Monday, 27 May 2013

Saddest tales my mum told me

MY MUM was famous for telling me the saddest tales in her understated and undramatic way -- which made those tales even more poignant. And for many days after each tale, I would beg her to change the ending -- which she stoically refused, saying that was how the story ended and she couldn't change a thing.

Whenever I sat at the doorstep of our old house waiting for mum to come home, one of the stories she told me would come to mind. It was about a wife who waited for her husband to come home. Couldn't remember why her husband had to go on this long trip. But it was a trip of no return. The wife waited day and night... day after day... till she became a fixture at the mountain top where she was looking out for her husband, probably with the vision of him walking homeward bound on the trail below the mountain, swinging his luggage happily. She turned into a rock waiting. The mountain was named "Looking Out for Husband" (Mong Fu San in Cantonese). You can see this mountain in Hong Kong -- it is shaped like a woman looking out into the horizons.

Another tale I would always remember was again, of a woman waiting, this time for her son to climb down from the rope that led to the skies. Some magicians from India, can make a rope go up skyward (like the beanstalk in the fairy tale). Apparently, a boy observed a magician doing this and secretly learnt the trick. The boy boasted to his mum that he could perform the trick and despite his mum's pleas not to do so, he climbed the rope. "I'll bring you all the treasures I can find from the skies above!" shouted the boy as he climbed.

"I don't want any treasures. I just want you to be with me, safe and sound! You come down at once!" the mother shouted back -- but to no avail. Up and up the son went and gradually disappeared into the clouds. His mum cried her eyes out for she had a bad feeling that she would not see him again. For many days, she waited at the foot of the taut rope which led to heaven. Suddenly there was a burst of thunder and the sky yielded an arm... then a leg...and then other parts of the body that was her son.

Tales of separation were I supposed, the saddest. I also remembered the tale of a little spotted deer which was separated from its mum in a forest fire. The fire was caused by a careless person tossing a cigarette butt onto some dry leaves in the forest. Soon the whole forest was ablaze. All the creatures ran in separate directions to escape the fire. In the commotion, baby deer was lost. Mother deer searched and searched for her darling, but in vain. Actually this tale was told in the form of a comic, in a magazine published by Life Church. Mum would read it out loud to me during still afternoons. I asked her almost every other day whether there was a Part 2 in the magazine about the mother finding its baby.

I didn't help that the next page of this magazine after the comic, had a picture of a little girl praying at a grave of her mum. Combine the two tales, and you have the saddest story of separation.

Another tale, was really my mum's dream. In this nightmare, she was looking for me and couldn't find me. She panicked, stepping on countless heads of multitudes of people in her hurry to look for me. She woke up without finding me. I hugged mum tightly and told her to dream again, this time, she needed to find me in the dream. But she didn't have the dream again.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil

MAN with a hat, carrying a big fish on his back. This brand of cod liver oil has been around for the longest time -- even older than me I should think! Because I can remember my brother taking this white creamy liquid everyday while I took Seven Seas' golden tablets instead (because I would throw out each time if I took the cream version).
I lifted this picture from the website.
The box and the bottle are exactly how I remember
 them to be  in the 60s when I was a kid.
Mum insisted that we take this supplement. So, as a result, we have many boxes and bottles with this man on the two labels. And I have gotten the habit of collecting all the Seven Seas boxes. I just loved its bright yellow and black packaging. I found the words "Seven Seas" very intriguing too and imagined myself sailing in the ship on the label. I also found the bottles particularly useful in containing small pebbles I picked up from the "wasteland" at the end of Cardiff Grove (that was to become a massive residential development with roads named Li Hwan Terrace etc). Mum sometimes took my brother and me there to fly kite. As my kite usually didn't fly too well, I ended up looking for interesting rocks and pebbles. I loved collecting these -- especially the white ones which looked like small pieces of marbles. I would put the bigger ones into the boxes and carry them all over the place with me -- ready to pop in another pebble should I find one on the road side.

One time, I left a Seven Seas box of pebbles at our regular dentist who had a clinic just next to Dr Ferandez (the one with the wonderful Chrysanthemum clock). I liked this dentist, he always chatted amicably with mum when we were there. Anyway, that day, as we were walking away from the clinic after extraction of one of my milk teeth (we were planning to have a drink at Tuck Kee, the coffee shop round the corner of Kensington Park Road) when we heard heavy footsteps behind us. We turned back and there was our favourite dentist rather breathless, running after us.

My mum was rather embarrassed and thought we had forgotten to pay for the extraction. She was a little less embarrassed when he returned her the box but hoped he didn't realise that it contained pebbles. But I was extremely grateful and he scored another Brownie's point in my book.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The face of time... and home

Key to a time when clocks were not such silent companions
as today.
I LOVE old fashioned clocks with numerals. And if they go tick-tock-tick-tock, so much the better.

The clock which dominated my childhood was a simple, round clock with a white face and silver rim. A Seiko, it hung on the wall of our living room -- not exactly a centre of attraction but more a presence that provided comfort and a sense of home.

It had to be wound once a day -- my job. I needed to carry a chair to where the clock was to do this. Each time, mum would say "remember to wind it to the direction of the kitchen..." I would break the clock's spring if I were to wind it in the opposite direction, hence mum's caution each time. And I should not over-wind it as this would also "break the spring". Just 12 times -- full cycle, towards the kitchen.

The key for winding this clock was a unique key, shaped like a bow and a short stem that would fit into the clock's keyhole. Come to think of it, today it would make a lovely pendant. You needed to lift up the glass cover of the clock to insert the key for the winding. I see it so clearly now in my mind's eye that I can almost hold it. You take the key that was always kept in the drawer of a metal desk where the typewriter sat -- in my mum's "office" in the house. A room in the house was used as the office for her to mark scripts. My dad started a correspondent school in accountancy when he came to Singapore with my mum. When he died, my mum took over and single handedly ran the school.

I think it only broke down twice in its entire life serving our family at Serangoon Gardens for the time we lived there. I could still recall the sad stillness of afternoons without its "tick-tock" for company. My dad rushed the clock to the watch/clock repairer who had a stall along the corridor of the row of shophouses along Serangoon Garden Way. Its tick-tocks were essential to the whole household.

But sometimes its tick-tock could also give a desolate feeling, especially when you were up in the middle of the night, alone in the living room, waiting for mum to return from visiting dad in the hospital. Or when you are waiting for a very important phone call.

Then there was the clock -- a pain diversion -- at Dr Fernandez's clinic. It was hung on the wall that faced the entrance and it had this chrysanthemum at its centre which "burst" with every second. As a child, I was always so fascinated watching the flower grew bigger and bigger and then splisssh, went back to its original size and then grew bigger again -- an exercise in continuity and stability. Feverish head and bone aches were momentarily forgotten looking at this clock.

Another clock which stayed in my memory, was my neighbour's cuckoo clock. I only saw it once when I went over to their house to take a bundle of dumplings which the grandma made for us. Being Peranakan, she made absolutely gorgeous dumplings. Every day, she would be squatting at the backyard, rhythmically pounding chilli. Then the delightful smell of nonya cooking would waft over to our side. We didn't mind the sound, and the smell. They were homely and comforting.

However, her clock didn't go tick-tock. It went cuckoo, cuckoo...followed by dong, dong, dong (the number of dongs depending on the time). I could count the number of times it "donged" and I would know the time of the day. I had badgered mum to buy a cuckoo clock. But I was glad she didn't, because I would definitely miss that big round clock with the silver rim on our living room wall.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

ETV, anyone?

EACH time I hear Handel's Hornpipe from the Water Music Suite, I travel back to the days when we were seated in a science lab and watching TV. Actually those sessions were called ETV (Educational TV) where programmes were specially made to explain lessons in a more interesting and entertaining way. That was during the 70s when I was in secondary school. We kind of looked forward to such sessions because it meant that we could allow our mind to wander a little as the teacher in charge of the sessions was usually seated at the back of the class. However, we could not day dream too much as the teacher would later ask questions on the subject featured in the programme.

The programmes were in black and white. I remember the narrator's voice which was calm and soothing -- perhaps a little bit too soothing as I soon found myself nodding off.

Hornpipes in Handel's French overture heralded the start of each ETV programme. A teacher actually took the trouble to explain the origins of Water Music though it was just background music for the introduction to the programme. Only trouble was that I got it all garbled. The only part I got right was that it was music composed for a king.

But for the longest time, I thought that hornpipes had water gushing down their length to produce "watery" music. So each time the programme started, I was enthralled secretly by the mental image of water gurgling down long pipes. Which I thought explained why Handel named this piece "Water Music".

Well, I know now that it was because King George had requested for a concert on River Thames, hence the water connection.

Today, I guess "E" stands more for 'electronic" rather than "educational". And in true spirit of the E-era, I googled "water pipes" and discovered that music can actually be produced using water pipes. And there is also such a thing as a water ogran. Wow!