When I was in primary three, I needed to choose an extra-curriculum activity (ECA). I was a follower from young, never certain of what I wanted in life. This was probably the result of growing up in the shadow of five aunts who were more like sisters than aunts. My class monitor, YF, whom now as I recall, I treated like a big brother, suggested we join the new gardening club, which was lead by our form teacher. He was mature as a child and a top student. I would look to him for approval and he would nod and give me a thumb’s up after I’d read an essay aloud in class. Anyway, because we all liked our form teacher, as she had a motherly face and kind disposition, unlike the arts and crafts teacher who yelled and scolded during every class, most of the pupils in my class 3D ended up in the gardening club.
The gardening activity wasn’t very exciting. We spent two hours every Saturday squatting in the morning sun, weeding the thorny mimosa off the cow grass. I thought it was a waste to pull out the mimosas, whose leaves close on contact, and with its pretty pink feathery flowers. But no, we were given pliers to pull the roots out, which clung stubbornly to the earth. ‘斬草不除根 春風吹又生,’ said Chen Lao Shi. (If we don’t remove the roots, the weeds will grow again with the spring wind, which is a metaphor to cure a bad habit, or a disease, one must remove the roots.)
At home, I witnessed our Malaysian helper, Ah Eng, pulling fistfuls of long grass from our carpet-grass turf. Why not just cut the grass, I asked her. She said the grass she pulled were not from the same carpet grass, but were weeds. She needed to pull out the roots to prevent them from spreading. I squatted down next to her and started pulling too.
I’ve not stopped pulling weeds since then, as I am blessed to own landed houses with gardens since I bought my own house. I protect my turfs from weed infestation like the telescreen from novel 1984, constantly watching out and bending down to pull out the weeds whenever I see one – on my Mother’s garden, my own, and even on the outside common public turf belonging to LTA. I squatted while heavily pregnant, prompting my next door neighbour Auntie Rose to tell me I’d have an easy time given birth. She was right. The births of my three sons were a breeze with all that squat-training – with no epidural or painkillers. When I worked full time, I’d weed deep into the night, with the garden spotlight on. I remember while on a long vacation in the USA, I looked enviously at a lady sitting on a stool in front of a nineteen-century ‘Gone with the Wind’ type historical mansion, weeding serenely, and wished I could join her. When I see turfs of carpet grass with weeds, my fingers itch.
My weeding took a hiatus when I started my Master’s program, and I’d groan inwardly whenever I see weeds sprouting faster than the time I can afford to spend on them. Besides, eye-sight and bad knees were preventing me from squatting longer than usual. I promised I’ll get back to it and clear my garden of weeds once my program is over.
I’ve been diligently weeding daily (except when it rained), almost meditatively, as I dig and pull for the past two weeks. I sit on a stool now, and has a teaspoon spade to help me dig out the roots, with my teacher’s gardening mantra echoing in my head throughout: pull out the roots. I don’t know which is more torturing to my body, practising handstand conditioning, or bending over on my hunches pulling weeds for two solid hours. As I exit my squat, straightening my stiff back and creaky knees very slowly, I have a sense of satisfaction I can’t describe.
My mother’s friend once visited and asked how I kept the carpet grass so neat. I told her, the hard way, on your hunches and weed. Is it no surprise that my next door neighbours (ex and current) all tiled up their turfs? Why not use a weedkiller? I used to buy them from Far East Nursery, imported from Australia and very expensive, but only effective in clearing the weeds with netted veins or reticulated veins but not the other grasses with parallel veins (remember your primary school Science?) Weedkiller helps in clearing the fragile penny-worts which thrived in the wet and shady part of my garden, except my nursery stopped selling it for a few years now, probably due to the high price and low demand.
Most people don’t notice the effort I put into my turf, except for a friend, Lung, from KL (of course, probably grew up in a landed house there.) Whenever he visited, either in my previous house or my current house, he would remark with admiration, wow, carpet grass.
My part-time cleaners from PRC once enquired, as she scrubbed my garage while I weeded, what I was doing. Weeding, clearing the stray grass, I explained when she continued to stare blankly. But why? she persisted. My explanation probably sounded stupid to her, coming from a village with lush vegetation. ‘So it’ll look nice and neat.’
She probably thinks it’s a futile effort and I agree. After an afternoon shower, I’ll see a sprinkling of weeds sprouting here and there. But this is the only activity I persevere on, having given up on many others. (Darn, just reminded myself on that carpet I knotted halfway which I promised myself to complete.) After all, I’ve been doing it since I was nine. But I’m smarter now. In areas where the grass struggles due to lack of sun, I turned them into flower beds, Japanese rock garden with fountains (as in Mom’s house).
Yup, this essay was running through my mind earlier as I weeded and now I have to write it down. I wished a good story would come up someday soon.
(Grammarly keeps highlighting the word weed to need. Just goes to show how this word is rarely used as a verb.)