Reminders of Things Past

26th August 2021 Ms Lo Yen Nyuk

 On 22/8/2021, Ming, my sister who lives in New Zealand, Whatsapped the above image to me with the message “Nyuk, do you remember this?”

 Of course, I do! I replied to her, “The Pakhribas fireplace! But you were never there. Did Yen paint it?” Yen is my youngest sister who visited me over one Christmas in Pakhribas, Nepal. She’s a sketcher and doodler and later trained as a graphic designer.

 Ming then sent another image of a handwritten message which said “Happy birthday, Ming. From the “artist” and owner of the fireplace.” She said the card was beautiful and she had kept it in a book on Corot since 1986.

 That means I painted it! In truth, my painting experience was restricted to my fourth and fifth year in primary school in what were draw and paint whatever you like sessions. I was mortified to read that I had called myself an “artist” – who was I kidding? Anyway, the inverted commas say it all.

 Pakhribas, Nepal, seems like another age to me now. I lived in a well-appointed house overlooking a valley at the Pakhribas Agricultural Centre (PAC) for close to two years about 35 years ago. PAC was established by the British government in the 1970s to resettle retired Gurkha soldiers back into the farming community by training them in agricultural practices, providing them with seeds and livestock, and supporting their activities through agricultural extension work.

 At just over 6000 ft, it was cold enough to warrant a fire in the house at night in the winter months. But the winter days in Nepal are clear and sunny with a crisp, refreshing nip in the air. The monsoon months are altogether different. As a Malaysian, I am familiar with the torrential rain of our monsoon season. The Nepali monsoon at 6000 ft was a revelation. The days were overcast and cloudy and the rains came but gently. It was the fog that truly amazed me. I could see it rising up from the valley below towards the house. When it finally arrived, it was like clouds rolling into my front door and into the house. I learnt what dampness meant. During the monsoon months, the pages of some of the glossy pages of our books would be stuck together and damaged when we later tried to prise them apart. I soon made sure all windows and doors were closed in the late afternoons.

 We were very fortunate to have a beautiful fireplace that is modeled after a traditional English wood fireplace complete with mantel, fire tongs, spade, brush, poker, and fence. The ceramics, carriage clock, and photos on the mantelpiece now sit above bookcases in my Kuching house.

 At that time, I often had pangs of guilt at the luxury I enjoyed from that fireplace and the house with its proper sanitation and piped water. Nepal was and still is a very poor country and we were in rural Eastern Nepal. To put it into perspective, PAC was then accessible only on foot. When two of my sisters from Singapore visited, after landing in Kathmandu, they had to take an internal flight to Biratnagar in the lowlands, then a one-hour car journey to Dharan, a small town where there was a British Military camp. They spent a night there and continued the next day in a Landrover. Dharan’s altitude is about 1000 ft. The road snaked all the way up through a breathtaking landscape of ravines and cultivated terraces to about 6000 ft and ended at Hile Bazar where, at that time in 1986, the road ended. It was a quaint little town with a Tibetan monastery, a lodge for an overnight stay, and a few ‘cafes’ serving the famous local tongba, a fermented millet alcoholic drink. There were usually lots of porters hanging around, ready to carry all sorts of goods and supplies further into the interior. Here, my sisters got out of the car, hired some porters to carry their luggage, and started the 2-3 km walk to PAC. It was a very scenic and interesting walk through farmland and rustic white and ochre-coloured farmhouses with thatched roofs. Such farmhouses, charming they may be to us urbanites, would be a real challenge for us to live in. They did not have a proper fireplace let alone toilets and plumbing. The fire was both for cooking and to keep warm. The houses were built to keep the heat in, so windows were often few and small and my own experience often left me longing for fresh air in those smoky confines.

 My birthday card to Ming would have travelled the route my sisters took in reverse. It got into a British Forces Post Office bag at Dharan and onto Kathmandu and to the Hong Kong British forces base before being released somehow into the universal postal service stream. Considering this rather troublesome mail service, I would have thought that I would remember having made this great effort to produce a birthday card from scratch and sending it to my sister down under. But no, I have zero memory of it. It was certainly a very pleasant surprise when Ming whatsapped me the painting out of the blue. However, it niggled me somewhat that I had no recollection of it and even thought somebody else had painted it. The frailty of my memory rather frightened me.

 What is it that makes us forget certain things while holding on to others from the past? I thought I should be so proud of my creative effort as to remember it forever, but obviously not. I comfort myself by thinking that it’s good that I don’t store up in my mind these small, good and thoughtful deeds that I’ve done; I’m smiling wickedly at my lack of modesty and self-congratulatory tone here. It is honestly so much better that others remind us of it. I tell myself that I should do more of this – remind friends and family of the pleasure or enjoyment of whatever they have given me in the past. On the same note, it’s best we don’t hold on to unpleasant, hurtful things from the years gone by. Life would be a lot happier.

26 thoughts on “Reminders of Things Past

  1. Hi Nyuk

    What a beautiful reminiscence:). Despite your temporary lapse of memory, the picture brought you to your days in Nepal. It is like a fairy tale. Reminds me of Jane Austen’s stories. I imagine myself sitting by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and listening to the incessant chatter, and laughing with your sisters.

    I love the soft hues that you used to paint the quintessential English fireplace. I don’t know much about the fireplace but from your description, it fits the bill. I hope that you would share more of your drawings from the past and your time in Nepal. To learn what a difficult terrain that your sisters travelled to reach you. I learn tremendously from the stories. During this pandemic when we are unable to travel, let us travel to places by reading:).

    Hope to read another story soon.

    Beena

    1. Thank you, Beena, for encouraging me to post this amateurish painting and write a story around it. It’s been an interesting experience

  2. I am one of the 2 sisters mentioned in Nyuk’s story. I remember vividly the journey up to Nyuks beautiful house. The thing that struck me was that the porters had eyes and eyebrows that were dragged down and we realised why after we witnessed how they carried our luggage; by strapping it from their foreheads! I remember my first sight of the garden, it was reminiscent of an English cottage garden, just fabulous. There were servants everywhere and we soon settled in to afternoon tea with teacake, scones and Darjeeling tea. We marvelled at the pink milk and learnt that they were from yaks. The view was spectacular. On a clear day, I swore I saw Mt Everest. So many great memories .

    1. Sher, you saw and remembered the most incredible things! But I bet the highlight for you was in Kathmandu. Staying in the same humble hotel as the famous HK film star Chow Yun Fatt and having your photos taken with him.

  3. Nyuk i thoroughly enjoyed reading this ! You write so well and so beautifully! It brought tears of joy to my eyes as a flood of memories came into my mind. I was immediately transported to that wonderful xmas holiday at your lovely home in the hill station. It was a trip that would forever be etched in my memory. Not just the beautiful landscape and terrains but also the people we met.: The lovely team of Nepalese who took care of your home : the cooks, gardeners and domestic cleaners. The little kids in the neighboring village. The school teachers , the market vendors, the porters … Thank you so much for giving us this beautiful memory. I especially love what you wrote at the end. I’m so proud i have a sister who’s not only an artist but also a writer! No inverted commas!

    1. I agree that the place is wonderful because of the lovely people there. A holiday can be spoilt by interactions with cold, unfriendly locals. We certainly had a memorable Christmas garden party with the Nepali staff and families.

  4. WOW! A mesmerizing piece of writing which brilliantly paints the beauty of the place in such a vivid manner! I am a lucky friend of one of Nyuk’s sisters and I had the privilege of experiencing Nyuk’s hospitality and beautiful home. Indeed, if Shangri La exists, it goes by the name of Pakhribas. Thank you Nyuk for sharing your memories. I was transported back to Pakhribas and the unforgettable experience I had with the Lo sisters and not forgetting the dashing Douglas Muir!

    1. Hi, Noraini,
      It was so good to have you there to join in sportingly in the Christmas sing-along and charades in front of the fire place. Douglas is surely smiling from up high at your compliment.

  5. I have always been a great fan of Nyuk’s narrative and now will turn into a “big” fan of her stories writing. Nyuk, you are really good and I would say you are a very talented writer. Can’t really find someone nowadays who can write so well. Your work is comparable to skilled writer, if not better. Looking forward to more stories from you.

  6. Fantastic painting and story Nyuk. I enjoyed your nostalgic journey so much. We are all born story tellers, which makes us all artists and writers. No need to compare ourselves to anyone else. Keep painting and writing your stories so that we can all enjoy them.

    1. i like what you wrote about not comparing with anyone else. i find it very encouraging. Cos it’s always this that holds many of us back from putting out a story.

    2. Thank you, Kala for your encouraging and affirmative comments. I pale in comparison to your work, so will take your advice!

  7. Hi nyuk,
    It’s true that I hardly finished reading long stories, but I did for this one..hahaha…just a simple birthday card can inspire u to write such a long story, my sincere respect from the bottom of my heart. Hope u can have more to share in future….

    1. Steven, you are the most critical and short -attention span reader that I must pass. I’m very happy this one got through you.

  8. Hi Steven
    Thank you for your comments. Glad her story interested you. That is good. Hooe you will return to read more stories.
    Best wishes
    Beena

  9. Hi Nyuk. I really loved your story about the beautiful home above the clouds in Nepal. Your description is so vivid that it made me feel as though I was there. Wonder why you settled there for a couple of years? Sometimes life takes us to mysterious places and leaves everlasting memories. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful memory. Do write more about your experiences. It would certainly be a joy to read them.

  10. Thank you for sharing this lovely post. It brought back some wonderful memories of the time I spent with you all in Pakhrabas.
    What a unique and magical place with welcoming and hardy people, epitomising the power of resilience and resourcefulness, Living in a stunning location albeit with harsh and challenging conditions. Beautifully written and illustrated Nuuk x

    1. Hi, Pip. I always remember you bringing out the Christmas pudding with the blue fire fuelled by brandy into the darkened dining room. What a time we had!

  11. Nyuk, I so enjoyed reading this! It was beautifully expressed. My recollection of Pakribas is hazy (you’re not the only one with a frail memory bank!) but reading this brought back a patchwork of memories of eating freshly shelled peas from your garden, a picnic and a nap at the Downs and baa-ing at sheep or were they goats, the scent of oranges, Nepalese children eating dahl on mounds of rice. These are vignettes at best and I’m sure I’ll remember more after this. Such is the power of words. More please, Nyuk!

    1. Yen, you are absolutely correct on all points. I remember us sitting down on the stone steps with Nee, Noraini and Pip shelling garden peas and popping them into our mouths as we went along.

  12. My Dearest Nyuk and Siblings, it’s wonderful to connect again through this brief writing.
    It amazes me how all of you stay intact and connected in so many aspects of life. You are always an inspiration for me.
    Nyuk, I was always inspired by your sure and gentle way of doing things. Even this piece of painting and writing is an epitome of your strength and character- you have interest in the smallest details and bring life to the simplest of things. You are and always will be a treasure to me. Love you always. Pls keep on writing and it invokes a special message for me at this juncture of my life. It’s an awakening and I thank you for sharing this with me. Pls keep them coming….

  13. Dear Nyuk,

    Thanks for sharing your heartwarming story, love the vivid description and flow. It’s no surprise to me as I have always considered you write the best English in class. As to the charming picture, aren’t you one the the fabulous artistic Lo sisters?! I feel like I’ve grown up with your family, enjoyed the time and the many meals at your home. Do continue to write; I look forward to more.

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