Kawan kawan, today begins the first of a series of 6 sessions of a writing course that I enrolled in. This course is aptly named “The Migrant Soul”. “What is a migrant soul?” you ask. Well, it is someone who, like me, has been uprooted from their cultures, countries and homes, and has to find within a different culture and country their own cultures, make a home in yet another country – a home away from home – and to find a place in a space where they are displaced.
Displacement has been a recurring word in my psyche of late. Being here in the City of Light brought this sense of un-belonging to the forefront yet again. I thought that I had found a home, a place I could call home at least, in London after having lived there for a good part of 17 years out of the 20 that I’ve passed in England. Just when I was beginning to feel comfortable, the Italian took on a job that relocated us to Paris. It was not entirely his fault, of course as I had been making noise his way of my desire to move out of London. The only problem was – WHERE?
Singapore had stopped being a place I call home for a long time. In fact, every year that I return during the summer vacation with my entourage of 3 suitcases and 2 infants (ok, one teenager and one child), I feel less and less at home there. This city state where I grew up is fast becoming another faceless city to me. A geographical location where I stop off en-route to Europe, a continent I must call home.
Home is where the heart is, many would have heard said. Home is where I feel a sense of belonging, is what I penned today on a sheet of lined paper during a brainstorming moment in the course. I once read a quote that goes something like this: there are two kinds of people in this world, those who want to go home and those who don’t.
When I was younger and fancying myself a groupie with no fixed abode, I never wanted to go home! Now that I’ve passed that very important milestone in a woman’s live, I’m beginning to wonder where is my home?
Is home a house, a physical space that one can touch, feel, a place made of brick and mortar? Is home where the heart is? Really? During my stint working in the travel industry, home was where I could lay my head, and this was usually in a posh hotel somewhere half way across the world from Singapore. I lived out of a suitcase for a good part of almost 5 years. Each new destination brought a new adventure and I was very fastidious about making the hotel room a space of my own. The first thing I’d do was to lay out all my bottles of creams on the vanity area in the bathroom, then I would put my slippers in place and all the towels in a neat pile, redecorating the room a little so that I could claim it as my space. This became a ritual, a habit of mine as soon as the door to the hotel room shut behind me. It didn’t matter how jet-lagged I was, I would go through the motions of setting out the creams, piling up the towels and putting on my slippers before jumping into the shower and straight to bed or dinner or whatever it was that I had to do upon landing in a new city…..
This year back in Singapore, I wanted to evoke a sense of home. To do this, I needed an accomplice – someone who knew Singapore well. I had the privilege of dining with an old friend, George G. I wanted to go down food memory lane, so he obliged and took me to the East Coast, to his favourite joint for kon low mien. This, kawan kawan is a typically Cantonese dish of boiled egg noodles tossed in a mixture of soya sauce, pork fat and chilli. Atop the mound of noodles would be slivers of char siu roast pork and blanched choy sum (a type of Chinese green). A bowl of chicken soup with wan tons would be served on the side.
I remember eating this dish as a child on wooden stools next to big monsoon drains where the chef is an old man in a torn cotton singlet behind a mobile cart tossing noodles and shouting out orders to his assistant, usually his wife or elder child, for the noodles to be served. For appetisers, we would be given a dish of pork crackling so crunchy and oozing with such flavour that it was so hard to stop reaching for another morsel with my chopsticks. One could also munch on sliced pickled green chillies that have been soaked in brine and sugar to whet one’s appetite. The grand finalé is of course the dish itself…. happy sounds of slurping would be heard and sighs of content uttered from around our table. Daddy likes his noodles kiew kiew as we say in Hokkien, or al dente, as they say in Italy. Marco Polo must’ve had a part to play there, methinks!
This dish is no longer served as I remember it. A spate of campaigns to encourage healthy eating habits in Singapore sparked off an abhorrence of pork crackling. One can ask for onion oil instead of pork fat these days, I was told.
Kawan kawan, what is it that makes your space a place? For me, it will always be something food related.