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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

No longer footloose and fancy-free

This morning in my neighbourhood centre, I chanced upon an itinerant hawker selling fans. It was made-in-Taiwan, 12-volts, plastic and can be clamped onto a shelf. It costs $15. Ordinarily, I would have bought it without a second thought. But this time, I asked my mother. You see, I’ve moved into my mother’s flat and am pretty conscious about buying things for the house which she doesn’t approve. Plus, I would have to bear with the constant nagging about buying electronic stuff from the road-side. They might explode.

I ask myself if this is one of those little sacrifices of independence that I would have to experience now that I am not living alone. My mother, bless her heart, is extremely pained by what she calls the sacrifice I am making by forsaking my interior-decorated apartment on a high floor on a hill with a view of trains, planes, automobiles and even ships, for a bedroom in a 40-year old HDB flat on a low floor facing a Sers construction site. This is despite her “Praise the Lord!’’ when I told her of my plan to move back in.

I am writing this column because I identified somewhat with what my ex-colleague Tee Hun Ching said in her Sunday Times column, about getting her parents to move in with her family. I am doing just the opposite.

Ms Tee wrote about how her parents had to whittle down their belongings in order to fit them into her home: “Moving with me means giving up part of their freedoms and lifestyle habits, far more daunting prospect. For starters, the place is no longer theirs to do as they please.’’

Like her father who gave up 80 per cent of his book collection, I gave away more than 300 of mine so that I could fit the rest of them – about 40 cartons – into my mother’s flat. I would have been able to fit even fewer if I had not ordered a full-scale renovation of the five-room flat with floor- to- ceiling shelving in the living room and bedroom. But I still had to ditch half of my DVD collection of some 100 Chinese and English drama series, and console myself that they are available online. What is intact: My Lego collection.

So used was I to so much space that I knocked down the wall between two bedrooms to have my own gigantic bed-cum-study area. I am writing this now in this space, which was fitted with an Internet connection only over the weekend, a major undertaking in my mother’s book.

Ms Tee’s column about planning for this eventuality made me a little envious. I too had planned to buy a bigger place and sell both my apartment and my mother’s HDB flat. But I was stymied by A Bad and Stupid Deal because I am single and will not be able to claim the additional buyers stamp duty even if I sold my apartment within six months. I couldn’t see why I should sell my place, move into mom’s place, then buy a new place and move both of us out. You can read it here.

We probably have the same reason for wanting our parent(s) with us. They are getting old and frail. And try as I might to get the “right’’ domestic helper for my mother, she is simply too set in her ways to have another individual in the house moving her things around. Nor would she countenance living with me (I am just a stone’s throw away) because my kitchen, according to her, is too small and badly configured for cooking.

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I figured that the next best thing was for me to move in and have a domestic helper in the house, and to rent out my own place. When I tell people this, there are two reactions. First, some praise about being such a filial daughter. Second, some wonderment at the freedom and independence that will be forgone.

I suppose I cannot “do as I please’’ in my mother’s house, like stare at the view from my balcony without someone asking if anything is wrong or read for hours in silence or binge-watch Chinese period drama serials. Can I come and go as I please without telling my mother where, when and with whom? Can I, ahem, bring a guy home?

Friends who like lolling about my apartment with wine, beer and cigarettes fret about losing a place to chill. It got so that my mother got on the line with one of them to assure her that she would be more than welcomed at her flat and everything with Bertha will be the same.

I suppose little sacrifices are inevitable but I would like to look at it as going “home’’ because it is now my turn to look after the woman who has been looking after me all her life. There is also something to be said for the discipline that comes with living with people in the house – whether self-imposed or imposed from outside.

I used to have three bathrooms. Now I have to share one with my mother. But I also know that I will have three regular meals – because she will ensure that I am fed. I don’t have to worry about strange noises in the night because I no longer sleep alone (in a house). And I like the fact that I am living in a familiar and vibrant neighbourhood with some of the best hawker stalls in Singapore, with NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong supermarkets close at hand.

I also don’t have to buy soap and toothpaste anymore.



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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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