Monday, June 19, 2006

Rabbit House

Block 13 faced no degrading superstition that number thirteen does. On the contrary, its residents felt most blessed to be staying this block, for in Cantonese thirteen sounds like “guaranteed to live”, a doubtless guarantee in these days, but in those days there was no such guarantee.

On the shoulders of Jalan Merpati lined Block 12 to Block 14 and on the opposite, Block 11 and Block 15. Each block rose ten floors and each unit consisted of a hall, room, kitchen with an adjoining toilet, altogether a paltry fifty square meters.

It was not uncommon to find a family of ten spanning three generations living in the tiny apartment. The hall served as temporary sleeping quarters in the night. Every night, there was a man from a large family on the ground level sleeping outside his house as there was insufficient space for the family to squeeze inside the apartment.

Most homes were so crammed that tuberculosis and bed bugs were common plagues. We spent a lot of time getting rid of the bed bugs, an impossible task as they multiplied rapidly in the congested environment. Being annoyed with sleepless nights and constant itch, I came up with the most brilliant idea. I sewed the sides of the bed sheet leaving one end open for me to slip in. I wrapped the opening around my neck and stopped the bugs from entering.

Most families used foldable canvas beds looking somewhat like magazine holders; they were folded and put away in the day. Fridges were unheard of and meals were prepared in the morning after marketing. One would cook lunch and dinner at the same time and left them in a cabinet. In those days, most food storage cabinets had doors with framed wire mesh allowing air to circulate to avoid food spoilage and yet preventing houseflies from contaminating the food. The cabinet legs sat on top of inverted small cups sitting on flat dishes filled with water acting as a moat against the food seeking ants.

There were no phones, no television and no electronics gadgets. No convenience yet so much time to spare.

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