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Five Years: 1. The Nga Choy Kai Affair


“Can you bring your small compact camera tomorrow?” I asked Tania.

She looked slightly surprised by my request but agreed anyway. I said I was too lazy to bring mine around, I was already bringing a book.

“Oh yeah,” I remembered, “let’s have the Ipoh Chicken Rice tomorrow for lunch!”

Having spent five years here, I got rather sick of Ipoh’s famous Nga Choy Kai (bean sprouts & chicken) and would only have it when my parents or friends from outside are in town because that’s what everybody comes here for. But that Saturday night, nostalgia started kicking in a little bit and I thought I’d have it once more before I leave this town that has earned a special place in my heart.


On Sunday, we left to fill our tummies with the famous Lou Wong’s chicken rice. To-date I have never developed a preference between Lou Wong’s and Onn Kee’s version, despite their years of rivalry and strategically placed right across one another. I’ve always had this theory whereby they are both owned by the same person, and it was just a clever business tactic to attract more customers.

The real superstar of Nga Choy Kai, is of course, the nga choy (bean sprouts). You can never find fatter, juicier bean sprouts than the ones in Ipoh. Like they say, it’s something in the water.  As I rummaged through the plateful of vege, I made a careful observation.

“The thinnest bean sprout on this plate is probably the fattest we’ll ever have in Penang,” I concluded.


After lunch, it was time to visit my favourite hairdresser in town. Eddy dislikes her because he thinks she charges too much and mom dislikes her because she’s more daring than any other hairdressers I go to.  There was one more item in my to-do list that I would like to get completed before I graduate: To get a short, really short haircut. A graduate from Toni & Guy London, Yen Ping has the style of one of those celebrity hairdressers we see in magazines.

“Hey! You’re the one from Penang! It’s been awhile since you last came,” she uttered in fluent Cantonese. She ruffles my hair, and chided gently, “Your last haircut wasn’t by me, was it? Your hair is growing out of place!”  I smiled at her comment, and told her what I wanted. She nodded and proceeded to give me her signature massage while washing my hair. After weeks of hard work in school, this was what I needed. I even managed to convince Tania to get her hair washed too.

[pullquote-left]She knows I’m a Christian, and would always say “God bless you!” whenever I leave even though she’s a Buddhist. Such little things warm my heart.[/pullquote-left]As usual, she entertained me with her stories on how she became a hairdresser and how it was like in London when she was there, and I would listen with great interest. When she was done with my hair, I was pleased with the results. The shortness threw me back a little at first, but eventually I grew to like it. I like how I don’t have fringe messing with my eyes!

“Can I have a photo with you?” I asked politely. She was puzzled by my request, but quickly understood when I told her that I am graduating soon. She told me to visit her whenever I’m in town, and that she will miss me. She knows I’m a Christian, and would always say “God bless you!” whenever I leave even though she’s a Buddhist. Such little things warm my heart.


Then it was coffee time. We headed straight to Starbucks, and I ordered my usual. For once, I was reading something out of the academic context and without a single worry about deadlines at the back of my head. The day felt very relaxing, and there is nothing more precious than having a good cup of coffee, a good book and a great companion on a Sunday evening.

I felt blessed, and I felt refreshed. It has been a long time since I had such a weekend. We sat by the window and people-watched too, and drew up a short list of things to buy when we head to Tesco after this.

The day was still young, and so are we.






About the author


Fueled by coffee and thrives on kindness. Generally pleasant.


weivern.com Bit by Bit, Putting it Together