Read part I, expat toddler life in the Netherlands, here. The things that struck me about the Netherlands (such as: Ducks! Cold! Mandarins!) highlight the differences between everyday Singaporean life and back home. However, this post focuses solely on my childhood memories of Singapore.
Most of my childhood was spent outside, in the garden (or other people's gardens). Apparently we would spend every Sunday in East Coast Park, of which I have no memory whatsoever. Fortunately, I do have pictures. See:
East Coast Park, 1982
E. spends her time at the beaches at Sentosa, because I really like the bathrooms they have there (really, Dutchies, you have to see them to believe them - clean, bright, big and they have a little rock garden with a water feature and a bench for sitting in the shade just behind the entrance!). But back then, Sentosa was just a pile of sand in front of Singapore Harbour, not very attractive.
Sentosa, February 2012
We also used to have a swing and other climbing gear in the hallway. Remember while gasping at the uncovered tiled floor that all of us made it out of childhood with enough brain cells to finish university.
Our house, 1981. Apparently my dad made the swing (not in the picture) himself.
E. demonstrating the climbing gene, march 2012
With my school friends I'd built castles in that hallway out of the chairs and cushions, but that was later on, when I reached the grand old age of four years. I went to the Dutch school and I was picked up daily by the school bus. Apparently, before that I used to go to a local school, which reported that I was a nice enough girl, but that my Mandarin was lacking. (It's disappeared since.)
I remember our house being quite dark, especially the bedrooms. And this has not changed. In our current apartment we always need to leave the light on because the windows are tinted. It took a bit of getting used to (I love light houses) but in the Singaporean context I'm a convert. Keep that sun outside! I remember naps were lovely, after playing outside, my mum drying me with a big towel and feeling all tingly and tired, the curtains being drawn and lying there in the cool aircon air. No wonder I took naps until well in my third year of life.
I didn't always sleep well. One night I had an ear infection. I remember my mum cuddling me all through that night and me just crying, crying and wanting the pain to stop. And then it was morning and I was a happy little camper because the pain had stopped and my mum was so, so tired that day... I don't know when I started feeling guilty over robbing her of that night's sleep, but I still kinda do. Sorry mum.
My tonsils were cut when I was in Singapore, and I got to stay overnight in the hospital. And I had to wear a gown without underwear, which embarrassed me mightily and I never understood why my bum had to be visible if they were going to do stuff to my head. On the plus side, my dad stayed with me that night (superhero!) and I got to eat jell-o for the first time in my life. Grandmother Tamtam used to be very big on health food (reportedly I ate no sugar for the first two years of my life), but society managed to subvert her strategies and jell-o became a firm favourite in the Tamtam household. Afterwards I was allowed unlimited supplies of ice cream, which I refused because it hurt too much, and then when I wanted it again, they told me I couldn't have it because I was better. No fair.
Also, all of us had a cold pretty much all of the time. And the Singaporean health system had a unique way of dealing with runny noses: they hooked us up to a machine and sucked the snot out of our noses. (I checked with our current pediatrician - if so inclined I could have it done with E. as well. But it's not standard procedure anymore.) I used to get barbie dresses as a consolation, but I still preferred not to have the treatment. Also, we were on a constant diet of antibiotics. Which obviously didn't work. So fellow Sing mummies, maybe this explains a little my complete lack of concern over E.'s coughing and colds.
One day my dad got ill, I think he had the mumps. I remember him lying in the big wooden bed under the white covers keeping his eyes firmly shut and me sitting at the headboard being fascinated by the fact that apparently grown-ups could be ill too.
In that same vein, I would have thought that my mum being pregnant (twice) would have made some sort of impression on me, but no. Even the hospital did not register further than the floor on which I was playing with the new duplo farmhouse my little brother had given me.
I'm playing with my duplo farmhouse at Gleneagles Hospital, 1981
Although, obviously, I later discovered a whole wonderful new world of playing because of the little siblings. What could be more fun than tickling an infant which is strapped into a bouncy chair? But that was years later, at 2.5 years old I was not yet so advanced and stuck to reading to the tiny one (who is now the Really Big One With A PhD). Because, apparently, being read to was my favourite thing in the whole wide world, so I really was trying to be nice.
My brother and me at home, 1981
Same guy, thirty years later. Mount Faber Park, 2012
The summary of my early childhood: hot sun, dark cool house, lots of water play, lots of colds and lovely food. Not too bad, I think.