I had a serendipitous moment yesterday.
Background: I don’t get enough sleep. In fact, I haven’t had enough sleep for the past three years. So I am perpetually exhausted and in dire need of coffee. Also, I never used to drink coffee (it made my heart beat like those terrible dance music) until I became a mother. And now I am immune.
Alright, yesterday. I had an external meeting that went splendidly well and speedy. When I stepped out of the building, I decided to grab a coffee because I hardly have coffee during the week days. Coffee is a luxury and indulgence reserved for the weekends so whenever I get coffee on a weekday, I get deliriously thrilled. Haha, poor me.
There I was, back at my old stamping ground, back in the days when I was at the big O. The corner fish head curry coffeeshop is still there but the fruit stall next to it is now Park Bench Deli (run by my ex-colleague’s husband!). There are so many cool and hip cafes at every turn and corner. I was pretty amazed by just how much the streets have remained the same and yet changed at the same time.
I wandered down the street aimlessly, wondering where to go when suddenly somebody stepped right in front of me and said, “HEY!”
It was my ex-colleague from the big O. What were the odds?
Anyhow, we had a quick catch up about our lives and I mentioned that I was looking for a place to have coffee. She shook the bottle that she was holding and said, “Go check this place out! It’s just down Club Street. I got my coffee there.”
I made my way to Club Street, without really knowing the name of the cafe while simply relying on her instructions: “Club Street, you know the condo next to Spizza? It’s just there.” And I found it.
Stamping Ground Coffee.
To be honest, I was a little meh when I saw it. It was a tiny takeout corner and I was hoping to sit down for a drink. The place had a bench, and two bar stools and that was about it. Hmm. I decided to order my usual – flat white – and sat down on the bench to wait. There was just a young lady behind the counter serving up the drinks.
Instead of stoning and surfing the net on my phone as I always do when alone at cafes, I decided to break the ice and asked her if the place was new. She said yes, it was just two weeks old. And then we started having a conversation about how and why she started the place, how exciting it was for her to put it together, how she loved doing this gig.
We must have chatted for, what, 30 minutes or so? And it was a really nice, warm pleasant conversation in that little hole in the wall. I love listening to stories about people’s lives and this was one of the reasons why I got into journalism – to tell these stories. (Which I miss doing very, very, very much.) The coffee was pretty decent too, as she used beans from Papa Palheta. For someone who was more into baking and pastries, I thought the brew that she served up was nice.
All in all, it was a very lovely, unexpected way to spend the afternoon. I left with a little spring in my step, happy to have done something out of the routine for one day and to have listened to a good story.
This morning, I decided to go for a run instead of lazing around at home in the morning. Of course, my littles refused to let me out of their sights but I could only take one of them so poor bubba had to stay at home with papa while Aidan came with me. I strapped him into our trusty stroller, packed a bottle of cold water and snacks for him, put Spotify on my phone and off we went.
It was such a hard run. The weather was starting to burn up at 815am and the sun was blazing. It was my first time running with our stroller AND Aidan but thankfully, our amazing stroller was so easy to manoeuvre and it was gliding along the pavement smoothly.
I lasted, hmm, all of 10 minutes. And then I had to alternate between running and brisk walking. It was okay though. I knew I hadn’t been running for a while and the body needs to adapt to having to push the stroller. And when I was walking, the little man and I were having conversations about what we were seeing – rubbish trucks, MRT, construction, (cranky) cranes etc. We were admiring the butterflies flapping among the greenery and shouting out the numbers of the buses that zoomed past us.
On our way back, a young Malay couple, who were devouring cold drinks after their run, hastily made way for me as I rounded the corner with the stroller.
“Thank you!” I called out.
The man smiled. “Most welcome!”
As we neared home, an elderly Sikh was walking his dog with a cup of coffee in hand. Our eyes met and we smiled.
I decided to break the ice and be neighbourly. “Good morning,” I said.
“Lovely morning to you too,” he replied, tipping his cup in our direction.
Behind him was a Chinese woman walking hand in hand with a little girl.
“Look at didi on the stroller,” she said to the girl. I smiled at her and she smiled back, before urging the girl to wave to us.
Even though it wasn’t much of a run, I went home with a happy heart. This is the Singapore that I love, the country I call home. There are many imperfections, no doubt about it, but there is also much to be proud of.
There are many cynics out there who feel that we are overdoing this SG50 celebration, that every company and every ministry is trying to milk it. True it may be but then again, when I turn 50 and I am still Fabulously Gorgeous, you can bet that I will want to celebrate gloriously too.
So let’s pack away the cynicism for just a month more, let the lady turn 50 in a blaze of fireworks, song and dance, and then we can go back to being the practical Singaporeans that we are.
When I was six, my father died.
I remember every single detail of his funeral.
Most adults would be surprised that my memories of his wake are so vivid and real. I remember not wanting to see my papa’s body because I was scared. Scared of what, I cannot tell you now, for it was something I could not articulate then as well. I remember fooling around with my cousins, jumping around like there was an invisible hop scotch engraved on the ground. I remember bursting into tears and bawling non-stop, and being passed around by the adults as there was no one who could console me. I remember the white tee shirt and little piece of straw token pinned to my sleeve.
And the most lasting memory of his funeral, that stayed with me all these years, was the tune that the awful marching band played during the procession: Auld Lang Syne.
This morning, as I woke up to the news that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away, it was Auld Lang Syne that surfaced in my mind immediately.
Funny how some things never leave your subconscious.
When I was a kid, watching the NDP on TV at home was a must. My mother and I would seat ourselves in front of the telly after dinner and watch the entire programme in its entirety, year after year. The only times I missed doing this was when the man and I were camping out at some field somewhere, hoping to shoot the fireworks.
“Every year also the same thing,” my mother would tsk as the contingents marched across the screen. But it never stopped her from watching anyway.
But the moment that we were both waiting for was not the fireworks, but when Mr Lee appeared. We would clap and cheer loudly, as if he could hear us.
“My hero!” my mother would exclaim.
And year after year, it started to become apparent that he was getting on in years, especially after the death of his beloved wife. He looked frail and papery thin, almost as if even cracking a smile was costing him some effort.
The man and I would murmur something along the lines of “look at him, he’s getting so fragile now” and we knew he would die one day.
But we never thought that the day would come. Ever.
You know how we think that some people will never die and they will always be around by the sheer power of their strength and determination?
That’s how I thought of him.
I must confess that as I became a young adult, I stopped idolising Mr Lee and took a harder, more critical view of my government’s policies. The truth is, I do not agree to many of them. But this does not mean that I lost my respect of the man.
His methods may not work for this generation, this era, but the turbulent times probably needed someone as decisive, unapologetic, combative and single-minded as him. I will never understand fully what it was like to live in those uncertain times but seeing how I am a product of his legacy, his methods must have worked.
I am an educated woman with a family of my own. We have a roof over our heads and decent jobs. My children receive subsidised childcare, which allow me to go to work. Our transportation system – say what you will – is stable, reliable, clean and efficient. I never had to worry about the colour of my skin or my gender hindering my progress in school and at work. I have access to delicious, cheap and hygienic food. When I take my boys out for walks, we can duck under the trees for shade. My estate is clean and safe for my kids. I speak two languages fluently. My passport allows me to travel freely and it is highly sought after.
Coming from a single-parent family of a low-income earner, I reckon I have done pretty good, thanks to Mr Lee and his master plan.
This morning, as we watched PM Lee deliver his speech in three languages, I choked back tears. Here is a man who had to put aside his grief as a son to address the nation as an office holder.
“So, so sad,” I muttered to myself repeatedly.
Aidan, the sensitive child that he is, caught on that mama was feeling low. “What’s wrong, mummy?” he asked. How do you explain a death to a three-year-old?
So I said, “Mr Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore, he created Singapore. He has died. He was somebody’s papa and somebody’s gong gong, just like how you have your yeye and nai nai and por por. His grandchildren have lost a gong gong and his children have lost a papa. And it’s very sad. He is gone and no longer with us anymore.”
Bless my child, he probably did not understand most of what I had said, but he repeated solemnly after me, “Oh, he is not here anymore.”
Today, I realised that my boys will never know a Singapore that is so infused with the life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. To them, he will be but a character in the history books, someone they read about during history or social studies lessons. They will never have the privilege of seeing him walk up the stairs of the National Stadium, clad in his party white and waving to the crowd.
And so I write this, in the hopes that they will one day read my words and see that he was not just a man in the story books, but someone who had meant a lot to their mama.
Dear sir, I am sure you did not go gently into the good night, and you probably fought a good fight. Your work here is done and your beloved wife is waiting for you on the other side. Farewell, be at peace, and know that your presence will be sorely missed. Thank you for all that you have done.
Photo shamelessly taken from iheartapple.
Today, my very sweet husband drove me from my office in the east to a tiny showroom all the way in Alexandra, just so I can check out a sample sale. As I browsed through the racks, he stood outside and waited patiently as I stood in line to try out the clothes and then to pay. And then after that, we went for lunch together.
Just us, hand in hand, in conversation and with much mirth.
Now, this is not a post bragging about my amazing and wonderful partner. Oh, he is amazing but seriously, he has his flaws (as do I) and sometimes he is quite the arsehole. But oh well, for better and for worse and all that jazz, right.
What I am trying to say is that I had a lovely time and I loved connecting with him. And it was a good break.
Truth is, we are in the midst of a transition around here. It’s not something that I want to talk about publicly but let’s just say that it kind of rocks the stability that I am used to. And I am someone who needs stability in my life.
There’s a fair bit of uncertainty hovering around us now and I am not used to that. I am not someone who can jump off a cliff without knowing that there is firm ground beneath me – I have not been brought up to take risks. I couldn’t, not when I had to be accountable for my mother.
So this is making me feel unnerved. I’m frankly a little worried and anxious but it’s also something that is beyond my control. I can only go with the flow and try not to be in the way.
But yes, I worry. I worry about living life in Singapore, where the sandwiched middle class such as us is constantly struggling and fretting. I worry about my kitchen, which is slowly falling apart after six years (the developer clearly did not use good quality materials). I worry about my kids’ education. I worry about our retirement.
I worry, worry, worry.
I first heard about Melanie Lee‘s whimsical and sardonic e-book Imaginary Friends: 26 Fables for the Kid in Us a year ago. But I didn’t grab a copy then because, frankly speaking, I had neither the energy nor the time to read then.
The e-book has since then transformed into print and Melanie kindly offered me a complimentary copy – how could I say no? So during the weekend, when the little man was napping and the chores were done, I sat down for the first time in a long, long while and read the book.
As I plunged into the stories, I started smiling at first, and then laughed out loud. I love that the highly satirical stories were not explicitly funny, at least not in the crass HAHAHA sort of way. Rather, they were out of the world, ridiculously imaginative and exudes a sense of humour that is hilariously dry. I must admit, though, that there were a few tales that were lost on me and which ended oddly to me. But by and large, I enjoyed the stories very much and loved the truth and wit behind them.
I mean, you cannot disagree when the moral of the story is “in the hustle and bustle of life, we all could do with more sleep”, can you?
At the same time, the stories were superbly matched by the illustrations of Arif Rafhan, a Malaysian-based artist. He had taken the characters created by Mel and given them a visual identity that was so distinctive and, well, sort of mad. The characters have bulging eyes, thick lips and slightly bloated, misshapen bodies – not quite cute and yet oddly endearing. My favourite of the lot is Elly the Egotistical Eraser: what a badass she is!
I will definitely grab a few copies of Imaginary Friends as gifts to friends who may be in need of a good tale (or 26).
You can connect with Mel and Imaginary Friends on Facebook or grab your copy at Books Kinokuniya and MPH Bookstores for $10.80. You can also purchase it at BooksActually or from its online store.