Fish Guts and Dying Parents
Have you ever seen the guts of a dead fish? Its intestines, heart and liver, all of which are connected to its jaw by muscle and sinew. The maw of the fish lined with sharp little teeth designed to rip through fishes smaller than it. All of that are ripped out in a single nonchalant flourish, the flick of the wrist of the fisherman who had reeled it in from the depths of the sea late last night. Its stomach, an opaquely translucent pouch of bulging air, pops with one precise pinch. I had the chance to see all of that, today. My dad brought back what I think was tilapia and another type of fish, as well as two small stingrays. I was sitting there quietly on a chair watching him work. We’re thinking of steaming them and eating ‘em for dinner tonight. But before that, the fishes had to be scaled and cleaned, and the stingrays had to be separated meat from spine.
I was very fascinated by all this already. I rarely get the chance to butcher fish. I’m not a very industrious cook, I normally buy fish nicely packaged from Lidl (Every Lidl bit counts!) What fascinated me even more, however, this time around, was the 59 year old man who was casually yet precisely carrying out these tasks. A wizened, aged yet still tough cookie, with coarse but frighteningly precise fingers. Years of sitting behind the desk and tapping away at a computer has rounded my pops out around the belly, but it has done nothing to detract from the character that can be seen in his hands, put there by years and years of experience deftly handling small objects such as screws and fishing equipment. A quiet person, he’s not chatty (though he snores quite loudly!) and has spent two decades building up a business from scratch, handling almost every aspect of it, just to put me through college. On his days off, he likes to go fishing, and come home to do some odd chores before dozing off on the couch, with the TV turned to some random food network or cantonese movie. Over the years, life has slowly chipped away at him, slowly but surely. And yet, through trial and tribulation, while I’m out there in the chaos of life getting whipped around by heady excitement and a new-found sense of responsibility and freedom, he’s maintained a steady grasp of what’s important in life — the welfare of his kids. A quiet person, who made the decision 21 years ago to leave his life behind and pioneer a small spare part shop in the eastern peninsular of Malaysia. One day, I need to sit down and get him to tell me more about his life. All the small, funny things that made him who he is today. I really wouldn’t mind that. But first, I have to learn how to talk to him first.
Footnote #1 : Oh shit. I just computed how old my dad was. It never crossed my mind. After 54/55, I just stopped wondering how old they are.
Footnote #2: I came back to the song “Carry On” by Fun. yesterday with much new perspective. The music video shows the band going out on the town one night, and getting drunk and having a hangover the next morning. I’ve always found it weird, the lyrics “And we talked and talked about how our parents will die”, which I thought meant that they were actually anticipating the unfortunate calamity. However, after a year abroad, a depressive episodes which still has some of its claws in me and minor (I think) alcoholism issues, I realise that that’s not what it meant. When they sang that line, they were actually terrified of their parents dying. I know this because of several nights sitting down with my mate after having one too many pints, talking about our parents, bitching about them while sorely missing them deep in our hearts. A couple of guys alone, halfway across the world, without our parents, and we just got drunk and tried not to cry about it. I never succeeded.