Chapter 4 – The Birds And The Bees

I cannot recall exactly when Mother decided to talk to me about the birds and the bees – I think I was about 13 years old at the time. I do remember that the story of her wedding night was most amusing. She was betrothed to a young “Baba” (Peranakan gentleman) of her family’s choosing and all was well until she met and fell in love with my adoptive father who was a lowly taxi-driver… She claimed that he used black magic on her after she rejected his advances and spat on him. Her family found out and she was disowned and thrown out of the house. My father brought her to his family and she was then persuaded to convert to Islam and to renounce her former Buddist beliefs. Photo shows a typical old-fashioned Peranakan Wedding which Mother would have had if she had married her betrothed as desired by her family. (Click on thumbnail to enlarge.)

Without further ado, a simple wedding was arranged and proceeded according to plan until THE NIGHT. My mother’s idea of marriage was that a man and a woman got married, received heaps of presents, then he’d go to work to bring home the money while the wife stayed home and “play house”. She knew that they sleep together in the same bed and that she had to learn to cook for him and perhaps do a little housework if they could not afford a servant. Anyway, after the wedding festivities, they were led to the bridal chamber amidst knowing giggles from the remaining guests and her new in-laws. She got into bed quite happy that the day went well and she could now get some sleep. She could not believe her eyes when her new husband exposed his manhood to her and she demanded to know what the heck he was going to do with it! When told the truth, she jumped out of the bed and screeched in a terrified voice, “You’re not putting THAT THING in me!” and spent the next half hour or so being chased by her amorous husband round and round the bed!!. He finally gave up and promised solemnly not to touch her. With her heart pounding, she waited impatiently for him to fall asleep, then she quietly crept out of bed, packed her few belongings and decided to run away. Her mother-in-law stopped her halfway down the track, persuaded her to come back and slowly and tactfully explained the facts of life to the bewildered teenaged bride. Thus was her introduction to sex…

In her desire to conform with the society we lived in back then, Mother became increasingly old-fashioned and very narrow-minded. She was forever reminding me to remain an “anak dara” (virgin) until my marriage. I was to stay clear of the opposite sex, regardless of race, colour or creed. When she didn’t have a gambling “date”, she kept an eagle eye on my every move, sometimes appearing at the school gate just in time for us to go home together. If I should miss the usual bus and had to catch a later one, I would find her waiting at the bus stop when I got off!

Despite her repeated warnings against boys, I was a normal teenaged girl and became interested in the opposite sex when I was about 15 years old. I soon managed to have boyfriends behind her back. I wished she wasn’t so narrow-minded as I wanted to be more open and honest with her. I vowed that I would be much more approachable when I in turn become a mother. My first boyfriend was Peter Chong, a student at Anglo Chinese School. He used to patiently wait at the bus-stop outside his housing estate until the bus I was in came along. I noticed his interest and liked what I saw, so I would try my darnedest to get on ‘his’ bus on the homeward journey, (when Mother wasn’t there, of course!). After a couple of weeks, he initiated the next move by handing me a note of introduction and a great friendship began. His mother was a nursing sister and like me, he lost his father at a young age. At times when Mother was out gambling, I would leave home early and visit Peter for chats and (when we knew each better) we indulged in a few harmless necking sessions… When we met, he was in his last year of secondary school and we drifted apart when he went on to University. There were numerous other boyfriends after Peter but I never gave my heart or virginity away.

I also had many pen-pals through my friends at school who subscribed to the Christian Science Monitor magazine. I corresponded with a dishy Iranian boy called Soultan Mohammed Karimi, an American called Skip and a girl from New Zealand, Robyn Hart. Brother would somehow managed to supply me with the money for the postage. All return correspondence were sent to my classmate’s home so Mother knew nothing. Brother and close friends did a lot to help and cover up for me whenever I had a date. There were several “close calls” when Mother came home earlier than expected and found me out but Brother usually managed to take the heat off me. I hated the deception as I knew I was morally strong enough to resist temptation.

Despite her sometimes rather harsh and obscene personal criticism of me, I just about fell off my chair (if I had been sitting on one) when she jumped to my defence one day… A relative of ours remarked on the dangers of allowing me to have an English education and the supposed immoral behavior associated with the Western way of life. I was criticized for my fashion sense – preferring pants and shirts, like the “Orang Putih” (White folks i.e. Westerners) as opposed to the traditional “baju kurong” (Malay outfit of a sarong and a loose-fitting long sleeved top). Well, that got Mother hopping mad, so she retorted with, “Do you know how easy it is to have a ‘quickie’ in some alley wearing a sarong? It’s just a matter of “selak kain {sarong}” (lifting up your sarong)! Much easier than having to unbutton your pants!!!” Needless to say, our relative was dumbstruck as I was.

I rebelled several times but they all resulted in unpleasant scenes with Mother throwing hurtful insults regarding the fact that I was a bad daughter because I was an adopted child! She would throw my clothes out on the corridor, knowing that I would not leave home as I had nowhere to go. One incident remained fresh in my mind — I was completely broken in spirit after hours of nagging and insults, so when she threw my clothes out, I packed them in a couple of paper bags and decided to seek help from the police so I could be placed in an orphanage. Upon learning of my intention, Mother dragged me back into the flat, fried me an egg to have with my rice and after tears all around, I stayed. She never tried to throw me out again after that!