the cook, his wife & their gods
the altar to the most high cholestrol - photos in this post by J
When I first learnt, several years ago, that J's dad was a cook (he ran a Zhi Char place in Jalan Besar hawker centre), I was surprised. Incredulous,
"Your father's a cook and you can't even tell a garlic from an onion?"
Father J is not a chatty man. Like most Zhi Char cooks, he has spent most of the time with one muscular arm holding on to a blackened, iron wok, and the other nimbly coordinating the fire, food, seasoning and plates. And in like manner, he sits steadily and silently by us when we visit, but his eyes, cheeks and lips are busy with smiles. Ma J, meanwhile, would carry on three conversations simultaneously with us, her 7 year-old grandson and her nephew on a long distance call from some Hok Chia village in China.
Ma J likes to tell us what a good man J's father is - his faithfulness, his care for the family. All that, I imagine, is meant for me to conclude like father, like son. But the cook has one habit his wife has never reconciled with. Gambling.
Perhaps this is why their flat is inhabited by more gods and lucky charms than humans. Besides the large rosewood altar in the living room and a little one by the door, every surface - cupboards, walls, the coffee table top, even the aquarium fishes - were acquired for the hope they bring; even if they cannot ward off anxiety, fear and death.
So I guess it's another good thing that this wedding has made it necessary for us to drop by to see J's folks more often. After all, father J is past 70 and ma J has picked up quite a bit from the buffet of chronic illness (diabetes, heart disease, high cholestrol and blood pressure), some of which are no doubt caused by the 4 not-so-secret ingredients for yummy Zhi Char - lard, MSG, salt, lard.