The fridge in my house in Surabaya is perpetually in a state of chaos. To describe it succinctly, it resembles a repository where a jumble of different kinds of food wrapped in plastic and paper are placed without a clear categorization system. Vegetables, butter cans, colourful candies usually used to decorate birthday cake, biscuits, sugar, dried fish, peeled onion, powdered spices… All are stacked up just like that, and definitely not neatly arranged. Unless we open up the food wrappings, it is impossible to know what is hidden inside it. I have the feeling that my mother is the only one on earth who can tell us exactly what are the items that have been loaded into the fridge.
In early 1990s, Mother initiated a furniture business. She served as the principal of an elementary school in Gresik, a small town not so far from Surabaya, and just recently retired as a civil servant in 2009. But she was, and still is, not the kind of person who is ever likely to rest up her hands. In all of her life, she has been in search of ways of increasing the family income. The nicely polished furniture were sometimes put inside the house alongside our own equipment.
The workers of the furniture business were our relatives from Jombang, East Java – my mother’s hometown. It seemed to me that both Mother and Grandmother had the habit of transforming our house into a shelter for all the extended family members. Mother and Grandmother would welcome them to our house, provide them with food, try to find them jobs, or if they were interested, enroll them in a school.
There was also the time when Mother ran/operated a bridal make-up service business. The cupboard containing Javanese bridal dresses is all that remains of it.. Now she occupies her post-retirement years by focusing on food business in accord with her cooking hobby. On the days when she has to finish orders, the kitchen is extended out to other parts of the house and everyone in the house is required to assist her.
One day, I approached her and complained about the disorderliness of the house, the fridge, and the kitchen; about however hard our attempts at re-arranging the furniture, they would soon back to their disorderly state. Each member of the family was absorbed into his or her own life trajectories and had little time to spend keeping the house neat and tidy. She responded, “It is not just our house, but a space to work. So it is alright if our fridge and kitchen are a bit dirty. For me, what is important is the appearance of the food when presented to those who order them”.
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