It’s strange realising how hipster your childhood kampung is.
“This egg is from our chicken right?”
“This sweet potato very sweet. Not take aeroplane here, take bicycle here one. Okay lah not bicycle probably motorcycle.”
“Your ahma grew this vegetable. Nice right?”
Not exactly subsistence farming, but I’d dare say that most of the ingredients on our tabletops travelled less miles to get here.
In fact we just bought gong gong from the fishermen, at the beach, and he just caught them.
Asked my ahma if she had turmeric powder to season my tempeh, and she say she don’t have, but she have turmeric root growing in her backyard. So she took some and pounded them for me immediately.
The house especially. Although it is now roofed (it wasn’t when my mother was a kid), it hasn’t changed ever since I first stayed over. The furniture have all remained the same. The same sofa. The same cabinets. The same dining table. The same barbie doll magnets on the same fridge. I cannot even. This is not even a dramatization. Everything is literally where they were, the whole 20 years of my life.
Heck, I actually have a longer-term relationship with this house than my own house in Singapore.
The way of life has largely remained the same too. Paper with superglue and swats always at the dinner table ready to destroy flies. Doors are never locked in this kampung. Random people just walk in, and everyone is a relative. Sometimes they walk out with a live chicken, tied at its legs. People selling vegetables just walk in and ask if we want their vegetables. Throwing fruit peels and anything out the window, wherever we are (that’s why I only eat watermelons in Indonesia. I am eating watermelons right now and just spat the seeds, tossed the peels right into the ditch nearby.) And the kids, haha. See below.
It’s all just, very different.
At downtown, we would meet random people, and my mom would speak to them in Teochew, with such a great sense of familiarity that I would ask if we are relatives. We may not be, although somehow we are. It’s just the way all Chinese in Tanjung Pinang are probably Teochew, and speaking that common tongue makes us ga gi nang (ironically my attempts to use teochew always betray me as Hokkien).
When a place is almost frozen in time, it serves as a comforting anchor to return to whenever one is weary of life which is basically a series of changes which often overwhelms.
Whenever we are back, we do practically the same things. Go and buy keropok from the same stall, take the same boat, go to the same salon, eat chendol from the same store. Eat martabak. Talk about how nice martabak is. Buy petai. Peel petai. Eat petai. Get bitten by mosquitos. Everyone freak out about me getting bitten by mosquitos (I disproportionately get bitten, okay).
There’s a certain anticipation on my side to going to the same places, doing the same things as if they are rituals, affirmations that what I know to be there is still there and will always be there.
Except the stupid mosquitos (I just killed two and blood oozed out of them. My blood. GRRRR).
But of course, returning to this haven is a luxury, an escapade time to time.
Whenever one uncle visits, he would refer to me as 新加坡人. The city is often less environmentally friendly. The city is often less people-oriented. The city is always changing. But that also means it is dynamic, with its endless possibilities. There are more things to do, more goals to strive towards.
Maybe there can be balance between the old and the new, familiarity and novelty, drive and contentment. Maybe????????
Meanwhile let me just be excited about learning motorbike here the next time I come to Tanjung Pinang again :>