In some ways, Singapore is like the United States: A nation of immigrants. Some of the first to arrive in Singapore (and the rest of the Indonesian archipelago), in the 15th and 16th centuries, were Chinese. Many of these early inhabitants became traders, and worked with the British, Chinese, and indigenous Malay populations to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. These groups often inter-married (or at least had children together), and developed their own unique culture.
In Singapore, the descendants of this group – who “look” Chinese, speak Baba Malay (a Malay dialect), and have their own blended traditions – are called Chinese Peranakans, or just “Peranakans”. [To be thorough, I must note that “peranakan” is actually a Malay term that translates exactly to “locally born”. There are also Peranakan Indians and Jawi Peranakans, who are the descendants of local Malays inter-marrying with South Indian Hindus and South Indian Muslims, respectively.]
Historically, Peranakans had their own style of dress, marriage ceremonies, language, and food. But for a variety of reasons, in Singapore today, Peranakan culture is gradually disappearing back into Chinese culture. For example, KMN’s mother is Peranakan, but dresses in a Western style (or in a Chinese cheongsam for special occasions) and cooks Chinese food. She does speak Baba Malay, though, and both KMN and his sister know a little bit, as well.
As someone who married into a Chinese/Peranakan family, then, how does the culture impact me? Well, KMN’s family does hold fast to one Perankan tradition: a powerful matriarchy. The women plan the gatherings, steer the families, and in my observations, usually have the first (and last) say on many matters of importance. Now this is a tradition that I can help carry forward!
In celebration of this matriarchy – and for a farewell visit with several family members who are returning to their lives abroad – the ladies in my mother-in-law’s family all went for lunch together this past week. I was lucky enough to be invited to join them. I really do love seeing families together – and witnessing this gathering of 12 women, spanning three generations, was awesome.
These women have witnessed the entirety of Singapore’s modern history: from colonial days to independence, from swamp to urban hub, from just developing to positively developed. Few places moved through these stages as quickly as Singapore, and I can hardly wrap my mind around how much change some of these women lived through – all while working, raising children, loving, laughing, and supporting each other.
We enjoyed a lunch of fellowship, but unfortunately I had to zip out early for a meeting across town. As my cab driver pointed out, I was going far…like, all the way to the other side of the island:Thankfully, I didn’t need my passport (to get all the way to the other side), and I arrived in the nick of time for my meeting. Quote from meeting: “The science center is very old. It was built in 1977. We just opened a time capsule that we sealed a long time ago. There were a lot of antiques in there, like a very big TV and a CD player.” Lovely.
Bearing in mind that I’m approaching “antique” territory, I followed up the meeting with an attempt to fight the aging process. KMN and I met for a spin class, and somehow, we were on the same wavelength (or our instructor that even was especially inspiring), because we both left everything on our bikes. After our 50-minute class I lounged on the foam roller for a few minutes, in a weak attempt at actually rolling my legs out. Finally, we called it quits, hit the showers, and dragged our (aging) selves home around 10 PM. I was beat, but rallied to throw together another multi-bowl meal:
Me: I love when I cut the pineapple at the perfect time. It is perfectly ripe and very sweet, but none of it has gone bad/mushy yet.
Me: Yeah, I know you don’t really care for pineapple, even if it’s cut at the perfect moment.
KMN: I do if it’s on Hawaiian pizza!
So really – how far do you think my taxi ride was? [Singaporeans, you all sit this one out, OK?]
Pineapple on your pizza: yay or nay?