Love and Vertigo
"'For the first time in my life, I saw my mother in relation to her family, and I didn't recognise her any more ... The Singaporean roots of hers, this side of her - and possibly of me too - were unacceptable. I was determined not to belong, not to fit in, because I was Australian, and Mum ought to be Australian too. The tug of her roots, the blurring of her role from wife and mother to sister and aunt, angered me.'
"On the eve of her mother's wake, Grace Tay flies to Singapore to join her father and brother and her mother's family. Here she explores her family history, looking for the answers to her mother's death. This beautiful and moving novel steps between Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, evoking the life, the traditions and tastes of a forceful Chinese family as well as the hardship, the cruelty and pain. Written in a fresh, contemporary voice tinged with biting humour, this is a story about resilience, a story about immigration, but in many ways it is a story about parents' expectations for their children."
These are the myths I tell about my family and, like all myths, they are both truths and lies, simultaneous buffers of love and betrayals of trust.
I begin on the eve of my mother's wake, four days after she jumped. I cross a continent and two time zones to land in Changi Airport, Singapore. I dump my bag in a hotel room, take a quick lukewarm shower and step out into the sweating night. I catch the MRT train to Raffles Place, walk to Collyer Quay and wander along the waterside, glancing into the nightclubs, restaurants bars and karaoke clubs in the restored colonial shophouses that line the waterfront.
I enter a pulsating karaoke bar where, on gigantic video screens, pouting Hong Kong singers with full fringes of red-streaked hair and huge kohl-lined eyes toss their heads and wail out slow, sentimental Cantopop ballads about love and loss. Men in striped short-sleeved shirts or brightly coloured polo shirts and black trousers croon into hand-held microphones, eyes squeezed shut, sweat running down the bridges of their noses and pooling at the lower metal rim of their spectacles, fogging up the glass in the soupy humidity. Lost in sentiment, lost in the sound of their own voices. Women decked in heavy gold chains and garishly patterned dresses hold tumblers of whisky or flutes of champagne, their diamond-flashing watches snuggled close to elegant wristbones. Mobile phones ring and people reach automatically for their pockets. The microphones do the rounds from person to person. Everyone has come in impregnable groups.
This is not the Singapore my mother told me about. Her stories are a world apart from this; no longer reality but history. Just like my mother herself.
From the Allen and Unwin paperback edition, 2000.
About the Author:
Hsu-Ming Teo was born in Malaysia in 1970 and immigrated with her family to Australia in 1977. She is a research fellow at the Department of Modern History, Macquarie University, and has taught courses on the history of travel and the history of love at Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education. Her current project is a history of women's romance writing in the twentieth century.
This novel was the winner of the Australian/Vogel Award in 1999.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: August 1, 2001.