Friday, May 30, 2008

When it's gone, it's gone

I went ballistic yesterday. Then I was tearful. Then I felt a part of me died.

My elder brother told me that he had just -- last week -- thrown away my Brownie uniform. This was all the more difficult to bear because I had just told a sister to look after it for me because on my next trip I would be collecting that item from her flat.

You see, my son has just joined Cub Scouts and has really taken a fancy to the challenge of badge-collecting. This is a little boy who is so shy and finds it difficult to get out of his comfort zone. He joined the Cubs, asked to be enrolled and has now set sights pretty high.

Many years ago I was just like that. I worked very hard to pass all the tests I needed to become a full-fledged Brownie. The Golden Hand, the Golden Bar, etc and became the Sixer of the 'Fairies'. I turned 12 before I could complete all the tests I needed to get me my Golden Wings. One could only get those Wings if one passed a series of tests before one turned twelve.

The positive outcome was I joined the School Band when I transferred to secondary school. I "abandoned" the Guide movement so that I could join the band, learn to read music, play a musical instrument at school. I've always wanted to play music but my parents just could not afford to give me lessons or buy me an instrument.

Had I got my "Wings" I would have stuck with the Guides. Any way, School Band it was.

But I kept my Brownie uniform for all these 30-odd years. Every time I had a chance I would look at the uniform and thought, "Some day I would show this to someone who matters." I wasn't sure whom I would show it to.

With son in the Cubs it suddenly tweaked: I must show him my own uniform. He is growing up in a vacuum as far as his maternal cultural and historical heritage is concerned.

While his Dad could say, "This was where I went to school" or "O! I remember this place well. There is a row of shops round here" and we would walk round to find those shops, etc, etc.

As we so rarely go to Singapore I can't do "This was where I went to school". Not when the first school I went to has since been torn down to be a power station. The second school I went to has been torn down and the new one is more like a country club house to me. The third school I went to has also been torn down for totally new architecture!! (The original buildings were really awful to begin with.)

Through all this tearing down of schools, I still had my Brownie uniform. Until last week, that is, when my brother decided that it was time he took it to the Salvation Army (which runs thrift shops, recycling points, etc in Singapore).

I've since asked as many people as I could to hunt down this uniform. It's just a bit of fabric with seams on it. But this is precious to me because:
  1. Mum had to put aside household money for some time to buy me the uniform.

  2. I worked really hard to earn all those badges and Sixer stripes.

  3. it is potentially an important symbol of shared experiences between my son and me while we live away from the fast-changing physical landscape of Singapore.

And then I remember how my father's stories of his childhood in mainland China were so meaningless to us. We just could not connect with his history because there was nothing physical or material that we could anchor his history to.

We could not understand the poverty he talked about. We could not understand why -- despite us being poor relative to many people we know -- we had to put money aside to send things like bicycles and sewing machines, etc, to his relatives in China.

I would love to have a bicycle for myself, thank you. Instead all I had was, "We filled another crate with this and that and that and this" while we in Singapore had to do without those same "this and that and that and this".

I don't think I actually connected with my father until after I had been to China myself. But that is another story.

Well, unless a miracle happened and that uniform is recovered, there is now nothing for me to show my young son of my childhood in Singapore. Still we hope to visit Tiong Bahru, that estate we called home. Hopefully things have not changed so much in that sleepy area of Singapore.

Back to Organic-Ally.

1 comment:

Laura Brown said...

This is sad to hear. I know how it hurts when a link to the past is gone. Has anyone had any luck in finding it?

BTW, Siew-Peng, I sent an invitation to read my blog (which I'm keeping invite-only at the moment) to your "shopkeeper" address. I thought since I kept reading your blog it was unfair not to let you read mine! :-) Just thought I would mention it in case you wondered what that strange e-mail was.