Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas in Devon

This is the first time ever that I’m spending Christmas at mum-in-law’s house.

I was really looking forward to a 'restful' time as recent poor-ish health has made me irritable and quite depressed at one point.

It was nice that we could look out of the window and see sheep wandering on the Devon hill-side. When we did go out, it was not unusual to see tractors (real ones, not Chelsea versions) holding up long lines of traffic.

There was no internet service. Ah....

There was also a lot of food.

We had brought with us a lot of fruit from our weekly organic fruit bag, not wanting it to go to waste. My ‘job’ on Boxing Day was to make a fruit salad.

With all that rich food, ultra-sweet Christmas puddings and all that, husband and I thought a refreshing and detox-ing fruit salad might be a good idea.

So it was a bit strange, as far as I am concerned, that mum-in-law kept asking whether she needed to make a (sugar) syrup for the fruit salad.

No, I said. And thought, 'Syrup on fresh fruit? How odd?'

Even when I was cutting up the fruit, I was asked, ‘Do you put it in water?’

No, I said.

She muttered something about the apple turning brown. There was sufficient acid in the satsuma, kiwi fruit, etc, to keep the apples from turning brown, I reckon.

When we came to actually eating it, I nearly died from shock when mum-in-law’s partner put a huge dollop of clotted cream (with crust) on the fruit salad. Mum-in-law ate hers with a chunk of ice- cream.

It reminded me of the countless times I had sat across from nice slim young girls at the refectory in a London university watching them eat a healthy green salad (while I pigged out on chips -- especially when I was pregnant -- I wanted to eat deep-fried chips, A LOT).

First they added one sachet of salt and then they added a second sachet of salt.

These slim young things might not suffer from obesity, but their salt intake could not be very good for their heart, I thought.

So I was thinking: Why bother with fruit salad when you must eat it with clotted cream or ice-cream?

I decided it is a generation thing. Mum-in-law often served us the sweetest possible desserts. I, being Chinese, usually only have some fruit after a meal and my husband has learned to do the same.

We knew a really wonderful old lady from church who had the sweetest tooth ever. She had been through two wars when sugar was scarce. She always had a huge glass jar full of sweets.

The other thing in Devon was husband and I were put in the ‘basement’. We had a ‘put-me-up’, a sofa that converts into a double-bed.

It was brand-new -- the mattress was still in its plastic wrapper -- and something about it was giving me headache. I was in the room for ten minutes and I was getting this headache.

I think I was suffering the effects of ‘outgassing’ from the new mattress and the rest of the sofa-bed. The headaches cleared when I left the airless basement room, but recurred soon after we returned to the room to settle for the night. The mattress also gave me a backache as it is too soft.

Then on the day we were due to return. Husband fell ill and we were delayed in coming home.

He spent most of the day in the upstairs bed that our son was using. He decided that we should use that bed instead. I was reluctant to let our young son use the basement room where I was sure the new mattress was still 'outgassing'.

So we made up a 'bed' for him instead out of cushions and a duvet on the floor and son seemed to have enjoyed it just as much. It was different.

The good thing about us being delayed in coming home was we got to meet my husband's brother's family.

They were three of the 200-odd passengers whose plane from Florida was diverted to Newfoundland, Canada, over Christmas (which explained the near unintelligible phone message from someone telling us he was stuck in Canada). They had finally made it back to British soil and dropped in on us. (Incidentally they say the newspaper report is a load of rubbish. They probably interviewed people who wanted to get lots of compensation from their 'misery'.)

Son enjoyed the time with his 'big cousin'. Husband recovered after a day in bed. We got home today.

We enjoyed our Christmas. Hope you did, too.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

The magic of Christmas

And peace and goodwill to all man (ie including woman).

This is supposed to be 'the season to be jolly', but do you see a lot of jolliness around?

Go into a supermarket carpark and you will find cars parked most indiscriminately. Shoppers do not bother to look for a space. They simply leave their cars where they think they should.

Getting in and out of a tight space in a supermarket is difficult enough at the best of times. When motorists choose to park in a non-designated parking area behind you, it is even more difficult to maneouvre out of it.

So I was stuck in a spot coming up to Christmas some years back because some moron was parked behind me. The woman driver next to me was trying to leave at about the same time. I indicated to her that she should go first as her path was not blocked by this other car.

She glared at me and through the window I could hear her say, "What? You can't reverse?"

I've lived with that for a few years thinking that my driving skills must be really 'rubbish'.

Well, a few weeks ago, on a rare occasion that we were at this same supermarket, my husband was similarly blocked in. He was fuming because due to the length of the car and the cars so tightly parked on either side, it would not have been possible to get out.

(If another car could be squeezed in there, surely the supermarket would have designated it a parking slot.)

Thankfully on this occasion the driver was waiting in the car and he moved it so that we could get out.

Up and down the country I imagine there are quite a few frayed nerves as queues seem to go forever at checkout counters and badly parked cars add to the misery. And all this for what?

Peace and goodwill to all?

It was even more galling for me to read of school teachers being chastised or even sacked for telling children (aged nine and ten) that Santa does not exist. (Articles here and here.)

Sacked for telling the truth?

Apparently some parents were aggrieved that these teachers have taken away the 'magic of Christmas'.

What is the 'magic of Christmas' when people are so rude to others? Why do parents wish to preserve a 'magic' that is based on a lie?

It strikes me as hyprocrisy that parents who dress up little girls as little women, and give very young children mobile phones and generally take their childhood away by letting them watch some unsavory soaps using even more unsavory language should turn around to accuse teachers of taking away the 'magic of Christmas'.

No wonder the young people in our country seem so lost and rootless. Grown-up enough to do some things (eg wear make-up), but no, don't tell them Santa does not exist? Which goes back to my point in a previous blog about rites of passage.

We, too, have been pondering the 'magic of Christmas' at church. It was wonderful attending the Advent service organized by my son's school. Some of the older boys put up sketches and my little boy was quite amused by the sketch where two characters kept shouting at 'the list of things to do', 'the Christmas tree', 'the presents', 'the food', etc that "We can't see Jesus!"

Why let the 'magic of Christmas' last only till one is eight or nine, or even eleven or twelve when even people like myself (whose age can be measured in 'decades' as my son pointed out) can still revel in the 'magic of Christmas' when we consider the miracle of 'God made man' at Christmas time?

We can still give gifts as the Wise Men bore gifts. We can still offer hospitality as the inn-keeper did. We can still have the lights as that special star shone.

Peace be with you this Christmas!

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

My name, her name, His Name

Husband and I hosted our annual champagne party last night.

Sounds a bit posh, doesn't it? Actually it is a very informal 'champagne and Cornish pasty' party.

Husband (who usually has more note-worthy role models) took the inspiration from a certain Jeffrey A. We had champagne and shepherd's pie one year, but shepherd's pie for 15-20 guests without a catering size oven was a bit difficult to manage.

Last year we experimented with Cornish pasties, bought from the best CP shop in the area (supplied by makers in Cornwall). This year we voted to have the same.

'We' are the eight or nine church members meeting fortnightly at our house as a 'fellowship group'. The party (a Christmas celebration, if I hadn't made it clear) normally includes those members who cannot usually attend due to class schedules, invited guests of the members and members of their families.

Last night started out alright. I had cooked the pasties in good time, unlike the previous year. (You see, experience always helps.) The warmer was switched on and the pasties were transferred into it, all ready and just waiting to be served when all the guests had arrived.

Son decided that it was a 'I am very shy' day and stayed away, but husband and I each half-expected that (thus making it whole!!). Son did make a couple of brief guest appearances, only to show off his newly-discovered skills on the piano.

But a guest, let's call her GR (grrrrr!), decided that there was something wrong with me because I mentioned that I am generally known by my maiden name at son's school. She then went on and on AND ON about how odd it was that I had not taken my husband's surname at marriage.

I said, "Look! My mum never took my father's surname. She was known all her life by her maiden name. We used the title 'Madam' to refer to her as a married woman."

Having also married very late in life it was natural for me to keep my surname especially in my professional life.

GR: "No, that's not right. When you're married, you should take your husband's surname."

Pardon? I then highlighted how in Hong Kong women tended to just add on their husband's surname to theirs. In several Scandinavian cultures, the couple double-barrel their surnames and BOTH parties use both.

As a Singaporean Chinese married to an Englishman my name sounds awful when linked to his English surname and I quite like keeping my identity, thank you.

She would have none of it, and went on and on and on IN MY LIVING ROOM telling me what I should have done.

I said, "Go ask my husband if he cares whether or not I have not officially taken his name."

Now that I am writing about this I remember with great fondness how my late father-in-law-to-be (the best father-in-law, in my opinion) smiled and agreed that it made sense for me to keep my surname. ("I can imagine you as a prime minister but not as a lecturer," he once said with a twinkle in his eye. He actively encouraged me to take up local politics, but I wanted -- still want -- a life.)

The point is: what cheek! To come to my house, come to my party, eat my food and drink my champagne and tell me I was wrong not to take my husband's surname!

And does it matter, really?

Nowhere in our marriage vows did I promise to take on my husband's name. We promised to live the biblical model of marriage to honour the Name of the Lord, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that a woman must take on the husband's surname.

Of course, surnames are a very recent invention in the western world. In biblical times, people are known as 'son of' and 'daughter of' so-and-so, often even after they were married, so that the genealogy could be quite clear. It would be logical to assume that the women kept some identity of their family of origin.

(Incidentally, Ruth was known as the 'Moabite'. Husband's grandmother referred to me as 'that foreign woman' when she was told about our engagement!)

Not too long ago, while doing our Bible study together, this same member noted that it was God who 'set all the boundaries of the earth', who 'made both summer and winter' (Psalm 104:17). Wherever we are, people see summer and winter and they see God, she argued.

I said (just to wind her up, really), "Yeah, but in Singapore we do not have these seasons. We have the monsoons."

But she then went on to try to convince me that there are still the four seasons in Singapore.

I said, "I lived there 30 years, I should know whether there had ever been a winter there."

Considering the fact that she comes originally from a country without the four seasons I found it hard to understand why she was so adamant that winter does come to Singapore.

Why am I telling you this?

The church is imperfect. It is made up of people who are far from perfect. We have members like GR in every church and we accept them for what they are.

Jesus came to earth (which is what Christmas is all about) for people like her AND ME because we are imperfect human beings. Those who are not ill do not need a physician ... indeed. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Indeed.

GR will always be welcome at our house. If she does not mind occasionally exchanging verbal blows with me, she's always welcome. She has a choice of not coming to this group. The fact that she does, I hope, means that she can find some comfort in our meeting together.

We might never agree about the seasons in Singapore (hot, very hot, wet, very wet), but I hope that as we look into the Bible and discuss both the significant and the mundane she would also begin to understand better the principles with which believers should interpret the Bible.

That is the beauty of the church. The members are so different, not like the Christian university students I used to work with.

As they say: do not look for the perfect church. If you think you've found the perfect church, do not join it. You would make it a little less perfect.

How true.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Cards

Son came home today with a card from every other boy in his class.

To be fair, he also gave a card to everyone in his class.

So we ended up with a pile of torn envelopes and cards that he is not likely to look at again.

Why do we do this? This card-giving business?

When I was growing up we weren't so much into sending each other cards. Certainly we did not give cards to people we saw all the time.

What a waste of paper, especially of the envelopes which can't go into the recycling (because of the glue, unless your local authority specifically allows this).

Perhaps we should just put out one card for each child in the class, and everyone gets asked to send greetings (ie sign) to everyone else except himself/herself. Then each child takes that one card home before Christmas.

Personally I can't be bothered to send cards to people I see the whole year round. Why send a card when you could send personal verbal greetings?

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