20 Jan 2020
In the blink of an eye I’ll be crossing 55.
Last Saturday a birthday dinner hosted by my former student, Jonathan Leong, for his wife and his father included me in the celebration as well.
This was my first sighting of a birthday cake with 3 names – Joseph (Jon’s father), Jeneen (Jon’s wife) and Miss Ong (Jon’s teacher, me).
I’ve known Jon since he was in his teens, taught him Macbeth, cheered for him when he entered Singapore Idol, and celebrated his wedding to Jeneen.
And I’m forever indebted to Jon’s mom, Mary and dad Joseph, for giving rescued dog, Toto, a loving home, when he had no place to go.
The familial touch at the peranakan dinner setting was further enhanced by Jon’s secret invitation of his parents’ childhood friends and their offspring.
So there we were, parents, grandparents, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, baby and teacher from different dialect groups, faiths and ages gathered as a family to give thanks for the smooth passing of the year and for the year ahead.
As expected of a chinese peranakan eating place, conversations happened at random over the aromas of lemon grass, blue ginger, spices & chillies.
Like a typical matriarch, Jon’s mom’s, favourite command was, “Eat more!” as she piled food on the plates of those seated closest to her.
The 11 month old baby guest from across the table beamed like a little Buddha each time I made eye contact with him or waved at his chubby presence. Baby guest’s grandpa told us proudly that anyone can hold his grandson who accepts all cuddles without a fuss.
I felt very welcomed & included although I was the only unmarried person at the dining table, with no real blood ties to the two Catholic families.
And Jon’s birthday gift to me was an artwork of the Dalai Lama rendered in black ink by a long time friend of his.
Seated next to me, Jon’s wife, Jeneen spoke softly as she recounted her animal sightings on an African safari trip last year. Her eyes lit up when she recalled the magical moments of holding her breath as an elephant approached them.
Despite lots of dining noise and waiters moving around us, I could hear every word she was saying, as if I too was in Africa. There were the leopard, the twin lions, the impalas, the giraffes, the lioness who failed to catch her prey, and the heavy African clouds that seemed to cocoon them in an entirely different universe.
She beamed lovingly as she showed me pictures of Jon cuddling the cat that visited them each morning when they were staying at a vineyard, and another of her husband touching nose with a donkey.
When the evening ended, I felt very hopeful on behalf of animals, that someone as gentle and delicate looking as Jeneen would travel a long way from Singapore, take multiple domestic flights and obey all the safari rules just so they can see animals living free.
And this feeling of hope that youngsters after me are caring towards animals also counts as birthday gift to me. ♥️