I learn to iron my clothes in a boarding house, under a cold knife stare from my landlord younger sister. Before I explain the knifey stare, I will try to describe my boarding house, so hopefully you’ll have a better understanding on this story.

The boarding house is a big old melayu house, it used to be a “rumah panggung” but it’s already lowered when I stayed there for 3 years (there was a time where people here used to build houses with its floor being raised a meter from the ground to avoid annual flood, or wild animals).

My land lord is an old lady, a very strict and has a very unique personality, perhaps because she has been through many different era in her life, there was a photo of her with a European dress complete with a small drapery umbrella in front of a wooden horse carriage. Once she served me and two other friends with tea and cookies, the star of this occasion was her antique tea set, it was a set of beautifully shiny porcelain and the pictures on the tea set was able to change in accordance with the temperature of the drink it contained with. Her cooking utensils? My goodness, all of them were so ancient, I have never seen those things elsewhere. She is fluent in Dutch and sometimes when she’s angry, she talked in Dutch. We all called her “Ibu Besar”.

Ibu Besar has a younger sister who lives with us, she is doing everything in that house, she’s the one who take care of the house, to cook our meal, to tend the front yard, to do laundry, also take care the grand childrens of Ibu Besar, etc… Yes… Et cetera… She’s indeed have so much to do. We call her “Ibu Kecil”, she is a small lady, judging from the way she looks at her senior years, I’m sure she was a very beautiful woman in her younger days.

Now, these two ladies are those who believes that a girl should be able to do everything by herself, particularly to cook, and doing laundry, preferably if that girl is also good in sewing clothes, has a green thumb with plants and a good taste in appearance is a plus. I came to that place without any of that expected skills. I don’t know how to wash and iron my own clothes, I have never cooked anything but instant noodles, I bandages my ripped school skirt because I don’t know how to sew, I can’t identify trees from their leaves shape, and my tomboy appearance is really not their type.

So the first 3 months is pure …mmm.. adaptation process.. let’s put it that way. I have to wash and iron my own clothes without any rudimentary knowledge to do those things. So Ibu kecil trained me with her knifey stare and unceasingly cynical comments, I did have several mental breakdowns, but at the end of those training months, I am able to wash and iron my clothes, plus I’m toughened by the process.

I miss them both, hopefully they are having their best time in the eternal happiness now, sit and chat about the merry days and yes, of course with their antique porcelain set.

Karin Sabrina.

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