Today we enjoyed a slice of country living on a Sunday afternoon. After 6 years, we ate the fruits of one of the two coconut trees we planted. We plucked 8 coconuts in all. Lucy and Richard, my brother-in-law who planted the coconut trees when we first moved in, were in the house this afternoon. They thought the coconuts were ripe and could be eaten. This is a first for me. Planting a fruit tree and eating its fruits. It felt interestingly normal. They are indeed sweeter than the coconuts we buy from the market. The experience is made that much sweeter watching my mother eating the ‘white meat’ and drinking the ‘water’.
My mother has a special relationship with coconuts and coconut trees. They remind her of her childhood in China. The sound of coconut in Hainanese, ‘yiah’ has an auspicious sound of winning. My mother used to be a gambler, albeit a small-time gambler. But she could be compulsive and the mood in the family was dependent on how lucky or unlucky she was with her ’12 Sticks’ or ‘4D’. So she associated the sound of ‘winning’ with gambling. And beyond gambling to winning in life, being ahead, as in being successful. Such superstitions were a way of life, and in some ways, they have infiltrated into my present life.
I believe in ‘Fengshui’ and this belief has influenced the way some aspects of my house are laid out. House hunting and, ultimately finding this house in which I live, was an elaborate routine of matching its facing with my birth dates and other personal details. I have felt blessed staying in this house. It is in a good neighbourhood, a little sleepy and quiet, and quite a distance from town. But it is exactly what I like at this point in my life. In a city like Singapore, especially now when there is overcrowding, I think this is as ‘country’ as any Singaporean can get.
The little land affords the kind of garden I have always hoped to have. One with a pond with fishes, lotuses and lilies, some small trees and plants. And flowers, especially Morning Glory. My fence is covered with Morning Glory, the kind that grow wild on public fences of schools and community centres. I got our dog from the SPCA. It was a fateful day when I met her, a mix of Mongrel and German Shepherd. She was called Desiree. Within a day, I re-named her MG, as in Morning Glory.
My mother is happy spending her golden years in this house. In the old days, such a corner terrace is still called a ‘eat wind house’. I have fashioned it almost similar to the black and white houses from the colonial days. It reflects my taste, my age and even my aspirations. We have moved into this house for almost 7 years. To be eating homegrown coconuts is at once a happy and new feeling but also one which reflects the passing of time. This is the home of all my homes in Singapore. In addition to all I can do in a garden, this is where I have my first dog and where I started collecting Chinese contemporary art. This address is probably where I feel most at home.
What is it like to leave home and live in a foreign land? What was it like for my parents? They were the second generation of immigrants to settle in Singapore. While doing research for ‘1965’ I found out that Hainanese were the last to leave China for ‘Nanyang’. Most jobs were taken and most Hainanese became cooks and maids. My father was a cook while my sisters were maids, then known to many as ‘ang mo kang’. I have found a special connection with China through Chinese contemporary art. I will have to find a connection with Hainan island and visit it someday. It is time to put into context the many stories my parents told of their hometown.