My sister used to travel to Medan for work and brought home Kuah Lapis – gifts from her clients-which I love. I like the spices and the generous amount of prunes, so different from the ones we get locally during Chinese New Year. It’s been ages since I had one and I looked forward to buying one during this recent trip to Indonesia. I thought we were traveling via Medan to Lake Toba but I was wrong. Couldn’t we get any Kueh Lapis from Siantar? My friend’s hometown which we were visiting? Apparently not.
Not wanting to disappoint me, my friend’s brother, Siong, summoned his supplier in Medan – a good friend- to help us buy and to change his delivery schedule just to deliver these cakes to us on Vesak Day, a public holiday. I was ecstatic and was not even shameful about inconveniencing someone. (Horrors, I’m turning into my mother!)
The four boxes of cakes, each weighing 3.5kg, were delivered at 11pm on Tuesday, the night before our departure for the airport the next morning. It was thoughtfully packed into two cartons, with strings handers for easy handling.
At the airport Jetstar check-in counter, the manager demanded that we checked in the two cartons, even though we had no carry-on, just a backpack on our backs. We argued, these are cakes, and we were not overweight. We let her feel the weight of our backpacks. She demanded we opened the cartons. I think, like us, she couldn’t believe that Kueh Lapis could weigh so much. We tore open the cartons and showed her the cakes. She had no choice but to let us through, but not without a warning – if I see you carrying more stuff at the gate, I will charge you. ‘Go ahead,’ we said.
We were holding up the long queue, behind us stood veteran singer Frankie Wong and his family, whom Mike, my husband, recognised. I have no idea who he is but since he is a celebrity, I smiled at him and apologised for holding up the queue. (Yeah, I’m so shallow like this. :))
He asked, ‘What’s happening? Why doesn’t she allow you to bring your cakes up the plane?’
I replied, ‘She wanted us to check them in.’
He said, ‘Then tell her to close down all the kueh shops at the airport lah.’
‘Are you Teacher Wong?’ (Mike said we must address veteran singers as Teacher.)
‘On TV? ‘
‘My concert at RWS is in Oct.’
He handed us his name card and told us that he’s into dong cong cao business and invited us to join him.
We met again on board the plane as he walked past my row of seats.
‘I had no problem with my kuehs,’ he said.
‘Aiya, that’s because you’re a celebrity.’
He laughed and waved away my suggestion.
My Kueh Lapis, which I so craved, was not oily nor sweet and filled with prunes I like, which unfortunately may have masked the spices in the cake. But beggars cannot be choosers.