Home > life with fourth aunt, Memories, Uncategorized > Life with Fourth Aunt

Life with Fourth Aunt

I spent a year living with fourth aunt and her family. I was six years old then.

mum, sei yee, yee cheong and tong kor kor

Of all the aunts, I think mum was closest to fourth and sixth aunt – hardly surprising since she was no. 5. My aunts were real characters. Sixth aunt told me she ran away from home to pursue her own life and career, and only returned much later. I must ask my cousins the details when I next see them.

Fourth aunt married fairly early – as was the tradition then. According to my cousin from 2ndaunt, fourth aunt was fierce, and she was terrified of her. To me, though, 4th aunt was aloofly warm – if you can understand what I mean.

The thing I remember best about her was her fabulous cooking. Of all my aunts, I think sei yee (Cantonese for 4th aunt) was the best and most natural cook. She worked magic with all her dishes. I remembered helping out in the kitchen, pounding spices with the pestle and mortar – and often shooed away from that post cos I was not strong enough to get the consistency she wanted. My eyes would tear from peeling shallots, my fingers would swell from being poked by prawn feelers, or burn from cutting chillies.

Sei yee worked every dish from scratch. Watching Australian Junior Masterchef, I wish I had the sense to pick up her cooking skills, rather than simply obeyed instructions like a brainless kitchen helper. I could have been a brilliant cook too!

The kitchen smelled divine, with the various curry pastes. Each meal took hours to prepare, and since we neither had gas nor electric stove, the kitchen was often smoky. The task I loved the best was fanning the coals till it burst into flame. I guess there is an arsonist in the soul of every child!

We owned no fridge, so going to the market was a daily affair. When I did not have school, it was quite fun to go with my aunt. It was always noisy and very happening with all sorts of stalls, from selling trinkets, to all manner of street food.

chickens in a basket for sale

Eating chicken was a treat, and whenever we bought chickens, sei yee would thrust her hand into a basket, grabbed a chicken and pressed at its ribs to test its fleshiness. Then the chicken seller would slit the throat, drained the blood into a bowl and threw the bird into a drum-like device. A few swirls later, a de-feathered chicken would appear. Such magic!

Of all my cousins living at home, I was closest to Ah Kuen jie jie. She was attached, but not yet married, and stayed home rather than worked outside. The two of us were sei yee’s main kitchen slaves.

One of my most vivid memories was when Ah Kuen jie jie was tasked to slaughter a chicken. Occasionally, we had one or two chickens in the backyard – either gifts from some visitors who reared them, or bought early for some festival, since the market would be closed during the time. In any case, my cousin was quite squeamish about slaughtering the chicken by herself – usually sei yee did that on her own. If I remember correctly, auntie was not home. My cousin simply could not bring herself to catch the chicken and slit its throat at the same time. My memory gets a little hazy here, cos it was a traumatic affair. I seem to recall one of us saying it was cruel to pin the chicken down and then kill it. We should let it have a chance to escape death (how ridiculous! As if sei yee would ever let it live!). So I vaguely recall ah Kuen jie jie running after the chicken a chopper in hand, both of us giggling hysterically. Somehow or other, she managed to chop the head off. But the chicken kept running round and round still. By that time my laughter had turned into terrified tears.

mum, ah yuet jie, 9th aunt, ah kuen jie, yee lin, ah hing jie, suet lin, chee chong, yee cheong, 1st uncle

I do remember my other cousins too. Ah Yuet jie jie was married, and always looked beautifully glamorous whenever she visited. Her husband played the Spanish guitar beautifully. Sometimes he would bring it with him, and I would just sit there and gawk. Ah Hing jie jie worked in a bank – and she drove a little car to work. She stayed at home but I barely saw her since she worked on the mainland, and spent most of the day away.

As for my male cousins, I remember the youngest one the best. He was in secondary school and very athletic. He spent a lot of time playing with the neighbourhood boys. Sometimes my auntie would get so exasperated at his disappearance that she would go in search of him, cane in hand. When she spotted him, she would first shout, then prepared to hit. Ah Tong kor kor was an athlete, and many a time I would see him run in the front door, and out the back, with my slightly portly, not too young auntie huffing and puffing after him. Ah Kuen jie and I would stifle our giggles for fear of turning sei yee’s wrath on us instead!

Yummy Penang Char Kuay Teow

Sei yee taught me to be independent. At six, I was often tasked to go to the shops, on my own, to buy things she needed. I had to buy spices, or bread, or even to buy coffee from the nearby shops. She made sure that there was no crossing of road, since the road in front of the house was very busy. The sar hor fun and char kuay teow stalls however were across the road. So whenever she wanted to buy those, I had to walk till I was immediately across the road from the stall. Then I had to shout my orders at the hawkers. If you find my voice loud, you now know the reason why! Still, I was too young to be embarrassed, and the yumminess of the food made me quite eager to obey actually.

Living with sei yee was a blast. I just saw some of her children when I went up toPenanglast week. It brought back so many memories.

I may not be rich or famous, but I certainly had a varied and interesting life.

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