The Tanjong Katong

A personal short story about the porch in my childhood home (now torn down) in Katong.


"But what was in that space?"

"All things," the young man answered.

"the dog's bowl, Pa's car, our dog under Pa's car. Ma's and Ah Ma's plants fighting all over for space, with last year's Ang Paos still clinging onto them in shades of red. The wind chimes clanging, the overhang of our neighbour's mango tree. And slippers and shoes that revealed who's home."

"When the car was out, Mimi the dog would stretch in the sun. He would dash around to fill up the space. Sometimes mangos fell ripe, sometimes they fell because mynahs pecked at them. Their gentle fragrance filled up the night air, and bats - yes eventually I realised they were bats - swooped in chaotic loops. At least that's my memory of it."

"But what else? Surely there was more?"

"Small pools of wax, filed smooth by shoes skating by. The wax was from the Lantern Festival candles. Ma was always worried we would set the house on fire, so we were only allowed to light candles outside, in the porch. Mimi the dog wouldn't approach the flames. He's actually male, but we adopted him when he was already eleven - we didn't get to name him. When we wanted him to sound macho, we called him 'Ah Mi' to make it sound like 'Army.' Haha, imagine that. He's a great dog. People always asked me what breed he was. You know, that's what people care about - the breed. I have endless stories but they just want to know the breed."

"I guess he's just another dog, Pavlovian and all. Even before I took Psychology 101, I tried to trick him into running towards me for a photo. Of course, tapping the dog bowl worked."

"How's he doing?"

"Well that must be more than ten years ago. I wonder how he liked to be under the car. We had a kennel that he never used it much." 

"Sometimes I played those skipping games with my two sisters. The kid next door always spied on us jealously, and we nicknamed him "Pong Pong" after that buoyant fruit. We would yell 'Pong Pong' at the top of our lungs and that confused Mimi. He would bark at us, thinking it is a game. We also spotted one mynah that with recurring baldness from fights, and gave it a nickname that is too embarrassing to tell you."

"You guys weren't kind - to neighbours or animals."

"Well I guess my compulsive e-mail checking habit came from running to the mailbox every half an hour to see if there is any new mail, although we would have seen the postman pause at our door when cycling by if there really was. But partly because my Ah Ma would randomly comment that she saw or heard the postman. Thinking back, perhaps she knew that we liked to race to the mailbox. It probably took us just seconds, the dash - that was how small the physical space was."