an excerpt from The Colin Cheong Collection
LEGEND has it that my family used to meet every weekend, when the whole lot would head for Changi beach and the hut a granduncle had built illegally by the seashore, to do the same things I saw them do every New Year — gamble, booze and smoke. The fourth vice of man was only something whispered about in asides at home by the womenfolk in despairing tones.
Another legend has it that my uncles used to light up strings of red crackers and throw the exploding snaking strips at my aunts. I would have loved to do the same. But when it came to my turn, I could only throw melon seeds and peanuts at my sister and cousins. But at least I had chewing gum to stick in their ribbons. My children won’t.
Then the generation before mine went professional and nuclear, the first yuppies, so the horde met only at Christmas, the New Year and beneath the green tents at funerals. My mother asked me once why our lot didn’t seem to get together the way hers had. What she did not understand was that while her generation had broken away to go nuclear, ours had gone solo.
Still, our traditions did not die. There was a granduncle, my Godfather, and he was no legend. The family called him Bilko because of his resemblance to a certain TV sergeant. The family first discovered the similarity when black and white TV came to Singapore. My generation found it on monochrome returns on colour cathode ray tubes.
For me, he was the symbol of all our family’s traditions of red faces, loud laughter, beer bellies, card-calloused hands, love of horses on green turf, back-slapping, rib-hurting jokes while the womenfolk looked on disapprovingly. Traditions might not die, but heroes do. Bilko went home before last new year, leaving the horde no leader of the deck.
When the new moon came, I looked around the familiar faces caught up in the familiar actions, as if in the memory of the man who had for me, epitomised my family’s idea of celebration for twenty-five years. An uncle said Bilko would have wanted it that way.
Which way? Our way. But how much longer will it be our way, when my lot go our separate ways, for it will take more than family traditions to keep us together. But for now, we bring home new legends for the family and younger cousins find new heroes in us.
It is funny — all the pictures of our family gatherings in my mother’s photo album are in black and white. There are no reds, no greens, coloured pictures of the things and times I remember of our generation. Are photographs taken only when we want things to stay that way forever? Or left out because we want to believe things will never change?
Those little six-by-six photographs with the fancy trimmed edges show the last two generations doing the things we do now. My aunt’s sunglasses look like my Raybans, but their swimsuits had more material than our girlfriends’. And our girlfriends still pose on our motorcycles, green stalked red flowers in their hands.
We’d like to stay, but we have to go. The lights are changing again.
© Marshall Cavendish
by Colin Cheong
from The Colin Cheong Collection (2011)
published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia)