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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Moments to Savour

The Star

Wednesday July 21st 2010

Moments to Savour

Story and illustration by Wan Chwee Seng

Adventures in the kitchen that add spice to life.

IT began on a lively note. The thumping blare of Cliff Richard’s latest hit, Living Doll, resonated across the Block Nine common room. Fingers snapped and knees bounced as the young listeners kept time to the rocking music.
Then as if on a given signal the turn-table came to a stop and the lights were switched off. The listeners strolled reluctantly to their respective rooms.
In the other blocks of Kampung Kirkby, as Kirkby College, in Liverpool is fondly known by its young Malayan students, the lights, too, were disappearing gradually like stars being sponged by the light of dawn. It was lights-out time and most of the students were already snugly curled up under layers of woolen blankets.

'Kampung Kirkby', Liverpool

However, in the small pantry of Block Nine, a light still glowed. The tall figure of my friend, Seripala, hovered over a pot of noodles which was simmering to a boil. In the adjacent common room, from behind drawn curtains, I gazed out at the blackness of the cold winter night. All that was clearly visible from my vantage point was the frost-covered driveway which glistened under the golden glow of the street lamp. Beyond the driveway was a shrouded landscape of indistinct outlines of low buildings.
The savoury aroma from the pantry rose and drifted along the corridor to the common room where I stood watch. My stomach started to rumble, but above the faint rumble came a more audible sound. Footsteps!

I pressed my nose against the icy panes to peer and strain into the darkness. A dark figure loomed from behind a veil of low-lying fog and lumbered up the driveway. The hulking frame and familiar gait told me that it was the object of my surveillance.

A hulking figure loomed through the gloom

With heart pumping fast, I rushed to the pantry.

"Warden," I called out.

Seripala turned off the stove and flicked off the light. He sprinted to his room at the end of the corridor, while I bounded the few metres to my room next to the pantry. From behind closed door, I waited, ears straining in the silence. The minutes ticked away. Then I heard the rhythmic pounding of heavy footsteps on concrete floor. The pounding stopped. An uncomfortable silence ensued.
I could sense the warden’s presence outside my room and pictured him scanning the long corridor for any tell-tale signs of nocturnal activities.
My thought strayed to the pot of noodles in the pantry. Would he catch the whiff of the aroma emanating from the pantry?
I gave a sigh of relief when I finally heard the sound of footsteps receding into the distance.
I crept warily to Seripala’s room and gave the all clear signal. We resumed our cooking without anymore interruption. Back in my room, we sat in the stillness of the night and savoured every single strand of the soggy noodle with relish.
Watching Seripala scrape the last bit of noodle from his plate with a long sigh of contentment, I could not help suppress a smile as I recalled another incident. It was a late autumn night when we made our way to the makeshift fish-and-chips stall just outside the college gate, only to find it had already closed for the night.
We trudged forlornly back to the pantry for another humble dish of noodles. White steam was soon billowing and curling from a pot of noodles flavoured with Knox chicken stock. Seripala took a peek at the open pot and suddenly announced: “I think we need to add some vegetables.”
He slipped out of the pantry and disappeared into the dark night. A while later he sauntered into the pantry clutching tightly to his protruding “pot-belly”. He dug under his gabardine and with a flourish withdrew a freshly-plucked cabbage which he proudly displayed in his outstretched hand. Where did he get the cabbage at this late hour? I thought to myself. I had my suspicions, but I kept my silence.
The next morning as we busied ourselves threading colourful threads at the loom in the Art and Craft room, the nocturnal incident was soon forgotten. Around us could be heard small pockets of conversations. Next to us a group was talking excitedly in low whispers.
“Hey, did you hear the college gardener is raising a hue and cry because a cabbage went missing from his cabbage patch. He suspects one of us.”
The words drifted to my ears. I paused at my work to look at Seripala. He beamed a faint smile in my direction. My suspicions were confirmed.
Seripala, an avid cook, preferred to cook during the weekends when he could use his culinary wizardry to whip up divine mouth-watering dishes, especially his signature dish – fish curry. The fragrance of his cooking would send ravenous students scurrying to the pantry to investigate the source of the pungent odour and they would often be rewarded with an invitation.
I remember the freezing winter night when a group of us with different creeds and colours would gather in my room to share his cooking. As our fingers dug into the steaming white rice generously topped with spicy curry, sweat formed and trickled down our cheeks, to provide additional warmth to the cold winter night.
Long after lights out, we would sit in the darkness to share stories and talk about our 
hopes and dreams.

Block Niners(1959-1960) From L to R
Sitting: Low Mui Chuan, Tan Teong Kooi, Chelvarajah, Jaikishan, Lionel Koh, Siva, Wan Chwee Seng, Nagarajah, Choo Ewe Keat, Teh Tien Chong
Standing: Michael Shum, Douglas Gomez, Johnny Khoo, Ang, Rahim, Seripala, William, Ahmad Omar, Joseph John, Tay Soo Hock, Tan Vin Quen

Block Niners at the College ground
Standing from Lto R: Seripala, Teong Kooi, Johnny Khoo
Sitting from Lto R: William, Siva, Vin Quen, Soo Hock
Photo courtesy of Johnny Khoo

Fifty years on, Seripala and a few of my friends who shared that delicious fare are no longer with us. Today, as I reflect on the many fond memories of my college days, those late-night incidents and the few moments we shared together are among the most precious.
They helped to add spice to our otherwise mundane college work and are the little threads that lend more vibrant colours to life’s tapestry. In our golden years, these are moments to savour.

Cliff Richard ......" Living Doll 1959 "

Mary Hopkin _ Those were the days

Related article:
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Lessons for life

Precious memories


  1. A different place and time comes alive... Congratulations to Papa for another well-written piece!

  2. Jiwa, thanks for the photo of your delicious fish curry.