Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sayang Sayang

Yesterday evening I was at the Esplanade and caught the second half of a free performance at the Esplanade Concourse, “It’s Time for Sayang Sayang” by the Golden Girlz of Katong. It was a charming little skit, with two nonyas (beautifully dressed in their kebayas) teaching a new (but not young) nonya bride about the traditions of the Peranakans.

I missed the section on food but was present when the new bride was learning about the marriage gift exchange practices. These do appear a little complicated. Some gifts, you have to give half back. So if you get 8 oranges, give 4 back. Sometimes you have to give a gift, only to get it back three-fold. And then there is the brandy – which is apparently not for the bride to drink (horrors!) but for her husband-to-be and his male friends in the baba equivalent of a stag night. Some practices are similar to the Chinese customs – the wearing of a black veil to signify sorrow at leaving her family, but with a bright red dot underneath for good luck.

The play was littered throughout with Malay words, slipped into the conversation. “Sayang” is one of these words, a versatile word with multiple meanings. In one context it means “darling”, in another, “caress” or “stroke” and in another, “affection”. Somehow, I use it most often with my cats. Especially when they get a little “manja” – another Malay word which I translate as “being needy” in relation to my little pusses. But looking at the audience, I wonder how many of them are able to understand even the simple phrases used. I was talking one day to a friend of mine, who has lived in Katong all his life, and I let slip a Malay phrase which I then had to translate. Another of my ex-colleagues, who has again stayed in the east coast of Singapore all her life, had never eaten gado-gado (a salad dish with potatoes, egg, cucumber, tempeh, tauhu and a peanut sauce poured on top) or tauhu goreng (tauhu with cucumber, bean sprouts and peanut sauce on top) before. If food-loving Singaporeans aren’t even familiar with the different types of food each community eats, then it’s clear we still need to work on building mutual understanding between the communities here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Katong Convent

Sigh. What does it mean when a fairly new school building (I believe it was completed around 1990 or so) is demolished so it can be built up bigger and higher? Way back in 1930, Katong Convent started in an old house by the sea, on this very spot. Taking students from kindergarten all the way up to 'O' levels, many generations of school girls passed through its doors, played in its fields and prayed by the little grotto in the corner of the garden. The sea by the fence went when the land was reclaimed and the new Marine Parade town was built. My mother spent her schooldays here. The school expanded, new wings were erected. I spent four years - my secondary school years here. Well do I remember standing beneath those flagpoles and singing the National Anthem and School Song. Well do I also remember the times when I had to run around the field preparing for my 2.4km physical fitness test. As for my classrooms, these were generally placed around the quadrangle in the middle of the school. The few steps leading down to the quadrangle from the classrooms were depressed in the middle because of the many years girls had stood or sat on them. At the beginning of each year, we would walk to the Holy Family church for mass to mark the start of school. But enough of these happy schoolgirl memories.

In 1987 much of the building was torn down. Both the primary and secondary sections moved to a new building meant to house the secondary school. My sister started her primary school there. This lovely new school was then built for the primary school. I think it a beautiful building. Much of the architecture of this front block reflects the old house the school started off in. The details of the architecture reflect the peranakan culture so prevalent in Katong.

Today, our education system is taking new directions. Smaller class sizes, more IT in the classroom. Although the school building is still so new, it is not enough to accomodate these changes. So go it must. And as an Aided School, the community must raise the money to pay our 5% (or is it 10%?) of the building costs. So the school shifted out at the beginning of the year to an old school building in Bedok. Today, I saw that the demolition team has started its work. I can only think what a waste of a beautiful building it is.

Unfortunately, the building of the new school has been affected by the Indonesian ban on sand exports to Singapore. So it will be a while more before the merry sounds of girls laughing and calling to each other float through the air in this little corner of Katong.


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