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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Things I wish I hadn't seen (3)

Finishing the list of things burnt into the memory circuits of what now laughingly passes for my mind.

Turtle Passing
We were in Singapore, visiting my Beloved's family (this was the same visit where the bed collapsed, see Honeymoon3)

My mother-in-law, with whom I got on with really well (possibly because I spoke no Chinese, and she spoke no English), was going out to do some shopping, and in an attempt to increase the number of Brownie Points, I offered to accompany her to the market.

This was the first time I'd visited Singapore (this was in the 70s) to meet the family after I'd become legally entwined with their daughter, and I was doing everything I could to make a good impression.
A good first impression is so important

  • I'd stopped smoking
  • I was very careful that I didn't eat like a pig, even when offered all that glorious food.
  • I refused all alcoholic drink. *sob*
  • I didn't offer my thoughts or opinions, but kept quiet unless asked directly.

I'm sure they all thought I was a spineless wimp, but it worked.  I can still go back, and they still talk to me.

BTW The no drinking worked, but only up to an extent.  Near the end of the stay, my Beloved, her Mum and all the sisters and sisters-in-law headed off to an evening church service, leaving only me and my brother-in-law in the house. He offered me a large Johnny Walker Black Label with ice and Seven-Up. It was lovely and refreshing, and I quickly drained it.  Between the two of us, we finished the bottle (1 litre) before the womenfolk returned.  We were pissed.  Greeting my mother-in-law with a big kiss and the immortal words "Hullo_ther_Hen" made sure I went down in the family history.  My M-i-L forgave me, saying all men can get drunk. ONCE.  I got the message.

Luckily I wasn't as drunk as this poor girl. see here

Anyway, back to the shopping trip.

It quickly became obvious that my M-i-L didn't frequent Malls or Supermarkets, but preferred to do her shopping at the old traditional Singapore Shop-Houses.  I think she was quietly showing me off to her acquaintances as she did her shopping.  We went to spice shops (where she specified her own personal recipe for curry powder and watched as they measured and ground it up fresh.  Absolutely Magic Curries), vegetable stalls hardware shops, clothing and material shops, and at last to the wet market, where all of the meat and fish were sold.

Sort of like this

This was OLD Singapore, cobbled and concreted streets, bamboo stalls festooned with all sorts of meats and things. I use the term things advisedly, I had absolutely no idea which part of the animal was on sale.  Hell, I didn't even know which bloody animal it came from.
But more like this

The fish section was fascinating.  A huge collection of fish just lay on the concrete and stones, covered in rapidly melting ice, and such fish. In Scotland, all we really saw, or ate was haddock, whiting and herring.  Here there were hundreds of types. My M-i-L talked to her favourite fishmonger arranging her order, and introduced me at the same time.  I got a nod, but that was it. He was too busy slicing and filleting my M-i-L's order, and keeping the cigarette he had drooping out of the corner of his mouth from falling onto the fish.  He also chased away stray dogs, killed flies by the handfuls and kept up a running banter with everyone passing, his competitors and probably the "August Personage of Jade" at the same time.

We got our fish and started for home, then we met my Beloved and another sister who were also out shopping.  My M-i-L loved cooking the favourites for the family members, and she knew that my Beloved liked Braised Chicken Feet, and there was a stall specialising in them at the top of the lane.  We all walked up there (I was carrying ALL the bloody shopping by now, still wanting to maintain a good image (The Johnny Walker incident was still in the future) and I've never seen a stranger sight. It was a bamboo cart, with a framework reaching about 2 metres high.  It was completely covered in Chicken Feet (and flies).  There were thousands of the little claws sticking everywhere.  While my Beloved and the stall holder bargained, I gathered that my other sister-in-law was asking for something else.

My Beloved finished her transaction and grasped a plastic bag of chicken feet, which she gave to me to carry, and muttered that her sister wanted turtle soup again.  No-one else in the family really liked it, but with some herbs and roots it was supposed to be good for some vague woman's ailment (I didn't ask) which my my sister suffered from.

At this point I made a joke.
I asked if the Chicken Feet she'd just bought had any medicinal use either?
She said yes, her Mum quite often stewed them with other Chinese medicinal herbs to make a soup good for rheumatism.
I asked "Didn't it make her walk "hen-toed"
My Beloved giggled, and translated this whimsy for my M-i-L.

There was about a 2 second silence as this comment was digested (it seemed to stretch for eons)
Then my M-i-L also giggled and hit me in the shoulder and then turned to the turtle stall.


Bad Sight/Image/Visualisation Coming Up

You lookin' at me pal?

The stall holder had a plastic bath full of turtles behind him.  He had to keep kicking them back in as they tried repeatedly to climb out. They looked more like big terrapins than sea-going turtles, and the carapace looked more like leather than tortoiseshell. (I think they were actually Malaysian Snail-Eating Turtles)

My M-i-L began to bargain, with many turtles being dragged out of the batch and put on the large wooden block at the stall front so (I thought) they could be examined and a price agreed.

It appeared that all his turtles were too big for just the one pot of soup my M-i-L was planning, but eventually agreement was reached and before my amazed eyes he dragged out a huge cleaver and chopped the poor bloody turtle in half. Neatly bisecting it from head to tail. 

 Pause for thoughtful visualisation.

The little clawed feet were still scrabbling on the wood (two going one way, the other two the opposite), the eyes was still swivelling towards me.
The heart was still beating.

Somehow I didn't throw up. My Beloved did ask me if I was feeling OK, as I had gone a little pale.

I had just seen a living breathing animal vivisected before my eyes, with absolutely no warning, and she though I had gone a little pale.

I was very proud of myself, and didn't scream.

I was also very proud of myself that night when the soup was served.  It was the eye staring out of the earthenware pot that almost did it, but I still didn't scream.

I did however whimper a little when, during the serving process, a little clawed foot appeared to be scrabbling to get out.


I still didn't eat any of that soup either, and have never touched the stuff ever again.

Bon Apetit.


  1. Ah TSB it appears you married well and you have much in common with your in-laws. Like killing small animals. However, it appears your in-laws also like to eat their kills. BTW did you hear about that guy in the U.K. who has lived off road kill for the last 30 years and not needed to buy any meat. Clears the local roads each day and takes home what he finds and cooks it up and eats it. His favourite is Badger followed closely by Hedgehog then rabbit. Yummy.

  2. No wonder you drink.

    Well - it's a great excuse anyway}

  3. VG: Yep, familial bliss. Ugh. I tried possum pie down on the West Coast that I suspect was roadkill. It's the little chewy bits of rubber that give it away.

    Alistair: I'll drink to that.

  4. Oh my. That's definitely not something I'd want to see.

  5. AJ: Morning

    Patience_Crabstick:Believe me, it's nothing something I want to temember, but I cannot forget that image of the still-beating heart.

  6. Once again, I belly laughed at this story. I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time though. It reminds me of that disgusting movie Cannibal Holocaust where they slaughter this huge turtle (while laughing) and you see all its internal organs quivering for some reason. I think they took off the shell. That's an image that I'd love to UNsee. I still, 15 years after seeing that awful movie, wonder why its innards quivered like that. Unfortunately they used a real turtle in this movie. I was 23 and rebellious when I watched it. I was trying to prove a point that I was tough and could handle disturbing movies. Obviously I was wrong. I am now going to google the turtle's innards quivering. Just hope I can keep my tea down.


    1. Oh, thanks a lot Tracy. Just mentioning "quivering internal organs" brings it all back.

      I suppose the nearest Aussie equivalent is a meat pie floater.


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