The Flat at Clementi West

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The old roomy flat in Clementi West. The one with the intricate marble flooring and antique rosewood furniture, bad quality television boxes that belong in 1996, the circular grey-stone table and eleven matching swirling stone stools. The lovely swallows on the wall, wings outstretched, moving in stillness for the past seventeen years I’ve seen them. In our world of quickness and change, heading to a place that will always remain constant is a huge indescribable comfort I appreciate deeply. Where the doors are always a deep brown and glossy because Grandpa used to dutifully paint over any chips; where the lazy Susan would always somehow hold a roll of toilet paper and a random assortment of snacks.

The textured square tiles of the kitchen. The light green kitchen cabinets holding dusty utensils, those I’ve never actually opened. And the heavy rosewood drawers that pull open will a dull thud, revealing a whole host of photo albums of films and photographs dating back to the young and nubile faces of unidentified great granduncles and aunties. The altar of Buddhist gods, those Fu Lu Shou idols propped above. And different sorts of currencies from many countries placed carefully underneath refined glass — even a banana note from the grim days of World War Two. Always constant. Never changing.

But as I’ve come to realise this Lunar New Year, we are prone to take stability for granted. I’ve noticed the  rosewood displays — previously filled to the brim with archaic Oriental vases and precious glass figurines… now bare. Probably due to the new baby boy (my nephew!) now living in the flat, but I do miss them so. And the yearly tradition of making Lunar New Year desires — pineapple tarts, those crusty dusty white ones, sticky nian ago, love letters — where a gaggle of women would sit by the special elevation in the aforementioned kitchen and churn them out painstakingly, where little me would run around eating the cookie dough.

The same kitchen brings back heartwarming memories, too. One day after school in kindergarten it started to rain really heavily — and because I had a terrifying phobia of thunderstorms and lightning I was horrified and began crying and crying. My grandma then propped me up on the kitchen counter and started to cook hot delicious instant maggi goreng for me on the spot. That’s probably why til this day, I possess a fondness for maggi goreng that can never go away, haha. This is the same grandma that has recently shown a new kind of human frailty I’ve never envisioned she would… her always coarse wrinkled skin is more pronounced, her voice more crackled, but never less loud. However I was so glad when my family arrived, an uncle said to my grandma when I was walking to her, ‘Remember her or not! Your youngest grandchild!’ and in turn she replied, ‘I’ll really be doomed if I don’t remember her.’

I ended the visit with a hug. I’ve never done it before but I’m going to do it every time now.

Love you ahma. So much so, despite everything. Despite age and sadness and change and whatever the world brings.

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