Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Bomb Shelter

The UN General Assembly is going on now and my residential area is a glorified war zone for diplomats, despots and presidents to revel in self-importance.  Back in 2001 right after my mother's passing, I had cobbled all her recipes together and hand carried them back to New York. Because I lived a literal stone's throw away from the UN Assembly Hall, I was often nervous that we would yet again be the target of another terrorist attack in the wake of 9/11.  Alas, we did not have a bomb shelter.

Back in Singapore, however, our new apartment has been outfitted with a bomb shelter.  The blueprint drawings for the property had been approved during a time frame when the government had implemented the compulsory construction of 'bomb shelters' in residences as part of their Civil Defence Plan.  Then they changed their mind.....probably recognizing that the shelter was being used more as a suffocating, claustrophobic square foot maid's room with no windows.  Imagine the international uproar   should this be noticed by human rights activists.

I offered up my bomb shelter space as an overflow room for my mother's 'barang barang' - all the kitchen paraphernalia that she acquired over the decades and left behind intact, right down to the packaging that almost all of these blenders came in.

As I spent many weeks (of what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation) unpacking box loads of kitchen items, I kept thinking about our kitchen in Yarrow Gardens.  In the cookbook, I had written:

The middle kitchen had several wooden plank shelves and drawers to contain her baking trays, 
Nonya cake moulds, tiffin carriers; and other items which needed more protection from outdoor dust.  
She also hung her large rattan trays here, some of which were about three feet in diameter.  
These circular trays were meant to sun-dry foodstuff, among them spices prior to grinding them 
into curry powder. 

A few shelves were set aside for my mother’s appliances.  She bought several in her lifetime, 
always on a quest to find the best blender and mixer.  They were neatly protected in plastic sheets 
and it was often a tedious chore to take the heavy machines out just to use them!
The third kitchen was outdoors but cemented and zinc-roofed to protect from the sun and rain. 
Because this open kitchen could be seen from the road, it was a perennial eyesore for my neighbors 
even though my mother tried to camouflage her pots and pans with rattan chick blinds. 
My mother installed another huge rack to store army-sized pots and pans and other large and 
heavy items such as the batu lesong, batu boh and batu giling.  

Apparently, my sister Molly, in a fit of panic at how much she had to relocate from the old place, 
threw out a lot of items.  Rummaging through my mother's belongings felt like an archaeological trip 
as I unearthed tools and tricks for making pineapple tarts; special pots and measuring cups and cookie 
cutters, what not have you.  With a lot of sentiment, I organized them according to recipes and labeled 
the boxes with magic marker and musking tape...uniform plastic boxes I had purchased from Shop N' Save.  

Then I lined all her cookbooks along the heavy duty metal shelves that my sister Beng had specially 
customized. The books included her favorite Tham Yui Kai recipes and circa 1960s Home Economics 
textbooks, plus many first editions of her friends' publications, in particular those of Mrs. Leong and 
Mrs. Lee.  

The tingkats reminded me of all the wonderful parties we had, the leftovers lovingly packed for my sisters
to take home.  

Proud of the completion of my nightly homework, I showed off the shelter to my friends.  One asked me, 
"So where are the requisite radio, bottles of water and torchlight?"  With a shelter like mine, my 
mother's tokens of comfort were all I needed.    

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