Journeys of love, food and everything in between


MY wife Wuan and I went on a road trip earlier this week. It has become an annual ‘pilgrimage’ to my home town in Penang that we make without fail since we got a car seven years ago. We had it fitted with a hand control kit so that I am able to drive.

One of the main reasons we religiously make these trips is because the durian season at Balik Pulau usually falls in June. We would not miss it for anything. Wuan loves durians. So do I. And the durians there are reputedly the best anywhere.

Balik Pulau is a one-street town nestled in the valley on the western side of the island. It is famous for native products such as nutmeg, cloves and, of course, the king of fruits. Come durian season every year, the town becomes a hive of bustling activity.

It is not unusual to see motorcycles laden with a bamboo basket packed with durians freshly picked from the plantations whizzing by. Stalls selling durians together with other seasonal local fruits would line the windy hill road leading down to the town centre.

The durian season came earlier than expected this year. We arrived at the very tail end of an unusually small harvest. We were fortunate to have booked our favourite durian cultivars a few days in advance from our usual stall. The more popular ones were all sold out when we got there.

Durians aside, this town and I are intertwined in more ways than one. My maternal great-grandfather came from China in the mid-19th century with just the clothes on his back. He worked hard, saved even harder and bought 15 acres of land on the hills nearby, which he cultivated with rubber trees, seasonal fruits and local cash crops.

His grandsons, my uncles and their cousins, continue to till the land although they have long stopped tapping rubber to concentrate on cultivating durians and cash crops. My mother was born and bred there. And as a kid, I spent many weekends there too whenever she attended mass at the church that my great-grandfather helped build.

Our other reason for going back to my home town is for the hawker food. Penangites, as the people of Penang are known, are fiercely opinionated when it comes to food. After all, the island is not known as a food paradise for nothing.

We believe that our char koay teow, asam laksa, Hokkien mee and nasi kandar are unparalleled. Wuan, a non-Penangite, concurs. She loves Penang food just as much. That is why we make the extra effort to drive all the way back just to savour these dishes.

Most importantly, June in Penang holds a special meaning for Wuan and me. Six years ago, while we were there, I proposed to her. I remember that day clearly. It was at the break of dawn. Slivers of sun rays had crept in through the slits in the curtains.

I fumbled to open the little velvet box that held the ring that I had surreptitiously commissioned without her knowledge. When I finally managed to pry open the cover, the entire script for my proposal that I had diligently rehearsed slipped out of my mind.

“This is for you,” I said to her. My throat turned dry as I tried to recall the words I had planned to say.

She looked calm and composed when she saw the ring. I was not expecting her to jump for joy but her reaction got me worried. I removed it from the box and clumsily slipped it on her finger. It fitted perfectly. It should. I had secretly measured one of her rings when she took it off.

With the band snug on her finger, our eyes met and locked for what seemed like a very long time. It was not being romantic on my part. My mind blanked out at that inopportune moment. I was desperately searching her face, hoping to remember the declaration of love that I wanted to express to her.

“Marry me,” I finally blurted out although I had planned a longer litany for that special moment.

She nodded.

Although unspoken, that was all the answer I needed. We sealed our marital commitments to each other four months later at the Registrar of Marriages. These annual trips have since become celebrations of that milestone in our lives apart from feasting on the best Penang has to offer.

On a personal note, I love these long road trips. They give me a sense of liberation. When I am in the car and driving, I no longer feel disabled as I am able to go anywhere and everywhere with little problem. But it is a different story when I get into my wheelchair again.

I try to live life to the fullest. After all, it is not about what we cannot do but doing the things that we can. With Wuan, I am able to do more than what I am capable of. She makes it possible for me to do the things I do. She supports me wholeheartedly in all my endeavours. I am imperfect in so many ways but she completes me. Life is good. I am already looking forward to our next road trip.

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