Feb 13, 2010

Battling, or savouring, the bulge at CNY

World War II buffs will know that the Battle of the Bulge refers to the Ardennes offensive carried out by Hitler’s army in the winter of 1944/45. For Band of Brothers junkies, you would know that this is covered in discs 3 (Bastogne) and 4 (The Breaking Point) :). The Allies were reportedly starved of supplies, ammunition and warm clothing in the unrelenting Belgian winter, while under heavy artillery fire. (The battle apparently got its name from the fact that the German army managed to create a bulge in the Allied lines during the initial incursion.) After long and hard fighting, the Allied forces emerged victorious, though it is disputed whether the American paratroopers encamped in Bastogne could have prevailed without the intervention of General Patton’s Third Army.

This weekend, however, if anyone were to talk about the Battle of the Bulge, it would more likely refer to our own war against the effects of over-eating and the annual excesses of Chinese New Year. Custom, celebration and courtesy require us to enjoy the feasts laid before us, often painstakingly prepared by loved ones, like the one I just enjoyed:

CNY is an annual reminder to re-connect with family whom we sometimes hardly see otherwise, even in tiny Singapore. To this end, I remember a conversation I had with a tow truck driver, Mr C, who came to my rescue after a traffic accident 3 years ago.

As someone who is basically helpless when anything goes wrong with my car (ok, I’m typical), 60-something Mr C arrived at the highway like a long-awaited saviour. He took charge of the situation single-handedly, hooked up the car to the tow truck, negotiated tight bends with the slimmest of margins, and was totally oblivious to the hoards of angry motorists around us who were being held up.

During the journey to the workshop, he told me that he earned about $1,800 per month. I remember thinking that, considering the tasks involved, the money was really hard-earned. He had children with their own families, whom he used to see very regularly when they came over for meals cooked by his wife. However, since her death several years earlier, he had been living alone, and only saw his children once a year when they invited him over for Reunion Dinner. There was an unmistakeable sadness and resignation in his voice as he narrated the new realities he faced.
Today, I’m reminded of Mr C. It’s his big day with his family.
CNY meals are convivial moments, undoubtedly to be savoured. Hopefully, the ties that bind endure - beyond the banquet.