Just the other day I went out with Wifey and the kids, and I looked at them eating. I did the same when my stepchildren ate. I just looked at them. I am always reminded of my childhood.
I learnt table-manners the hard way. That included the use of hand while eating; the use of fork and spoon and fork and knife while eating – all the hard way.
I think I was eight or nine years old. I would assume children of that age would have problems eating at their own house. It’s not fun to eat unless it’s something that cannot be cooked at home ie. hot dogs, burgers etc. And it is always more fun eating when there are people of your age: friends, cousins etc., that even if the food’s not that good, you tend to eat more than you would at home.
So, there I was, at the house of a family friend, eating plate after plate of rice with their children, and my elder sister. It felt so good eating with people around your age, and my friend’s mother would pile scoops of rice onto my plate.
A week or two later, back at our Section 16 PJ home, I was having dinner, and ate very slowly. After a while, I turned to my mother and told her that I didn’t want to eat anymore. My father was furious. He got up, scooped some rice into his hand, and literally shoved the rice into my mouth. When I did not chew as fast as I could, he would either twist and pull my ear, or slap me. I ate as much and as fast as I could even though I could taste blood. But I guess that tasted better than the ear-ringing slaps that were offered as the alternative.
Another reason to get slapped is when you go for a dish with your rice-covered hand – in this case, it was a fried fish. The fish was good, and I went for it. As soon as my hand touched the fish, a slap landed on my face.
And I dreaded those trips to Fraser’s Hills. Those were when I learnt the hard way how to use the fork, spoon and knife. My dinner would end more than an hour later until I got the correct way of getting all those peas and corns onto my fork using the knife or spoon, depending on whether it was local or western food being served. Come to think of it, maybe that is why I have tinnitus. Just by having dinner.
Sometimes, you get punished for not even being there. There was once when my younger brother had his fingers trapped by my father’s car door. I was inside my room, upstairs, when that happened. Then I heard my father yelling my name out. I quickly rushed downstairs and when I got to him, a hard slap greeted me – the kind where your vision blacks out momentarily and your ears ring like mad, but by the time you regain your senses, you’re being dragged by your ear to his favourite place for you – where all his canes were stored, and he would whack me with only two – either the Officers’ Cane that would leave the back of your thighs promoting the Royal Malaysian Police force, or the Kayu Tas cane from Sarawak that was covered in beautiful beads.
I was so terrified of my father. And it was not just me. Even my mother’s friends would scamper into the kitchen whenever they hear the sound of my father’s car. But why me is the question that keeps bugging me, even until now. Is it because I was born exactly 40 days after my elder sister died? I don’t know. I don’t ever want to know, and I will never ask.
It is because of the past that I still have problems talking to my father (not that I have for the past 2 years and 5 months anyway). But it is also because of the past, that I would give my kids big hugs whenever I see them.
Although I have this rampart built around me because of my past, my kids are inside with me.