Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Treasures from a Shandong couple

Guotie (pan-fried jiaozi) brought all the way from Beijing to Singapore,
made by my friend, Pauline Dawn Loh. Mum used to make such dumplings too,
which she learnt from a Shandong friend in Singapore.

My parents used to know this couple from Shandong. The wife was tall and big. The husband was tall and thin. They visited us often. Sometimes, I would follow my parents to their house which was at Medway Drive, just a few lanes down from where we lived in Serangoon Gardens. I liked their house which had a porch. I don't remember a single piece of soft furniture in their living room, but it was cosy nonetheless.

They had endless conversations. I would have a plate of peanuts all to myself while they talked. The wife toasted the nuts without oil and with just a bit of salt. I loved the filmsy, flaky skin which tasted salty and sweet at the same time. And after I finished the plate, the wife or the husband would refill it with more peanuts stored in an airtight Milo can.

The husband sometimes entertained me (as he knew I was bored) by playing the saxophone and the violin. I wondered why he wasn't a member of the orchestra or something. Perhaps he was when he was young.

They were always very neat in their appearance. The wife wore black rimmed glasses. Her hair was jet black (maybe dyed), a straight, one-length bob with side parting, clipped securely at the longer side. She wore simple tailored dresses (mostly in dark shades) that reached down to her calves. She had a rich timbre to her voice, and occasionally would let off a hearty guffaw.

The husband has his hair combed back like Tony Tan, but not as black. He wore short sleeved shirts (usually checked) and baggy pants with cuffs. He spoke softly and didn't seem as gregarious as the wife. He smoked quite a bit too -- cigarettes from a green tin -- Consulate. Once, he showed me a pipe and sachets of tobacco. I remember one of the gifts he gave Dad was a gold cigarette case. I had many moments of fun springing the lid open and close. Those days, smoking was common, though already known to be bad for health, it was not as publicised.

Their conversations with my parents were always peppered with laughter. I enjoyed listening to them though I wasn't at all sure what they were talking about.

I don't think this Shandong couple had many friends here. My parents seemed to be among their very few. They drove and would sometimes take us to a dinner of jiaozi (dumplings) in Chinatown. But first, they would weave in and out of the stalls in People's Park, The stalls were then outdoor, with many meandering narrow alleys formed by the arrangement of the stalls. They were fond of crockery, cloth, household goods. They spent a great deal of time browsing -- till they saw my long face -- and it dawned on them that it was way past dinner time.

My mum learnt the art of making jiaozi from the wife. Many happy hours were spent with me helping to knead the dough and rolling it out into neat rounds, using a Red Lion bottle ( popular brand of a drink in the 60s) as a rolling pin. Mum would be busy mixing the minced pork and cabbage for the filling. Dough left under a wet towel would have faces formed on them (by me of course) --  the "Play Doh" of today!

The wife also gave my mum, neatly cut rectangles of materials, kept in biscuit tins. These were laboriously cut with edges pinked, from scraps of materials leftover from her dresses. My mum would sew those little pieces into patchwork blankets for us. I would steal a few pieces to make into clothes for my dolls. I had many happy hours looking at all the pieces of materials and thinking of what design would go well with the various material.

The treasures from this Shandong couple were generous, textured and so rich.


streetsing said...

Good friends are hard to come by, to be treasured when found. Certainly a cultured couple :)

Lo Tien Yin said...

Yes, but when I was a kid, I kept wishing they would stop talking and look for a coffee shop and eat dinner :)