Was scrolling through Facebook the other day and learned that my favourite cafe just down the road will be shutting down.
Damn, another one bites the dust.
I have had fond memories at that cafe. I brought nearly all my friends there because their coffee is amazing. And there was this cozy, neighbourhood-ly vibe which I haven’t really experienced elsewhere.
The cafe owner himself – also the chief barista – was so incredibly passionate about his coffee he could advise on every single thing – from beans, grind settings, and other coffee paraphernalia. I can still remember him telling me that you don’t need expensive gadgets to make good coffee, ie. he uses a $2 filter from Daiso to make his own filter coffee at home and it is nowhere less legit than a V60 set-up.
It’s hard to survive primarily as a coffee place in Singapore, and I could see multiple experimentation going on over the years. Pastries from his friend’s sister – who happens to be an amazing baker – made an appearance. (Gula melaka ondeh-ondeh cake, mmmm!) There was a daily special cake that changes every day, jokingly coined the “under-table cake” because it was usually hidden from view and you had to ask what it was. Simple brunch food such as pancakes made an appearance. A gelato ice box appeared a couple of years back, but disappeared soon after.
Maybe he did too good a job, because I got swayed into making my own coffee at home more that I started patronizing his cafe less and less. In fact, the last time I stepped in there was a good 8 months ago. And it was to buy coffee beans.
And even then, he was still so incredibly helpful, grinding the beans for me in his cafe and even recommending grind sizes (more fine) based on the device I was using (aeropress) and my general coffee preference (using the aeropress to make espresso shots for lattés, and I like my lattés strong).
BLACK&INK, you will be terribly missed.
While roaming around my neighbourhood (and playing Pokémon GO) this evening, I passed a brightly-lit bungalow.
I took a cursory peek in and saw a large family gathered in the living room, talking and laughing.
My mind flashed back to many years ago where we (me and my extended family*) would gather in an aunt’s house and a similar scene will unfold. In fact, this happened pretty often back then.
(*Extended family – my mum has 8 siblings, so the full extended family is huge. But our particular close “group” comprised my mum and her two sisters plus their spouses, grandma and my closest cousin D.)
I still recall distinctly a particular year when D and I roamed his neighbourhood at the stroke of midnight, yelling “Happy New Year!” at every single house we passed, after an evening of extended-family festivities at his house.
I saw us at my aunt’s former house at Jalan Novea Selatan, where my aunt would prepare baked chicken and mushroom soup for dinner, followed by an evening of conversations over mahjong (for the older generation), or television/Playstation/badminton for D and I.
Another evening at the same aunt’s house flashed through my mind, when her family rescued a bunch of 4 kittens stuck under her bathtub (until today, it’s a mystery how they got there). And D and I spent the entire evening bottle-feeding and playing with these little furries.
I even blogged about all these back then. I still see them in my archives, although they are only private to me now.
Time has passed and we hardly gather anymore as we have new priorities. Although I still remain close to the same people, mentally but not physically.
I let my mind continue wandering to the past while I strolled around, Pokémon GO still running on my phone. Then, I snapped back to reality and continued catching Shuppets, Duskulls and Pikachus with Halloween hats.
Almost a month ago, almost the entire extended family stood in vigil as my grandmother breathed her last, in bed 3003 in Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. We watched as her heart rate fell from the 50s, to the 40s, the thirties and the sudden, prolonged 0.
Two months ago, nobody saw this coming. She was still happily playing mahjong at home.
And six months ago, I definitely did not see this coming, because I posted the following status on my status page.
I recall that weekend, I was preparing to conduct my first ever workshop at a gamification event. It was a stressful period – rushing slides, preparing material and all. On hindsight, I guess I got too caught up.
My grandmother was still perfectly healthy at that time, and I completely took that for granted, thinking that “I could always attend her birthday next year”.
Someone commented on that status update which made me think a little bit. Initially, I berated myself for ‘thinking too much’. At the very last moment, I flung all my stuff aside and raced all the way down to her birthday dinner venue to catch the last 30 minutes of the festivities.
I’m glad I did, because that birthday turned out to be her very last.
In December, my grandmother landed up in hospital briefly. Everyone came down to visit one by one. No one thought much of it though, and the usual family drama occurred (one extremely loud aunt apparently spoke so loudly in the ward that the patient in the next bed complained – resulting in everyone being thrown out). My grandmother got discharged, everyone was relieved.
Then, it turned out she had stage 4 cancer.
A secret so well-kept that only a grand total of 6 people knew. I only learned about this a week before my grandmother left. Likewise for a handful of my cousins. As for the remainder of the family, they only discovered hours before her death.
As for my grandmother, she was completely clueless that she had cancer.
The people heavily involved with my grandmother’s treatment had a rationale for keeping it from everyone (and even my grandmother herself), which I understand. They didn’t want the rest of us to worry. She had been undergoing a special kind of chemo which didn’t cause her hair to fall out so everyone was none the wiser. Plus, she seemed to be doing well.
As of March, her tumour markers was almost down to normal. Things looked promising.
Then in April, she decided to skip her medication (the one supposedly to support her immune system which was damaged by the chemo), thinking that it would be okay.
It took only 2 weeks for it to go completely downhill.
During her wake, my cousins and I transformed it into a celebration of her life, getting our hands dirty on Day 1 creating three large posterboards featuring my grandmother during her happier times – travelling to Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and even as far as Canada and the US of A. They were put up around the wake for all visitors to look at.
We want people to remember her as the jet-setting grandmother who went everywhere, always surrounded by her loved ones. And not the frail version of her former self which we all last saw of her.
Her death was a huge wake-up call that I’ve been neglecting the people who matter to me most – my family and extended family (whom I used to see almost weekly or at least monthly, but only every 4-6 months in the past 4 years).
Although it’s too late to start getting back the lost time I could have spent with my grandmother, it’s not too late to start earning back moments with the other important people in my life.
I’m still in shock at how things turned topsy turvy so quickly in less than 6 months.
Treasure those you have with you now, because they are not going to be there forever.
Rest in peace, grandma. And I hope there are snow mountains for you to look at, and the grizzly bear which you wanted to take a photo with when we were in Toronto.