The last time I ate Mee Goreng (Fried Noodles), I could barely open my mouth. There was nothing wrong with the dish. It was that I knew I was doing something my parents would not approve. I was meeting a man.
I was 16, a good Muslim girl, attending pre-med classes at an academically pretigious junior college. He was 18, a National Serviceman — and a Chinese. A non-Muslim.
We were never supposed to see each other after that first time. It was a chance meeting at the bus stop in front of the college I was attending. He was in his military NS uniform with his buddy and I was in my grey school uniform with the red tie. We laughed over something stupid that happened, and he left his buddy and followed me home. I thought it was cute but a few houses before I got to my parents’ house, I warned him not to walk any further. He was Chinese. He was taboo. I shooed him away and went straight home like a good girl.
The next day, a Sunday, I headed to the bus stop after a whole day of rehearsals on a school play, Macbeth. And there he was. He had remembered a detail in our brief conversation and waited for me at that bus stop all day for the possibility that I might show up. I was floored. I never expected to see him again. No one had ever given me that kind of attention before in my life. And I didn’t know how to handle it. I was excited and scared at the same time.
He was persistent. I couldn’t shake him off this time. I didn’t know how to say no without hurting his feelings. I didn’t know it was okay to say no and not feel responsible for someone else’s feelings. And so, I agreed to meet him again.
I guess this was a date. Our first date. Except that that was the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I was doing something totally prohibited in my culture, something that would anger my mother and hurt my father. We don’t go on dates. We either wait for our parents to choose a husband for an arranged marriage or we discreetly suggest someone we know who might be suitable.
I was still wearing my school uniform when I met him. He was in civilian clothes, no military outfit this time. We didn’t have much to say to each other. I didn’t have the words to speak. He took me to some roadside eating stalls and we decided on Mee Goreng. It must have been the only halal stall around. The food came and we each had a plate of steaming hot, fried noodles in front of us. He ate his. I had to open my mouth to bring food to it. It was one of the hardest things I remember doing.
I couldn’t open my mouth to say the words I really wanted to say. And now I had to open my mouth to eat this food in front of him. The act of eating felt too intimate to do in front of this stranger, this man. The first man in my life to like me. To want me. To be romantically involved with me. Oh, the shame of it. I managed to eat some of the Mee Goreng before I put the fork down and stopped.
I can’t quite remember exactly where he took me. It wasn’t an apartment but it wasn’t exactly a nice house like mine either. He used a key to open the door and we walked through a living room where there were some people — Chinese people — sitting around. He didn’t introduce me and I didn’t say hello. With my hand in his, he took me to a room with another door. It was a bedroom. His bedroom. We got in and he locked the door. He closed the windows. The room got dark. It was bright sunshine outside. Afternoon. I heard the voices of children playing outside this bedroom.
He sat me down on the only furniture in the room — his bed. As he started to unbutton my blouse, all I could think of was, he is unbuttoning my grey school uniform. The uniform my principal had said never to do anything disgraceful in. People would recognize our school from our school uniform. Whatever we did while wearing the uniform was a reflection of our school.
No one had seen me naked. Not even my mother as far as I remembered. No one. Just my nanny Amoy. Who is this person? And why am I letting him do this to me?
A knock on the door interrupted him. There was a phone call. He had to take it. He left the room.
I heard the children continue with their playing outside in the afternoon heat. They had no idea what’s going on in this room. Those people in the living room, they had no idea either. Or did they? I was so embarrassed.
He’s not back yet. The interruption had broken the spell. I shook my head and recovered my senses. I quickly dressed myself and left before he returned.
The whole affair ended as quickly as it began. My parents found out about it and I promised never to see him again. Many years later, I broke that promise. Our paths had reconnected.
Mee Goreng is a typical Singaporean hawker dish and is Malay for fried noodles. It is called “Mama-style” after the Indian men who prepare the dish; Mama is Hindi for “uncle”, a term of repect Asians use for older family friends. The recipe is available here.
Mama-style Mee Goreng (Fried Noodles)
2 cups fresh hokkien (yellow) noodles
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ripe tomato, diced
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce
4 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup deep fried diced tofu
1 stalk spring onion, sliced
1 large green chili, deseeded and sliced
2 cucumbers, chopped for garnish
1 limau kasturi (use key lime or small thin skinned lime as substitute), halved for garnish
1. Put the noodles into a colander and rinse under warm running water, or separate according to instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a wok. Add curry powder and onion and stir-fry over medium heat until soft, about 4 minute.
3. Add the noodles, diced tomato, chili sauce, ketchup and soy sauce and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 min, mixing well.
4. Make room in the wok for the beaten eggs; pour the eggs and leave to set for a min or so, then mix in with the noodles.
5. Add the tofu, the spring onions and green chili.
6. Serve with key lime halves; chili sauce and cucumber slices on the side, if desired.