His name was See Siu Kee, but everyone called him Ching. You could consider him as my father’s best friend, so long had they known and lived beside each that it was inevitable.
Ching owned probably the biggest grocery in our town in those days before supermarkets became the norm. He dealt both in the wholesale and retail business and employed at least a dozen people to help run the store, not counting his wife and son. He was rich and very generous to our family, especially during the Christmas holidays when every year he would present my father the gift of a whole leg of dry-cured ham and a large ball of Edam cheese. The cheese would always find a place on the Christmas or New Year’s table, but not the ham. For you see, no one in the family knew what to do with it, for no one knew how to cook it. So that expensive leg of ham would hang on the wall for a whole year eventually turning moldy, becoming nothing more than decoration, until the replacement one comes a year later. The odd time my father would pass it on to a relative or friend who was celebrating a fiesta. This went on for a good few years, until my Tia Ape, my mother’s younger sister finally inquired about it and volunteered to cook it for us one year. But generally, either because no one had the inclination or time to ever do it again, the ham went back to becoming part of the kitchen fixture.
New Year’s eve, the time of firecrackers and noisemakers, was always a special time of bonding for Ching and my father. The barrage of noise from the firecrackers and horns always reached their peak at midnight, the smell of gunpowder heavy in the air and the acrid smoke and haze they created always brought tears to the eyes. But Ching and my father had their own special way of adding to the noise and din of the night. For they both owned handguns: 45 calibre revolvers that they both loved to fire in the air at midnight, reveling in the distinct pop that gunfire creates. Year after year they would do just that at the appropriate moment, to the cheers of many neighbourhood bystanders and the horror and surprise of many people passing by the area coming from midnight mass.
Usually after having spent several rounds of shells, they would then proceed to explode firecrackers like the triangular shaped labintador or the larger, more notoriously dangerous ones called bawang. Both of these you hold in one hand and light the rather short fuse with the other, hoping the fuse will be long enough to at least give you the time to toss it a safe distance away before exploding. Needless to say one year, Ching did not act quick enough and suffered serious burns on his hands, thus ending his yearly bonding ritual with my father, as never again did he join him for New Year’s eve afterwards.
Eventually my father also lost interest in using his revolver to mark the passing of the old year and welcoming the new one. It was never fired off again. For many years this metal revolver with a wooden and ivory handle sat silent in a small shoebox, and I would only catch a glimpse of it perhaps once a month when my father would take it out and carefully clean and polish it, no doubt reminiscing about the odd joy it brought him each New Year’s eve.
© August 2007