Leaving China


Chapter 7 

After coming back to Singapore, what remains with me are the happy memories of China. As the cliched saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I find myself looking at Facebook more often for news of my friends. I WhatsApp more often. Last week, Maria had uploaded pictures of her daughter’s birthday party in her garden on Facebook.

Maria and Wolfgang had a lovely garden while I was in China. We all loved flowers and gardens. Heidi weeded the garden for “clearing her head”, she said. I used my garden for relaxing, partying, writing, planting and having fun.

This time when Surya had his birthday party in the party room of our condominium, I really missed my garden. The last year of our stay in Suzhou, he had his party in our garden. It was full of sunshine, laughter, spring, children and flowers. Sometimes if winter were a little late, one still had the pink cherry blossoms blooming during Surya’s birthday.

The year before the games had been to my taste. The kids had fun. I had fun too! We had a  Find the treasure game, pretty much the same as Pinning the donkey’s tail, except they had to find the treasure in the treasure map pinned to a mobile board. Instead of pinning the tail on the donkey, they had to pin the spot with the treasure on the map blindfolded. I twirled the boys and hummed a tune and told them they needed to dance with me before getting to the treasure. It was fun for me. Some of the boys were a little embarrassed, which made it even more entertaining for me! Later, they had Dancing statues in the patio. They enjoyed the party so much that some were reluctant to leave when it was time! Aditya and Salim helped with the party organisation and managing kids.

The next year the games were taken away from me! Surya told me he and his friends were too old to play my party games. Aditya and Salim had just ended their mock examinations.They obliged the youngsters and organised a Treasure hunt. I think they had three teams of five each and the boys walked all over the compound looking for the treasure which was hidden in our garden the hunt stretched to Salma’s and Maria’s homes among others. I remember, they put the clues in our fish graveyard!

I had a fish graveyard in my garden as Surya and Ali thought it was cruel to throw the dead kois in the dustbin. And fish do love to die in ponds and aquariums quite often. My job is to always put the dead one away (even now, in our little aquarium in Singapore), before the kids can spot it. If they spot it, I still needed to do the job. On the side of my garden, where the grass always died, we had a fish graveyard. I remember Salma saying words of peace for a dead fish when it was buried there! Most of the time, I found the dead fish in the morning when the kids left for school and disposed it off in the rubbish bin in a plastic bag. What surprised me through our tenure in that house is the cats never dug up the dead fish buried in the graveyard, whereas they did prowl around the fish pond but could not get their dinner as the pond was too deep for them.

One year, I had what I think was purple hyacinths in my fish pond. It was the same year I had baby kois. The baby kois looked like transparent tadpoles to start with. One day as we sat in the garden sipping cups of tea after lunch, Surya told us we had baby fish! I could barely see them. Then they started developing colours which became brighter and nicer as the fish grew up!

The other visitors to our pond were often frogs that jumped in! We had to ‘rescue’ them with a fishing net eventually as the pond was too deep for them to jump out. My ayi said her mother fried fat frogs for her to snack when she was small. It seems she used to catch the frogs and take them to her mom! However, she assured us she didnot partake of frogs anymore as she had plenty to eat. I know frog legs is a delicacy which I have never had the guts to savour. My husband says they taste pretty much like chicken! Surya shudders at the idea of eating frogs as he likes them as pets. Not that he is allowed to have them as pets! The closest we came was to breeding tadpoles for a few weeks. Surya also had hibernating frogs under his playroom window in a small grassy ditch, under some leafy plants. Those frogs were really tiny whereas the frogs that jumped into my pond were huge.

The other event that brought in hoards of children into our garden was Halloween. I had never celebrated Halloween in my life till I moved to China. We opened our homes to all and sundry. We hung lanterns in the garden and put candies in baskets, hung plastic bats and orange and black balloons from trees. Children didnot enter into the house unless they needed to use the bathroom. Surya dressed up as a zombie/skeleton/ vampire and went out with friends within the compound visiting homes. Other children of varied nationalities, including Chinese, visited our home and demolished our stock of candies. They came in costumes and filled their basket with sweets. It felt festive and happy. It was fun to see the little girls and boys come up the garden path and grab the goodies! For some strange reason, Aditya, Salim and their friends didnot join the Halloween hordes.

I always dressed in black on these occasions to add to the flavour. I never wore a witch costume because I felt mama witches didnot really need a costume! They just needed to hand out the candy.

The last year, I had been for a bar-be-cue in the afternoon of Halloween and between smoke and pollution, my skin became a little sensitive. When we were over with our Halloween in the garden, I reclined on the sofa with an aloe face pack and I discovered I was developing water-filled blisters on my face and neck! Surya commented, “Could you not have developed the blisters a little earlier, then you would truly look like a witch with warts!” His remark did wonders for my ego.

I was perhaps a bit better off than Heidi, who said her children had commented that she didnot need to dress up as a witch on Halloween as she naturally looked like one! Well if witches were elegant and beautiful, they were right.

This set me thinking on what witches were. They were perhaps just women different from others, who thought differently and did things differently… Were they really evil? Who are we to judge them? Were the Spanish inquisitors right? People always fear the unknown and things they do not understand. Witches might have been one such institution. I am very open in my thought process…believe in God, supernatural, paranormal, aliens, more dimensions and space or under water exploration for alternative biomes for the future of mankind… My threesome always find my imagination amusing. I find it inspiring…helps me write and create a world of my own anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

It is with the help of this imagination that I can make myself at home anywhere in the world. It makes me curious to know more, makes the world around me enchanting! It makes me want to travel. Sometimes, if I can’t in reality, I can vicariously. I have been to the scenic Pamirs that Marco Polo crossed on his way to China, Shangrila, Mongolia, Egyptian pyramids on camel back, Jaiselmer fort in a ghagra in ancient times, seen giants and aliens…all in that mind’s eye which my threesome find amusing. What people forget is that it helps me visualise icing for cakes, new recipes and live in a state of perpetual wonder with the universe. It makes me optimistic, young at heart and happy.

One of the things about China that I enjoyed was the vivid imagination of the indigenous inhabitants. You could see people rig up all kinds of contraptions to make things work, be it television channels, air conditioners or any other equipment. Near Suzhou, they even rigged up an imitation London Bridge. We did go down to see it. I had seen the real thing in my teens and twenties but I do not think it has changed as much as the one near Suzhou. The Suzhou imitation was narrower, had four towers instead of two, writing in Chinese on the top and a bright red bridge near it. This red bridge snaked along and over the narrow waterway so that people could view the London Bridge well from different angles…things that are missing on the real bridge spanning the river Thames. It was interesting though! One of our friends told us that they had actually seen an imitation of the seven wonders of the world in China, somewhere near Xian. When we had asked our guide in Xian, she didnot seem to understand what we were referring too. Hence, we never really got to see those. But I had seen the London Bridge with it’s red extension snaking over the narrow waterway in Suzhou, China.