Strange isn’t it, that I do the same things in Toronto as I do in Singapore: cook, clean, shop for groceries, housewares and chinese herbs. In T.O. nobody bats an eye-lid. But in Singapore, these activities seem to have been stamped irrevocably with ‘auntiehood’.
Yesterday, I had dinner with John and Cathy and then proceeded to buy groceries and some American ginseng from Hock Hua at West Mall. While waiting for them to slice the ginseng, Cathy asked me some questions about herbal soups and teas. For the most part, John was a silent bystander, except for these interruptions…
John: Jie, all this talk about herbs and stuff make you sound very auntie you know.
Me: What? I’ve been like this for a long time mah… what’s the big deal?
John: Orh, so you’re saying you’ve been an auntie for a long time lah!
Cathy: *asks another question regarding soup cooking*
John: *to Cathy* Wah, you also want to become auntie issit?
Then, as we were talking about the different kinds of meat and the pros and cons of using them to make soup and we happened to mention ‘chicken breast’ a couple of times in our conversation, John hurriedly comes up to us.
“Shhh! Stop saying ‘breast’ so loudly! People can hear you!”
We ignore him and continue talking and the conversation steers to a herbal ‘tri-flower’ tea that I make daily for Zibin and which helps greatly in ‘cooling’ and ‘toning’ his liver and kidney (absolutely necessary given his crazy work hours) and which, according to him, also helps with constipation. At the first mention of ‘constipation’, John bows his head over ours with his face scrunched up and furtively shushes us.
Me: *with exasperation* John, we’re in a medicine shop. People here are used to hearing about bodily functions!
John: *shuffles rather uncomfortably while his eyes dart to the staff in the store* Yah but still….
Ha ha, am I really becoming a loud-mouthed HDB auntie? Though technically I don’t live in a HDB flat, I still live smack in the HDB heartland and I market, eat and mingle with the best of them (though i still prefer the neighbourhood supermarkets to the wet market because of timing and air-con). And this is definitely a new living experience for me, one that I am relishing except for the occasional noise when there are festivities going on at the square nearby. Why, in the past year of living in Bukit Batok, I have heard more Hokkien songs being sung, walked through more pasar malams, and seen and heard more Malay weddings than I have in my entire lifetime. After so many years of growing up in Singapore, I am finally experiencing what most Singaporeans experience.
Zibin is as delighted as I am with our neighbourhood. He has always been saying that he hopes our children will grow up being familiar with the hustle and bustle of HDB living – the sights and sounds and tastes of the market, small shops, coffee shops, and the people who throng this world. A world which up to now has been foreign to his pampered wife. But I have begun to understand exactly why the heartlands is the heartbeat of Singapore. And it may be ironic, for it is now when I no longer hold a Singapore citizenship (which I did for 21 years) that I actually feel more Singaporean.