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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

nostalgia and washing clothes

The clothes were scrubbed against the washboard to remove the stains and grime.

indigoHow nice it is to drop a load of laundry in the washing machine, then go back to the book or TV, relax, while the laundry is being done! In the days before washing machines were affordable and widespread, lots of elbow grease were required on laundry day. Here’s an except from my upcoming book “Kampung Memories”:

“In those days, laundry was done manually or completely by hand. Washing machines were not in the picture at all. Most households had a person designated to do all the laundry, or often a washer-woman offered her service to the households.

The woman would come to the house several times week to do the laundry. I remember we once had a washer-woman who was quite a fascinating character. She was a stout lady, friendly but did not talk much. She often rolled a cigarette after she had done her washing, stood with one hand on her hips and smoked while seemingly lost in her thoughts. Even as a kid, I could see that she was a tough lady, not easily intimidated or ordered around.

One of the laundry items that caught my attention and imagination as a child was nila or indigo, a product that makes white clothes whiter and brighter. At that time, not only schoolchildren wore white shirts and blouses, many men also wore white shirts to work.

Nila was sold as a blue-colored soap bar. You cut a small slice and mixed it in a pail of water. It would turn the water a bright blue, and I enjoyed waiting for that “magical” moment. The white clothes which had been washed would be dipped in the blue water for a final rinse, then hung on the clothesline to dry.”


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local coffeeI’m ordering local coffee in a Singapore coffee shop.

The black coffee, known as kopi, is thick and dark, almost as dark as the night.

The woman who makes the coffee pours in sweetened condensed milk. It turns the coffee a unique brown color. The color reminds me of small rivers in Southeast Asia.

It’s been two years since I last had this drink. This time, I’m not so brave. I ask the woman to add extra milk, so that the color will be closer to the kind of coffee that I imbibe in the United States, where I now spend more of my time.

I guess this episode sums up the analogy of my feelings and expectations when I’m back in Singapore and Malaysia for a visit. Some things are still familiar, some are not. Some things may appear the same, but the old spirit or texture is missing, or vice versa.

All this revolves around the adage that “you can’t go home”. Sometimes, I can be stubborn. I keep believing that you can, often preferring to overlook the permutations and adjustments that I know have to be made.

I think anyone who has two homes, or two countries, in his or her identity can relate to this. We want things to remain the same. At the same time, we have changed and evolved. And it’s pretty unrealistic to expect other people and things not to be touched by changes as well.

And which brings us to the role of nostalgia. Nostalgia is not mere fluff as some people may think; it actually acts as an anchor in our lives. I notice that this time around more people that I encounter in Singapore like to talk about it.  Even the younger folks want to talk and learn more about the past. Nostalgia blogs in Singapore have a sizable following.

Perhaps when changes come fast, we need something familiar; that unseen anchor.

Sometimes, we lament the loss of the past. Sometimes, we seek the solace of familiarity in an old building, an old song.

And sometimes, when we are lucky, we see reflections of the past and the present in a cup of strong, dark local coffee.

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