The two homes I have strong memories of is the house I lived in age 7–15 (“537”); and my aunt’s house (“565”) in the same time period. More on the latter house in a separate post.
Apart from this, we live(d) in 3 other houses:
(1) Right after I was born I lived in my mother’s family’s flat in Bedok. I don’t remember much from those early childhood days, except knocking my head really hard on a door and being suggested to put toothpaste over it to soothe the pain.
(2) The second house we lived in was a place in Tampines. It was so inaccessible. I have literally 0 memories of that flat, except walking back and forth the bus stop there with my mom.
(3) Our current place (“564”).
We moved to 537 primarily to stay closer to my aunts, so they could take care of my sister and I as we entered primary school while my parents went to work. It was a HDB masionette, which meant it had 2 stories. Apparently this style of flats were discontinued after 1995 and I feel so lucky to have had the experience with my family. Our apartment probably wasn’t a popular unit due to its low-level (2nd floor), and I think we got the flat mainly because we fulfilled the racial quota — we were the only Chinese family on that floor.
When we took the lift up to go to the door (it was always embarrassing for us to be caught taking the lift just for 1 floor), the flat always had a very “yin” quality to it (as opposed to a “yang” quality). The doorway always always eerily quiet and dark, a soft wind tussling the trees outside. The area always felt very damp, like the smell of the wet bedsheets our neighbour hung by the corridor.
It wasn’t just the doorway; my parent’s room had a haunting quality to it. I don’t have much memories of the room, which always seemed slightly forbidden to me, except for sitting on the bed or in front of the mirror while my mother combed and tied my hair before I went to school. I was always a late bloomer and clumsy with my hands as compared to my deft and arty sister who bakes sourdough bread now. I remember whining to my mom why she couldn’t keep my hair flat but tried to edge out the ponytail. A hairdresser would have replied “More volume”, but my mom replied “Gong Li also has this hairstyle”.
So many childhood memories were associated with this house. I remember playing badminton with my sis on the ground floor when Coral Primary taught us the sport. We got those $9.90 Yonex rackets from World of Sports and hit the shuttlecock back and forth, always hitting the low ceiling. Occasionally we would move outdoors to the open area near a power station. Many people used to play badminton there and shuttlecocks would be stuck in the most inconvenient places, like the tin roof of the power station.
Near the badminton area was the storeroom, one with a sloping roof which was right under the staircase. It reminded us of Harry Potter — a place which an orphaned boy would sleep, and smelled of the hair of our Barbie Dolls. I loved opening the doors of the storeroom to peer in and see which game we wanted to play that morning, or storing the ornaments of my birthday Christmas log cake in there. I remember the year I got a ski Bratz doll from my second aunt, breaking the monotony of Picnic Barbie, Supermarket Barbie, Garden Barbie, Princess Barbie.
Also in that wing of the house was where we kept the dining table (seldom used as we weren’t a family which cooked) and a piano. I didn’t have much of a musical touch but I enjoyed it when Margaret, my piano teacher with overapplied blush on her face and an empowering perfume, brought different musical scores for me to play. That was when I was acquainted with Pachabel’s Canon in D, the Entertainer (which I performed at Coral’s Talentime when I was 8), the Music Box Dancer, and a series of theme songs to films I never watched, like If We Hold On Together or When We Believe.
I was never that good in piano. I did horribly for sightreading and never made it past grade 5. But I’m glad to have picked up the basics that would allow me to learn River Flows In You, the theme of Corpse Bride and hopefully Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks. An evidence of my terrible playing was when a group of rowdy kids who were passing by my house threw a bottlecap into my window when I was practicing (the piano was by the window) — the equivalent of a rotten tomato.
I have fond memories of eating blueberry morning cornflakes on the tiny black table we had in the kitchen, affixed to the laundry room and with a cabinet which I kept all my baby teeth in. (Which I ruthlessly threw away as my mother ruthlessly threw away our priceless collection of dolls when we moved house) And after breakfast, we would adjourn to the living room and bum around with my dad watching TV. DVDs were everything back then. We watched Pink Panther back-to-back and I practically memorised Barbie as Princess and the Pauper and Shrek 2. Those were the days when we watched the Christmas programs on Channel 5 from morning to evening on Christmas Day, starting off with some Disney animation and ending with some Hallmark live-action movie. I think this was where I got the inspiration for Green Umbrella. As a romantic girl who always fantasised about a glamorous life, I remember one Christmas day where we even had ham that we bought from a supermarket like Carrefour, and a mini Christmas tree. That remains the most special Christmas in my life to date.
My room was a sanctum. When I got into Avril Lavigne at age 10, I bought Under My Skin and pasted posters of her on my wall (later replaced by the Eiffel Tower and Tower Bridge as I got older). I would loop Under My Skin or Let Go CDs, 13 tracks, 42 minutes, on the portable radio we had, and then sit down and complete my assessment books in preparation for PSLE. Oddly my sister isn’t a strong memory in my bedroom. I guess I always saw her as a nuisance, if not a main obstacle to me having my own space in my own room as I was growing up.
I remember one particularly nasty spat with my sister though. She outed the name of my crush to my mother when we fought over some clothes (?) in her room and I was furious with tears. Church… one of those institutions that brings me nostalgia and memories of being reluctant to go twice a week — 2 hours on Saturday for the Youth Service and another 2 hours on Sunday.
Those childish memories didn’t last. By the time I was 14, and my sister 12, it felt like we had outgrown the novelty of living in a 2-storey HDB. My mom who relentlessly mopped the floor every Saturday found cleaning such a chore, especially since she had to clean the staircase. And getting a drink from the kitchen when you were in the bedroom wasn’t that straightforward. When my mom announced we were moving to another flat even closer to my aunt’s, it wasn’t a loss to me. Of course one always felt a sense of nostalgia right before departure, but we bade our large “yin” house goodbye and moved into a regular one where Christian pictures are hung in the hallways, where our windows and door is now fenced because of a fat cat, where both my sister and I brought our boyfriends to, where we politely tell the taxi driver to drop us off “where the garbage chute is”.