Thursday, 17 April 2014

Guest post by Gueh Yanting, Claudine


I am delighted to share a great guest post on the blog today.

Dear March House Books Readers,

Although I can’t remember it, I heard my first story from my parents. Not from story books, no. Real-life stories. Theirs.

They were the children who ran around in villages (we call them Kampong) in Singapore during the 50s and 60s, slippers slapping the dusty paths and clothes drenched when they hopped into ponds to catch fish. And that’s where the setting-inspiration for my children’s novel (in mid-60s) came from.

{How the Kampong looked like. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications. 
Source: http://comesingapore.com/travel-guide/article/607/ten-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-singapore}

I asked my father, who especially loves telling snippets from his childhood, to contribute some for this post, and here’s what he told me:

·         As my father has 11 brothers and 3 sisters, they all crammed in one house, with one yard and owned one family plantation. My grandfather also reared chickens and pigs. At one point, there were more than 20 people (wives and baby cousins) living in that house!

·         My father and his brothers were too poor to afford school bags, so they used rattan baskets instead. When they had to sharpen their pencils, they used my grandfather’s shaving blade. They used to cut themselves quite often but never worried about it.

·         They showered using only one bar of soap: for the hair, face and body. That bar of soap was actually also used for laundry.

·         When he got off school at around 1pm, my father would return to the fields to help out. After completing his chores, he and my uncles would play at a nearby pond. Their main hobby was catching a certain species called ‘Fighting Fish’ and … letting them fight, I suppose.

·         Snacks were usually wrapped in newspapers. Sometimes they bought dried hawthorn flakes. If they didn’t have money for snacks, they’d get sweet potatoes from their fields, and roast them on a bed of charcoals.

{Dried Hawthorn Flakes/Cakes. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·         When the weather was hot, and in Singapore it mostly is, the children would buy balls of shaved ice to eat. The man who sold ice balls would drizzle colourful sugar syrup over them. By the way, we still have these at our marketplaces. During my childhood, it was also one of our favourite desserts. They are shaped like a small hill now, and have extra corn or red bean toppings, like this:


{Shaved Ice, a.k.a. Ice Kachang. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·         During lunar new years, parents would give children red packets (money stuffed in small, red envelopes) on New Year’s Eve, symbolizing good fortune for the coming year. When my father and some of his brothers received theirs, they spent all the money on firecrackers. Lighting up firecrackers was still legal then in Singapore. And they absolutely loved it! I suspect my father is waiting for Baby Olive (my one-year-old niece) to be slightly older so he could buy sparklers and play with her during New Year’s Eve.


{Red Packets. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·        My father studied in the village school till he was Primary 4, which was the highest level in that school. To go on to Primary 5, students had to travel farther out. My father and his brothers didn’t have the gift for studies, because even when they’d reached Primary 2 or 3 (around 8-9 years old), they were still not accustomed to gripping a pencil and writing with it. Usually, my grandfather or one of the elder brothers would have to steady their elbows in order for them to write neatly!

·         So he stopped studying after that and worked in my grandfather’s fields until he was about 16. Then he went into the construction industry.

A Gross, Mushroom Story (If you have a weak stomach, please skip this part!)

Those days, the nearest toilet could be quite far away and it was inconvenient to walk in the dark to get to one. People had chamber pots instead. However, with so many people under one roof, pots were too small. My family used pickled jars.

Sometimes they only poured the waste away after a few days. I’m not quite sure about this because I haven’t seen few-day-old urine, but I hear there would be sediments or dregs left in the jars.

Once, my grandfather stepped on a big, rusty nail. It was likely to give him a bad inflammation. Yet, he didn’t go to the hospital. They distrusted hospitals. My family had learned of a traditional folk cure, which was to soak a mushroom in the urine dregs overnight before applying it onto the wound. It sounds terribly gross, but it did work. The swelling went down the next day and my grandfather recovered fully soon after.


My father also told stories about adulthood, like how female guests attended wedding meals in the afternoon and all went home with a flower in their hair while male guests attended the evening round and each got a cigar, and how villagers called on midwives rather than hospital nurses when one of the women went into labour, and how one of my aunts ran off with a man she knew only briefly. My grandfather was livid, but they managed to get her back. That was the year the Queen of England visited Singapore.

Those were the days that were tough, but those were also the days my father and his brothers had the most fun. Those were the days I hadn’t experienced except through his stories. Those were the days (or close enough) that I’ve let my latest characters live in.



Gueh Yanting, Claudine, has written and published two picture ebooks (age 6 & up) and one middle-grade ebook (age 9 & up). Her latest story, LITTLE ORCHID’S SEA MONSTER TROUBLE, is about a girl trying to prove to her Ma that she hasn’t been spouting nonsense about the Giant Cuttlefish, and later turning into a sea monster herself. It is set in Singapore in 1965.

Check it out here:


Thank you so much for letting me spread my father’s story snippets here on your lovely blog, Barbara. I hope your readers enjoy them!



39 comments:

  1. Thanks for having me, Barbara! I just read your email, too, and it tickled me to know I can help you and Terry impress your granddaughters. Red bean and corn toppings are common in Singapore and Malaysia. We even have red bean, corn and durian ice-cream (flavours are separate, not mixed together) ~ they are usually in the shape of a block, like creamy popsicles. Our local ice cream. And I must say, the durian and red bean ones are really yummy. :)

    Happy reading (I'm glad your son and daughter-in-law got you to get an e-reader), and best of luck with the rest of the renovations!

    xoxo
    Claudine

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    1. Dear Claudine, it was an absolute pleasure! We've really enjoyed learning more about your background and family. Thank you so much for guest posting on my very humble blog. We will be looking out for all those yummy sounding things next time we visit!

      I read almost all of LITTLE ORCHID’S SEA MONSTER TROUBLE last night but was enjoying it so much I didn’t want it to end so have saved a little for tonight. You are an amazing writer Claudine the words just flow across the page and take the reader with them.

      Have a great weekend, Barbara xx

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    2. Awww, thanks so much, Barbara. (My heart just melted a little.) You have an excellent weekend, too!

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  2. What an interesting post ... I loved it and am going to read it to my son later!

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    1. Hello Marina, I loved it too, and felt very honoured when Claudine came for a visit. I hope your son enjoys it.

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    2. Hi Marina, hope your son enjoys it, too. :)

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  3. WOW! Barbara, what a lovely surprise to see the story of another culture here! Such a great surprise and a get-away from my snow-laden world here. How are you my friend?

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    1. Hello Anita, I’m all the better for seeing you! I hope you are well?
      I visited another blogging friend earlier today, and she was also talking about snow. Do you usually have snow this late in the year or is it caused by the polar vortex?
      I’m glad you enjoyed Claudine’s post. She is a very talented lady (much like you!) and I was thrilled to share her story. It was also nice to have something a little different today.
      I hope the sun comes out for you over the weekend. We are expecting rain! :-( Still it’s lovely at the moment so we must make the best of it. xx

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    2. Thanks, Anita! (It gets so warm over here in Singapore that a snow-laden world sounds good.) Hope everyone stays well.

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  4. I've started reading Little Orchid and I love how you weave all these colorful historical details into the fabric of the story.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Anne. I know how busy you are and really appreciate that!

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  5. What a lovely post, Claudine! It is wonderful that your parents shared their stories with you. Reading about your father's life brought me to a different time and place. It is amazing to think about all the people he shared a home with growing up and what school was like for him. These stories are priceless and I am so glad you shared them with us.

    I have never heard of corn as a topping for ice shavings! Fascinating!

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    1. Stephanie, I think he really had a tough but fun childhood. Corn toppings are quite common over here. When you do visit Singapore or Malaysia, try them!

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  6. Thanks Claudine and Barbara! I loved reading about your father's childhood Claudine. I can see where you get your ideas from.

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    1. Darlene, I really got quite a bit of story research done from his and my uncle's accounts. Glad you've enjoyed his stories. Thanks for reading!

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  7. Lovely to see Claudine featured here, its always a pleasure to get to know more about such wonderful bloggers.

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    1. Lovely to hear from you, too, Tracy. Hope you had a great Blog Birthday celebration.

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  8. I loved your father's stories Claudine. I, too, was a child in the 50's who lived in a two-room house with 14 cousins and 3 siblings without running water or electricity. I can imagine all the fun your father had.

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    1. My father said about four or five of them lived in a room, and when they ran out of them, they built 'wings' to the sides of the house. I imagine it must have been much more squeezy for you. All that stories you must have, too, Sherry!

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  9. Claudine, this was so beautiful. I loved learning about your family's background. You must have so much love and admiration for your father and his siblings since they had to grow up somewhat meager, yet so humble. I couldn't imagine having to sharpen a pencil with a shaving razor. Your parents must have been special influences on your writing because you are very eloquent and tender with your thoughts and words. I'm so happy you have shared this with us.
    And I love the picture! It helped me to imagine your father's childhood even better. It's truly a pleasure knowing you, my friend=)

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    1. Love, respect, admiration, being intimidated, doubts, a whole bunch of it all. My parents do have some influence on my writing, especially when they talk about the old days. I'm happy to share these with you, Gina!

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  10. I truly enjoyed this post. Family histories are priceless. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for calling in KImberly, glad you enjoyed the post. Barbara

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  11. Good afternoon my beloved friend in England! Thank you for coming to visit my post. May the joys of Easter and all that you hope for be blessed with family and laughter and some CHOCOLATE! Hahahahahahahah

    Much love, and thank you for coming. Anita

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    1. Dear Anita, visiting you is always a pleasure. I have to admit to eating an egg or two, but that is just between you and me! Wishing you and your family a very Happy Easter. With love Barbara.xxx

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  12. I enjoyed the family history post. Our fathers really had it hard back then. Thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. You're most welcome, Kelly. I've loved every minute here. :) You're right, our parents really had it tough.

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  13. What a fabulous post, Claudine! I loved reading about your family. What an amazing time! :) ~ Jess

    Interesting mushroom story!!!

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    1. Thanks, Jess. Relieved that you guys didn't find it that gross!

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  14. What fascinating stories this writer must tell! Great post Barbara!!

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    1. Thanks Eve but it was all down to Claudine :-)

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    2. Thanks for the kind words, Eve!

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  15. What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing,enjoyed reading it and reminded me of a little bit of india

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  16. I thoroughly loved reading this post. So many interesting stories. Can you imagine 20 people living in one house?

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    1. Not easily Donna, it was hard enough living with my sister and brother! :0)

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  17. Wow! I felt like I'd travelled thousands of miles and right back in time reading that post. Although it was before you were born, you've captured the sights, sounds, tastes and smells (! yuk) of that time so well.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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