When we were little my aunt took us i.e. my brother, sisters and cousins to the Chinese Swimming Club pool in Penang. There were about 10 children and one adult. My aunt who was a teacher and quite active in sports could swim and had also learnt to life-save. Arriving at the entrance to the swimming club pool, she was fumbling in her handbag for her purse to pay the required fee to the fee collector sitting at a small table at the entrance. The man looked at her, then curiously, at all of us. Raising his eye-brows, he asked her if all 10 of us were her children, and she replied, “Yes” to cut a long story short, and save having to explain why the children looked quite different from each other. The fee collector said nothing more and took the fee from my aunt.
Being children, this incident didn’t strike us as funny, as we were more concerned about getting into the pool than about adult opinions. We had a fine time there, that day and returned home, happy, hungry and tired out. We always became very hungry after a swim.
My aunt flopped down into a rattan chair and started chatting to my Mum about the trip to the swimming pool. She was laughing as she told Mum what she had said to the fee collector at the pool entrance – that all of us were her children. Only later, did I realize that the crux of the joke was that all the children were of different shades of brown, from really dark burnt sienna brown to very light beige, like the different stages of a baking cake. Our facial features reflected our mixed ethnicity, from almost first generation fair Eurasian to dark brown southern Indian. That fee collector must have wondered how many husbands of different ethnicity my aunt had to produce such a spectrum of children.
The best thing about it is – we’re all ethnically colour-blind having grown up that way. Although it may seem odd to many others who have never lived so closely with people of different ethnicity, although of different skin tone, we’re still a family. We’re a cake of a family!