I grew up in a traditional family in the sense that we always greeted our elders with a “Hello, Auntie Wai” or “Hello, Uncle Shiong”. When we sat down for meals, we would chorus in Cantonese, “Papa, eat! Mama, eat!”
Once when he was eight, my brother Jack was diagnosed with anemia. For a few months after, he was fed with a daily broth made of ginger and boiled liver which our Amah swore would boost his iron count, and nobody, not even my mother, ever dared disagreed with anything that came out of that woman’s mouth.
Years later, Jack said that broth with its floating grey liver bits reminded him of the final scene in Avengers: Infinity War when everyone disintegrated after Thanos’s finger snap. It was also one of the reasons why he turned vegetarian. “So incredibly gross.”
Anyway, my point is, we were that kind of family. We may have looked modern, we may have been dressed in the latest fashions, and we may have spoken like Michelle Yeoh, but we might as well have been characters on Growing Up.
I especially remember the yearly visits of Master Fu to our house. A short man with thick glasses and bald head, he was a fengshui expert who, every December, would arrive, slightly dishevelled from his long drive from Kuala Lumpur. After being plied with hot tea, cold towels and cakes, and polite conversation, he would then wander around the house with his bak-kwa, stopping every so often to scribble into his note pad.
He would murmur under his breath. Behind him trailed my anxious parents, straining to make sense of what he was saying. After that, he’d sit down again and chat some more, asking whether there’d been any new staff or children since his last visit. And if there were, he’d want to see them and interrogate them about their family history and birthdates, and he’d peer at their faces, and make more notes.
And then Master Fu would ask if there’d been any major events in the house over the last year. Had anyone close to us died? If so, how did they die? Had there been an increased number of quarrels? How was Father’s business? Had we lost any friends or made any new enemies?
Eventually, he would sit back with a sigh and announce all the things that needed to be done to the house. Usually, this involved nothing more than putting a mirror here, moving a pot there, planting a new tree outside a window…that kind of small cosmetic thing. Once he wrote out an incantation on a piece of white cloth and pinned it to my bathroom entrance. Another time, he suggested the kitchen door be moved two inches to the left, and the front door removed and a new one be placed facing a few degrees inwards.
And that would be that. Another cup of tea. A fat red packet would be discretely handed over, and that would be the last we saw of Master Fu till the next year.
“God, I wish my fengshui master was that easy!” my cousin Lin said recently. After a few months of bad dreams involving her running away from Freddy Krueger who kept screaming “Mummy!” while loping after her, falling ill with dengue, losing her diamond bracelet when she was snorkelling in the Maldives, and the discovery that her husband was having an affair with his secretary, she decided that she needed professional help.
With great diligence, she tracked down Master Fu’s son who said he was really busy and couldn’t make a house-call, but to WhatsApp him her house plans. Within 20 minutes, he FaceTimed her and told her she needed to move house.
“He said in all his years of practice, he’s never seen a house this bad!” Lin reported morosely. “Normally he said most houses can be fixed, but this one is unsalvageable. If I stay, more disasters will happen to me.”
“Not even a pot plant?” I asked.
“Not even if we demolished the house!” Lin sighed. “Everything about the site conflicts with me!”
Amanda was horrified when I told her. “But Lin lives in Nassim Hill! Where would she go?” As far as she’s concerned, being told to leave a Nassim address is like having to lose sing your PPS status, a catastrophe not to be wished on your worst enemy.
Saffy said she needed to get the number of Master Fu, Jr., to which Sharyn said that was a terrible idea. “Skali he say if you ever move out of the flat from Jason and Amanda and you have bad luck forever, den how?”
Amanda says she wishes she’d taken a picture of Saffy’s face.