**********************Rest in Peace
I went to wish Chris and family Gong Xi Fa Cai but he wasnt there. His wife has lost her fight with the dreaded cancer. She died two days ago. Rest in peace, Mrs Chris and our sincere condolence to the family.
**************************The car had barely stopped when my nostrils began to pick up something familiar in the air and following the scent, I burst into Chris’s shop searching for the object of my desire. “Where is it?” I asked without looking at the shop owner reading his daily behind the counter. He pointed to a basket near the door and there it was sitting all majestic and inviting. “How much,” I asked, my eyes transfixed on the king of all fruits, while Chris kept on reading his daily. “£23 for the whole fruit,” he said nonchalantly as if it was the cheapest thing on offer in his shop that day.
That made me turn and square up to him. Chris hails from Ipoh and is our local oriental supermarket offering everything from kicap cap kipas to penyapu lidi . My mental calculation told me that that fruit cost around RM 150.00, and with that amount of money I could probably buy a lorryload back home. But I told myself this is not back home and I badly needed durian.
“Whaat??!” I tried my haggling tactics and Chris relented by offering to half the price if I were to share and eat it in the shop with him. My other half knew better than to interfere and stayed as far away as possible reading ingredients on packets of instant noodles.
So, that was that. I was to pay £12 and Chris would cut open the fruit for us. I certainly didn’t regret it. I had two portions and admitted defeat for my conscience was telling me that my son waiting at home would love some too. I told Chris to pack the rest up for me and like a good customer, I was going to pay up when Chris said: “Never mind laaa, I belanja you!!”
We’ve known Chris for a long time and although sometimes we’d buy our stuff elsewhere in Chinatown or Loong Foong on the way to Wembley or Wing Yip in Neasdon, it is to Chris that we go to if we’re desperate for noodles to warm our cold afternoons. It was with Chris too that I had my joget lambak at the national day celebrations in Brickendonbury last summer.
That episode with the durian left me wanting for more. So one day, coming back from Malaysia Hall, we stopped by at Oriental City in Queensway. Oriental City used to be in Colindale in north London, and we used to go there in summer to enjoy the satay and karoke in the summer sun, while taking in the delicious smell of the durian from the stall nearby. That was where Siti Nurhaliza sang before her Royal Albert Hall debut, and where the Alleycats delighted their fans who came from as far as Liverpool.
The owners, Ronald and his wife Phoebe, had recently relocated their supermarket in Queensway, much to our delight, for it is certainly nearer. So, at Oriental City I followed my nose again and that led me to Ronald, who hails from Singapore. There, the durian was ready peeled and you know what you’re getting. So, I chose one packet with 4 slices and that cost £6.64. But once again, I was determined to buy this as I had read online, how to cook pulut. That was to be our breakfast. Ronald told me it was good value for money and at the counter, he told me, “Just pay for the pulut, I belanja you the durian!” Now talk about durian runtuh! Twice in two days!
Chris’ and Ronald’s Oriental City have made life so much easier for us these days. I remember the first Oriental supermarket, Cheongleen in Tower Street, in Leceister Square. That must be one of the first few Oriental supermarkets in London. Even then, thirty years ago, you’d never get lemon grass or daun pandan or curry powder, or durian for that matter. We got our serai powder in Harrods. Not that I knew what to do with it in those days.
Most big towns in the UK have their Chinatowns and the biggest must certainly be in Manchester. There’s another big one in Liverpool too. I remember one winter taking a break from filming the Pak Cik sailors in Liverpool, we went to have lunch in one of the Chinese restaurants. It is not surprising that the Chinatown there, like the ones in Manchester and London, are populated by Chinese from Malaysia. After lunch, we went back to find the cameraman’s car broken into. And as we wandered around looking for the culprits, a middle aged Chinese woman told me in thick Scouse accent that the area was certainly not safe. I asked her where she came from and she simply said: Ipoh mali.
Anyway, coming back to Chris and Ronald in London, I am reminded of my childhood friends growing up in the sleepy town of Yan and also in Alor Setar. We grew up in a small town with Chinese and Indian neighbours, a close-knit community who didn’t care about race or colour of the skin. Just the other evening at Malaysia Hall, I found an old friend from Sultan Abdul Hamid College. A true Malaysian you’ll never find. Come snow, rain or shine, Richard Ooi is always in his batik. He proudly drives a Proton. While waiting for the husband we chatted about those good old days in Alor Setar and the big reunion recently that we both missed. Suffice to say, when I went to pay for my meal, I was told it had been settled.
I cannot end this Chinese New Year piece without mentioning a a certain special friend who had been truly kind to me. He was the one who introduced me to the world of fashion, taking me to London Fashion Weeks and sharing great moments in his life with me. He introduced me to names in the fashion world and celebrities such as Jermaine Jackson, Debra Messing and Natalie Imbruglia.
Once as we were going to an event where he was to receive an honorary doctorate, he told me to change into a more decent pair of HIS shoes, muttering something under his breathe “Haiya, you journalists, so cheapskate,” casting a glance at my worn out shoes. And suffice to say, that translated into – “Haiya, I belanja you that pair of shoes laaa!”
So, to all these wonderful and generous friends, who proved that it is possible for us to live together and be friends, I wish you a very Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year. And to my online cyberfriends too (Ilene, Judy, Alice, Argus, Lilian, Argus, Pey, Yang May Ooi, Lydia Xeus and Kenny Mah, Danial Ma and Uncle Lee and to Masterwordsmith who sadly has had to leave blogosphere) who have accepted Kak Teh as Kak Teh or perhaps as Margaret Chan – GONG XI FA CAI!!!!
Some related items:
Memoirs of Margaret Chan
A Date With Messing
And Jackson Makes Five