Monday, May 26, 2008

A contrast in weekends

I just had a great weekend which started out on Saturday night with a BBQ with my family on my mother's side. My uncle was back for a visit from New Zealand. It was great hanging out in my aunt's place.

The kids went swimming in the pool in the evening and later on, hungry after all the exercise, we all cooked on the barby and gorged ourselves silly on herb-garlic sausages, lamb loins, beef slabs and so on. Pleased to report that the beef and my XO sotong marinades had good reviews. They were rather yummy if I do say so myself. The XO sotong was swimmng in brandy - lovely!

But the best part of the night was just sitting down with my aunts and uncles and cousins and talking, reminiscing. My aunts joshed my mum about how she made dad suffer by going out with a doctor while my dad waiting patiently beneath a lamppost until 3 in the morning ("reading a book!" my aunts howled mercilessly with laughter). They apparently saw all this as they peered agog through the window at poor dad.

"Your mum," said Aunty Sue, "...had great clothes. Gosh she was such a clotheshorse! So stylish with all the chiffon and french lace... gorgeous... Aunty Peg and I used to really envy her! She was so pretty then!"

"Still is now!" I said and mum grinned.

"And the boyfriends she had...whoohoo!"

Listening to my aunts and my mum talk about their old admirers and boyfriends with nicknames - one of them was called pantak jarom (translated to mean needle in the bum). When I asked why call him that, Aunty Peggy laughed: "Everytime he came to call, he'd just sit for a short time and then jump up and say he had to go! Like someone was poking a needle in his backside!"

We talked about how Uncle Boris met my grandparents for the first time - inauspiciously pissed drunk after granddad invited him to join him and his buddies for a drink (which turned into one too many!) "Your aunt wasn't at home so your granddad was there with a couple of his friends and he asked me to join them. One thing led to another and we ended up talking nonsense, some throwing up... your grandma was horrified later when she met me! Long hair, pimples... and drunk! What she thought of me then..."

We laughed till it hurt to hear Uncle Boris describe how his parents disciplined him with the cane "...and they were both guerilla fighters so you know how physically tough they are!" (Both his parents were guerilla fighters in the resistance against the Japanese in the Thai Burmese border so it was never a good idea to cross them.)

We remembered how chocolate was such a luxury to us back then. Aunty Sue who was an oh-so-glamourpuss of a Singapore Girl, came home from London with suitcases filled with goodies. "We would all crowd around to see what she brought home!" said Aunty Peg. I remember those days and being so awed and happy that she had brought some Cadbury chocs for me! I still have one picture of myself as a 4-year-old, singlet grimy with chocolate stains.

Even KH was dragged in when the older relatives started asking how we met, and asking Gillian who was fiercer at home - mummy or daddy. The girl had a field day with those questions!

It was such fun talking and there was so much laughter. And that was a good thing for all of us since the last time we met like this was at Marc's funeral. I have not seen Aunty Peg and Uncle Boris laugh like this since Marc died. Seeing Ryan, I thought he still looked different - sober, older and still a bit shell-shocked. But then its only been five months... We didn't talk about Marc that night though, but he was there, unspoken beneath the waters of our conversation. The only time he surfaced noticeably was when Aunty Peg showed me the album full of pictures of Marc and his funeral. We looked through the pictures, mostly taken by KH, read his wife's longingly loving notes to him on Valentine's Day and on their anniversary. I felt a bit teary, but the mood was just too good to spoil by crying.

I was just struck by how different an experience this was with a week earlier when I had a gathering at my ILs' place. In contrast to this (everybody sitting together, sharing and talking and laughing, no exclusions), there was not much camaraderie, not much shared laughter. Oh yeah the kids played together and KH and his sibs banded together. As usual, I was the odd one out. I didn't even have Pauline's similarly isolated experience to commiserate with since she did the smart thing and begged off the gathering.

Sitting there, I don't think I said more than 5 sentences the whole night. I remember it went something like this:

BIL: "Hi Pat so do you see Cheryl in school?"

Me: "Yes I do. I saw her at the fire drill the other day!"

SIL A: "Fire drill? hahaha..."

Me: "Yes we were having this fire drill in school and I saw her at the gathering spot where all classes had to gather and the craziest thing was..."

SIL A: "Eh is this hor fun?"

SIL B: "Yeah... we have packets of fried rice too..."

BIL: "What about the gravy for the beehoon? Oh there it is."

And I realised no one was actually listening anymore. Pass the beehoon.

After a while, KH and his sisters sat together and talked among themselves while I was left sitting in the living room.

I know the drill.

I knew what I was in for, and I was hoping to at least watch some tv but no such luck - they had turned on their vacation videos instead!!! Yikes! I didn't even have the benefit of being stoned by mindless tv chatter - now I actually had to sit through a whole vacation video of people I didn't even like!

It turned out to be a video of a trip we all took to Genting Highlands about 4 years ago. It was a two day overnight trip which included Malacca, but which I had begged off and gone in the opposite direction instead - to Penang where we had a great time! And thank God for that because if the video was any indication, it would have been a mind-numbingly boring trip for me. In the entire video, which lasted at least an hour, there was only ONE scene where I caught a glimpse of myself and that was only in passing. Other than that, you would not have known that I was on the same trip. I realised that they had given equal exclusive treatment to Pauline too. Barely two seconds of footage. Blink and you'll miss us.

It really speaks volumes of how they see us in the family. Pauline and I are the invisible women who happen to marry their brothers and produce a series of offspring - five of them, in my case.

I mean, I don't think they are being deliberately mean or catty or they mean to exclude us. They just do. How many times have I experienced this - sit at the same table, engage with some conversation or at least just listen in and then 10, 15 minutes later, one by one they drift away. And before you realise it, its just me alone at the table or with Pauline or with one other BIL. Then when you stand up and look, you realise that the group has reconvened at another place and the conversation is going on like a house on fire - just without you in it.

At the very least, its plain rude. And at its most, its just unthinking, hurtful exclusion. You know you're NOT part of the family because their behaviour and their body language tells you this. Which is why I absolutely detest these ILs gathering, find them a pure waste of time. KH told me before, you can read a book... I told him that if I could read a book, I'd rather read in the comfort of my own home! I mean... why bother?

Looking at my relatives and how they include everyone in the conversation on Saturday night, I think my ILs have a great deal to learn about how to be a classy host. But before they do, best to avoid these IL gatherings as much as I can...

1 comment:

YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD FOOD JUNKIE said...

Next time you have one of these, give me a call and I'll stay with you on the phone and keep you occupied d:)