If you see a flowering Angsana tree, those massive, beautiful grand dames of Singapore, stop and take a whiff.
Amazing, right? That smell takes me right back to childhood.
Back then, we had many more graceful Angsana trees lining our avenues. They hardly bloom, but when their vibrant, yellow blooms burst forth after hot, dry seasons, it is a sight to behold. And all around, the unmistakable scent of their blossoms.
Angsanas are now being cut down round the island as they have been deemed as “risky” trees. The fiercer thunderstorms we are experiencing mean that branches could come hurtling down onto roads and cause hurt. That, unfortunately, has resulted in five or more beautiful trees along Old Changi Road near my place, at least 40 years old, being gleefully hacked down to nothing. I suspect that the greedy condo developers have taken the advantage to lop down a few venerable giants too to make way for their crass condos.
To me, it is such an awful waste.
The Angsana blooms last only a day or two so if you catch one flowering, go underneath and take a deep breath. It might be an aroma that you might not get to enjoy for much longer.
It’s Easter weekend and there’s much to be grateful for.
Once again, the pink Amaryllis lilies have bloomed in my neighbourhood. Like clockwork, they never fail to share their beauty once a year during Lent, right through to Easter.
My red Amaryllis also decided to favour us with her brilliance on Good Friday. This is a special flower for the family as I brought the bulbs over from dad’s place when I moved to my new home years ago. When it blooms, I think of dad and I believe that he is not far from me.
It’s also time for Hot Cross Buns, a favourite of mine since my school days in Oz-land. The kids enjoy them too, so while Good Friday is for fasting, abstinence and long church services, Holy Saturday is for baking.
I am no Delia Smith or Martha Stewart and my creations don’t make a pretty picture, but I’m grateful that they’re good enough for thefamily.
Easter is a celebration of light, love, joy, renewal and hope. Here’s wishing everybody light, love, joy and blessings this holy season.
I don’t observe Qing Ming or Tomb Sweeping Day but a coffee chat with one of my oldest friends, V, reminded me of the quirkiness of this Chinese festival that recently took place in early April.
Qing Ming falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. On that day, many Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects and also to give the graves a good cleaning. When I was young, dad used to drive the family, complete with pails, brooms, brushes, detergent and gardening tools to remove stubborn weeds and wash a year’s worth of grime from Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves at the Bidadari cemetery. These visits became less and less frequent with dad’s advancing age. Eventually, they petered out altogether when the cemetery land was reclaimed by the government and the graves all exhumed.
Now most Chinese pay their respects by visiting the niches in the neatly laid out blocks of the various columbariums throughout Singapore. Yes, these are the perils of living in a land-scarce country. Even the dead are relocated to HDB block-equivalents!
V paid her respects during Qing Ming by visiting her late grandparents’ niches. Being the caring eldest grandchild that she was, she went one further. Her grandpa never got to travel in an airplane in his lifetime, so she thought that a little springtime jaunt would be a nice gift to him.
V bought an airplane, complete with air tickets and itinerary, as well as a passport.
All these were purchased at a very reasonable $20. The next step was to make sure he got his gifts. These were offered before his niche before burning.
When V told me what she did during Qing Ming, I just knew I had to share this. It was bizarre, funny but also very, very sweet. Love shows itself in various forms, and I’m sure V’s grandpa would have been very touched by his grand daughter’s loving, filial actions.
Once upon a time in China, there were two brothers, Peter (Wai Mun) and Harry (Wei Han).
Coming from a reasonably illustrious and wealthy family, Peter and Harry were privileged boys. They wanted for nothing and true to Chinese tradition, were spoiled by indulgent family members and servants. They were males, and unlike females who get married out to other families, Peter and Harry would carry on the family name.
Harry was a studious, fastidious young man. When both young men were sent from their hometown in GuangZhou to university in Shanghai, Harry studied hard and passed his Accountancy exams with flying colours.
Peter, on the other hand, was the proverbial firstborn dandy. As the eldest, he was treated as a princeling and given into at every turn. As with the Tsengs of that generation, Peter and Harry were blessed with good looks. Peter, in particular, had the high, scholarly forehead that was the hallmark of the Tseng clan, high cheekbones, the almost aquiline nose, and a pleasant bearing. He was also a great fan of parties and and dance halls, and there was probably not a dance hostess in Shanghai who did not know fun-loving Peter. At home however, he was petulant, short-tempered and used to getting his way in everything. He was also a spendthrift, and spent all his allowances on fine clothes and shoes for the dance halls.
In time, both boys graduated (Peter just about scraping through) and were recruited to work as accountants at the family bank in Hong Kong. Both were match-made with girls from suitable families. Peter got to work immediately, and babies started appearing in quick succession. However, to the disappointment of the family, one girl after another was born, with no male heir. In time, Peter grew disillusioned with his sweet, docile wife who gave him no heirs. To show his disdain, his daughters were not given special names but named after books. They were to have no education, no special treatment. He often left the wife and babies at home and continued carousing at the bars.
Hardworking Harry had his fair share of trials too. His first wife passed away unexpectedly, leaving him bereft and devastated. The family, already alarmed at the lack of male heirs, proceeded post haste to find another wife for Harry. Ever the good son, Harry remarried and was blessed with many boys, seven, to be exact and a very healthy girl. Very early on, like the Book of Wisdom, fortune favoured the wise and industrious, and left nothing for the foolish wastrel.
The lure of business opportunities in the lands of the South China Seas was great and both Peter and Harry were eventually sent to Singapore, with their parents and families, to expand the bank’s operations there. They had a house in Devonshire Road that was big enough to house two families. Unfortunately, Peter’s truculent behaviour and stubborn pride led to a falling out, and he soon moved his family out to a little rental house in Geylang.
Actions beget consequences and the tale of the Tseng brothers is a living legacy that spans a generation.
Peter, you see, is my grandfather.
I never knew him as he died from his excesses even before my dad and mum got married. I would very much have liked to tell a tale of a loving grandpa (Ye Ye) but this is not to be. Everything that I recount here is based on the reminisces of my dad, uncle and aunts. They too, have passed on now, but what struck me is that not one of them had anything nice to say about their old man.
In essence, my Ye Ye’s selfish actions created a life of struggle for his family, and morass of missed opportunities for the children. I’m sure he did not have a mean heart, but an indulgent childhood, a perception that he would be first in all things and a temperament for the finer things in life made him what he was. Harry, on the other hand, stayed to the straight and narrow, and his children and grandchildren grew reap the fruit of his labours. Many of them, whom I am proud to call uncles, aunt and cousins, were and are scions of Singapore. They are leaders in their fields of Medicine, Law, Education, Religion and to this day remain a closely-knit family.
Ye Ye, on the other hand, left the family bank after some years (probably after another falling out) and became a salesman. He continued his partying at the dance halls and what little he earned was spent only on himself. Meanwhile, his neglected, stoic wife struggled, stinged and scrounged in order feed her nine children (seven girls and two boys that were born much later). The family was poor, and the onset of the Second World War made things much worse. The girls did not get the chance to attend a single day of school and the boys made it only to the “O” Levels. Although they were top students, the needs of the family were too great. Both my dad and Uncle William were obliged to leave school to look for work in order to ease their exhausted mother’s load and to feed the family.
Dad used to tell me that they were so deprived when young that there were days when the entire family shared one orange, a treat that they all relished. Looking though his diary as a seventeen-year-old, I learned that dad and Uncle William would walk 20 kilometres weekly to collect rice rations for the family. The bitterness at their father’s actions led to three of the siblings never marrying. My Uncle William vowed never to step into a bar or dance hall because of the misery his dad’s actions had given to his mother and ultimately to the family. As the eldest son, he took on the father mantle and supported the household, remaining a bachelor to the end.
If not for dad’s sheer grit and fighting spirit to make his way in the workforce, my sisters and I would not have the life we enjoyed as children too. Thanks to him, the values of economy and frugality are well ingrained in our psyche, and today, I still balk at paying too much for something that can be had for cheaper elsewhere.
Actions and consequences played out in reality. In my family.
The Straits Times beat me to this post, but it must be newsy enough to make it to our local rag.
Spring has come to tropical Singapore.
We’ve seen the latest depressing UN climate reports (http://bit.ly/1lGYRKz) and the local government machinery has already begun pre-emptive mumblings to the population to expect many dry, hazy days ahead. Singapore’s just experienced it driest first quarter in a century, and we have El Nino and that blasted haze to look forward to. In all that gloom and doom, however, Mother Nature has in recent days given us a respite with a glorious showing of her inimitable raiment.
The rain showers on our parched soil has brought forth a flurry of blooming. Nature is in a bit of a panic, I think, and is going full throttle to reproduce and ensure the continuation of her species. It is not lost on me also that this coincides with Spring time in the temperate zones. Many people I know are jetting off to Japan to see the Sakura. While that is still on my bucket list, I am grateful that we are experiencing the benefits of Spring right here in good old Singapore.
The streets, if one bothers to actually stop smart-phoning to look, are currently festooned with brilliant colour from the flowering trees and shrubs. I give the National Parks Board full marks for planting the very picturesque Trumpet (http://bit.ly/PBQ8vf) and Cassia Fistula (http://bit.ly/1oA9i4H) trees along our Singapore roads. I’m sure these would win hands down if there was a prolific flowering contest.
There’s another side benefit to Spring in the tropics. We also get to enjoy Summer and Autumn treats too. Summer because of the loads of fruit I see ripening everywhere I look. Autumn because the falling tissue-like flowers from the Trumpet Trees, as well as the detritus of the dry leaves from the recent drought have turned sidewalks and parks into seas of pinks, mauves, whites, reds and browns.
I’m not usually one to go on a soap box but this crazy weather makes me fret. We are treating Mother Earth terribly, trashing our only home in a voracious thirst for urban development and all things man-made.
She has been compassionate this time, blessing us with welcome rain and all this beauty. But time is running out, and I’m sure vengeance will be served. I hate to think that perhaps, just perhaps, what I enjoy today, will only be a fond but distant memory for my kids in their senior years.