Superwoman No. 1 – Encounters with Dragon

African Grey

Photo Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_grey_parrot

[This is part of a series of adventures with Superwoman No.1 featured earlier – click here for the post.) 

In our kampung (village) life, it was not uncommon to have birds, cats, dogs, chickens and other similar creatures amongst us.  Some roam freely and some in cages. My dad was a bird lover and has kept many birds as pets in beautifully decorated cages of varying shapes and sizes depending on the species. One of the birds he decided to introduce to the family was an African Grey parrot who was named `Dragon’ for reasons unknown to me especially for the fact that he does not look any way like those dragons we see in drawings or pictures. Perhaps the only part that looks similar would be its claws.

Dragon was quite a character and he was kept in a large metal cage due to his strong beak that would tear apart wooden or plastic materials. He was often hung up high at the back of our house, between the kitchen and bathroom and toilet areas. It was quite a strategic location as he had the vantage point of the whole back section of the house and could see everyone in this area and anyone who comes in from the back entrance of the house. Come to think of it, he was able to see anyone clearly and in full monty in the bathroom or toilet as his cage was perch just above it. Yes, our bathroom and toilet were built in such a way that there were no roof so it was like a cubicle and our kampung house had a high ceiling.

Dragon would come down to the bottom of the cage to look at us going in to the bathroom or toilet and he would wolf whistle and talk to us with words like “Hello”, “Good boy” and whistle some kind of tune as if to poke fun at us. Sometimes he would mimic the sound of `peeing’ and the person in the toilet would at times burst out laughing at Dragon’s cheekiness and he would even chuckle and laugh back at us. These encounters with Dragon were not all there was as he was multi-talented and able to mimic other species of birds we had at home as well as call our pet dog `Tramp’ who always looked puzzled and wondered who was calling his name when Dragon called out his name loudly.

Mama had a distinct voice and being peranakan, she was not short of some famous swear words used by peranakans such as “cheelakah” and “yiow siew” which both closely mean “damn you”. As Mama remained mostly at the back of the house where the kitchen and back entrance were, she often had to yell out the grandchildrens’ names to get us to the kitchen to have our meals. We would be in our rooms or the living area which were at the front part of the house. So we would hear her scream out our names and we will head to the kitchen. I was often out at our neighbors so Mama would shout for me from the back door and I would be able to hear or otherwise my neighbours would join in her yelling to get me to go home.

So here Dragon had a lot of training hearing Mama yelling our names and so he had tricked us a couple of times when we went to Mama and asked her what she wanted and she said she did not call for us. After awhile, we realised it was Dragon who had mimicked her voice to call us. We were more tolerant of Dragon and found him amusing. He was also able to mimic the whistle of how my dad would call for Tramp to come back after he let him out from the backyard for his “toilet run”. There were several times when I saw Tramp standing at the open backyard door afraid to leave as it happened that he would hear dad’s whistle every time he sets off. Once again, it was Dragon and poor Tramp was clueless.

We had our house telephone positioned not too far from the kitchen, sort of in between our living room and the back of the house. Mama used the phone daily to get the results of her `chap ji kee’ (2 digit lottery) and 4D (4-digit lottery) and to arrange her mahjong sessions. So when the phone rang at routine times, Mama would briskly walk over to answer it. Of all the persons in the house, Dragon chose the wrong one to pull his pranks. He decided to mimic the sound of the phone ringing when Mama was busy writing out her betting slip so she got up and went to pick up the phone. Dragon was also smart enough to stop mimicking the ringing as soon as Mama picked up the phone and this was pure timing as where he was positioned, he could not see the phone.

When Mama picked up the phone, she said “Hello… hello… HELLO!” and realised that it was a dial tone and thought the person must have hung up when she picked it up. So she put down the phone and said, “Cheelakah!” and walked back to her betting slip preparation. You may wonder how I am able to write this in such detail… well, it was one of the rare occasions when I happened to witness what was going on from the backyard and I somehow knew what Dragon was up to. I thought it was just a one time prank and ignored what had just happened but Dragon did it again! He made the phone ringing sound and Mama grunted and got up and walked to the phone again. He did the same thing by stopping just when Mama picked up the phone and she said “HELLO” loudly and then slammed the phone down and said, “Yiow Siew!”. She then turned around and saw me laughing loudly from the back entrance and I could not help but told her what Dragon had done.

Mama was so mad she went to get her broom and then lift it up as if she wanted to sweep the roof but no… she headed straight towards Dragon who began to look nervous seeing her coming towards him. When she reached the cage, she hit it with the broom at least three times and each time she shouted “Cheelakah lu!” and Dragon fluttered his wings in fear as the cage swung with each blow of the broom. Then Mama stared at him and walked away to keep the broom and went about her work. I think that day could be one of the quietest day of Dragon after facing the wrath of Mama.

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Can you hear the scream… it’s quite close to Mama’s 🙂

Now who’s the real dragon after all ?

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Spinning Yarns – Shivering spines

What makes a good storyteller, in your opinion? Are your favorite storytellers people you know or writers you admire?

There are many good storytellers and the millions of books and films are proof of this. Undoubtedly, those who charmed us were from our childhood days or when we were younger and have yet to understand the wiles of mankind in storytelling. In fact, I think children learn most or remember best through stories told by their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties or teachers. Generally, what adults tell them and this was where the spinning yarns rolled.

Growing up in a small village, we do not have mobile devices or a wide range of TV programmes to distract us. We often sit at a patio amongst the older people who would chat about their day’s experience or happenings in the neighbourhood. So when we, the children seemed restless, that’s when the yarn spinning begins, where legends were born and myths created. I cannot say they were my favourite storytellers but I can say that they sent shivers down our spines.

One of the tale was about “Orang Minyak” (Oily Man in Malay). This slippery man would prowl in the middle of the night peeping in the windows of houses to find any woman sleeping inside so he can molest her. He was only wearing shorts and covered himself with black oil from head to toe over all his body so that he could not be easily seen at night. That period of time, there were no high rise housing, only wooden houses and hardly any lights other than a kerosene lamp or a single light bulb to light up a house and windows of rooms were usually kept open as there were no electric fans or air-conditioning. Sometimes when you hear a woman scream in the middle of the night, they would say the Orang Minyak has struck again. The woman who screamed would usually say someone had touched her and when asked to describe the person, her reply would usually be, “It was a black shadow that jumped out of the window” or “I could only see his teeth” or “I could only see the white of his eyes”. Then when day breaks, they would find their clothing, bed sheets and curtains stained with black oil. This made many of the female folks in our village frightened to sleep near the window or to walk alone at night for fear of being pounced on by the elusive and slippery Orang Minyak. Interestingly, a movie and TV series were created based on this character.

Another story was, I would say a malay version of vampire and she or it or whatever female, was called “Pontianak” (the closest translation I can think for this malay word a female Dracula). This one is really complicated as there were many versions from different countries it seems. However, my kampung version will be what I can share. This Pontianak can be described as a female ghost-like character with long white flowing robe-like gown and she has long, unkempt hair that covers almost all of her face. She would have very long fingernails too and ugly teeth that looked like fangs. Well, google images have plenty of examples and the one here fits the bill closely:

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She resides at banana trees. I have no idea why but we children steer clear away from any banana trees at night. The folklore would be that she was a beautiful woman when there was a nail pierced through her head. When that nail is removed, she would turn into Pontianak who needed to feed on human blood. There are some stories I love to remember for a long time and this one, I wished not to but it has been embedded from childhood, so I choose to keep it short.

So these were the good storytellers of my village and they all loved to spook the life out of women and children. My favourite storytellers would be Roald Dahl, Jeffrey Archer and John Irving to name a few. They are not spooky at all and so was Snoopy.

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Spinning Yarns – DP

Salad Days

Is there a period in your own personal life that you think of as the good old days? Tell us a story about those innocent and/or exciting times (or lack thereof).

Most people I know will consider salad as healthy diet or people who choose to be on a salad diet as health conscious or wished to lose weight. So it has a negative or punitive tone to it. I admit that if you were to ask me to have that for a meal ten years ago, I would say, “Are you kidding me?”

Somehow, these days I look forward to a salad meal and even make efforts to buy vegetables and stuff that will help me create a nice salad meal at home or to pack breakfast or lunch for work. I just find them refreshing and it does not make me feel too full or sleepy compared to the other meal options so readily available everywhere.

Oh yes, then I can relate to salad days as a nice feeling like a sense of nostalgia when you think of the times you had when you were much younger. Such feelings always bring me back to my “kampung” (a malay word for village) days in the early 70s. We, as in the children in the kampung all felt free and easy to run around and play whatever games we like from sunrise till sundown. The whole kampung was our playground. The kind of games we played was simple yet super fun and adventurous, at times even dangerous. Some of the games were “Police and Thief” where half the group (thieves) will have a headstart to run and hide while the other half (police) will have to find and catch them. They need to catch and bring them to a detention place one by one till all were caught to win the game. The remaining thieves could also attempt to rescue those detained by running pass and tapping them to set them free. These were the agreed rules of the game we followed and one round of game can last over an hour. It sounds simplistic but it was an elaborate game with an area covering the size of a football field where there were clusters of wooden houses, trees, back alleys, lumber yard, shops and huts. Each group needs to come together and strategise before the game starts and leaders were appointed to make decisions and negotiate terms with opponents along the way.

Of course, these elaborate games need quite a number of players to make it work so when we do not have the group size, we tend to play other games and some can be painful like “Hantam Bola” (malay words for hit with ball). It is telling that I grew up in a malay village although I am chinese. It was not uncommon for different races to co-exist and more so now in Singapore, racial harmony has been the foundation of our culture. Back to the painful game of hit with ball. The ball we had then had a leathery rubber texture about the size of a tennis ball and it really hurts when someone throws it at you. We had to stand within a rectangle drawn on the ground about half a basketball court in size and the kid who holds the ball will roll it towards a hole made on the ground near the edge of the rectangle. If the ball goes into the hole, the same kid gets to pick it and throw to hit us. Whoever was hit by the ball is out of the game and if the kid missed hitting anyone, he will be out too. If the ball did not roll into the hole, any other kid can pick and throw to hit anyone, if he missed, he’s out. It’s the process of elimination where the last kid standing will become champion. You can imagine the terrified screams from all of us in that rectangle when someone was holding the ball aiming to throw at us and you need to figure out how to dodge it. One consolation was the one holding the ball must stay in position to throw it.

I believe my real school was from these games and experiences I had in my kampung and not from the formal classes I attended and I can hardly recall any lessons. Most of all, we the kampung kids were as fit as a fiddle running around like headless chickens and screaming our heads off in most of the games we played. It was simply wonderful!

Salad Days – DP

Fourth Wall

You get to spend a day inside your favorite movie. Tell us which one it is — and what happens to you while you’re there.

I realised that as I get older, my imaginative and day dreaming days had become extinct. To do this prompt, I need to bring back my childhood memories as that was really the time where imagination and day dreaming were common place.

The movies that my dad brought me were all that he loved to watch but I don’t think many people would think well of him that he chose to bring his little girl to watch what was regarded as violent movies then. They were moslty chinese kungfu movies. I loved it and from then on, I became a fan of chinese martial arts and especially Bruce Lee movies at that time. Among Bruce Lee’s few movies due to his untimely demise, the one that I would like to spend the day inside would be “The Fist of Fury”. Strangely the movie was called `The Chinese Connection’ in the western parts of the world. At that time, the plot of most chinese kungfu movies would involve the evil or hated Japanese invasion so usually the cruel and evil dictators would be some Japanese general or ruler. This movie was about a kungfu school that was destroyed due to the Japanese rule and Bruce Lee’s master was `killed’ in the process of protecting the school. So it was really dramatic when Bruce who was overseas, came back to find the school destroyed and his master dead. So he sought revenge against all those involved and soon one by one, the evil Japanese and their conspirators were knocked off their socks by him.

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A screen grab of the final scene of the movie

The day I chose is the last day at the last scene. This was where he executed his legendary flying kick that propelled him to kungfu stardom and no one else had managed to fit in his shoes. No gimmicks, camera tricks or dreamworks involved, a real superhero. That’s how I felt watching the movie for the first few times 🙂 He actually did this kick towards a line of policemen who were aiming at him with their guns. Remember, he had killed all the Japanese soldiers and conspirators who were ruling that town and the police (who were controlled by the Japanese even though they were chinese) were fearful of him. So the movie ended with this scene freezing at this stage and the sound of all the guns going off (meaning he was shot dead). On another note, won’t those people at the background get shot when frightened policemen shoots at a flying man? Ok nevermind… let’s move on to what I would be there for. Well, I will be one of the policemen and would have swapped all the bullets of my colleagues with blanks and the scene would end with Bruce Lee landing safely from his flight and running away escaping to another place where there will be a sequel blockbuster called “The Fist of Fury – The Rise of the Fourth Wall”.

Fourth Wall – DP

Reverse Shot

What’s your earliest memory involving another person? Recreate the scene — from the other person’s perspective.

Surprisingly, I just posted about my late father in the last DP and what better way than to turn it around now.

This sentence took awhile as I never really thought about how my dad looked at me during those times spent together. I am the youngest of the 3 children and perhaps, the most mischievious. So here’s what I think he thought of me:

This little rascal needs to be taught to do many things to keep her occupied, if not she will get into trouble with all the neighbourhood kids. Always running around and playing with them. I can see that they all have trouble keeping up with her and had to take turns to play with her as it was too tiring to keep entertaining her…. (me talking now – I can’t help it if I was a hyperactive kid).

I have taught her how to keep birds as pets, by showing her how to clean their cages daily, putting them into their bath-time cages, sunning them, cutting fruits and catching grasshoppers to give as treats and the art of making bird feeds. So far she has been faithfully doing all that was taught quite well. I have also taught her how to listen to their tone to differentiate the male from female as only the male ones had more melody and were suited for competition. Yes, these birds were also able to take part in singing contests organised by the community centres or bird clubs. Here’s a photo of the bird known as white-eyed sparrow, in its cage for bathing time and for show off:

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I even let her join the neighborhood karate club although she was still too small and young. This was so that she will be tired out enough to go to sleep at night and not create trouble for the family or neighbors. She is my little rascal and the apple of my eye and I am really proud of her.

(And I am the most blessed daughter in the world to have a dad like you :))

Reverse Shot – DP