Cleaning up the birdshit

It will have been one month this weekend since my mother’s passing. We’ve kept busy and we’ve tried to keep our emotions at bay for the most part, allowing ourselves only spurts of grieving. I still hope that maybe if I keep busy for long enough, I might let the passage of time dull grief.

But really, if not for my very supportive and loving wife and my darling baby boy, I don’t know how I’d have been able to hold it together. For Naomi and I, our Annus Horribilis began last November with the sudden death of her brother in Shanghai. Since then, it seems to have been one shocking piece of news after another.

And watching Japan reel from the earthquake is just… I don’t know.

My sister’s friends who’ve been similarly bereaved because of their parents’ sudden demise tell her that ‘the first few weeks is usually spent looking for things’.

My sister, brother and I have been doing just that – keys, passwords, safe combination numbers, bank statements – some have been found, and some haven’t. There have been moments of levity though, with the discovery of some of my mother’s handwritten memos – to her staff and to herself, some of which are about the most bizarre matters.

In one memo she talks about contemplating buying a parrot for my father because she thinks keeping one would provide him company and conversation. (Papa is homebound because of Parkinson’s).

The memo ends with this: “Kenny (my younger brother) says birds are dirty and you have to clean up all the birdshit. So, KIV”.

It’s Chap Goh Meh, but here’s a Christmas story

While workshopping Kumar’s show last week, Selena Tan brought up this gem of information on how the Japanese celebrate Christmas. I would’ve teased Naomi for not knowing this Japanese tradition but a) she doesn’t take too kindly to criticism about her lack of Japanese knowledge, b) it is a rather offbeat kind of tradition.

Before 1974, westerners in Japan who happened to be around during Christmas found it difficult to celebrate Christmas because turkeys were apparently hard to find in the shops (or elsewhere, for that matter), and so the closest thing a foreigner could pass off as a Christmas turkey dinner was a chicken dinner, and chicken dinners were easy to find at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets around the country.

So, in 1974 a clever marketing fella at KFC decided to sell the first KFC Christmas meal, consisting of fried chicken and a glass of wine. It was immensely popular, and for some reason, Japanese locals began to think that this was a bona fide tradition, and as the years went by, began passing it down to younger generations.

These days, KFC Christmas meals are ordered several months in advance, and if you think about it, Colonel Sanders could pass off as Santa Claus.

If you think that’s weird, @bubblevicious and @tetanus point out that the annual Chingay Parade has its tradition/roots in the government trying to appease the pyromanic masses’ discontent at the firecracker ban in 1973.

Singapore’s Oskar Schindler

They either never taught us this in history lessons, or I just wasn’t paying attention.

Thanks to a contributor on sammyboy.com, I found out that one of the heroes of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore was Japanese. Shinozaki Mamoru was a press attache with the Imperial Foreign Service and was assigned to Singapore before the Japanese invaded.

He was jailed by the British for spying (a charge which he denied), and was freed by the occupying Japanese, and given a role as a welfare officer of the civilian administration of occupied Singapore.

Among his heroic deeds included deliberate storage of food supplies in the Thomson area so that the Little Sisters of The Poor would have a steady supply of food; and his very liberal issuing of thousands of safety passes to members of the Chinese and Eurasian communities, an act which probably saved thousands of them from being rounded up and executed.

Shinozaki eventually testified at the war crimes trials against his fellow countrymen, and later wrote a book – Synonan, My Story, which is apparently still a source of information about life in Singapore during the Occupation.

You can read more about Shinozaki here.

Imported traditions

ozoni

Did I already mention that Kai can stand? Well, he can, among the many other things he seems to be picking up (literally and otherally) on a daily basis.

Before the New Year, we also received Naomi’s updated copy of her family register from Tokyo, which now includes Kai and myself (my name being recorded in Katakana because I’m the alien in the family). Kai also retains his mother’s surname in his birth records for Singapore and Japan.

Because we were officially 2/3rds Japanese, we decided on ozoni for the first meal of the year. It sounds simple enough to make, but we wanted to see if there were any variations on the dish, so we Youtubed it, and found this channel with an alarming title, called, “Cooking With Dog“, but our fears were unfounded because the dog just sits there doing nothing, and nothing gets done to it either.

We followed the instructions for ozoni, and I’m not allowed to make fun of Japanese-accented Engrish, so please, don’t laugh. (You can go an use the rubbertree if you need to pee).

But what’s really interesting was the fact that Japanese New Year follows the Gregorian calendar instead of the Oriental lunar calendar, and I found out, thanks to Wikipedia, that this was not always the case.

The Japanese celebrated their New Year’s the same time as the Chinese until the Meiji period, when Japan underwent a series of sweeping changes aimed at transforming her into a modern society (partly by abolishing the elite class).

So one of the things you eat at New Year’s is mochi – or sticky rice cakes, which are toasted before being boiled to a sticky mess in the ozoni. Wikipedia also has something to say about this:

Because of mochi’s extremely sticky texture, there is usually a small number of choking deaths around New Year in Japan, particularly amongst the elderly. The death toll is reported in newspapers in the days after New Year.

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