Who are you calling stupid?
Sometimes, keeping your family traditions in this day and age can be quite challenging. Add in a bucketful of modern drama and you have Sandra Chua's first novel, There's No Such Thing as a Skinny Bibik.
She shares with us what it really takes to be a proper nyonya. Does your family have crazy nicknames for one another too?
When my youngest daughter was in Primary Two, she came home from school in a terrible temper. After some gentle prying – okay, there’s no such thing as gentle prying – after some hard questioning, it transpired that the English lesson that day was about nicknames.
The other girls in the class had princessy nicknames like ‘Muffin’ or ‘Kitty.’ When it came to my daughter’s turn, she announced that she was called ‘Chichak Kering’ (directly translated to Dried Lizard). Now, thanks to her politically incorrect family, she was laughed at by her classmates and pitied by her teachers.
Sandra Chua with her daughter
Photo courtesy of Sandra Chua
Peranakan families have a long and proud tradition of bestowing cruel nicknames on children. In There’s No Such Thing As A Skinny Bibik, one character was called ‘Kotek’, or Penis. I didn’t make this up. A Peranakan friend told me about Kotek, her granduncle, and the reason he was so named.
If you’re curious as to why a poor boy would be called ‘Penis’ by everyone, the story is in the book.
Among my husband’s relatives, one uncle has always been referred to as ‘Ah Gong’, or Stupid. According to my mother-in-law, this was because he was a dreamy child who never came when he was called and couldn’t carry out simple instructions. All his relatives thought he was addlepated.
This was not the worst nickname to emerge from that side of the family. When Ah Gong’s parents welcomed a new baby, he was labelled “Ah Gong Tee’, or Stupid’s Little Brother.
Now, with all the name calling, you would imagine that Peranakan children either grow up emotionally damaged or they eventually live up to their nicknames. Fortunately, this rarely happens.
Ah Gong grew up to become a wealthy ship owner. My “Chichak Kering’ daughter, though, is still skinny.
Pick up your copy of There's No Such Thing as a Skinny Bibik here.