30 December 2018

The year end brings its rounds of holidays, merriments and profound questions such as “How has the year been?”

On Christmas Evening, I had the chance to hang out at the old neighbourhood of Boon Lay Shopping Centre with a Malay friend. We were there for a session of traditional chinese massage.

After the deep tissue massage, we had our comfort food, the famed Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak. (I know, so healthy right?)

In the hawker centre that was linked to the wet market, we were surrounded by old folks, dating bikers, families and a steady stream of late night workers still in their work gears – neon tops, orange or blue overalls, Kings boots etc. You know, the people who maintain our trains, repair our highways, and keep our country running while we sleep. At one point it also felt like we were supping with The Village People!

With our bones all aligned and bellies full of fragrant coconut rice, we went on a car ride in my friend’s Volkswagen.

He pointed out the landmarks of our youth – places of worship, banks, and the community centre where my brother’s wedding dinner was held.

New flats on the old location where my friend sold epok epok in his youth to supplement his mother’s income.

We saw the location of the flats where my friend peddled his mom’s homemade curry puffs in his primary school uniform, the factories where he worked as a cleaner during his secondary school holidays, the church where he sat in to seek solace from words that were thrown around like knives during family quarrels, and the bus stop where he waited to accompany his sister home after her night shift work.

These old pine trees have been here since our teenage years.

The beautiful pine trees that lined the roads leading to the Chinese and Japanese gardens (now closed for renovation) and the JTC flats where I tutored a boy in my late teens, and the garden where I rescued and rehomed a dog named Margo when I was a teacher were all still around.

We gave thanks for this backwater of a neighbourhood. It has no class, no famous schools, and some of its people still come out in their pajamas.

But this place has given my friend and I all we needed in our formative years to become the adults that we are today.

And it is very grounding to look back at 2018 and the years before, to realise that even the parts of our life that have been stressful or difficult can impact us in so many positive ways.

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