Family in Transition
Jun Jie stood at the entrance of their apartment and looked out from the balcony over the street below. She enjoyed their apartment where her mother Lanfen and younger brother Chi shared a three-bedroom unit. Raising her eyes, she could see high rises in both directions as she turned her head from side to side. The collection of traffic flowing in orderly fashion day and night fascinated her. She was twenty-four years of age and her brother twenty-two. He only came home to sleep now.
She had no memories of her father. Lanfen told her daughter Japanese soldiers had arrived one afternoon to round up Kampong men and that was the last she’d seen of him. It was rumoured he’d ended up on the Japanese Burma railroad project in Thailand, but no one knew of his whereabouts after the war ended and those who’d survived and were now repatriated had no information to share or didn’t want to talk about their experience.
It was dangerous after the war ended as Communists in Malaya and Singapore infiltrated the Kampongs and pressured villagers to join their revolution. Lanfen sought the protection of one of them who she referred to as Li Jun and the union produced Jun Jie’s half-brother Chi.
But in the battle for minds before independence from colonial rule Jun Jie’s stepfather also disappeared never to be heard of again. Prior to his disappearance he’d purchased a home for them to live in and subsequently after legal wrangling with the government the house became property of Lanfen. Where the money had come from Lanfen didn’t know. She’d learned during the war to ask no questions and think before answering anybody. While they’d been free for most of Jun Jie’s growing experience, her mother spoke little and was constantly in fear for her safety. War leaves its imprint for life.
So, when the government began appropriating land and building huge housing complexes Lanfen found herself ousted from her home and her equity transferred into the apartment they now occupied on the fifth floor. Lanfen was happy with this property swap. There was a scenic view she’d not been accustomed to before and each housing block, the locals called them human filing cabinets, were like a giant Kampong where people from similar language groupings were in close contact and arranged regular social activities in the common protected area under each housing block. In the upheaval where Kampong residents now became high rise dwellers parks sprang up for the enjoyment of all. Despite this perceived luxury Lanfen remained fearful.
Jun Jie on the other hand was quite comfortable with her situation. She loved the social atmosphere of the housing estates, she looked back on her schooling to high school level with a sense of satisfaction. She’d made friends for life during those school days, then when she left school to learn hair dressing trade as an apprentice she’d been fascinated with the types of people she met. Each year saw the citizens of this new nation becoming more prosperous, but there was an added dimension now. Foreigners from all parts of the world were beginning to flood into the country as its prosperity increased and services exploded.
Jun Jie didn’t make much money as an apprentice, but on reaching the end of her term she demanded the regular employment rate of pay and was summarily dismissed. Jun Jie being of the proud Chinese race took that in her stride and under goading from her mother Lanfen who needed the extra income to keep the household going cast about for employment, any employment. In the meantime, Lanfen who contracted to clean homes and offices negotiated for her to contract some office blocks which she did to their satisfaction and liking the atmosphere of the business world she began to focus on possibilities of joining that world. To do so with limited education would of course be impossible in the emerging highly competitive Singapore business environment.
On conclusion of an overnight office building cleaning and feeling ready to rest for a few hours she waited for a bus to take her home via Upper Thomson Road and picked up a newspaper someone had discarded on a seat at the bus stop. She shook her head. If the police had seen that person littering they would be in big trouble by now she though. She scanned the paper quickly in fatigue and boredom. She could read Chinese characters and English words with equal precision so quickly turned pages until she reached the help wanted ads at the back. Something caught her attention. It was an ad seeking someone with language skills to accompany tour groups and facilitate their tours around Singapore.
Jun Jie had an outgoing and pleasant personality and made friends easily. She put the paper down in her lap and thought for a while. She was quite confident and decided this was worth checking out. Perhaps it would be well to do so instead of going home to rest.
She checked her clothing for any signs there was stray evidence of the overnight office clean. She wore overalls during a clean job and these were in her carry bag for washing when she got home. Fortunately, the huge office complex she’d just spent the night cleaning had a staff exercise work-out room used after office hours and showers, so she always used them after a clean. Not all offices were so staff supportive and these had to go to the emerging exercise gyms springing up all over the city after work or early mornings before work. She willed energy into her tired frame and changed her plan. Checking the address given in the ad she looked for a bus going in that direction.
To be continued.
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