When I decided to spend Christmas in the lush hot tropical climate of Singapore, I was making a conscious decision of being consistent with my desire of fully experiencing other cultures and traditions. I wanted to understand how I would react to being alone, without snow, cold weather and family. I had lived 48 years of traditional white Christmas surrounded by loved ones and friends so no big deal to have one green one! I was looking forward to this new experience.
I am sure I have told you before that Singapore has 4.8 million people on 700 sq.miles of natural and reclaimed land, and that this country-city is composed of 80% Chinese, 15% Malaysian and Indian descendants, completed with 5% expatriates; in other words we are about 200 to 300 thousands Caucasians. During the Holiday Seasons, there was 80% Chinese, 15 % Malaysian and Indian descendants and ONE Caucasian….. me!
To be fair, there were two other expatriates in town: my dear friends Patrick and Pauline. They, their 2 children and Annabelle gracefully played the role of my little family on December 24. I must say that I had a Green Christmas at 30 degrees Celsius with a full moon as a bonus! You may see the pictures at the following web address: http://gallery.mac.com/prouleau/100155
The month prior to the Holiday Season, nothing felt like Christmas. Neither Pauline nor I felt the growing excitement, the need to get into the Christmas shopping spree or the stress related to its preparation. Yet, the shopping streets of Singapore had deployed one of the most beautiful and elaborate Christmas display we had ever seen. Chinese people love shopping and sharing so Christmas is just another great opportunity to do just that! Who really cares about the tradition and religion, after all Christmas in Asia and America is about one thing; SHOPPING! The Asians’ favourite activity.
I did not mind this distant feeling and detachment about Christmas until Pierre (my life partner who had gone to Montreal to celebrate Christmas with his daughter and family) decided to torture me by using a webcam and Skype! He went outside to shovel the beautiful white snow of the Eastern Townships while I was watching him on Skype through his laptop. He wanted to show me how Christmas in the snow would be like.
Once inside, he made sure I would see the picturesque snow falling through the window and turned on the fireplace to make me feel missed. The vision of the snow and Pierre made me melt inside. He succeeded, for a BRIEF moment, to make me want to hop on the next plane back to Montreal…. but I resisted! My great friend Nicole, her husband Daniel and Pierre himself were all coming to Singapore in a few days to celebrate the New Year with me so no need to feel sorry for myself, I am a big girl and I can wait!!!
Determined to recreate a real Christmas spirit for the children, Pauline bought the most sought after item in Singapore in December: a natural Christmas tree at Ikea! My big participation was to buy a Christmas log cake (they make beautiful Christmas log cakes here).
Pauline is a Chinese born beauty raised in Montreal. She is also a real Chef! My other Singapore Canadian friend Jennifer (who use to work at Readers Digest in Singapore, but since returned to Canada) photographed Pauline’s gorgeous Chinese look to do the promotion of the latest Readers Digest recipe book. An instant success and an instantaneous increase in sales for RD. Pauline rocks!
Since Pauline is a Chef, she is the one who cooked everything for the Christmas Eve diner and as for me…… I talked!
-Helene why don’t you come in the kitchen and talk to me. Sure Pauline, that I can do and I think I am a Chef at it!!
Annabelle was also around to play the real role of sous-chef in the kitchen so no room for a third violin. Duck comfit, roasted potatoes with Herbes de Provence and many other great French recipes were pulled out of Pauline’s Montreal Chinese hat to compose a great Christmas diner. Patrick had turned the tropical apartment into a freezer by lowering the air con to a minimum and blamed it on the survival of the Christmas tree (I do not like air conditioning). We now had all the ingredients to recreate a real Christmas: the freezing cold temperature, a great family reunion, enough gifts to cover half of the apartment’s floor, a few young children and a Christmas log!!
-Oh my God Helene, did you bring a Christmas music CD?
-Oh my God Pauline, NO! (I don’t even have one in Montreal)
-I think I have an old one somewhere.
Pauline went into her magic box and pulled one out. Christmas was saved by Pauline’s magic wand and we found ourselves holding on all night to the few Christmas songs we had found, as if they were gold!
At 43 years old, it was Annabelle’s first real Christmas! Although she is Christian, very religious and from the Philippines, Annabelle worked for Chinese people most of her life and when she started to work for expatriates, they would leave her behind to go home to their respective countries. I had no idea that she had never lived a true Christmas Eve and never expected that Annabelle would create a true Hallmark Christmas moment.
Few days prior to the Big Day, Annabelle and I had gone shopping for Pauline and the kids’ gifts. During the search for the perfect gifts, surrounded by millions of people who had the same idea, I caught through the corner of my eyes Annabelle trying a pair of shoes. She was looking at them with envy and placing them back on the shelve with a sad desire in her eyes. A couple of days later, I went back to the same store, purchased them and wrapped them as fast as I could because Annabelle knows every corner of the house and notices any new items. On the Eve of Christmas, the kids proceeded with excitement to open their gifts and then it was Pauline’s turn and then Patrick, then me. Suddenly, the kids brought two big wrapped boxes as gifts for Annabelle; huge Tobleron bars! Annabelle was stunned.
-A gift for me? From the kids? Look Mom, I got a gift!!
Then Pauline and Patrick offered her a beautiful assortment of beauty products and Annabelle had a hard time believing that it could be hers. She was floating on a cloud. We all unwrapped our gifts and picked-up the mess until only one gift was left under the tree. Pauline’s youngest son took the wrapped gift and said: It is for you Annabelle!
-What do you mean, how could it be? For me??
She opened the box slowly and saw her shoes. Annabelle was speechless and started to jump up and down, cry and scream of joy. She put them on and looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
I went on to the balcony to get a bit of warmth outside as much as I felt inside and called Pierre in Montreal. Patrick joined me and said: Look-up Helene it is the full moon and look also at all the stars in the sky. I looked-up through the large palm trees to see and seize this perfect moment.
In the taxi heading back home, Annabelle and I were very quiet. Annabelle broke the silence by saying:
-You know Mom, I think God finally showed me that he exists.
-Really Annabelle… Why and How?
-I have prayed every night for months for four wishes to come true and he granted three of them to me.
- Which ones Annabelle?
- Well, I wished for my daughter to continue her school that I worked so hard to pay. I spent everything I earned to send her to school for the last 2 years in order to give her a chance in life; I don’t want her to have a maid’s life. Lately I was really scared because a man, who wanted to marry her, courted her to convince her to follow him in his country. She called me tonight to say that she refused his proposal because she wanted to finish her studies. I was so proud of her because most girls in my country would have taken the way out.
- The second wish was to have a gift at Christmas and I did! I never celebrated Christmas before.
- The 3rd one was that My Sir Pierre would come back with us before the end of the year and you just told me that he was coming for December 30th.
-How can my wishes all come true if there is no God Mom? He listened to me and my prayers.
I looked at her for a moment in silence, thinking that this great little lady had spent all her faith and time to hope and out of three wishes, two were concerning others. Then a thought crossed my mind, it is not three wishes she said at the beginning, she said four!!
-What is the fourth one Annabelle?
-I can’t tell you Mom because it is not yet the time and I cannot take the risk of telling.
I have some ideas on what the fourth one is, but I won’t share it in case I jeopardize her chances of getting her wish granted by God.
Meanwhile, Annabelle was my true gift for Christmas and I could not recall having lived such a picture perfect Holiday moment… even if there was no snow falling from the sky. I now understand the real meaning of Christmas and it is not only about shopping.
Although Annabelle was my Christmas gift and a true gem, I must say that I was just like her with her shoes when on New Year’s Eve, Pierre pulled out of his magic white Christmas box a stunning pearl necklace and earing set.