Balik Kampung - December 18 2007
I know Bapak gets a little emotional whenever we tell him about our annual "balik kampung" to Singapore. It's especially so since he's been unable to travel down south to be with his surviving siblings and extended family.
I understand that very well. I get emotional too everytime I visit my uncles, aunts and elder cousins.
I see them getting older. And, for the past few years, I have never been sure if I'd see them again the next time I visit.
My father's only living siblings now are his younger brother, Kamaruddin (Cik Din) and his youngest sister, Salha (Cik Ah).
Bapak's older sisters Fatma, Kamlah and Aichon and his youngest brother Abdul Majid have passed away. These were the ones who survived infancy and adolescence during those early pre-war years in Singapore.
Nine other siblings died in infancy or childhood before Bapak was born.
Yes. It's been a while since he's "balik kampung". Not because he is persona non grata but because he is too frail to travel.
When Nina told him that it was that time of year again for our annual year-end visit to Singapore, Bapak was misty-eyed.
I know what he was thinking -- his brother Cik Din and his sister Cik Ah who is not well and also Cik Ah's husband, Cik Salleh who is suffering from Alzheimer's. And his nephews and nieces, some of whom are almost his age.
"Will they still be around when I next visit them?" or "Will I still be around when they.....?" -- these must be what he was thinking.
"Kirim Salam -lah", he said.
I'm not sure if Nina told him that we would not be staying at Cik Ah's apartment in Bedok Reservoir because she is not well.
There were 17 of us this time. We would usually stay at Cik Ah's on the third floor and Hanim's (her second daughter) just up the fourth floor.
We'd love to have stayed at Cik Ah's but we know that she would not be able to "layan" us and she'd be so beside herself if she could not "layan" us.
So, this time we decided to stay at a hotel -- York Hotel at Mount Elizabeth, a 10-minute walk from Orchard Road. Of course.
And Nina, as usual, had our programme ready for us.
I started realising that my aunts, uncles and elder cousins were getting really old about five years ago.
That was when Kak Oyah began to show some disabilities -- in her eyesight and movement,
You see Kak Oyah is one very feisty lady and I adore her. If we didn't visit her, she'd "kecik hati" and we would not hear the end of it.
And this "kecik hati" business is not confined to Kak Oyah. I'd say all my aunts, uncles and elder cousins are prone to it as far as their KL relatives are concerned.
That time we visited Kak Oyah, she said her eyesight was failing her. She had to be aided to walk around. I was so sad.
That was also when I realised how old her husband, Abang Bakar, had become.
Suddenly everyone was getting old.
From then and now, two elder cousins have passed away.
It was a kind of revelation and realisation for me. I felt so sad.
I had a good hard look at my own mortality.
I began to reminisce those years when I was young visiting my relatives in Singapore.
And they were all so much younger and full of life, zest ....
We'd usually visit Singapore during the Eid. This time around, it was not possible because most of our children were facing major examinations during Aidilfitri. Adel had his SPM, Shaira, her PMR and Haris, his UPSR.
So, we thought we'd all go to Singapore together after the Eid, and last weekend was most agreeable to us all.
The first time Bapak went to Singapore after so long, he was confronted with the country's no-nonsense anti-smoking regulation.
He travelled by car and it was going through customs, a Singapore customs officer stopped to ask him a question.
Being a smoker, he was naturally, holding a cigarette.
All I can say is that thankfully Bapak has mellowed over the years.
So when the customs officer asked how many cigarette packs he had with him, he was taken by surprise.
Nobody had warned him about the Singapore law that only allowed each person to bring in no more than a single opened pack of cigarettes into the island republic.
Bapak just looked up, grinned and muttered something to the guy.
Nothing untoward happened so I guess everything went well at the causeway.
I know that he would have loved to come with us last weekend.
He'd be just fine staying at Cik Ah's while we checked out Singapore's night safari.
He'd probably be having loads more fun there with all our relatives.
He could not care less for Orchard Road.
What he'd have craved for would be a drive along Jalan Eunos, a stop somewhere for murtabak or mee rebus or nasi rawan. Perhaps nasi jenganan thrown in.
He may even want to go to Geylang.
One thing he would not be able to do is to visit old friends.
They've all gone -- either passed on or migrated to other parts of the world.
For us, Singapore remains the place of our birth -- with or without our Kampung Melayu.
For our kids -- where they re-establish kinship and a damn wonderful end-of-year holiday destination and where they get duit Raya (in Sing$) during the Eid or otherwise.
I don't know what Singapore is to Bapak now though...