We used to go to Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan for Chinese New Year. There was one house standing alone in a row of shoplots, a proud legacy of olden times, and it was my great-grandparents’. Every year it would screech with the noise of distant relatives I only see once a year; an uncle would bring a load of ice-cream for the kids; somebody would let loose red firecrackers that had me deaf for a few minutes; one of my grand-aunties would put on a dance performance with this huge Chinese fan; the house would be decked out in ang-pao decorations hand-crafted by another grand-aunty; the doors would be thrust wide open and we’d be celebrating from 10am – 6pm, as long as people were still around and with a huge family like that, there were always people lingering behind to continue storytelling.
We would have gambled on the old kitchen table the day before with coins and old clothes pegs. And the night after we’d feast on pepper soup at 12am to whatever Chinese soap opera there was on TV with green tea that only tasted different when brewed there, even when we bought the same kettle and the same tea from the same place. My great-grandfather’s old clock would sound in rhythm every 15m, a constant lull to sleep until he woke you up with loud offkey singing to a rickety radio on a Chinese station in his room. Stepping out, we’d see him at his mirror in the kitchen combing the remnants of his hair. In the morning we’d eat at possibly the only mamak in the area a few doors away, and in the afternoon we’d walk around the small quiet town of Kuala Pilah, frequenting a Bata that had different products from those in KL, and braving the 3pm heat for pancakes from a specific uncle.
I was too young to appreciate any of it, it was just Chinese New Year tradition to me. Now I don’t see those relatives at all. No other pepper soup had tasted that amazing, and neither had the green tea; the uncle who sells pancakes probably isn’t even there anymore, but I wouldn’t know – it’s too painful for my grandmother to go back to and I understand. The house has been quietly defying modernization since they passed away. That old quiet house full of memories of a time not so long past, house no. 212.