Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Big Fuss

I was five then. I remember the year clearly because it was the same one that I started taking an interest in the family piano. My first attempt wasn't to play Chopin or Mozart, I went and peed right next to it.

It felt good as the warm fluid ran down the inside of my pants; I had been holding it back. Pity the pants though, it was the same pair I had worn to the pasar malam the night before and I'd liked its soft, comfy feel. Now I would have to change into a new, less comfy pair.

As for the pasar malam, I remember the place quite well. What stuck was the sharp glare of the stallholders' kerosene lamps. I think they have seared the whole night scene into my brain. Strangely, every time I think about it, my bladder would become weak and if full, I might just involuntarily pee.

Of course, no one in the family understood. They thought I'd peed because my Big Uncle had shouted at me for touching his piano without permission. Er, excuse me? That piano was bought with my mom's money. You ingrate!

Of course, I did not say that out loud.

A young aunt was concerned and came to my rescue. "Big Brother, how can you scream at a small child like that?" she admonished. I was happy. I'd always liked attention from this young aunt. She reminded me of an actress in a Chinese wuxia movie, the one who was sweet but carried a mean sword, and could sing too! In a typical story, there is always a "see heng" (fellow male disciple) who secretly admires and falls in love with her. I often pretended to be that see heng and practised my sword-play in tandem with the actress on screen. It did not matter that my double sword was made of cardboard or that my "heng gong" (leaping kung-fu) got me only as far up as the family sofa. For a while I was a grown-up with kung-fu skills far away on some Chinese mountain!

That year also saw our family buy a new black and white TV. It was one of those cabinet ones with double accordion doors that shut in the middle. It had a keyhole lock and elaborate nickle-plated (gold-like) handles. The cabinet itself was veneered in faux walnut all round, matching our record player cupboard very nicely. It had a rack below where we could put entertainment magazines and our Lao Fu Zhi/Beano comics.

On top of this TV was a lacey table-top runner and a pretty vase of flowers. This kind of lacy runner was very 'in' at the time and was even used to drape the backs of sofas in homes. One chap even put this on his Morris Minor front seat and afterwards had it wrapped in clear plastic. -Kind of pretty but also kind of anal to want to sit on squeaky plastic all the time!

To keep the lace in place, we placed round stainless steel weights at each corner. These steel weights, the size of a small flat bun, were machined by my dad at his workshop. Underneath each was engraved the birth-date of a relative. During social mahjong games, we would use these paper weights to weigh down the mahjong paper to prevent it from curling up at the corners.

We had countless hours of fun watching cartoons on that TV. On days when the TV was off, we liked to check our reflections on its greenish-grey glass screen. Our small faces would warp and turn into funny caricatures like those in the cartoons.

On one particular day, an air of excitement stirred in the house. The adults were all saying something about "kok heng yat," which I later found out to be National Day in Cantonese. Someone was asking if the parade march-pass would go by our house. No one could confirm it though. Some said the route was likely to be along Geylang Road, not Sims Avenue. Yet, another said it would only happen in the "bo dai" or South/North Bridge city area. It wouldn't come to our suburbs! Yet others would wonder still if the event was going to be telecast live again on TV.

Ours was a busy household, so questions and opinions bounced off each other like those in a wet market. It soon got pretty lively.

One of my uncles turned on the TV at the stipulated time. Nothing. The parade had yet to begin. Someone said to go buy some soft drinks from the provision shop downstairs. A while later a few big bottles of F&N orange, cherry and ice cream soda were standing on the make-shift coffee table. Some block ice was bought as well. We kids were very happy to see the soft drinks and took every opportunity to drink a lot of it.

A long while passed, still, the parade on TV did not start.

Soon, the room was full of people deshelling and chewing on groundnuts and "kua chi" (melon seeds), drinking soft drink and making small talk and getting impatient.

Then my eldest aunt said, "Say ler, lok dai yue!" which translates to 'Die, it's starting to rain!' "Ng chi wui ng wui chui siew ah," she added, implying that the parade itself might be cancelled. All eyes turned to the screen. I remember seeing flags flapping wildly and folks in a contingent trying to hold on to them.

We waited a while more as people in the room got impatient. My bladder was getting full from all that soft-drink drinking.

Someone came into the room with a camera and wanted to snap a picture of us in front of the new TV. An uncle or aunt - I am not sure who - suggested I stand next to it. I was then half-shoved/half-placed  to where I should stand. I was at that point trying to make an exit for the toilet but too late.  The camera man said "Yat yi sum" (1,2 3) and clicked. The flash went off and I shuddered. Pee once again flowed down my leg.

I was embarrassed and started to tear. I could her my aunt say in Cantonese, "That side rain, here also rain!" Everybody else laughed except me.

[This story recaps my memory of the 1968 National Day Parade, as an invited contribution to 'The Day It Rain On Our Parade' media program by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. For more info, go to the Facebook app: NDP68]

Stainless steel paper weights milled by dad for mahjong and general use. 

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