Sunday, May 14, 2006


as a med student who doesn't get much fresh air (my own fault), it was great to have a 3-day weekend and have time to waste. i woke up early on friday morning and decided to take my ageing-yet-suspiciously-ageless dog out for a walk. we covered our usual route: up the slope, down the next road, around the playground, across to the next road and then back home.

as mei-mei took things into her own paws and led me for a walk instead, i watched the neighbourhood i know so well.

walking up the slope, i passed the house where the first dog i ever fell in love with used to live. her name was koko and she was a beautiful golden lab with the most soulful eyes a dog could ever have. koko died of food poisoning (she always had a bad habit of eating people's rubbish) when i was 14 and if it weren't for the fact that i already had mei-mei by then, i guess i would have missed her so much more.

koko's owners, an elderly couple, watched me grow up through the bars of their gates. i was 5 when i first began paying them, or rather koko, visits so for 9 years they would open their door and be greeted by the sight of me, hand squeezed through the bars, giving their dog a good head massage. i watched them age and go through the toughest of times: the loss of their son, their own degeneration, as time takes its toll on the body.

when i was a kid, i played in the playground nearest to my house alot. on my way there, i would pass by a house on the street where my sister now lives. the house is slightly more elevated than the other houses, and an old man would sit out on the driveway every day in his white singlet and blue-and-white striped drawstring pants. he had the biggest grin ever, and although i remember thinking of him as a rather ancient old chap, he remained a regular sight in the neighbourhood until my late teens. it was only in my first year of college that i came home one holiday and found that the familiar sight of him sitting outside his gate is no longer there for me to claim.

the neighbour whose house lies diagonally to mine is a distant relative to my father. she visited my house the most. once in a while, there would be a "guest appearance" of vegetable curry or beef stew - dishes my mother hardly ever makes - on the dinner table and i would know that auntie contributed them. i was often a delivery girl as well, sending over bundles of vegetables from my garden or sometimes a pot of herbal tea. the relationship the auntie and my mother shared is something i hope i will have with my own neighbours in the future.

my childhood friends still live close by although we have gone our separate paths since secondary school. i went to a different secondary school and got myself a whole new bunch of friends. it's amazing how a simple change of schools can bring such a distance between me and the people i played badminton with, cycled every day for 1 1/2 hours with, had so many adventures and misadventures with...people i celebrated christmas with. and we hardly talk to each other now. through no particular person's fault, of course, but there was always a nagging suspicion in my mind that i am primarily to blame.

another familiar sight in the neighbourhood is now gone. my grandmother was once the darling of the neighbourhood, always ready with a cheerful "hello" (in hokkien, of course) and a word of gossip. when i was younger, she used to take long walks in the morning and in the evening, sometimes bringing us much anxiety because she had a habit of leaving the house without telling anyone.

it was during one of those walks that she fainted, which led to her complaints of difficulty swallowing, followed by the two collapses in the toilet and finally her last 3 months with me, struggling against the advancing cruelty of cancer.

during her funeral, all my neighbours came. koko's elderly owners came. my neighbour with the beef rendang came. my childhood friends, the family of the man with the white singlet, the woman who looked after my grandmother when she first fainted...they all came. the people who made up my life here in the place i call home all came to say farewell to my grandmother.

i thought of all this as i dragged my dog back home on friday morning. although the neighbourhood hasn't changed much throughout my entire 21 years of life - the same families still stay in the same houses - there is a gradual change that's going on. my childhood friends will most likely get married and move away within the next 10 years. their parents and the more elderly members of the community will leave this earth one day.

with every moving truck and every white canopy that opens up in my neighbourhood, a piece of the place i know as my world is taking flight and going away.

it's only now that i realise that the sad look in the eyes of every neighbour who came to my grandmother's funeral was not because they were mourning for her loss. it was more...grief because our home, my home, is changing every day and my grandmother's death is another piece of evidence to be placed into the evidence box of the case that is unfolding before us.

lishun at 7:42 AM