By Daren Shiau
My husband and I did this for the kids. By which I mean we committed ourselves to this house and the onerous mortgage that comes with it for the sake of both of them.
When Ern and I got married, we bought a three-room flat at Holland Avenue. It was cheap compared to what our friends were getting. It cost less than a fifth of what Meredith paid for her condo (which was all the way in Woodlands). Plus we received a Government housing grant. Thirty thousand dollars and another ten for staying near his parents. That gave us spare money to do some renovations, and buy some nice things for the house. There was no pressure on us. Ern is easy going. We both come from modest families so it seemed extravagant to go for anything other than public housing. Plus we were in the heart of Holland Village. With its expatriate chic, the place was as close to perfect as we could get.
After we had Qi Qi, Ern decided that we needed to move. We had already bought a car by then so we needed to be realistic about our mortgage commitments. We ought to have bought a Toyota Corolla as planned but Ern who was promoted in that same year thought that it was too sia suay for him to do so. The second-hand continental car we got eventually gave us more problems than we bargained for.
I recall a quarrel we had one night when we were having dinner at that charcoal claypot place in Geylang. People were all staring at us. It was over our present house. It’s not cheap. And the conservancy charges are a killer. I know that Ern wanted it because of its “District 11” cachet or whatever. But he never admitted it. He stuck to the reason that it was good value for the location. It’s close to Bukit Timah Hill and “how many hills are there in Singapore”?
Ern also said that it was good for the kids to be near nature. They would not grow up in a concrete jungle like we did. What he did was underhand. Once he used the children in his reasoning, it was difficult for me to argue.
If I argued with him, it would seem like I did not want the best for the kids. Which I did. I mean, I do.
I really do.
I'm already resigned to the fact that the condominium apartment that my family and I reside in is one of the branches of zoos operated by Mother Nature. Apart from the nightly adventures of the lizards who happily slither around the walls and the dining room table and the cockroaches that roam the toilets and the kitchen, we've been visited by rats, moths and the occasional cat. A few nights ago my brother was watching television when he saw a cat casually stroll past him as though it lives here. We do not own a cat. And on Sunday night, I had to evict a slug by scooping it up on a page torn from Pioneer magazine and placing it onto a leaf outside. The zoo-like impression is reinforced by the presence of many trees, shrubbery, and a fake river directly outside our window.
Just now I was reading in bed when my mother asked me to help her with something. Apparently a lizard had been motionless on a wall in the living room since 6:45 a.m. (that’s when my mother wakes up) and she thought that it was dead. She wanted me to remove it since it was out of her reach. I stood on the couch and cautiously poked the motionless creature with a roll of newspapers.
I still wasn't sure it was dead. So I poked it some more. Still no reaction. I turned to look at its eyes, which wasn't very helpful since I had no idea what a living lizard's eyes looked like.
I eventually resorted to using an umbrella. With a few hard pokes, the inert creature fell off the wall and onto a table on its back. It was definitely dead and looked kind of grotesque with its small hands and legs spread open wide as though it was protesting the undignified way in which I was administering its last rites. At first I thought of using a pair of scissors to extract the lizard from the table, but my mother said why not just use the newspaper? So I used it to push the deceased lizard into a plastic bag and threw it down the chute.
For one brief moment, I thought of sending the lizard to the people upstairs who are always throwing cigarette butts down onto the grass of our garden. But then I have no idea who they are.
QLRS Vol. 3 No. 4 Jul 2004