Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ah... Those Good Old Days of Open-air Cinema

My previous post on my childhood memories have gently nudged my friends to embark on a journey of their past. One of them was the open-air cinema of the past. This was therefore with much nostalgia when I read the comeback of open-air cinema in Sunday Times today.

Typically screened under the starry night in an open space, these open-air cinema kept the children from running around. Besides being mesmerized by the big screen, at times, we would also peer curiously at the big uncle standing at the back of the crowd, manning the projector machine. These constant neck-turning-and-stretching exercise would intensify every time the screen flickered. In terms of sound effect, in place of the cinematic, digitalised effects of today's big screen, the auditory sensation of yester years was on a totally different playing field. It was rich with a whole array of other special effects ranging from the running sound of projector, catching-up conversations of housewives and the occasional leaves-rustling. In particular, the latter was like a precursor to us to scan around for the closest shelther and dash for it at the first drop of rain.

With so many other attractions each vying for the undivided attention from the children, only the best of the best would stand out. This honor undeniably belonged to the film entitled "Jaws". My eyes were transfixed on the white screen which played a thrilling story in front of me. Never mind that occasion flickering, never mind that out-of-tone music due to volume overload, I was spellbound by the built-up of suspense. When the music ended, the show continued in my mind and that night this gullible girl refused to go to toilet for fear that the shark would bolt out from nowhere and tear me apart.

Ahh, those were the good, old days of open-air cinema, made savory with that dash of childish naiveness.

Stuff that will see one through difficult times

With the ill wind of recession blowing, many people could be handed the pink slip, while others fear being shown the door. The current economic downturn is especially gloomy to the Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) group as the daily papers dish out the increased numbers and the current Government's focus to help this group.

I belong to the PMET group. In some of my idle thoughts in the States, I sometimes asked myself what could I do for a living if I were there for good. During such moments, I thought hard and long but still found myself at a loss. As I stayed in the country longer, I thought maybe I could leverage on my amateur fusion cooking skills to set up a restaurant. Afterall, that was what most Chinese migrants did as portrayed in the cinemas.

A few days back, I read an article about a refugee who owned farms and was among the rich and famous in his home country but had to flee with his family in tow due to civil strife. In his adopted country, he worked as a janitor for a few years, before saving enough money to start a small grocery store. Slowly but surely, he re-built his wealth in his empire of grocery chains.

I am inspired. At the same time, I am also sober enough to realise that his success story is probably one in a million.

To those who are affected by this financial crisis, I will like to offer this Chinese proverb "liu zhe qin shan zai, bu pa mei zhai shao", roughly translated into stay alive as opportunities are abound. Remember, success in life is not measured in a single dimension as in career or wealth. It is also about being a good spouse, parent, son/daughter, and a caring person. It is also about having a good health. And when the going gets tough, these are the stuff that will help one bite the bullet and start from the lowest rung.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Childhood Recollection on Valentine's Day

Dawn had just arrived. The morning mist was cool in the warm, tropical Singapore on Saturday. Usually, I would be in the wet market buying the fish, meat and vegetables to be served on the dining table for the next one week.

But not today. It was not because today was Valentine's Day. Rather, it was because my hubby was out of town so I had to take on the role of both father and mother singularly.

"Really, daddy is not around today?" P regaled and explained. "Wow, that's great. Daddy can be quite a tyrant at times." Though, R was probably too young to express in sentences, his eyes were beaming with joy.

I was not surprised. His daddy was the authoritative figure at home as I was often too soft-hearted to use the rod. When my hubby returned home that evening, I told him his sons' reaction. I gathered that it must be hailed from his childhood days where his parents were strict with him to make sure he stay on top of his homework. There is nothing wrong with this approach. He is what he is today because of his upbringing. On the other hand, I had a more carefree childhood days.

I used to stay in a one-room rental HDB flat "on top of a hill" at Bukit Ho Swee near Tiong Bahru Estate where the pre-war flats were. It was not a hill but a little slope which I enjoyed pretending that I was trekking up a hill.

We later shifted to a two-room rental HDB flat just down the hill, as the tiny one-room flat became too small with arrival of my little brother and later, two younger brothers. A queen-sized bed, just above the bed was a baby sarong cradle hanging from the ceiling, a bunker bed with a pull-out bed and a manually-operated sewing machine which I later understood to be my mom's dowry (hmm, that should be antique by now), jostled for the tiny space in the bedroom. Our living room was more luxurious in space as we only had our prized television, a wooden dining table and a coffee table which was discarded by its previous owner but my father had rendered it still sturdy and hence given it a new lease of life at our spartan home. Scattered around the living room were a few bamboo stools. Those non-eye catching little stools were our favorite after a hard day of playing hide-and-seek and police-catch-thief games with our neighbours. They provided us with the much needed prop on our butts and we would always push them against the wall to get a good, cooling back support. As our flat was on the ground floor, it had two doors. One facing an open space, the other the dark corridor which my father had locked it up.

Even though we were poor, we had a fair share of joy and even had pets. During those days, there would be people hawking bread, cooked food such as "niang dao hu", ice-cream and even chicks at the alley in front of our flat. Yes, those yellow, chirping chicks. And we used to rear them in our flat. My mother would haggle from the fruit seller in the wet market for the paper box which was used to contain fruits, after buying some fruits. And the paper box would be the home of our chicks. We would usually have two and we even walked our pets around the neighbourhood.

There was an occasion, when my pet was a little, yellow chick no longer but a plumy, white hen. Against our warnings, it roamed out and ventured at the turn into the dark corridor of our flat on one stormy evening alone, never to return. My mother told me that it had probably found its way into the stomach of other people.

I remembered I used to scream and scrambled onto the table when our pets grew big and found cardboard home too restricted and jumped out for a breath of fresh air. I was scared because the hens felt so warm yet soft on my hand that I might squash them and break their bones unknowingly. My mother would always come to my rescue getting the hens back to their home and covered them with the other part of the paper box. Besides offering companionship, the hens were also our alarm clocks, albeit at times, cock-a-doodle-dooing at the weird hours - in the afternoon fortunately.

When I was about ten years old, I was heart-broken when my mother slaughtered my pet. When she cut it up, we saw many rubber bands that clogged its gizzard. No wonder it was so skinny! After that I refused to rear anymore more chicks.

During those times, I even had a dog as a pet. It was a stray, black little dog which we kept it for a mere two to three weeks. I bathed the dog and played with it. But my father told us that our flat was too small to have a dog and so we had to let the dog go. My memory was hazy as to where the dog went to, but that sour feeling still lingered.

Our family later moved to a three-room homeownership flat this time round when I was in my teens. That also marked the end of our pet-owning days.

I supposed that was why I had a more creative streak compared to my Valentine. He was the rational guy and me, the fun-loving one. This brings balance to our family.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Moo-ving around Singapore in search of Moo-Moos

It started out as an innocuous conversation between father and son on the many stand-up cow posters at around Toa Payoh Town Garden as we drove past during one of our many Chinese New Year house visits. P commented on the resurgence of these "moo-moos", previously also found at many of Singapore grass patches and our two boys were thrilled that they would exclaim whenever they saw one. This time round, the cows donned on big chinese characters which meant "spring" and "fortune", in bright and cheerful primary colours - yellow, red and blue, plus their close secondary friend - green. Some which were raised up higher with higher transparent plastic stilts, even carried a bag of gold - somewhat akin to Santa Claus.

It was P's daddy who suggested to drive around Singapore and take photographs with these adorable posters. My two boys were all too eager to go for it.

Today was a balmy day. The sun was gentle on the skin, the glare was not too overwhelming with occassional passing giant clouds providing the much needed shade. We planned our trip - start from the city drove up to the west up to hit Tuas, before heading northwards where we had earlier spotted the cows.

It was after a 15 minutes drive that we net our first catch - at West Coast Park. About 5 to 8 cow posters were stuck on a flat grass patch. We happily parked our car before grabbing our camera and started snapping.

Next we proceeded back to our car. But there was a moo-moo drought from West Coast Park all the way up to Tuas. But we did a little stop-over at a seemingly out-of-Singapore place - the Rail Mall. There we were greeted by surface carparks which led us to a stretch of shophouses with some upmarket eateries. We went into Coffee Bean to quench our thirst. It remained me of the many road trips that we had when we were in the States where we would stop to satisfy our hunger pangs.

After the much needed sustenance, we continued our journey in search of more moo-moos. Good old memories of our much cherished roadtrips together in the States continued to flow back. I remembered that I was awe-struck by the tapestry of yellow, red, rust and green during fall along the US road as we drove. This time round, I realised that Singapore too has much to offer not just sweltering summer. Along the expressway, I saw the splendour of summer with the magnificent raintrees and the many different tropical plants, beaming hues of green.

So did we find any more moo-moos? Yes, just as intrepid as the ox, we continued our journey and found them at Bishan Park. More of these adorable cow posters greeted us at Braddell Road and of course, at Toa Payoh Town Garden.

So the lesson learnt here is: Many a time, we already have the best things in life. Just like when we first saw the moo-moos in Toa Payoh and have never paid heed to the beautiful greeneries in Singapore. But a detour is good as it makes us realise that gold is actually at our own backyard.