The Commoner And The Common Friends

It is Sunday. A day of rest, I get to sleep in. But, at the back of my mind, I know the chooks will be restless. They will want to get out of their coop and stretch their legs. Flap their wings, sing to the neighbouring kookaburras and excitable parakeets. Instead, I remain in my bed, beneath layers of crumpled moth-loved blankets and decades-old thinning quilt. It may be spring but the unseasonal heat wave conditions earlier in the week have retreated and surrendered to the cold Antarctic winds. The chooks will be more comfortable in their home, I reasoned with myself. My shadow self lost the debate, he too did not look forward to brave the cold. Moth ridden blankets still serve their purpose, there is no need to consign them to the bin, let us be kind to the environment. I did not have to wait for Greta Thunberg to evoke her thunder and lightning at us, the older folk. I have been using the “Save the environment” catchcry for all my life.

But, it is Sunday! He is also late.

“Time to throw away your singlets and undies. They are full of holes.” The shadow self hollered. “Nope, save the environment” I told him.

“Why don’t you update your wardrobe, ba? Sharp long collars are so out. Long before rounded collars were in.” “ Nope, save the environment, son.” I said with much conviction about saving the world.

“Heard of the latest QLED 8K big screen tv?!”, asked my shadow self. “You still spend your free time watching old movies on your old Panasonic Plasma tv!”, he mocked. “Look at the depth and detail 8K offers. Look at the vivid colours. It’s QLED, you know!” My shadow self loves all things modern, high tech and expensive.

“It’s ok. Let’s save the environment.” That was all I said. I did not bother to learn what QLED means.

Three Christmases ago, my son from London suggested it was time to change the carpets downstairs. “How about changing to solid timber flooring? The natural smell of Tassie Oak will be a welcome change.”

“Nope, save the environment, son.” I was quietly thinking more about the money saved than the planet’s well-being.

He pointed out that my house was beginning to welcome visitors with the previously familiar “old person’s smell”. Previously, my parents-in-law lived with us for many years until they passed away. Poh-Poh’s last breath was drained away by the emphysema she got from a lifelong habit of smoking. Gung-gung was forever strong until he broke his hips from a nasty fall. Euthanasia was illegal then, in 2002, and still is in South Australia. He was transferred to a palliative care unit where he passed away peacefully in the wee hours of the next dawn. When one is at that junction of one’s life, the issues are no longer quality of life versus longevity or right to live. It is no longer weighing up the burden of medical treatment versus the benefits of gaining it. It is not even about God’s will or God’s words. I am so glad Gung-gung did not hang around at all. Why endure immense suffering and pain at end of life? He lived a dignified life, it is only right he retained his dignity at death. I will want that for myself also.

Oh, the chooks!! Sorry, girls. I forgot to let you out! It’s 8.35 a.m. now!! “C’mon me ladies. Time for your breakfast.” I am a strict adherent of IF (Intermittent Fasting) but I do not impose it on my girls. They have a habit of lowering their body whenever I stroll by. Squatting low, Reddy’s underside almost touches the ground. She shivers momentarily as if expecting a sexual encounter. All she gets is a gentle pat on her back. “Good girl, Reddy. Did you sleep well, darling?” She has been stooping low at my feet ever since she lowered her guard about me. Always offering herself whenever I enter the chicken run, she wants to be straddled by a male. I should keep a cock for her, but the local council frowns at cockerels in the suburbs. My shadow self hopes she does not feel dejected by my rejection of her advances. I will only pat her back, that is the extent of our friendship. She knows I will never harm her. All my four ladies will never experience a black swan day. They should know this is always their home, till they die a natural death. Yes, with tender palliative care too.

Late in the morning, Chip, a good childhood friend, shared some food pics of his Nyonya dinner with some common friends in Adelaide. The Baba’s and Nyonya’s have a colourful history in Malaysia. The meeting and eventual merger of cultures between the early Chinese migrants and the local Malays enriched not only the cultural fabric of the society there but also impressively created a new type of cuisine. A Baba friend encourages us to keep using “Baba-Nyonya” for the Straits-born Chinese-Malays rather than adopt the more commonly used word for their culture, the Peranakans. Legend has it that in 1459, the emperor of China sent his daughter Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Malacca. The nobles and servants who accompanied her married the native Malays and they gave rise to the new class of Straits-born later known as baba-nyonya. Apparently, the term Peranakan is predominantly used by the Indonesians and later exported to Singapore. Last night’s party theme was to celebrate the baba-nyonyas. I imagine the women all went dressed in their best lacy see-through kebaya, with colourful batik sarong and manek slippers. The photo of the nyonya fish curry was mouth-watering but it did not affect my mood considering I was still on IF. But, when Chip sent me the photo of his wife’s Pulut Tai Tai, I couldn’t help but feel like a commoner. They were all our common friends yet I missed out on my favourite snack. Made of fluffy glutinous rice steamed in coconut milk, it is a heavenly dessert especially if you slather it with generous dollops of pandan-flavoured kaya (egg and coconut jam). Commoners miss out on all things exotic in life, including nyonya delicacies, that’s the hierarchical rule. When do ordinary folk without any significant social status get invited to such special parties? That is what I want to know, Chip. Urghhling.

Chip The Chairman

My Shadow Self, A Shadow Of Myself

During my toddler years, I was often pre-occupied with my shadow. It intrigued me that there was something that obeyed my every command. When I marched, it marched with the same beat, when I kicked, it kicked with the same vigour. If I punched, it would not rebel, it punched as hard. When I jumped, it instantly jumped, as if it could anticipate my every thought and every action. Not only were we perfectly synchronised, we were inseparable out in the field during the day. It became my best buddy until Shiny, my shiny black pup, replaced it a few years later. We incessantly conversed quietly between ourselves during my childhood, my shadow self was a shadow of myself. There was never any outburst from it; it kept itself in tune with me at all times. No dissent, no debate, no expression of doubt. A good mate.

It was not until when I was in Form 1, at aged 13, that I had my first close encounter with my dark shadow self. Having passed the Standard 6 exams, the following two years should have been honeymoon years when the slightest scent of the opposite sex would ignite untold passion and red-hot interest in the female body. Instead, my parents who had a strong hold on my freedom, had a restraining order on the whole household. Apart from official Boy Scout activities, I was not allowed to venture far after school, which effectively meant the opportunity to survey the neighbourhood for pretty girls was much curtailed. My hormones were raging inside but all I had to occupy my after-school hours were the scrunched up paper balls in my parents’ dry-cleaning shop. They became the soccer balls that I dribbled with, my faultless technique as impressive as Pele’s. Newspaper accounts described that the ball seemed tied to his boots as he waltzed past three, four, five defenders. Similar headlines were imagined in my mind, my paper footballs seemed tied to my Japanese rubber slippers. All the while though, my shadow self was protesting, turning dark. Beneath the surface of my being, deep under many layers of my psyche, lurked the awakening shadow self. I attributed it to the shadow self maturing faster than me. It was not accepting at all of the imposed house rules whereas the more docile me was content to obey the authority of the adults, any adult to be precise. It was Carl Jung who explained to me what the shadow self is. It is the entirety of the unconscious, that which the conscious ego does not identify in itself; the shadow is the unknown side of us. “The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself”. It is therefore usually the dark side of our personality, the repressed memories, negative thoughts and emotions, and the bad characteristics that we refuse to see when we look into the mirror. Of course, for those with low self-esteem, the unknown self could in fact be the positive traits that are hidden in one’s shadow. As time passed by, I was aware of the growing conflict between the two personalities. It did not matter that I tried to keep the dark shadow from the truth. It knew all the goings-on in my life, and uncannily, also all that it missed, such as the beach gatherings, hiking excursions to Pantai Kerachut and up Penang Hill. It was especially vile and livid at missing the very few dance parties that I was invited to but declined. After the night when I walked out of a disco party in Hotel Merlin without even bidding the host goodnight, my shadow self and I had our first major altercation. As I think back about this, a searing regret impugns my self righteousness. Wow. It was right after all. It was impolite of me not to thank her for the kind invitation and I should have spun a yarn about a stomach-ache or indigestion before excusing myself. But, no. I just sneaked out without a word, as if I had walked into the wrong birthday party and knew none of the revellers. The dark shadow was violently confrontational, it tore up my ego and destroyed my self confidence for the next few years following that incident. The host was a lovely girl who had, I believe, taken a fancy of my Dirty Harry persona. It was all acting, of course, but she would not have known that. A pretty girl with the most sparkling eyes and shortish curls, she was forthright, gregarious and witty. Atypical in the 20th century, she was like today’s modern women, packed full of self confidence and vigour, they stride the limelight and procure whatever they fancy. My shadow self liked her very much but my conscious mind mistook her outward manner as wayward. She, a lawyer’s daughter, had a few days earlier invited me to her home near a beach in Tanjung Bunga. An architecturally designed home, the 60’s feel was evident throughout. The portico had skinny metal posts which complemented the skinny silver painted metal fencing that divided a big sparkling kidney-shaped pool with a spa from a multi-coloured mosaic tiled courtyard where they were starting a barbecue. The large expanse of floor-to-ceiling gleaming glass windows in the family room let in bright playful sun rays which bounced off colourful bean bags and canary yellow coloured lampshades. The showcase furniture in the lounge was undoubtedly the white baby grand. ” Guess who plays the piano? I do!” she cheekily answers her own question. As I surveyed the interior of her home, I immediately felt the urge of wanting a pair of sunglasses, the kind that Clint Eastwood wore in Dirty Harry. But, I didn’t know where to buy them, and did not have any pocket money anyway. She was happy to see me and said so with her body language. She introduced me to her friends who were sipping beer whilst skewering meat and shrimps for the barbecue. I ran out of words very quickly, subduing the shadow self from making its appearance. It was up to no good, keen on breaking my resolve to remain a vegetarian. (I was not familiar with the word pescetarian at that age.) I left the party without partaking in the beer, excused myself and made a quick escape, using my vegetarianism as a perfect excuse to leave the party. For many weeks after, my shadow self and I clashed heatedly and repeatedly over my hasty and unsocial exit. The dark shadow was beginning to overwhelm the conscious mind, the latter becoming paralysed with indecision and inaction. The lawyer’s daughter made another indirect contact, via a mutual friend. This time, it would be a weekend in an Englishman’s bungalow up in the cool green surrounds of Penang Hill. The dark shadow won the battle of the mind, the conscious mind reluctantly accepted her invitation. “It’s fine, there will be dozens of people there, just keep a low profile.” It was a miserable weekend to forget. The dark shadow tried desperately to stop me but at the end of the stay, I wrote her a short note to thank her for her attention but we simply were not of the same world. I was uncomfortable outside the confines of a dry cleaning environment. Her parents were English-speaking, professionally trained and adopted a western culture in which the Beatles and Elvis ruled. I was at home with Cantonese songs and Cantonese profanities, normalised by the workers in the dry cleaning workshop. The acknowledgment of the shadow and therefore the eventual assimilation of the shadow was necessary to break the impasse, without which the conscious mind was being bogged down by paralysis of logical decision making. Every event incurred the consternation of the shadow, it was almost debilitating for the conscious self. I wasn’t day-dreaming, I was fully engaged in mind games with the shadow self. Awareness of the dark shadow wasn’t enough. It required its integration with the conscious mind to enable a peaceful if not productive existence. I believed that the combined forces of the shadow self and the conscious mind substantially improved and broadened the individual’s character. I was right. I recently discovered this quote from Carl Jung. “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Will your shadow self reduce you to a shadow of your former self?