Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger 3

Adora 13

‘We weren’t poor but we weren’t rich, so we didn’t have any real heirlooms to speak of. But before the house got sold, we all went back and looked around (it’d been vacant for a while) and I just sat in the kitchen and cried, and picked up some old drinking glasses and plates, just to remember my grandma by.

We also found a pile of her kebayas, so one of my aunts collected them and distributed them to each of the ladies in the family. So  I have a set too. I also asked to borrow my grandma’s kerosang to use on my kebaya at my wedding. It made me feel very comforted that Mama was with me in spirit on my big day.”

‘Today, some frown at me when I’m out with my family. Because we’re an inter-racial family. I wonder if my ancestors, back in the 15th and 16th century, had to undergo the same stares because they were Chinese and Malay/Indonesian families. It’s thanks to them that we have a Peranakan community today.

Most Peranakans (Nonyas for the ladies, and Babas for the men) trace their roots to the Straits Settlements (if you weren’t paying attention in History class, that’s Penang, Malacca and Singapore for you); my own family is from Penang, though sadly, that’s about as much as I know. 

We weren’t full fledged ‘live in Joo Chiat shophouse, wear kebayas and bake kueh-kueh all the time’ kind of Peranakan family. We were more of the ‘cook a couple of Nonya dishes, like our spices, sprinkle a few Malay words in our daily speak’ kind.

But Peranakan I am, no matter how watered down, and this is my story.’

Adora 14

What is your earliest memory of your heritage? 

‘I have so many memories of my childhood, and the bulk of them are of the years I spent at my grandmother’s house in Katong. I was cared for by my grandmother, Mama, and she cooked the most amazing dishes.

Mama never had a food processor or a grinder or a blender. Everything was done by hand, the old fashioned way, with a lesung. I remember her squatting in the kitchen pounding away. Chilli, turmeric, ginger, garlic…If I close my eyes and think hard, I think I will be able to hear the sounds. 

She always wore her kebaya for big occasions, but for daily outings, she would wear her muah (the skirt that goes with the kebaya) with a self-sewn top. She made all her clothes; I remember my parents will buy her cloth every year.

I never knew I was ‘Nonya’ / ‘Peranakan’ / ‘Baba’ until much older. All I knew was that I was ‘different’. My friends didn’t seem to know what Garam Assam or Sambal Pedas were and I found that to be strange because my grandmother cooked them so often that I thought they were very common dishes. Come to think of it, I had all these spicy dishes even as a kid! The adults would eat with their fingers at dinner time, but the kids used utensils. Except if they wanted to appear grown up. 

I also found it strange that my friends referred to objects by different names that I. “Towel” to me was “tuala”. To wash one’s bum after a poo was “cebok”, armpit was “ketiak”, to get a second helping of rice was “tam bah nasi”. I wondered why we called our aunts Mak Koh/ Ko Besar and Koh-chik. It was only  in my teens that I realized they were Malay words; I always thought they were Hokkien words, because that was the main language my grandmother and I conversed in.’ 

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‘I also remembered playing cherki with her while waiting for my school bus. It’s funny because none of her children know how to play it. and I was the only grandchild out of 14 who knew. I would like to think that I was the closest one to her, because I stayed the longest with her.’

Of all the things you have learnt from your parents (in terms of tradition or culture), which do you feel was the most valuable? 

‘They were more family oriented. My parents always reminded me to respect my elders. Everyone older than us had to be greeted and invited to eat at meals (e.g, “Kong Kong jiak, Mama jiak, Dad jiak, Ma jiak) – so the youngest in the family would have a long list of people to address before actually eating!’

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What is that one thing that you intend to pass down to your children in regards to your heritage?

‘I will definitely pass down my grandmother’s kebaya to my girls. And my wedding kebayas. My husband is French-Canadian, I am Peranakan-Chinese, so the kids are um, well, a good mix of stuff. I want to be able to tell them as much of their culture as possible, so when they are asked, they wouldn’t simply say, “We are Eurasian”, but rather, would be able to elaborate on their rich backgrounds. Oh and if they want, they can have my lesung as well :)’

Adora 15

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Adora shares her light-hearted stories on everyday life as a mum of her lovely girls at her blog http://www.gingerbreadmum.com.

Adora 17

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The Lesung

SMBP 1

The Lesung, also known as the Asian version of the Mortar and Pestle. Is used for crushing and grinding spices to prepare rempah or samba belachan for Peranakan dishes. Unlike a food processor where all the spices can be thrown in and processed together, using a Lesung means that the ingredients need to be slowly lined up for pounding.

Starting from the hardest ingredient, candlenuts (buah keras), before ending off to the softest, i.e., soaked dried chillies.

‘Mama never had a food processor or a grinder or a blender. Everything was done by hand, the old fashioned way, with a lesung. I remember her squatting in the kitchen pounding away. Chilli, turmeric, ginger, garlic…’

This Singapore Mum Blogger occasionally uses the Lesung in her kitchen, and intends to pass her Lesung together with her grandmother’s kebayas to her children as heirlooms.

Who is she? Find out tomorrow from my 3rd post in my series of  ”Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger.”

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Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger 2

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“My pair of earrings (which I wear daily) is passed down from my great, great grandmother. It is set in white gold, which is very unusual for the time it was from. My Mum passed them down to me when I turned 18, and it is so close to my heart because I remember my Oma smiling as she helped me put one on, while my Mum put on the other.

She told me that more than its value’s worth, it has borne witness to the lives of all the women in the family, who have worn it before me.”

 

What is your earliest memory of your heritage?

I grew up with smells of food, and I remember sitting in my late Granny’s lap while she prepared ingredients for meals. Those were fond memories and I will always associate family time with the comforts of home-cooked food.

Indonesian food is richly steeped in tradition, varies greatly by region and has many different influences. My Mum is of Chinese – Sunda descent, and my Dad was of Chinese-Javanese descent. My maternal Grandma was half Dutch, so I was introduced to a miss mash of Indonesian foods which have different, yet distinctive flavours.

At the dinner table, my Granny always made sure that all of us, her 5 children, their spouses and her 13 grandchildren, were fed well…and it is also her belief that there should always be leftovers when everyone is done.

I loved my Granny’s fridge. It was an old General Electric fridge, light green and was the main gadget in the old, airy house.  One thing I would always remember about that fridge is that it was always full. Never once have I opened the fridge and not found something to eat. It was full of condiments, raw ingredients, and treats. My Granny believed that a full fridge will bring prosperity for the home, and food in abundance will ensure that no one ever is in want.

My grandparents started off with nothing for the home when they got married and this was the first item that my Oma purchased after saving up for almost 10 years. She told me it was the happiest day of her life when they brought it home. Marriage day and the births of her children were no comparison, because in her words, “This was something which I know will give the family joy, whereas giving birth was painful, and the wedding day was a brand new start to a journey where I had no clue what was in store.”

That’s the Oma I know and love. She was practical, honest, and loved her family so much that none of us should ever go hungry. She lived through the war, and always told us that once you know raw, unadulterated hunger which cannot be sated…you will never be the same.

 

What stories have you heard about your heritage from your parents or grandparents?

I was very close to my maternal Grandma. I stayed over with her on weekends, and I looked forward to Friday afternoons. This was the time when my Grandpa will pick me up from school (I can still picture him now, waiting for me at the school gates!) and we will take a train from Jakarta to Bogor, a small town 60km away from the capital city, where they live.

ReginaImage Source

This station, built in 1870, was renovated in 1926. It still stands as is today…and the sight of these domes marked the start of a weekend for me.

She told me stories. Oh, how I loved her stories – because she conjured them up like magic. She was an artist. She drew and painted, and taught me how to draw my dream house at the foot of the mountains. I believe my interest in art was fueled by her; she made me see beyond the obvious…and opened up the way to help me visualize things in my mind.

She told me about the war. The atrocities committed by the Japanese, and the hardships the people had to endure during the occupation. She told me about death, and how precious life is. She teared when she told me about the 7c it costs to buy a jerry can of fresh water, which the people (who were fortunate enough to own wells) sold. If they had no money, they had to hope for rain.

They got married during those days which were filled with trepidation, and the air was thick with fear. There were days when she had nothing to eat, because they was just simply not enough produce from the land. My grandparents decided to hold off having children because they didn’t want them to suffer during the war.

Indonesia gained its independence on the 17th August, 1945. My Mum, the eldest child, was born on 26th November 1946.

My Grandfather was a military dad to his children. As much as my Mum hated it, she is her father’s child, and therefore she was extremely strict during our formative years. I sought solace in them whenever I had to face her wrath, and as the first grandchild of the family, I remember times when my grandparents quarreled with my Mum over me. I remembered saying things I should not have said to my Mum back then, which must have hurt her so deeply.

I know now, because I’m a Mum.

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Although I have called Singapore home for the past 30 years, I am proud to still be an Indonesian. Perhaps in time I will make the change from blue ID to a pink one, given that I have married a Singaporean, and my son is one as well.

Regina 12

Indonesia was my country of birth, and no matter where I am, it will always have a special place in my heart.

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The first time I stumbled upon Regina’s blog was this post she wrote of her mum. Her reminiscence of her growing up years with her mum struck a chord with my feelings towards my own mum. Her effusive and expressive way of articulating her experiences, brings across an almost lyrical-style like prose in her writing, which makes her blog a thoughtful read.

Regina 23

This versatile mum-of-one, shares her honest observations and anecdotes, all told with her trademark warmth, wit and wisdom at her blog mummymoo.com.

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Stay tune for the final post in this series of Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger coming up in the next few weeks.

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