Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Top 10 signs of impending holidayness

10. A new camera has arrived in the house (SLR!! eee!)
9. A notebook is busting full of errands and to-dos
8. The winter gear is seeing the light of day
7. A new International Hostels card has arrived too
6. Work is going bananas
5. Distinct rising level of panic at all the beds not booked and the tickets not bought
4. Distinct rising level of panic about how the hell I fancied myself a backpacker
3. Sudden franticness about organising stuff for after I get back (in a month!)
2. Gut-wrenching twistingness about the ever-expanding cost
1. it's T minus 6 til take off!!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Sounds like Kampung Spirit

So last week we headed north to my mum's hometown.

It was for what I call the zhongzi festival, but what Wikipedia calls Duanwu Festival. It's a day commemorating a poet's suicide with wrapped dumplings.

Never say us Chinese don't know how to cut loose. In yo face, Easter!

Then the other reason (I don't cross state lines for less than two) was a cousin's wedding. Actually that in itself is not so unusual. Given my mum has seven siblings, I'm surprised if a weekend goes past that someone in the family isn't married/born/graduated/coming back/leaving/abducted by aliens. However, I was a little anxious as I haven't been back for nearly a decade.

Pour quoi? you ask. Because you're French like that. Well, mon ami, it's an out in the sticks kampung. That's why! Since I had a choice about it, I've consciously avoided the mechanics shophouse on Jalan Besar (Main St for my 5's of international readers).

It's the business that my grandfather started, that kept the family going through the war and the Japanese, where my mum grew up and where my 80+ y.o. grandma still reigns supreme; insisting on climbing the steep-as-hell stairs every day. To look down on it, I know, pretty much makes me an up-herself Westernised snot.

Yet looking at the five-foot way littered with greasy spare parts, and the buckets of used oil out the back, I remembered why as a kid I always dreaded coming here. I also don't speak Cantonese, so that left me quite the dumb-mute in a house full of screeching, bellowing feistiness–the Cantonese are nothing if not the feistiest feists that ever feisted.

I realised I was like a bad foreign student in my grandma's house; dismissive of the strange workings of a different way of life and watching the clock until I could get back home. So this time I tried not to expect to feel comfortable, just to give people the same room as I do when I'm travelling.

Most travelers would die to be taken into a traditional home and partake in the preparations for a festival, right? So in that perspective, I was quite happy to wrap some zhongzi.

My mum got to show off her skillz, and I got to practise my rusty ones. Sat on a tiny stool in my grandma's rustic kitchen, surrounded by all the ingredients at our feet, the woodfire stove going and sunlight streaming in through the one skylight, I guess I got to make a little peace with the mechanics on Jalan Besar.

Less peaceful and mostly just ear-curdlingly terrifying was the wedding we attended that evening. First off, it was in Taipeng, the nearest major town. When Taipeng is "the big smoke" the hairs on my neck already prickle. Watch out: Racism and middle-class snobbery up ahead!

When we got there, the restaurant was packed to the rafters with shouting, pushing, gobbling Chinese people and about a billion little kids (Memo to small towns: Need more entertainment options).

Then we found our table, to my dismay, was right up the front–next to a gigantic speaker. Worse, the evening's 'host' sporting an interesting haircut and electric blue sneakers, was on stage and fancied himself auditioning for Malaysian Idol.

He chose a Mandarin ballad, and after some banter, proceeded to serve it up to the chewing masses with an extra helping of D-I-V-A. He'd clearly been practising the singing AND the exaggerated hand gestures AND the dramatic facial expressions.

He was singing of love lost, but my appetite went pretty quickly too. For after him came the happy coupleS. Yep, that's a multiple. The restaurant was hosting TWO weddings at the same time–beat that for efficiency, Singapore! After Mr Mariah was done, he then invited the first couple to pop champagne, pour it onto the pyramid of glasses, and do yum seng. Then I guess the glasses were rinsed, and my cousin repeated.

So far so bearable. That is, until the first groom strutted and styled his way through a power ballad and then his wife joined him for a duet, complete with a big finish. If I hadn't already considered sticking myself in the eye with a chopstick to dull the pain, then I was seriously contemplating it now. They too had practised, though not as much as Mr Mariah.

To my dismay, my cousin and his wife followed suit after them. Then again, it's their big day. So I guess they're entitled to do whatever the hell they feel like.

Less entitled, but no less enthusiastic, were the string of uncles and aunties that followed up with ear-drum-bursting renditions of their favourite Cantonese/English/Hokkien numbers. Of course someone HAD to do "My Way". Frank might have had too few regrets to mention, but I bloody well did!

Mercifully, the dessert was declared not up to snuff, so we proceeded to disembark from the dinner. Sonically beaten to a pulp, I headed out to the carpark with the continued warbling ringing in my ears.

PS: Pix of froofy blue bridal gown which we really really wanted to put in, not included to protect us from familial retribution at some later date. Thank you.