Visiting my elderly parents in Singapore from England, I sense my 80 year-old mum’s distinctive taste, sealed in her belongings.
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.”
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……
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.
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.
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.
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- Letters from China: Part 3
- Letters from China: Part 2
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