Postcard from Singapore: East vs West

Visiting my elderly parents in Singapore from England, I sense my 80 year-old mum’s distinctive taste, sealed in her belongings.

Chinese tin drinking cups

1) I drink from an English floral fine china mug. My mum drinks from a Chinese tin cup, which also comes with a lid. Why? I asked. “You won’t understand. These tin cups are excellent. They won’t break. And, it’s important to separate old people’s cups from young people’s.”

Real calendar — you tear off a page each day

2) My calendar is on my iMac. My mum’s calendar is a physical one made of 365 pieces of paper. Of course mum tears one page off a day manually. This calendar incorporates both the Chinese traditional agricultural calendar (yin) and the Gregorian (yang) one. The Chinese part informs you of what you should and shouldn’t do on that particular day: wedding, burial, prayer, cleaning, travel……

Local famous brand – Lipton tea

3) My favourite English tea is Earl Grey, light, fragrant, enriched with a distinctive bergamot flavour. Mum’s tea is Lipton, a tea I used to drink as a child. I know Lipton is also commonly used for a famous savoury Chinese dish called Tea Egg — boiled egg infused in tea, Chinese herbs and soy sauce.

Instant Coffee

4) I drink freshly brewed cappuccino everyday. We grind our coffee beans. Sometimes we even make frothy milk for our cappuccino, sprinkled with cinnamon. In Singapore, mum drinks from instant coffee neatly packed in a sachet. A black coffee is called Kopi-O. But mum used to brew fresh coffee too, with a linen cone coffee filter. These days, waiting for the ground coffee to brew in a reusable linen filter is simply too much of a hassle for mum. She settles for instant coffee.

Mum’s medicine

5) Finally,  these vast quantities of medicine symbolises the stark reality of mum’s rapid health decline. Mum organises her assortment of pills in a pill box. I went to a hospital with mum last week and was puzzeled at the complexity of seeing a doctor and getting medicine. It took 3 hours just for a 4-minute blood test and a 10-minute consultation. The only comfort was that I could stand to queue for mum — 3 different queues for a blood test, getting medicine and making payment. I, on the other hand, don’t  have a story to tell about medicine, because I’m young and fortunate enough to be medication-free.

33 thoughts on “Postcard from Singapore: East vs West

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    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for your visit. I tried writing in English last year and now I’ve decided to stay here to develop this blog.

      You use the tin cup! I’ve seen that it is now a comeback, and the modern tin cup is quite expensive — because it’s vintage chic, maybe?

      1. plumerainbow

        Mine’s “vintage” alright – I have used it for more than 15 years! My mom bought it for me in one of those humble sundry shops in Malaysia. It’s the best, since it’s lasted all these years.

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