. One minute “s”, the next minute stamps. My sis, she reads fiction. Love fiction in particular. We also have a pet dog named ‘Poppy’. Such a lovable watch dog he was. The rest, dad rears following Poppy’s demise was just that, another dog. And everyday, the Indian Mee seller staying next door to our house will bring out his pushcart. There at the corner of our house entrance he ply his trade. And we had plates and plates of his mee because it was so delicious and tasty. At night, opposite our house at the corner of Jones Close, was a ‘Chai Diam Ma’ sort of s grocery cum provision shop. In front is a Rojak Seller (a kind of salad with fruits and condiments eaten with a sticky paste made of prawn). Behind our home, dad built a badminton court in no man’s land. There we had bouts of fun games and dad will invite all his friends to have a game or two. Dad was a sports freak. My brother and I followed him to watch football at the City stadium every time the Penang team plays. Dad himself excels in table tennis winning many times in inter-school alumni competitions and my sis herself was a hurdler also having strings of medals to take home. They are the only two in the family appearing in the trophy corner. And because our house was just a footwalk to Gurney Drive, we often spent our days and evenings there collecting seashells or had fun at the beach. Or just sit there by the pedestrian walkway to wile our time away. The best thing about our Jones Road house was, then, there weren’t much cars. We can literally follow the back path towards Pulau Tikus market and back. Pulau Tikus market is where everyone living in that vicinity buys their fresh produce from and also breakfast.

.

.

But there is this place which I was literally fond of. My dad’s estate in Jln Tengah. It’s actually a pig farm he literally built himself out from scratch with the help of some sub contractors but he bought the materials himself and built his first few sheds I guess to cost save. He does that on his own by just by following the guides he gain from books. My daddy is my hero. And I can safely say I inherited his talents.

The pig farm has only one access, with three water convolvulus and hyacinth ponds to reckon with beside two streams that ran across it. And in between these ponds are rows of rambutan and durian trees not to mention banana and pink fleshy guavas. The farm flanked a paddy field. Both rivers sprang a lot of surprises. From monitor lizards as huge as goats to the Malay farmer batting fresh water prawns with their bare fingers, it’s the kind of adventure every child needs. Because every farm owner is entitled a shotgun, dad does his hunting for pests that would invade the fruit trees or the chickens living inside the estate. Sometimes to get us excited, he’d plan for evening hunts which two, or three of my paternal cousins will follow, one was my 3rd Kor’s son who later worked with my dad in the motorcycle shop then the gas shop, and the other two was my 2nd Kor’s sons, whom after school just did some odd jobs with my dad, who in a way feeds them. The farm was minded by my Tua Kor (eldest sis of my dad) and her family. My Tua Kor Tniau literally works for my dad. He was entrusted to look after the pigs. They have a VERY big family of their own and most of them resided there under my dad’s expense. Sometimes in the evenings. the lorries from the wholesalers would arrive, ready to pick the pigs to the slaughter house. And they pay their dues in cash. It is one of the most lucrative business my dad has ever been in, but because labour was scarce, dad was also half hearted. Then came the government who uses the land acquisition act to acquire the land, on the pretext of building low cost houses. The never did. Forty years later, it was sold to Suiwah for RM40 per square feet. Chong Eu, then Chief Minister was made their group Chairman. Dad was aggrieved and seek them out for a compromise where we would build the low cost houses and sell it to the government. They refused so dad brought them to court. Nevertheless, we lost. But not without a fight. Thence, we sold the land to them at RM1.38.

Inside the farm was a tool shed dad built. There, we had fun making our own imaginary space-aged gadgets or toy guns we as children played with. We even attempted at making kites. And many a time, there was the encounters with cobras who loves to hibernate inside bathrooms. Even pythons. Back in those days the new road was practically non existent, so we use the old road bypassing Sungei Ara and there at the crossroads, dad will stop to buy Cucuk Kodoks and Ham Chin Peng (Teatime Sweets). My brother and I will always sit at the river bank fishing, making our fishing rods out of bamboo sticks. They may be small cat fishes but there we were, having a great time exploring. But those were the Sundays without mom. or sis who was with my maternal grandma on most weekends. It’s like a boys club, with wildlife as friends. We did not have much luck with the durians, mangosteens or rambutans because that wasn’t our core business. The whole place is like a fruit orchard, only that gnarls of pigs is what one hears from a distance. But when they do grow, there we are perching ourselves on the trunks relishing the fruits send from heaven. Of course there were some chickens, ducks and goose. Goose acts as deterrent to snakes.

.

.

With so much happening, I felt that as children, we are very blessed because then, there was a sense of family bonding. Until life took a turn when I was about 17 years of age. The misfortune taught me alot about face value and how most of daddy’s and mommy’s friends were literally just suckers. They suck the sweetness out of you like chewing gums, then spit you out once there is no more sweet left in you. And that is how I described their friends, even relatives for the matter. Because when my parents were left to borrow, only a handful came to the fore. And got thrashed by the rest. When news spread that we are no longer doing that fine, my sis was in England. Our Chinese New Year celebration, once a festive gala crowded with scores of people, even strangers are now empty spaces filled only with faint echoes of our once booming life. Back in those days, Chinese New Year was a grand affair. We had hoards of visitors, cards from minsters, and five lion dances to reckon with, from the societies that dad and mom are active in. My dad and mom was also politically active, both serves as chairman of the parties in the districts they were involved in. I was in my teens then but I was sensitive enough to understand what was happening. All the food and drinks that mom prepares were literally wasted. It was a traumatic experience for me. One that would remain etched inside my cerebral till this day because on every CNY, these memories will creep back. Unlike most Chinese, I may be the only one who will never enjoy Chinese New Year because it was a bit too traumatic for me.

.

.

.

((To be continued)).

Hidden Rules

“It is alarming that Chinese has many hidden rules that even I am not aware of. Until I was recently made aware that the paint color used on tombstones, if it is gold, represents dead relatives and red, signifies the living. Thus on the grave of my grandparents, upon my discovery, my beloved cousins, siblings and I, have been dead for more than half a century already . Cant get more incredible than this years Cheng Beng. Drown me please somebody !”

Chneh Meh Kay

(Version in Hokkien)

Chneh Meh Kay

Tok Tiok Tharng

.

(Version in English)

A blind chicken

Pecks a worm!

.

About this saying:~

This phrase/saying is commonly used to describe how luck could strike undeserving people the same way a chicken , though blind, could peck worms.

The author/owner has compiled for record, a collection of early Hokkien sayings, proverbs, rhymes and ditties to capture the essence and spirit of his hoi polloi, a community originating from the southern province of Fujian, China where individuals climbed aboard bum boats, crossing the South China Sea to settle in faraway lands to escape the brewing civil unrest and a way out from hardship carrying along with them in their journey, nothing except their trademark ponytails and their beliefs, very much rooted in Confucianism. These ditties retell their story and their lifestyle way back then so that the younger generation can gain an insight and foothold to their origin..

Bedak Sejuk

“The making of ‘Bedak Sejuk’.

My mother’s concoction of rice powder for teenagers was quiet well known. It was supposed to give u a nice complexion and keep ugly pimples away. Her concoction was to soak rice grains for 24 hours and the decanter the smelly water every night b4 bedtime. This would go on for a couple of nights until there was no unwanted smell and the rice grains fermented completely.

To make them smoother she would have them put between the grinding stones and the substance came out smooth. Then she wld mix the paste with grounded sandal wood, maram grass roots and nutmeg seed also grounded.

When she got it to the right consistency everyone was invited to fill up their cones and drip the the drops on to a heshian cloth. Then dried out in the sun.

A cone would sell for 20 sen and a smaller one for half the price. Everybody swore to the efficacy of her ,Bedak Sejuk’. No pimples and claimed a smoother complexion.”

– Reposting an article shared by the late Tan Sri Ani Arope 5th Mar 2014.

Correcting Peranakan Popular Believes

“The Peranakans weren’t Chinese immigrants who adopted the culture of the Malay archipelago. The word “adopted” as opposed to “adapt” is similar but not the same. It was more of an intercultural amalgamation at a time which saw different communities living together happily which resulted in the assimilation of local lingua into their colloquial and vice versa but of course there are amongst them, intermarriages, which saw Malay maidens being welcomed into the Chinese household. The Peranakans were and is truly Chinese whom at that time are pseudo-Buddhist hence their Confucian and Taoist values, rites, beliefs and practices. Cuisine is purely Chinese but a little experimentation with local spices and adaptation of cooking styles of other inhabitants led to newer recipes considered distinctive to the Peranakans. The comparison of taste from different curries will tell you. However, the many claims by die hard peranakans with regards to recipes such as Jew hu char, bali juak, kiam chye ark and curry kapitan has no basis simply because they were truly Hokkien and Hainanese dishes and not as claimed by these pseudo Peranakans. Most of these recipes were and is still found on the altar and offering tables of the Hokkien community during cultural and divine festivities which were by and large the single largest grouping ever to span the Straits Settlements thence comprising Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Cocos Keeling Islands and Dindings in Perak. Marital, birth and funerary rites were strictly pseudo-Buddhism celebrated in compliance to the Chinese calendar. The Peranakan’s ostentatious taste of finery, garnitures, crockery, embroidery, clothing and furniture are mostly commissioned from countries within and beyond the Malay archipelago, the most obvious being namwood furnitures from China and Czechoslovakian designed coffee shop chairs and enameled tiffin carriers. However it must be noted that highly skilled local craftsmen of Shanghainese origin were also producing pseudo-Victorian era furnitures and architectural motifs to cater to the taste of their English-speaking ponytailed clienteles. These often comprises sideboards, roofing gables and umbrella stands and they usually spot marble tops, claw feet and barley twist balustrades. The habit of chewing tobacco and betel nut is not Malay but archipelagic as observed from the designs of the sireh cutter which were folkloric to the Hindus. Peranakans has their own perkakas. The habit of wearing Baju panjangs and kebayas were a fashion statement of that time. However it should be noted that the keronsang that adorns the blouse differ in taste and make and so are the appliqués .

Peranakans versus Straits Chinese

“Most Peranakans are Straits Chinese but not all Straits Chinese are Peranakans.
For one to be a Chinese Peranakan (also known as Baba Nyonya), one needs to be born of Chinese/Malay parentage as a result of intermarriages between Chinese towkays of that era with local ladies without so much of religious restrictions and as a result, these local ladies adapted themselves to the Chinese way of living learning the husbands customary culture from the matriarch (her mom or grandmom in law) whilst raising her own family thus cross pollinating her own cultures in whenever the need suits them whilst her husband works or took care of matters outside the home. As a result, a new lifestyle bloom alongside a strangely mixed lingo of Hokkien and Malay (Hokkien was a widely accepted dialect amongst the Chinese then)- a culture identified with its unique food recipes, and a preference for ostentatious taste in fashion and lifestyle; most certainly an adaptation borrowed from friends and neighbors of different cultures also rooted in the Straits (Burmese, Thai, Laotian, Indian, Ceylonese whatever) which found acceptability with these Straits Chinese and thus became fashionable. The Straits Settlements is a British colony comprising mainly of Penang, Malacca and Singapore and to a lesser extent the Cocos Keeling islands, Christmas Island, Dindings, Pulau Pangkor and some smaller islands in Perak and that of Labuan. That is the entire British trading influence and how the Chinese within the S.S frequently addressed themselves as. The Straits Chinese community. To be a true blue Straits Chinese, one needs to be a local Chinese born during the British administration of the Straits Settlements from 1826-1946.
This explains why some Chinese families who claims to be Straits Chinese often wonder why they do not have Malay dna in their ancestry lineage. And of how everyday recipes very commonly found in the Straits Chinese household have Malay sounding names especially the ones imbued with local spices though some of these recipes are in today’s context non halal.
One can identify a Chinese Peranakan with their spoken patois very unlike the Hokkien or Malay as how it is spoken today. And generally these Chinese Peranakans are darker skinned and possesses sharper features. I had the opportunity to interact and acquaint myself with genuine Peranakan friends whose ascendants were distinguished personalities from the government fraternity living in then Emerald Hill. They are Western educated which explains how many of them after years abroad have adopted the Western religion unlike the many local Straits Born Chinese whom were and still is mostly Buddhist or Taoist.
I remembered those days as a lad we were taught to address Chinese damsels and lads in strict colloquial standards. We call them ‘Ah Nya’ and ‘Ah Bah’. Though I do not have Malay lineage, I often wonder why my grandparents and great grandparents were all heavily bedecked in straits jewelry from kerongsangs to silver belts down to the kebayas, baju panjangs and those heavily embroidered slippers. But I understand them now. They were fashionable in those days.
Btw that’s how antique I myself is. And no, I’m no Baba even though that was the form of address given not only to me but to other lads as well.”