Top image credit: Visible Secret
A Tale of Two Cousins
“When are you getting married” Third aunt, ever the busybody, asked me during the reunion dinner.
“I want to focus on my career now, so no time la,” I told her patiently. In reality, I was in a relationship with a person I loved very much. But I knew I could not tell her or any of my relatives, about it. Society is not ready to accept the kind of love my partner and I share. But it’s okay. Our love for each other is enough to sustain us; we don’t need to shout it to the world.
Feeling thirsty, I reached for the cold jug of Fanta Orange. Reaching out for it at the same time, my cousin’s hand brushed against mine.
We exchanged a sly look, and smiled, a secret passing between our lips.
Love is truly a many-splendoured thing.
Home-made Pineapple Tarts
Max goes to the gym 5 times a week. The only things that pass through his lips are chicken breast, broccoli, brown rice, and whey protein. He is Chris Evans, but Chinese Singaporean. His ass is Singapore’s ass.
On the 2nd day of Chinese New Year, Max and family visited his favourite aunt. He had a fond spot for her because she always treated him the best, among all his other cousins. Moreover, she was single, so she always had time to explore new cool new hobbies like Tarot reading, crystal healing, or some other new age Wiccan thing.
“I made these pineapple tarts myself, take, take!” she cajoled Max.
Not wanting to disappoint her, Max let himself have a little nibble of the tart.
The pineapple jam still retained a hint of sourness, which cut through the rich buttery crust perfectly. So this is what food tastes like, Max thought. One nibble is enough.
Suddenly, without realising it, the pineapple tart vanished. Where had it gone?
As if he were possessed by a hungry ghost, Max saw his hand reaching for another pineapple tart, then another, and another, and another.
His aunt smiled.
A Dream of Filial Piety
I was 7 when my parents told me about the tradition of shou sui. It’s a practice in which children would stay up on the eve of Chinese New Year. The longer they stayed awake, the longer their parents would live. I love my parents, so I fought to keep my eyes open even at 5 AM when I felt like I was going to doze off. The secret, I found out, is to imagine that I am already asleep and I am in a dream.
That was 20 years ago. I have not slept a single second since.
I refuse to close my eyes. I refuse to let my parents die.
Mandarin Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
Every time I go to my uncle’s house for Chinese New Year, he makes eye contact with me, picks up two mandarin oranges, and rolls them around in his hands, slowly, deliberately, making sure to run his thumbs across the cut-off ends of the stem.
Impossible Pen Cai
Julian’s aunt outdoes herself every year with her signature pen cai (meat and vegetable stew). Each annual iteration will contain a new meat that was not included last Chinese New Year.
From a simple pot containing prawn, pork, cabbage, and mushrooms for their first reunion dinner, last year, it exploded into a behemoth monstrosity that mixes chicken, pork, duck, turkey, goat, beef, venison, mutton, crab, lobster, crayfish, clam, oyster, scallop, sea cucumber, octopus, fish.
No one believed she could add anything new anymore. Yet, when she proudly lifted the heavy lid of the casserole pot, she announced, “This year still got a meat you all haven’t tried!”
Everyone dug in excitedly. The new meat was tender and rich, imparting a smoky and alcoholic flavour to the broth.
“What’s the new meat you added to your pen cai?” Julian asked.
“Secret! If I tell you then next year even harder to top this,” his aunt replied.
Julian sighed. Ever a curious boy, he wished he could find out what the new meat was. If only his uncle were here—his chain-smoking, Tiger-guzzling uncle who knew everything about anything.
Strange, wasn’t it? Julian thought. This was the first Chinese New Year that his uncle has missed.
“Ah boy, last piece of meat for you?” Julian’s aunt asked.
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