Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Sitting down to pig out after a nice bike ride, I found myself thinking about my childhood, my parents, and the eating habits of my family. More importantly, I became cognizant of the balancing act my parents performed behind every meal; an act that was invisible to their children: how to balance the household budget, fulfill their personal wants and desires, and still feed the growing brats kids.

As a single adult with no dependents, it is easy for me to severely cut back on food expenditure to make up for an unnecessary or emergency expense. A month of Ramen instant noodles, supplemented with the occasional egg and vegetables, isn't really POW rations; you won't die, and so long as you swallow your multi-vitamin pill daily, you won't get scurvy.

However, this is unrealistic, short-sighted, and unfair to subject other individuals--in particular, your children--to such measures. Growing children require nourishment, or else they might get stunted in their growth. No sane parent would want to live with the consequence or the guilt.

You know the feeling when the quality or quantity of your meals is based not on desire or personal whim, but your budget? When you finish the last mouthful of your meal, and you think, "Gee, I wish there was more," or "Gee, that was awful. It has been the same thing for the last 2 weeks"? Well, having never experienced that while living under my parents' roof made me appreciate all the hard work and ingenuity that went on in the kitchen, and the late-night budgeting meetings my parents had while the kids were all asleep.

In my parents' house, when we left the dinner table, it was only for one of the two following reasons:

1) We couldn't eat any more, so stuffed are we,


2) Mom or Dad's experimental recipe turned out to be other than planned (in which case, we hit the zi cha at the local hawker center or call for pizza delivery).

#2 rarely happens as Mom and Dad are excellent cooks. Mom is an expert in Chinese and Malay dishes, and Dad rocks with steaks, ribs, roasts--anything with lots of meat and potatoes in it.

Our appetites were also enormous. 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of steak will last only one dinner among 3 growing kids and Dad (Mom doesn't eat beef). 1 kg (2.2 lb) of Kang Kong (a crunchy vegetable that's delectable when fried with Sambal Belacan, a pungent, peppery shrimp paste) is insufficient as a side dish of vegetables for all 5 of us. Rice is bought 15 kg (33 lb) at a time and stored in a large, covered bucket. At the hospital, someone must have switch their real kids with the 3 little piggies or something...

The food budget must have been huge, but it wasn't. I don't know how Mom and Dad managed it. I do know that, to stretch the dollar, they often endured the traffic jams of the Causeway (bridge) over to Malaysia for groceries.

The large dinners were not to make up for a small allowance either. Our pocket money for lunch wasn't mean by any measure. In fact, it allowed us the luxury of having dessert in the tuck shop (canteen). Ever heard of a 9-year-old kid having 3 Lor Mai Kai (steamed glutinous rice with chicken) for lunch?

Now, I am not bragging that we have swan meat, bear's paw and abalone, washed down with bird's nest every night, but we never suffered from want of food or the lack of gastronomical variety in the house. It is a far cry from the food decisions I encounter on my own today:

Hmm, Shrimp Scampi. Two for $9.89

Ramen instant noodles. 24 for $2.40.

*Really wants Shrimp Scampi*
*Looks at the price*
*Takes Ramen instead*
*Grabs the Shrimp flavored Ramen and pretends it is Shrimp Scampi*

Growing up as a child in the household, I never had to do any of this . That's my point. And therein lies my admiration of my parents.

I think it is an incredible undertaking of responsibility for one to bring another sentient being into this world. A being that is essentially half you. A being that is your creation. And then to nurse him or her, feed him or her, and watch your child (hopefully) become something greater than you are--than you will ever be; growing, while you dwindle away with age.

To put aside all of one's personal wants and desires, or, at the very least, temper them; to put them on the back burner so as to nurture and nourish one's offspring, are the unsung achievements and unrecognized sacrifices of every responsible parent. Often, we forget that our parents have dreams and desires, fears and frustrations too. They were just like us: young people with passion, ambition, drive, etc. They are not just there to provide and provide. But that's what they did. That's what they chose to do.

To my parents, who managed this thrice-daily balancing act for decades--never complaining, ever generous--you have my greatest admiration, earnest gratitude and deepest respect.

I salute you!

-A son who never went hungry under your roof.


Anonymous takchek said...

So true. I never really appreciate the comforts of home and mum's (as well as granny's) cooking until I left home.

*Sighs* You make me want to fly home for the CNY.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight. Being married with children I don't consider it. I know no other way of life.

As for my parents, I don't owe them a Goddamn thing. They were never around and only concerned about serving their interests (drugs, sex, wasting money).

This is why I cannot understand why people who had such great parents grow up to be whiny, oh poor me, selfish brats.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't set your dining place correctly. Your knife and spoon go on the right side of the plate. The knife blade side faces inward toward the plate. The spoon sets outside next to the knife. Your fork stays on the left side and your napkin next to the fork. Your glass sets above the fork.

Buon appetito!

7:07 PM  
Blogger -ben said...


Char Kwei Tiao. Man, I always miss that. A giant $6 plate, kay liao and egg. OMG, pure, artery-clogging, heaven. The best part is the look on the aunty's face when I tell her I only need one pair of chopsticks.

Don Campanile,

Well, you struck a home run from the get-go, you lucky stud.

As for the dinner setting:

Can't you see? The mouse rules all, man!!!


8:53 PM  
Blogger Typical Gemini said...

Indeed, i too am always thankful of the wonderful food that my grandma, momma, and god-ma has graced me. As most of us know, the key question that Asian matriachs always ask their children/grand-children, "Have you eaten yet?" :)

Having not flown back to S'pore for over 3 years, my stomach still craves for my daily dose of good 'ol fashioned S'pore food... but thankfully, with the help of my sis-in-law (who is a good cook) and yearly visits from mom, my stomach hasn't been crying out in pain (yet ;) ...

May you (1) find the inspiration to cook up a feast like your dad one day, and/or (2) find a good wife who understands Singaporean cuisine (East + West rojak together)! Good luck and good night! :)

8:47 AM  
Anonymous freakkler said...

What a homely, totally relatable article! ;O I sincerely hope your parents are reading this. They will feel very consoled that you understood their experience of "providing-food-on-the-table". =D

I sure hope I, a damn terok fussy eater, can tahan my meals, regardless of homecooked (lazy cringe) or bought food ($$ cringe) .... when I start my Aussie studies in exactly a month's time. *weeps badly in self-pity* ...damn cham(4).

What's that laptop model name pictured on your desk??? Sniffing around for light, big screen, not noisy toshiba, gd battery life laptop over this wkend. Can tell me?

Sry for babbling away on your blogspace. It's unintentional. :)

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was really sweet and heartwarming. *grins*

As I become an adult, I become more aware of all much my parents have sacrificed for me. Parents are so awesome. *beams*


9:02 AM  
Blogger -ben said...

Typical gemini,
Yes, that is the first question Asian matriachs usually ask. :) I really think it is a cultural trait. Like my dad, I have learned to cook a mean steak. Chinese food, however, is a little more difficult and I have a long way to go. As for a wife. I suppose it will happen when it happens.

No worries. Babbling is always welcome. *grin* The laptop in the picture is my venerable 1st Generation 2000 Apple G4 PowerBook. If you are doing anything other than writing papers, you might want a machine that runs Windows as software for Macintosh is usually more expensive. Apple OS X is more reliable, easier to maintain, and suffer from less virus attacks, however. In terms of Windows laptops, if you get the BUSINESS models of Dell laptops, they are bullet-proof and easily repaired. The life-cycle of the models also last longer, so spare parts are not so much of an issue. They are heavier though.

Apple just released the MacPro, the first Mac laptop that runs on an Intel CPU, but it is too early for reviews at the moment. Besides there are risks as an early adapter (you know the adage about not buying the 1st generation of any car? Well, it applies to laptops too).

Sony VAIOs are cute, but overpriced and Sony locks you into all sorts of proprietry stuff.

If you decide to plunge with a Mac and do not suffer from LAGS (Latest And Greatest Syndrome), you can get a 2nd hand G4 PB for little money. Get one with built-in Bluetooth so that you can lose that silly dongle that the rest of us have to put up with. Those models (and after) also have USB 2.0 instead of the super slow USB 1.1. Take note, however, that Apple plans to move all their models over to the Intel chip by the end of 2006. Something to think about if you desire to keep your laptop for the long term.

Good luck for your studies in Australia.

Thank you for your sweet words.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Little Nutbrown Hare said...

Totally understand how you feel. I'm so glad I'm going back to Singapore next week that I made a food timetable already...only there for 2 weeks, gotta eat my fill!

12:10 AM  
Anonymous freakkler said...

Wow! thanx for your in-depth analysis, u sure took the effort to write. ;)

Dun mind the price sony-wise and actually only attracted to one single model lor, but heard sony service not good.

Actually for PC stuff, 've always stick to HP for their support except notebooks.

1st choice is fujitsu after thinking, pondering, asking around. Nvr been a fan of Mac. lazy to overcome the learning curve of usage. & 2nd choice tmw would be Compaq B28xx B38xx series...hehe, it's considered HP too lah. :p

Long live Parents & Food!!! though this may 've a more profound meaning after I touch down Oz land lah...keke

3:32 AM  
Anonymous freakkler said...

Just a courtesy call to let u know I eventually purchased Fujitsu LifeBook S6240. :D

7:59 AM  
Blogger -ben said...

You lucky person you! Happy feasting!

Good choice. Compaq laptops are not that reliable. I know several people who kept having to return them under warranty for repairs.

11:39 AM  

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