Remembering days in the sun. Remembering good days spent with a family I once had …
Saturdays. Saturdays were special in our household when we lived abroad. In a place where the sun always seemed to shine, except, when it didn’t. That time was called: The Monsoon. On those days it poured, and I mean, poured down. Torrential rain that creates rivers in a matter of moments. Rivers of rain that swept away cars and trucks.
But this isn’t the story about the day our four ton truck was swept into the huge drainage ditch, at the end of our road. Including the occupants. No, that story is for another day.
Today I want to talk about balmy days, sunny days, days spent with the family in a country that was both exotic and, for me at least, all so normal. This was were I lived. I didn’t really have much memory of that other place, that cold place where white people lived. A place I didn’t really like, because I had mostly bad memories of this place, these people, and the cruelty of them both.
No, today I want to talk about my mother, and how our love of reading was part of the bond we share, if but for a short time during those balmy days.
I was 8 when we flew out to Singapore, a hot, humid world of extremes, and friendly people and the Saturdays we would spend the whole day out, exploring everything this amazing island nation had to offer. My favourite Saturdays where the days my mother insisted we go to the Book market, and they hundreds of small stalls clogging the streets, so my mum, and yes, me, could buy books, as well as a lot (and I mean, a lot) of comics.
My dad always indulged my mother and we go to do this usually first thing in the morning. This area, and the book market opened at what felt like, first light.
My dad would order us a taxi to take the whole family, me, my parents, 4 brothers, and sometimes, my older sister. Though, more often or not, she went to meet friends when we arrived, and we never saw her again, till later in the evening, if that. But I digress.
The whole family would squeeze into Pops’ taxi—an old Mercedes Benz and yes, we all fit in—and we’d be whisked off, in style, to our destination, stopping along the way at a street vendor to pick up breakfast. Sometimes we’d sit out under palm trees at a table, sometimes we ate in the taxi. It depended on the food my mother wanted.
This, you had to understand, was her day. A day with everyone together.
By 8 am, fed and watered, we’d arrive at the book market and split into groups, me with my mother, usually, hand held tight till she relaxed and started browsing. My dad with the boys, riding rough shot over them, as they bought nearly every comic in sight. We had a limit of 15 comics apiece. Still, that was quite the haul, and our family became infamous at the market.
People would call us by name, calling us to their stalls. I vividly remember they way they said our names, and loved how they called my eldest brother Neil, NI AL. And my brother Ian became I AN. Always two separate words. Always with affection, and, in time, accompanied with bottles of coke or 7-Up (for free) or an ice lolly.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mum and I always made for certain book stalls and they knew her well, because within less than a year, she got a chair, and they came to her, bringing their latest all fussing for a sale they knew they’d get. And she bought. Bought a lot. For her, this was heaven. Books were so cheap, by European standards. What she would have paid shillings for, she got for a Singapore dollar, or less.
I should point out, that my dad hired Pops, our taxi driver, for the entire day. I never knew what he paid him, but obviously it was enough to make him happy to trail us around and, after a short time, he, and yes, his family too, became a part of our family. (But that’s a whole other story, of being invited to special occasions, and weddings).
I often thought our entire family spent my dad’s monthly wage in that single day alone. But looking back, a lot of items were given freely to us, as a family, like the lollies and coke.
Books and comics loaded into Pops taxi, we’d pop off then to spend the rest of the morning at places like the Botanical Gardens, or Raffles Hotel. But lunch would be at the St. John’s road club, which had a pool. From about noon to late afternoon, we’d encamp along with several other families, keeping out of the heat of the day. Us kids would spend 4-5 hours pool side, swimming and playing. While the wives played Mah Jong or whist, and the men … the men? I haven’t a clue what the men did.
By late afternoon, a lot of us, tired out, would have a 1-2 hour sleep. And then, by 5-6 pm, it was time to eat. Not that we hadn’t spent the day already eating this and that. Mostly a lot of fresh local fruit, or lollies.
Dinner, was once again, a family affair, and huge tables were filled and the place full of noise, laughter, and alcohol. I often wonder just how much soda as kids, we drank back then, in a day? But then, a coke or 7-Up bottle was small compared to drinks served today.
Evenings could be spent here, depending on my mother’s mood, who else was at the ‘club’ and whether the wives wanted to do a Tombola night or play more Mah Jong into the evening. Or we went off out, again, to another area of the island, and one of the infamous street markets. Most of which were either held very early in the morning, or after sunset, in the cool of the evening.
These markets went on until quite late, well after 11, and yes, sometimes we were out till midnight, watching a traditional Chinese street play being performed, in Mandarin. Not that any of us understood, let alone spoke the language. But my parents loved exposing us to new things, and the cultures we lived with on a daily basis.
I loved these long, long days, meeting and greeting complete strangers, the street food, which my dad loved: including the extremely HOT satay, which I would pilfer at least one stick from my dad. And the kindness shown our family, and the friends my parents made, relationships that lasted well beyond my parents time on the island, till decades later. Letters and cards were still swapped every year, for a long time afterwards.
These are the memories I loved so well. The days in the sun, with my mother, hearing her laugh, hearing her sing, and feeling like, for a short time at least, I belonged. ♥