IT WAS an extended weekend here in Britain, with people having days off on both Friday and Monday for the Easter celebrations.
While many of my friends made lots of plans or travels during this period, my plan was to work all four days in the office at university.
All those “plans” shattered when I found myself struggling to get out of bed on Friday morning; I caught a bad case of the cold and was floored for a few days. The only work I would have done over the weekend was writing this article.
Falling ill is never nice, but it is worse when you live alone in a country far, far away from your mother.
Yes, it does not matter how old I am, mum is still the one person I contact when I am not well.
These days, the only sympathy I get from her though is via WhatsApp.
It is a good thing then that I am well-trained in the “ancient arts of mothers helping their whiny sons recover from a common cold”.
On Friday, I eventually dragged myself out of bed to make myself a bowl of porridge (or congee, as my friends here call it).
I make a fresh serving each meal the way mum does; if you make large portions for several meals, mum says there will be “wind”, which is not good for you.
In the Cheong household, as is probably the case in many of yours, porridge is staple “sick people” food.
Mum’s reasoning, if I recall correctly, was simple – porridge is warm, hearty and is just boiled so there is no oil or anything that may further upset the body.
When we were growing up, if we were lucky, there would be some meat in it – either pork or chicken.
But if one were really unwell (and had an unsettled tummy), it would be plain porridge with pickled lettuce, salted egg and some other gross tofu-like thing I avoided with a vengeance.
As our condition started improving, the “menu” would improve to include soup noodles, which are just as hearty.
This afternoon, for example, I upgraded my meals to pasta with soup – a variation of mum’s recipe.
I have also boiled myself a huge pot of barley mixed with dried winter melon because I can hear my mother telling me how I am unwell because I was yeet hei as they say in Cantonese, or “heaty” – probably from not sleeping enough over the past week before I fell ill.
Boiled barley is considered a leong sui, or cooling drink, so it balances the body system out.
It is for the same reason why I have avoided fried food and alcohol over the past few days – both are generally believed to be yeet hei.
Over the past couple of days, I have also been feeling achy so the occasional dose of paracetamol has helped.
It was a good thing I did not have a temperature though or the chills, otherwise I would have boiled a couple of hard-boiled eggs and rubbed it all over my body to absorb the fever (you can even see how unwell you are by the spots on the egg yolk if you have done it correctly).
It might sound like a weird practice to those who have not done this before but I am convinced it works – or at least it has for me ever since I was a child.
The only problem, of course, is that I would end up smelling of eggs for days.
You see, in the Cheong household, you do not take a shower when you have a fever.
At most, you are allowed to mat leong, which is basically wiping your sweat off with a warm, damp towel.
Being unwell is not pleasant, but thinking about how mum used to pamper tai che (big sister), ee che (second sister) and myself whenever we fell ill is heartwarming.
Mum always checked in on us in the middle of the night and would use the back of her palm to take our temperature (more effective than thermometers, I swear!).
Until this day, if I am under the same roof as mum when unwell, I always sleep with my door ajar.
Based on mum’s own upbringing, she raised us with many “do nots” if we ever fell sick (don’t get me started on the time I had chicken pox and the mumps).
But there were also treats.
I remember specifically mum and dad would always make sure we had raisin bread for when we got peckish (or needed to eat medicine when it was not a regular meal time).
It was a simple thing, but imagine what it was like for a child basically eating over-boiled rice three meals a day.
I am feeling better now as I write this article not only because I am basking in mum’s love through the memories I shared above but recovering following three days of living by her sage advice (besides still taking the daily showers – sorry mum!).
When I tell some of my friends all of this, they sometimes scoff.
Obviously, they have been ill too and recovered without following some of the pantang methods I have.
But for me, this is the only way I know how to make it through a few days of being ill on my own. That is, each day, I give myself a solid dose of mum’s love.
Niki is a PhD researcher at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/fb.