Thursday June 14, 2012
Fun in the sun
By MELINDA LOOI
Childhood moments spent with family are often the sweetest.
GROWING up, I used to hate holidays. For much of our childhood, my sister Susan, youngest brother Jim and I were raised by our grandmother because our mother was too busy working and earning money (as we weren’t very rich) to raise us. When I was about 15, we moved back into our parents’ home, and from then on, every holiday was spent at our parents’ pleat-making shop, assisting with the production.
Because we couldn’t afford to hire help, we (the children) would stand by the machines for more than 12 hours a day, with few breaks in between, counting the number of plate sounds to ensure that each fabric had an identical amount of pleats. I used to hate working, as it meant I never had any free time to enjoy the holidays. I remember I even called myself a “child labourer” because I was too young to know better and understand that it’s important to help your family out.
After finishing work at the factory, we would do our school homework. It was usually about 11pm by the time we started. However, dad would turn off the lights by midnight. He never understood why we should have to do school work outside of school. Many nights, I would continue working by candlelight and, over time, I came to really enjoy working in the early hours of the morning. This habit has continued till today, when I often find myself doing most of my design work well after midnight.
Despite having to work, we missed out on nothing as children. Even “at work” in the factory, my siblings and I shared many crazy moments ... especially when my strict father wasn’t around. But our days with grandma were the best. Every Saturday, our aunts would bring their children around (after they had finished their homework) and they would spend Saturday nights with us. Naturally, being with all our cousins was great fun!
Our aunts often took us swimming, for picnics at nearby parks and driving around town to window shop while our uncles would take us for jogs at Lake Gardens (Taman Tasik Perdana) in Kuala Lumpur. Sometimes, they would even take us for boat rides on the lake or let us go water-cycling. Our childhood was filled with birthday parties, family gatherings with delicious food, and many fun activities with cousins. We held many singing competitions using grandma’s table as our stage and would shop for groceries at make-believe shops underneath. We’d also chase each other around the house, slamming doors and getting scolded by grandma for ruining her doorknobs. Those are some of my favourite childhood memories; to this day, I still reminisce about those days and miss them dearly.
Fast forward to the present. As I write this, Max is on his two-week school vacation. The first week was spent at various classes such as Cambridge English and a class by Hallmark which teaches children to make creative graphic work as well as greeting cards. As a parent, I feel guilty for not being able to spend more time with him during his holidays, and not even being able to take a short trip away. Ironically, it’s like history repeating itself – a flashback to my own childhood. I realise that while it is important for my children to acquire a strong foundation in different disciplines that will help them do well later on at work and in their personal lives, as children they must also have fun. Since I couldn’t afford the time to take them away on a holiday, I decided I could at least take them somewhere in the Klang Valley itself.
That is how, on the first weekend of the holiday, all of us packed our picnic paraphernalia – bicycles, scooters and helmets for the kids and food supplies such as bread, jam, tuna spread, hard-boiled eggs, snacks and drinks, not to mention floor mats, extra clothes to change into, insect repellent (vampires of the six-legged kind seem to love us!) and sunblock. I also asked my brother Jim to join us with his family as I think it’s important for my children to be as close to their cousins as I’ve been with mine. So I was very pleased that they could make it, and they brought with them yummy fried bee hoon and homemade peanut butter jam.
The kids were very excited to “let all hell loose” at the Lake Gardens, which is the oldest and most popular park in KL. I wanted to find the exact spot that my uncles, aunts, grandmother, siblings, cousins and I used to have our picnic, before my grandma passed away. I was reminded that it was about the same time that, four years ago, we had come here for a family picnic; just a month before my grandma passed away. Max was three and Maya just two months old then, and though they don’t remember that they came with their great-grandma, they do remember how much fun the park was.
It was a lovely sunny morning and before we could even settle down at our usual spot by the lake, Maya and Max were running up and down the hills. Even little Mika was eager to show off his tricycling skills. I was really pleased to see how my children seem to take to nature. Sitting on the grass with my family, I had a strong sense of déjà vu and, for a moment, even thought that I saw my grandma. Though I miss her very much, I am sure that wherever she is, she is happy and smiling down at us, watching her grandchildren play in the morning sun.
Max, who has always been very creative with his food, made his very own “sandwich burger” of white bread, vegetables and egg between two slices of burger buns. He probably developed that from me, as I have a habit of drawing with their food on their plates before serving them. Perhaps, one day, a restaurant will borrow and adapt one of his innovative food ideas and serve it!
After a delicious meal, everyone headed straight for the playground. The children were delighted with the playground and Mika, in particular, was very excited to try every single spiral tube slide, both high and low. By noon, the sun was boiling down on us but the children were having so much fun, they insisted on staying “just a bit more”. I made a mental note to myself that when we do this again, it would be a good idea to come before sunrise.
Meanwhile, Maya’s school has organised a trip to Lake Gardens on the second weekend of their holiday and I have signed up Max, as well as all their cousins, to go along too. Since they had so much fun the first time, I’m sure they will enjoy themselves even more this time as their friends will also be there. I think it’s wonderful that the school arranges such trips because I know that I relished all my school trips, whether it was to parks or museums. There was nothing luxurious about these excursions, but when you’re a child, the simple things in life are often the best.
I have to say, Lake Gardens is such a beautiful park and very well-maintained. Unlike many places in Kuala Lumpur, it looks exactly the same, if not better, as it did when I was a child. I will definitely make an effort to go there more often with the children, since they love it so much. What’s more, there are other places in the area that we could explore, like the Bird Park, Butterfly Park, Deer Park, Orchid Garden and the Conservatory Gardens.
Before ending, I’d like to wish my dad a “Happy Father’s Day!” and tell him that I love him very much. If it wasn’t for him and my mum, we would not have grown to be the people we are today. I’d also like to thank my grandmother, uncles, aunts and the rest of my family for giving us so much love and care. I will never forget this and I will make sure to do my best for my children.
Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness, and believes her greatest creations are her children. Follow her on Facebook or write in to email@example.com.