The Taiwanese ladies I referred to in my last entry about Flushing mothered me when I had my second child. Aware that my own mother had passed away a few years before, they took it upon themselves to ensure that I would be well taken care of after my son was born.
This is a traditional post-natal rite of passage for Chinese mothers. It is a serious business in Singapore. My best friend reserved her confinement nanny well before her due date. I would not be surprised if her son's birth date centered on the nanny's availability. The nanny stayed in to cook, massage and care for the mother for an entire month, pretty much like the role of the 'baby nurse' in New York except that the focus is on the mother. The premise is that a new mother needs to be nursed back to health at a time when she is most vulnerable to fatigue, loss of blood, hormonal imbalance and diet changes. If the health restoration is not optimal, it sets the risk for long-term repercussions health-wise, ranging from migraine to arthritis. The fear is compounded by the fact that many of these ailments do not manifest themselves until many years later.
I support this idea of confinement, although I have no proof that my hypothesis is correct. When I had my first child, it was very important for me to wash my hair soon after, only because I wanted to look presentable before my dashing doctor. I blamed my migraines on that particular time. I attributed the backaches to the fact that we often dined out in the wintry cold less than a month after the birth.
Confinement implies that the new mother is not supposed to take a bath for the entire month so as not to dampen flesh and bones which in turn retain the cold. She is also made to consume specially cooked food, with ingredients that nurture her back to health. These include ginger for 'beating the wind' out of the body, liver to supplement iron and 'dong guai', a Chinese herb that maintains the female reproductive system and regulates the monthly cycle. My mother fussed over my sisters when they had their children. She made soup containing snakehead fish - a kind of fish which was known in Chinese medicine for its healing properties, in this case, healing C-section surgical wounds.
The Taiwanese nanny I knew, Mrs. Yang, found me a 'chef'. Annie is Taiwanese but having lived in Vienna, spoke German fluently, in addition to Mandarin, the Fukien language and Shanghainese. She pampered us with her nightly home-cooked fare, so much so that we would invite friends to join us for dinner. As such, we were having mini dinner parties at the expense of me supposedly recuperating in bed. Annie made fresh dumplings, soups and stir fries and charmed our friends. A married couple invited her to cook for them regularly as well. (They were not Chinese and they definitely had not had a baby just then.) Once, she went to the medicinal shop to obtain deer's antlers, ground into fine powder to be prepared into a brew for my 'cold ankles'.
I was told that mothers could repent for their 'sins'. If they had not been observant with staying in self-confinement and slurping those bitter soups, they could be more obedient when they had the next kid. I wince when I meet a mother walking outdoors when she has just had a baby a week before. I always relate that maybe these age-old myths are true given my own experiences. Either run back indoors and stay in for the rest of the month, or have another baby and do it right the next time.
The two dishes I associate with confinement are Pig's Trotters stewed with Ginger and Black Vinegar (to improve blood circulation and alleviate the 'wind' in the body), as well as Chicken stir fried with Ginger and Sesame Oil.
Chicken in Sesame Oil
2 pounds chicken (breast or parts)
Drizzle of vegetable oil
2 inches ginger, skinned and julienned
4 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine
Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Slice the breast into stir fry slices.
Heat a saute pan. Drizzle the vegetable oil. When the oil is glistening, add the julienned ginger, followed by the chicken and sesame oil. Season with sugar and rice wine.
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