My grandmother’s kitchen

I hear the sounds of grandmother’s kitchen
Before I even smell the aromas she creates
I walk on in between thin wooden door frames
The floor of sand from the South China Sea
Cushions the soles of my broad flip flop feet

Chickens, ducks, maybe a cat or two
Run free pecking, clucking, mewing too
The chaos of animal chatter harmonise
With human laughter, we high on the rafters
Above grandmother’s sandy kitchen floor

When I first came to grandmother’s house
I never understood the things I saw
For a well, man-made, sat, room in the middle
Of her kitchen’s grand sandy floor, with
A netted cover to stop us falling in, like a door

I watched grandmother work, every move she
Made, made up for the lack of words she said
Drawing water with a bucket and some rope
Boiling a cast iron kettle on a charcoal stove
Steam filling my nostrils, eyes eating all I saw

Grandmother’s kitchen wasn’t cosy or welcoming
It was bare bones, utilitarian, uninspiring
It did the job, much like she did, with no fuss
Feeding mouths always hungry, always unsmiling
The sandy floor, the deep well, things of ancient
History, where generations gathered in unity.

I don’t have a photo of my grandmother’s actual house or kitchen. It’s one of the houses on this historic site in Melaka. Previously called Heeren Street it’s now named Jonker Walk. So this photo, taken in 2019 is as close to how it would have looked when my grandmother was alive.



15 thoughts on “My grandmother’s kitchen

  1. indeed they are V.J and so valuable for the younger generation, my greatest regret was not spending more time with both sides grandmothers, but then I was just a kid who depended on mum or dad to take me there. Still the memories, advice and love will be fondly remembered. Am sure your grandkids will have such memories of you and with you too.

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  2. There will be a lot of similarities with the 2 places as both would have the Peranakan influence among the straits settlements. Ah yes the kampung spirit is what I grew up on! Those days community was everything especially kids playing with each other not even considering what race or colour we were, modernity driven polarisation made us more aware of our differences not similarities. I hope our new government will do more to break that invisible wall and we can be what we were once before, as you said it, a community not just citizen’s of a country. Thank you K for your valuable thoughts. Ps: the old wells are dry now.

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  3. Thank you my lovely friend. Those places our loved ones spent their lives in hold deep memories of love, safety and comfort. I am surprised it read like a homestead though not totally since my dad lived in a homestead when he was young and from photographs and stories that other place came alive in our childhood. There was a lot of work to do from sunup till sundown and I wondered how she managed to keep all her children fed and clothed, she’s my maternal grandma and had her hands full when my mum’s dad passed away so young. Still every Lunar New Year we kids had the good fortune to enjoy good food and a really amazing time exploring her world on that street with the well in each house. I am glad I could capture some of the experiences I had into words, nothing great just sharing a moment in time.


  4. At first when you were describing your Granmother’s house I thought it was a homestead by North American stands. The imagery you put forward it was living your memory. A true sign of a writer to have me drawn in. It sounds romantic but a lot of work to be in the position of your grandmother. I really enjoyed this piece.

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  5. This reminds me of coming upon some of the side-street murals of old time markets, eating places, and street life in the Singapore Chinese preservation district. The relative clutter, disarray and inconvenience depicted in them stands in stark contrast to the modern order of their surroundings. But there’s also a sense of seeing behind the scene into the essential source of community… the old wells of social cohesion, the foundations of “kampung spirit”.
    Beautiful photo, BTW!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Sadje, it’s amazing what the brain can retain after all these years. I loved going back to that old house . She had a very hard life and spoke a very old dialect (that’s almost extinct now), that made it hard for us to communicate effectively, so yes she showed her love with the things she did not said. Appreciate your perception Sadje.

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