NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge Round 1: The Towkay, The Seamstress and The Coconut Tree

Since I’ve quit my job, I’ve been focusing on my writing, something that I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl.  The Boobook has been really supportive of me throughout this process, so that’s always a blessing.

It has been some time since writing was my main source of income, so I’m a little rusty.  To get me back into the right mind frame for wordcrafting, DebsG encouraged me to join NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction challenge.  Each round of the challenge, I have 48 hours to craft a 1,000 word flash fiction story from the given location, item and genre.

Here’s my response to the first round of that challenge.  At 996 words, it comes in just under the word limit.  I hope you like it!


The Towkay, The Seamstress and The Coconut Tree

In which trees are climbed for profit and a seamstress comes up with a clever plan to protect her modesty.

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Location:  Tropical Island
Item: A Brick

“If you’re talking about coconuts, I like them very fresh.” Chan Benghock murmured as he leaned lazily against the tall tree, “And I’m willing to pay top dollar for the fresh fruits from this tree.”

The handsome young son of the local towkay fanned himself with an expensive sandalwood fan as he addressed the small crowd of lovely young peasant girls.  The fan’s heady, sweet perfume was like a breath of fresh air in the stale, humid afternoon heat.  Some of the girls clutched their cheap sarongs and pretended to swoon as he proffered the prize money for his coveted coconuts, a whole fifty ringgit.

“Of course, at these prices, I can only really afford for one girl to get them for me.” Benghock intoned with comically feigned sorrow, “So, who will it be today?”

There was an intense clamour as the girls bounced on their heels with hands raised, eager to please the rich young man.  Fifty ringgits was no small sum, and climbing trees was an incredibly easy feat.  Besides, there was always slim chance that one of them might be chosen for his bride.  He took his time watching the girls, enjoying the sight of ripe coconuts bouncing in the sun.

Eventually, he pointed at one of the girls and gave her an especially charming smile.  The other girls sighed as the chosen woman, a voluptuous teenager by the name of Aishah, stepped forward and gave Benghock a shy curtsey.  The young man waved his hand dismissively and the crowd dispersed in a matter of seconds, leaving the pair to their business.

In a trice, Aishah was climbing the tree with the practised ease of a farmer’s daughter, her sarong stretched taut between spread legs, slowly riding up her body as she rose up the tree.  When Aishah reached the top, she collected a coconut and was about to come down, when she noticed Benghock waving at her from below.

“Don’t carry them down!  It’s dangerous!” He shouted, “Just throw them!”

“They’ll break if they hit the ground!” Aishah retorted.

“I’ll catch them!”

Aishah took careful aim and sent the coconut tumbling down into Benghock’s waiting arms.  He did little to hide his obvious delight.

#

“He did what?!” Rosmah spluttered.

“He caught them, perfectly!” Aishah beamed as she related the events of the day, “You should try it, Rosmah!  Young Mr Chan is pretty generous.”

Rosmah sighed and shook her head, rubbing the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.  She had known her friend to be a little ignorant, but she hadn’t expected her to be quite so stupid.  Then again, if Benghock had been able to trick the rest of the village girls, it stood to reason that he could trick young Aishah too.

“I… see.” She said slowly, “I suppose I could use the extra ringgit.  The seamstress business hasn’t been very good lately.  Not many weddings during this season.”

“You’re the prettiest and smartest girl in the village, you’re sure to catch his eye.”  Aishah beamed and gave Rosmah a conspiratorial wink, “Who knows?  Maybe we’ll be celebrating your wedding soon!”

“Oh, don’t you start, Aishah.  You know I’m already taken!”

“What, by Ahmad?” Aishah groaned, “Come on, Rosmah, a rich man’s son will make a way better match than a poor bricklayer.  I’m only looking out for you.”

“I like Ahmad.  He’s good to me.”

Aishah sighed, “I suppose he is.  I do wish you had a little more ambition, dear.”

Rosmah rolled her eyes, “Don’t call me ‘dear’, you’re three years younger than me.  Should I start calling you ‘Auntie Aishah’?”

“No way!  I’m not that old!” Aishah protested.

The rest of the conversation dissolved into teasing and laughter.  While she prattled away, Rosmah began to scheme.  It was time to put a stop to Benghock’s nonsense.

#

The next day, Rosmah was among the girls vying for Benghock’s attention as, once again, the little pervert was picking yet another patsy for his coconut scam.  She far outshone the other contenders in the beautiful batik sarong she’d made especially for the occasion, her cheeks pinked with safflower powder and eyes lined with charcoal to match.  There was no contest.  Benghock’s finger picked her from the crowd as soon as she appeared.

Rosmah produced a thick piece of cloth, looping it around the tree and tying it to her wrists.  Using the rope as an anchor, she began walking up the tree, keeping her knees together.  She almost laughed when she noticed Benghock squinting and moving his head from side to side.  He wouldn’t see a thing.  She’d spent an evening sewing shorts to the inside of her sarong.

When she reached the top, Rosmah plucked an object from her pocket and called out, “I’m dropping it now!”

Benghock hollered as the heavy red brick smashed into his hands.  Rosmah started lobbing coconuts at the ground around him.  The fresh fruits burst open upon impact, covering the young man’s fine clothes in sticky juice.

When she had exhausted her arsenal of coconuts, Rosmah shimmied down the tree.  She dabbed the perspiration off her brow with her climbing cloth, then turned to face the towkay’s son.

“I hope you have a hundred ringgit for all the coconuts I brought down.” She said cheerfully.

“You ruined my clothes!  I’m giving you nothing!”

Benghock turned to run, but collided into Ahmad’s solid chest.  He fell backwards into the mud.

Rosmah moved to stand over him, “The next time you decide to peek up girl’s skirts, coconuts or no, I’ll have Ahmad here tell the Imam what you’ve been up to and you’ll be catching more than just one brick.  Bagus?”

“…bagus.” Benghock squeaked.

He threw the money down at Ahmad’s feet and scampered away.  Rosmah and Ahmad caught each other’s eyes and started laughing.

“Remind me never to cross you, my love.” Ahmad guffawed.

“I’m sure you never will.” Rosmah chuckled.

“You are the best woman in this village.”

“I know.”

~FIN~

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Midweek Break: A Writer’s Workshop & A Book Giveaway!

If you saw our post on Peranakan culture earlier this week, you might remember that I mentioned the book Stacey goes to the Peranakan Museum‘ by Lianne Ong, which is part of an ongoing books series published in partnership with Singapore’s National Heritage Board.

Lianne Ong, the author of the Stacey & the Museums book series, is actually going to be doing a very special writer’s workshop aimed at kids aged 7-10 years old at the upcoming Singapore Writer’s Festival held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The workshop, Create A Stacey@ACM Adventure, will have kids exploring the galleries at the museum and coming up with their own Stacey story under Lianne’s guidance. Additionally, James Tan, the illustrator of the books, will be there to teach children how to draw Stacey and accompany their story with pictures.

I am a big fan of creative writing, so I think this workshop sounds like a whole load of fun and a great experience for kids. At $5 for a 90 min masterclass with a published children’s book author, it is a real bargain!

The workshop will take place on 8 November (Saturday) at 11:00am-12:30pm at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Tickets to the workshop and more information available here.

If you already own a Stacey book, you ought to bring it with you and I am sure both Lianne Ong and James Tan will oblige you with an autograph if you ask nicely.

And if you don’t own a Stacey book yet, well, here’s a Special Something for Owls Well Readers: Armour Publishing has very kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of a copy of the book “Stacey Goes to the Peranakan Museum” to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! Huzzah! Thank you, Armour Publishing!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page
  2. Share this giveaway on your Facebook Page (set to public), tagging @Owls Well as well as at least three friends
  3. Visit my Peranakan Peregrination post and leave a comment there telling me about one thing that you know or appreciate about Peranakan culture! Don’t forget to tell me the name of your Facebook account that you used to share this giveaway and include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)

(Giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore address and will end on 10th October 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

P.S. If you still aren’t convinced of how great this book series is, check out my review of the first book in the Stacey & the Museums series here – we liked it so much, we made our own book trailer!

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been emailed – Thanks for playing!

A Peranakan Peregrination: A Cultural Day Out with Kids

Recently, I convinced the Aged Ps to take the kids for a Peranakan Day Out, so that they can learn more about Peranakan culture and what it means to be a Baba or a Nyonya.

Here’s how you can enjoy your own Peranakan Day Out in 10 easy steps!

Video Footnotes:

This is a really great book that not only introduces the Peranakan Museum and it’s highlights, but gives some easy to read information about Peranakan culture. In the book, Stacey visits the museum and has an adventure with a mysterious girl who takes her on a personal tour!

I really love the detailed illustrations by James Tan, and it really is such a treat to be able to read the book to the kids, and then see their reaction once they reach the museum and recognise the things that they see in the pictures.

I was very fortunate to have received a copy of this book from Armour Publishing for review, but you can get your own copy from the Peranakan Museum shop or direct from the Armour Publishing website. The book is part of the Stacey & the Museum series by Lianne Ong – here’s a review and book trailer that I made for the first book in the series, Stacey Goes to the National Museum.

The Peranakan Museum is a wonderful little museum installed in the former Tao Nan Chinese School, and has a beautiful and extensive collection of Peranakan objects, wonderfully curated in a manner that illustrates the tradition and distinctive artistic style of the Peranakan community.

There are many interactive components for children within the museum, some on large computer touch screens, and others requiring and encouraging children to touch and handle vintage objects. J and Little E enjoyed running around the museum completing a little treasure hunt – the activity sheet can be collected at the information counter.

We visited the museum with the Aged P, who is of course a true Peranakan but there are guided tours conducted daily by volunteers (most of whom are also Peranakan or are scholars of Southeast Asian culture) are more than happy to regale you with personal stories about Peranakan traditions!

The Peranakan Museum is open daily from 10am – 7pm (extended hours to 9pm on Fridays) and is located on 39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941. Admission is free for Singaporean Citizens and PRs, as well as for children under 6 years old.

At the Peranakan Museum and Daisy's Dream Kitchen

At the Peranakan Museum and Daisy’s Dream Kitchen

  • Peranakan Food in Singapore

We ate at Daisy’s Dream Kitchen, which is a small little family-run eatery over in the West Coast serving Peranakan food as well as a selection of other local dishes.

The food is delicious and reasonably priced, with a lovely home cooked flavour and the Aged Ps deem it ‘Cheap and Good’ (which by their standards, is very good indeed). Peranakan food tends to be very rich, so I was surprised and glad to see that the dishes served were not swimming in grease, but were low in salt and oil with no loss to the fullness of flavour. We even met Daisy’s kids and grandkids, who had dropped in for lunch, the little 5 year old grandson even coming to our table to thank us for visiting! What a little charmer.

Daisy’s Dream Kitchen is open from Tues-Sun from 11am-3pm and 6pm-10pm at Block 517 West Coast Road, #01-571, S(120517), Tel: 6779 1781

If you are looking for a fancier Peranakan restaurant with a larger range of traditional dishes, prepared and displayed in a traditional manner, the Aged Ps recommend The Blue Ginger Restaurant, which is where they like to bring out-of-towners when they want to truly impress.

To get a true taste of Peranakan culture, the Aged Ps recommend that you try the Nyonya-style Ngoh Hiang, the Bakwan Kepiting soup, the Babi Ponteh stewed pork and the Ayam Buah Keluak stuffed blacknut when you are visiting a Peranakan Restaurant.

  • Peranakan music

Peranakans are known for their involvement in Dondang Sayang (Love ballad) and Keroncong (Malay-style ukelele band) forms of music.

The Aged Ps were very insistent that I chose the correct kind of music to accompany this video, and so I have gone for the Dondang Sayang style of Peranakan music. The Dondang Sayang style is exemplified by the exchange of lighthearted and cheeky malay poetry (or ‘pantun‘) between two singers.

The song that I use in this video, Rasa Sayang, is a very popular local folk song in the traditional Dondang Sayang form and the chorus goes:

Rasa sayang, hey! (Loving feelings, hey!)
Rasa sayang-sayang hey, (Lots of loving feelings, hey!)
Lihat nona dari jauh (Admiring a pretty girl from afar)
Rasa sayang-sayang, hey (Lots of loving feelings, hey!)

(Ironically, the version of Rasa Sayang  that I used is recorded by a Japanese artiste, Lisa Ono!)

  • Peranakan Fashions
Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

We didn’t include a visit to a dressmaker to try out fancy Peranakan fashions and learn how to tie a sarong in the traditional way, but that would be a fun way to round off the day with an impromptu fashion show, especially if you have kids who love dressing up.

We love Toko Aljunied for their beautiful kebayas and batik shirts – you can find out more about this wonderful purveyor of fine Peranakan fashions for kids and adults here.

Toko Aljunied saves the (Racial Harmony) Day!

In Singapore, we celebrate Racial Harmony Day on the 21st July every year. This takes place on the anniversary of the 1964 racial riots in Singapore where a celebratory procession (following the president Yusof bin Ishak’s formal address) in honour of the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday turned violent, leading to the death of 23 people and leaving 454 people injured. These riots exposed the serious racial tension between the many races that make up the Singapore population.

On Racial Harmony Day, school going kids are encouraged to wear traditional ethnic costumes to school and the day is set aside to celebrate Singapore’s success in building a racially harmonious society with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. In Little E’s kindergarten, they will have the opportunity to sample traditional snacks during class.

Usually, I put Little E in her Chinese New Year cheongsam, but as we did not celebrate Chinese New Year this year, I was at a loss as to what to do.

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The Barn Owl and I at our engagement celebration

Then I remembered that I needed to get her a special outfit for A Becky Lee’s wedding dinner later this year and I was planning to get myself measured up for a new sarong kebaya for the occasion (having outgrown the kebaya that I wore for my own engagement celebration more than 10 years ago).

So why not get her a little one to match? Additionally, it would be appropriate to celebrate our family’s Peranakan heritage on Racial Harmony Day!

Yay!

I had purchased my sarong kebaya many years ago during a trip to Malacca with the Aged Ps, but this time, I decided that I would look for a kebaya shop locally.

I asked around my network of friends and found out from Delphine (from Life in the Wee Hours) about Toko Aljunied, which is a very well-established Batik and Kebaya shop, located on Arab Street. She’d been there a few years ago to buy outfits for herself and her daughter, and had been very impressed with them.

I had no idea at the time, but Toko Aljunied has tailored traditional Peranakan wear for local stage and television productions such as ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’ and ‘The Little Nyonya’, and is generally favoured by our current Prime Minister as the place to get beautiful one-of-a-kind silk batik shirts for formal functions!

Shopping for a mini-Kebaya at Toko Aljunied (91 Arab Street)

Shopping for a mini-Kebaya at Toko Aljunied (91 Arab Street)

Parking at Arab Street is normally a nightmare, however, Toko Aljunied is two minutes walk from the Golden Landmark Shopping Centre which has a nice basement carpark. Win!!

At Toko Aljunied, the Makcik who owns the store kindly brought out a few ready-made tops in Little E’s size, saying that she would adjust the sleeves on the spot if they were too big for her. I noticed that the material used to make the sheer tops were all traditional cotton robia, which is a very fine, light cotton voile, and the lace-like embellishments (known as ‘sulam’) along the collar, hem and cuffs were all embroidered directly onto the material – that is, they weren’t appliqués that were stitched on.

The tops came in a variety of colours, and Little E chose a delicate pink shade which received a nod of approval from the Makcik. I was about to open my mouth to protest (WHY PINK WHY) when the Makcik fixed me with a stern gaze and said, firmly, “This one is good for her – very chantek!”

Now comes the difficult part – matching the kebaya top with a sarong skirt! With my poor colour sense, I would get lost and confused in the multitude of colours and swirling motifs that make up the batik print so I was very pleased when the Makcik proceeded to expertly pair the top with a variety of sarongs, each making the whole outfit look more beautiful than the last.

Eventually, the Makcik picked out a sarong with red, purple and gold ‘ikat’ print which really made the colours of the kebaya shine. The Makcik advised us to get the sarong in a longer length and fold it over at the waist, saying “Let her wear it for longer otherwise so sayang, what a waste.”

Although the child-sized kebaya top is conveniently fastened together with hidden popper buttons, no sarong kebaya ensemble is complete without the ‘kerosang’, a fancy three-piece brooch joined together with a long chain. The Makcik picked out two types of ‘kerosang’ for Little E, one with gold with rhinestones in the shape of a flower and one set with purple stones. Little E went with the purple stones, so the Makcik went to the front of the store and picked out purple flower hair clips to match!

All in all, the whole ensemble set us back SGD$80, which is very reasonable! Best of all, Little E loved it. You can see her happy little face in the picture above, as she clutched the shopping bag with its precious cargo!

She could not WAIT to put her kebaya on for Racial Harmony Day! Look how happy she is! She was going about proclaiming, “I’m wearing a kebaya because my Ah Kong is a Baba so I am a Little Nyonya girl!”

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

I am so glad the Little E is embracing her Peranakan heritage! I am now thinking of revisiting the shop to get J a traditional batik shirt…and I must remember to get the Aged Ps to bring them to the Peranakan Museum again.

Toko Aljunied is located at 91 Arab Street, Singapore 199797

Tel:+6562946897

Email: radialjunied@gmail.com

Opening Hours are from 1100-1900 on Monday to Saturdays and from 1100-1700 on Sundays