Chapter 11 – A New Lifestyle

It was wonderful being a “Tow Kay Neo” (literal translation: towkay’s
(boss’) wife, general meaning: lady of leisure), especially when I was not
restricted to staying home or just window-shop wistfully as before. Rick loved
the fact that we could go places and do things together when he was in town. I
no longer had to prop my eyelids up with matchsticks at work after a late night
on the town. We
became party animals alright, especially when “the Boys” were in town – after
checking out the various nightspots till well past midnight, we would make a
beeline for Bugis Street, then famous for its nightly parade of “Kai Tais”
or Beaney Boys (transvestites). There
we would join the milling crowd of visiting sailors and tourists alike,
enjoying late night suppers of chilli crabs, “nasi goreng” (fried
rice) and various equally tempting local delights while chortling at the antics
of drunken sailors dancing on the roof of the public toilet. Gorgeous (and some
not so gorgeous) and glamorously dressed transvestites would sashay about the
whole block amidst a cacophony of wolf whistles and lewd comments from the
mostly expatriate guys, intoxicated by a few too many Anchor or Tiger beers. On
a couple of occasions, if we were still in party mood, we would go home in the
wee hours of the morning, get changed into casual clothes, grab our fishing
gear and meet up again at Jardine Steps to hire a “tongkang” (Chinese
junk boat) and go fishing for the day. Oh what fun it was to be young and
carefree and brimming with energy!

One of the first few things on our “Must Do” list was to get myself an
International passport and after that, there was no stopping us. We would pack
a few clothes, lock up the house, jump in the car and venture across the Johore
Causeway into Malaysia (or Peninsula Malaya, if we want to be geographically
correct). We enjoyed several road-trips along the west coast through the
various states, Johore, Malacca, and onwards up the coast to the island of
Penang to stay a few days, then back down to the capital, Kuala Lumpur for a
few more days’ stay before coming back to Singapore in time for Rick to go back
to work. We also visited Cameron Highlands and in fact, we went wherever the
mood took us, sometimes heading across the Causeway just to have dinner and
check out a nightclub or two.

Not long after we were married, we decided it was time to test my reaction to
air travel. Less than a year later, I went on my very first exciting plane trip
– to Medan in Sumatra, Indonesia, by Garuda Airways, then in a helicopter
further north to Pankalan Brandan. I must be a natural-born traveller as to
this day, I do not suffer from acrophobia nor air-sickness so it was just fun,
fun, fun all the way. I was warmly welcomed by Rick’s boss and his colleagues
and we were invited to stay with one of the Indonesian contractors. Talk about
being in the seventh heaven – I astounded the Indonesians with my appetite for
their local fare and my ability to speak their language.
I had a blast when Rick was
at work during the day, checking out the “pasar” (marketplace) with
the contractor’s wife, tucking into durians with gusto, not to mention all the “sambal”
(chili dishes) on offer. No hoity-toity behavior from this “nyonya” (term
of address for a married lady of Western or Chinese origin) as I was quite
comfortable sitting cross-legged on the mat just like the locals and using my
fingers to eat, instead of at the dining table with western cutlery. I fell in
love with a couple of super friendly “siamang” (gibbons) and was so
tempted to smuggle them back to Singapore with me…

When work was over for the day, Rick would pick me up in his work truck and
we’d head for the “base” where we’d have dinner with the rest of the expatriate
boys, enjoy a few drinks, play darts or shuffleboard while listening to Western
music until quite late at night. I enjoyed the “kampong” (village)
lifestyle very much but wasn’t too keen on the icy cold showers every morning
though. Brrrr… I especially loved the gifts of hand painted batik sarongs,
batik art, gold jewellery, durian cakes and “Rendang Sapi” (Beef
Rendang) that were given to me as farewell gifts from the various Indonesian
contractors. After my return to Singapore, they continued to send me various
gifts through Rick. I in turn would reciprocate with gifts from Singapore
through Rick. It was a pity that I didn’t get a chance for a return visit as
the party moved to Rantau Prapat a few months later. As soon as word got around
among the Indonesian contractors in Rantau Prapat that Rick had an
Indonesian-speaking Chinese wife, he was swamped with invitations to bring me
over for a visit. It
was then a matter of tactfully staying at a hotel so as not to offend anyone. I
felt like a celebrity as the contractors rivalled among themselves to shower me
with the best hospitality. Rick and I eagerly accepted an invitation by a
contractor to be guests of honour at his daughter’s traditional wedding!

When Rick was at work, my lifestyle took on a much slower pace and I spent more
time with Mother when she wasn’t gambling. We actually grew closer in some ways
– Mother was anxious that I should know all there was to know about how to keep
a man happy, especially in the bedroom! She started giving me advice based on
the belief, “You are what you eat”. Personally, I think that most of her
beliefs were based on old wives’ tales handed down from her mother. I remember
being told a woman should not over-indulge when eating water-melon and papayas
(paw-paw) as it would result in her being “loose and sloppy”. Over-consumption
of green mangoes (unripe and rather tart) could lead to thrush, durians were
considered to be an aphrodisiac for a guy but could be too “heaty” for the
body, and the list went on… [If you ask me, I think these motherly advice
were nothing more than scare tactics so their daughters would eat less of all
those yummy fruit so they themselves could enjoy a bigger share!] A decent wife
should not be too responsive as her husband might form a low opinion of her. To
keep her husband’s interest, a woman should sometimes play hard-to-get. A woman
should always look after her feminine health and keep up her strength by
swallowing a fresh raw egg, “the morning after”. (What a dead giveaway for any
inquisitive mother-in-law or house-maid, I thought!) At the end of menstruation
and after child-birth, a woman should take essence of chicken, royal jelly and
ginseng to re-build her strength. If breast-feeding, the mother should cut out
ginger and highly spiced food from her diet as the baby could suffer from
“wind” (colic).

I thanked my stars that my “nenek” (grandma) was not around when I got
married as she would probably insist on the “chicken test” on my wedding night.
This strange ritual involved releasing a rooster and a hen under the bridal bed
and supposedly, an “expert” could foresee how long before the bride bore her
husband a child simply by calculating the length of time it took for either
chook (Aussie slang for chicken) to emerge from under the bed! If a rooster
should emerge first, it was then almost certain that the first born would be
the much desired son. The only “tradition” I consented to was to have a tiny
lock of hair snipped from my head on my wedding day – if the remaining hair
from the snipped lock stuck upright from my scalp, it would be proof to
everyone (usually the groom’s relatives) that I would be a stubborn wife. Some
oldies also believe they could discern if the bride is a virgin during this
hair snipping process. What do I think of these odd beliefs and superstitions?
Not very much really, although I do find the outlandish ones rather amusing…

Although I had never met my in-laws, I corresponded with them quite regularly
and was very much looking forward to meeting them all. As part of Rick’s work
contract, he was entitled to a two months’ paid vacation every two years to his
country of origin so we began counting the days in early 1971.

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