Chapter 11 - A New Lifestyle

It was wonderful being a "Tow Kay Neo" (literal translation: towkay's (boss') wife, general meaning: lady of leisure), especially when I was not restricted to staying home or just window-shop wistfully as before. Rick loved the fact that we could go places and do things together when he was in town. I no longer had to prop my eyelids up with matchsticks at work after a late night on the town. We became party animals alright, especially when "the Boys" were in town - after checking out the various nightspots till well past midnight, we would make a beeline for Bugis Street, then famous for its nightly parade of "Kai Tais" or Beaney Boys (transvestites). There we would join the milling crowd of visiting sailors and tourists alike, enjoying late night suppers of chilli crabs, "nasi goreng" (fried rice) and various equally tempting local delights while chortling at the antics of drunken sailors dancing on the roof of the public toilet. Gorgeous (and some not so gorgeous) and glamorously dressed transvestites would sashay about the whole block amidst a cacophony of wolf whistles and lewd comments from the mostly expatriate guys, intoxicated by a few too many Anchor or Tiger beers. On a couple of occasions, if we were still in party mood, we would go home in the wee hours of the morning, get changed into casual clothes, grab our fishing gear and meet up again at Jardine Steps to hire a "tongkang" (Chinese junk boat) and go fishing for the day. Oh what fun it was to be young and carefree and brimming with energy!

One of the first few things on our "Must Do" list was to get myself an International passport and after that, there was no stopping us. We would pack a few clothes, lock up the house, jump in the car and venture across the Johore Causeway into Malaysia (or Peninsula Malaya, if we want to be geographically correct). We enjoyed several road-trips along the west coast through the various states, Johore, Malacca, and onwards up the coast to the island of Penang to stay a few days, then back down to the capital, Kuala Lumpur for a few more days' stay before coming back to Singapore in time for Rick to go back to work. We also visited Cameron Highlands and in fact, we went wherever the mood took us, sometimes heading across the Causeway just to have dinner and check out a nightclub or two.

Not long after we were married, we decided it was time to test my reaction to air travel. Less than a year later, I went on my very first exciting plane trip - to Medan in Sumatra, Indonesia, by Garuda Airways, then in a helicopter further north to Pankalan Brandan. I must be a natural-born traveller as to this day, I do not suffer from acrophobia nor air-sickness so it was just fun, fun, fun all the way. I was warmly welcomed by Rick's boss and his colleagues and we were invited to stay with one of the Indonesian contractors. Talk about being in the seventh heaven - I astounded the Indonesians with my appetite for their local fare and my ability to speak their language. I had a blast when Rick was at work during the day, checking out the "pasar" (marketplace) with the contractor's wife, tucking into durians with gusto, not to mention all the "sambal" (chili dishes) on offer. No hoity-toity behavior from this "nyonya" (term of address for a married lady of Western or Chinese origin) as I was quite comfortable sitting cross-legged on the mat just like the locals and using my fingers to eat, instead of at the dining table with western cutlery. I fell in love with a couple of super friendly "siamang" (gibbons) and was so tempted to smuggle them back to Singapore with me...

When work was over for the day, Rick would pick me up in his work truck and we'd head for the "base" where we'd have dinner with the rest of the expatriate boys, enjoy a few drinks, play darts or shuffleboard while listening to Western music until quite late at night. I enjoyed the "kampong" (village) lifestyle very much but wasn't too keen on the icy cold showers every morning though. Brrrr... I especially loved the gifts of hand painted batik sarongs, batik art, gold jewellery, durian cakes and "Rendang Sapi" (Beef Rendang) that were given to me as farewell gifts from the various Indonesian contractors. After my return to Singapore, they continued to send me various gifts through Rick. I in turn would reciprocate with gifts from Singapore through Rick. It was a pity that I didn't get a chance for a return visit as the party moved to Rantau Prapat a few months later. As soon as word got around among the Indonesian contractors in Rantau Prapat that Rick had an Indonesian-speaking Chinese wife, he was swamped with invitations to bring me over for a visit. It was then a matter of tactfully staying at a hotel so as not to offend anyone. I felt like a celebrity as the contractors rivalled among themselves to shower me with the best hospitality. Rick and I eagerly accepted an invitation by a contractor to be guests of honour at his daughter's traditional wedding!

When Rick was at work, my lifestyle took on a much slower pace and I spent more time with Mother when she wasn't gambling. We actually grew closer in some ways - Mother was anxious that I should know all there was to know about how to keep a man happy, especially in the bedroom! She started giving me advice based on the belief, "You are what you eat". Personally, I think that most of her beliefs were based on old wives' tales handed down from her mother. I remember being told a woman should not over-indulge when eating water-melon and papayas (paw-paw) as it would result in her being "loose and sloppy". Over-consumption of green mangoes (unripe and rather tart) could lead to thrush, durians were considered to be an aphrodisiac for a guy but could be too "heaty" for the body, and the list went on... [If you ask me, I think these motherly advice were nothing more than scare tactics so their daughters would eat less of all those yummy fruit so they themselves could enjoy a bigger share!] A decent wife should not be too responsive as her husband might form a low opinion of her. To keep her husband's interest, a woman should sometimes play hard-to-get. A woman should always look after her feminine health and keep up her strength by swallowing a fresh raw egg, "the morning after". (What a dead giveaway for any inquisitive mother-in-law or house-maid, I thought!) At the end of menstruation and after child-birth, a woman should take essence of chicken, royal jelly and ginseng to re-build her strength. If breast-feeding, the mother should cut out ginger and highly spiced food from her diet as the baby could suffer from "wind" (colic).

I thanked my stars that my "nenek" (grandma) was not around when I got married as she would probably insist on the "chicken test" on my wedding night. This strange ritual involved releasing a rooster and a hen under the bridal bed and supposedly, an "expert" could foresee how long before the bride bore her husband a child simply by calculating the length of time it took for either chook (Aussie slang for chicken) to emerge from under the bed! If a rooster should emerge first, it was then almost certain that the first born would be the much desired son. The only "tradition" I consented to was to have a tiny lock of hair snipped from my head on my wedding day - if the remaining hair from the snipped lock stuck upright from my scalp, it would be proof to everyone (usually the groom's relatives) that I would be a stubborn wife. Some oldies also believe they could discern if the bride is a virgin during this hair snipping process. What do I think of these odd beliefs and superstitions? Not very much really, although I do find the outlandish ones rather amusing...

Although I had never met my in-laws, I corresponded with them quite regularly and was very much looking forward to meeting them all. As part of Rick's work contract, he was entitled to a two months' paid vacation every two years to his country of origin so we began counting the days in early 1971.



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