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Iron Rabbit

Iron Rabbit


Year: 2023.

Medium: Acrylic on canvas.

Dimension: 20 by 20 cm.

Product comes with frame.

  • The Iron Rabbit

    Early 1950s Singapore, a few years after the end of the 2nd World War. It was a turbulent time in the history of Singapore marked by massive unemployment, cultural clashes and political uncertainties. The Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 and the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955 were two infamous events of the 50s. Against this backdrop, stood a teenage girl - eldest daughter of an opium addict father and a tough authoritarian mother in the impoverished neighbourhood in “CC Quay” or Cecil Street, with two younger siblings to take care of. That teenage girl will one day be my mum.  

    Mum was borned in the year of the rabbit according to the Chinese Zodiac. Mum is still as strong as ever. At least in my mind, she has not aged a bit. My mum was born in Singapore in the year 1938 though her identification card showed China as her place of birth. My mum never knew her actual date of birth, just her year of birth. She remembered however that she was born on 农历新年 正月初四 the 4th day of the  Chinese Lunar New Year.  

    Mum never really went to school as we were too poor and the war broke out when she was only 4 years old. The year 1950, at a tender age of 12, mum had to work to put bread on the table. Or in the Asian context, I should say “to put rice on the table” as bread wasn’t the staple food in those days. My mum did the dishes, cleaned houses, and cooked and took care of her 2 younger siblings. My mum made pennies doing household chores for others. Little by little, my maternal grandmother was able to use the money my mum made to buy a television. To afford a television in the 50s, one would be considered rich.  

    That is how hard mum worked, yet she had no share of every cent she earned. My mum only envied her younger siblings enjoying the novelty of a new television. Mum had floors to clean again. Clothes to wash and iron. Iron that used hot coal to heat up the plates. That was my mum’s childhood. A parentified child at the age of 12. My grandfather used opium and was practically not able to provide for the family.

    Growing up, I remembered mum trying to make extra income by cleaning factories and people’s houses. I also remembered how my sister Mary and I had to help with the delivery of clothes that my mum helped to iron. Angie would recall that Steven would helped with the laundry - washing, hanging, ironing & folding while Angie, sometimes Roger was usually out with dad, collecting soiled laundry and delivering cleaned ones to our paternal cousins who lived in Chap Si Lau 十四楼 or Forfar Square. 

    My mum worked hard. Very hard. She was and still is quite an iron lady indeed. Pun intended. I recall vividly how mum will ask the children to collect disposed detergent bottles. We, the children, will collect the disposed bottles home, wash it and fill it half with water and half with bleach. Little did we realise that we were helping my mum to cheat. Selling diluted detergent as concentrated detergent. But that was how my mum knew to put food on the table. With her hands, my mum successfully raised 7 children. Today, she has 17 grandchildren and 3 great granddaughters.

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