Thursday, September 29, 2005

The first memory

It is said that our memories can be faulty. What we thought we remember are actually, well, just what we thought. My earliest memory is one of my maternal grandparents. When I was young, my elder brother and I used to stay at Por Por’s house during our holidays. I have no idea what we did then. I think we ransacked the kitchen and played with pots and pans or just stayed glued to the telly. It was always fun to hang out with my grandparents.

Gong Gong was a quiet, solemn man. I cannot remember much of him. Maybe it was because he was struck down by Parkinson’s disease in his latter years that my memories of him were blurred. As far as I can recall, he was a man of few words. My bro said that Gong Gong was a man of habits. After his shower, he would go to his room, take a cotton bud and clean his ears while on his way out. We never questioned where he went. Perhaps it was to meet his friends. Or maybe he just liked to walk around.

Por Por was a great cook. She would make the loveliest meals when we hung out at her place. Fried potatoes, minced pork in black bean sauce, and her specialty: fried rice. I think it was because she did not limit us to eating healthy food (like mum did and still does) that we liked staying over. Por Por also made a mean chili sauce. We never got to learning the recipe.

So, the earliest memory I could dredge out was one of the sleepovers at Por Por’s house. There was going to be a Cantonese opera in Chinatown which was a stone’s throw away. As usual, bro and I were still eating when Gong Gong left for the performance. My recollections are fuzzy but I remember the route we took. Por Por stayed in Block 1. We would have to pass by the Mama stall at Block 2 to get to the stage. As we passed the block, Por Por bought us a cup of ice-cream each. Of course, being the girl, my color was pink. So I had strawberry while my manly brother had chocolate. They cost 40 cents each. We were, however, not allowed to eat them until we reached the stage.

As we hurried along, I thought only of my ice-cream and how good Por Por was to us. We quickly found Gong Gong seated on one of those orangey-red chairs they used to have for weddings at void decks; the ones where the backings and the seats were orangey-red plastic with bits of white in them from the wear and the legs were black. Finally, we could eat the ice-cream. After finishing the dessert, we sat in our chairs because in those days, children did not run around. If they tried, one stern look from their parents would freeze them in their tracks.

I sat there trying to keep my lids up because I could not understand what they were singing about. It is strange how the din did not seem to dampen my sleepiness then when I see how I have to sleep in an absolutely quiet room now. It is probably the coffee. After a while, I swung my legs back and forth to keep myself occupied because they did not quite reach the ground. I glanced over at Gong Gong’s strong back and noted how he had elegantly crossed his legs. He cut a distinguish figure. Gong gong’s hand was on his thigh, his fingers tapping to the music. I think he was having a good time.

Later we went home and helped Por Por set up bed for the night. We loved playing with the sofa bed because it was a novelty to us. After the bed was in place, we would need to venture into the dark bedroom to get the pillows, or miao miaos as we nicknamed them. It was an adventure in itself. Darkness and children do not mix. Before sleeping, Por Por would fix us a drink of hot condensed milk (ngao nai shui) or milo. Then, we were ordered into bed. I would snuggle up with the tons of miao miaos and they were filled with a special scent that we could only find at Por Por’s house. Later I learnt that this very scent was from Por Por's smoking but it was still very unique, still very fragrant. Por Por would sleep beside us, patting us to sleep.

All these recollections may not be one hundred per cent accurate, but I do know that they give me a sense of nostalgia on the days I recall them. The warmth at the memory and the tinge of regret at not being given a chance to take care of them now leaves a sweet yet bitter taste in my mouth.


Jess said...

When I was little, my Grandma had this oriental tea set that she kept high on the cupboard doors, only for special use. It was red and gold. I used to beg her to let me have tea parties, but she was always busy. But I remember one summer day, we sat in the garden, and she brought out the tea set, and made me tea. I remember distinctly all the butterflies in the garden, and the bees, and all of her flowers that I had helped her plant. And I remember feeling like quite the little woman- sitting with my Grandma in the sun, not talking, but feeling incrediably mature.

I bought my first tea set this summer for this reason alone.

This was a lovely read.
Your writing reminded me of this. The little details that might not be accurate, but that matter. The composite memories.

Adrian said...

That was very nice.

S&S said...

My granny had a mean skill- that was to whip up salivating dishes whenever i visited her house on weekends...
How i miss those day~~~

jllt said...

Jess: I remember feeling grown up when my mama allowed me to chop the garlic for her. I think you would have seen me biting on my tongue in concentration to get them into perfect sizes.

adrian: Thanks. You can share your stories too. (:

walkon: I never knew a grandmother who cannot cook.