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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005 - 4:00 a.m.

The mother holds her daughter's hand as they weave through the crowd of people in Chinatown. It is two weeks to Chinese New Year and the mad circle of repeating New Year songs exhausts her brains. As they pass a shop selling lanterns and baskets, her daughter tries to pull away. It re-surfaced suddenly, where previously there was only the open sea of memory, a basket broke through and now bobbed along its calm surface. It was one of those baskets weaved together from thin bamboo strips by hand, and her daughter wanted the one on the display table.

The mother's earliest memory is of the cruel, slender sides of the bamboo strips. When she was young and poor, she was sent away to live with her grandmother in Tiong Bahru. Her grandmother made bamboo baskets and sold them for a living at the market. Every afternoon after school, her grandmother and her would sit on the kitchen floor, crossing and then twisting the long yellow strips into baskets. When her grandmother died, she remembers that someone - some distant uncle, bent over the coffin and covered the old woman's scarred hands with a white piece of cloth. The baskets had been bent into shape by the force of their hands and were artifacts under constant tension, waiting to tear themselves asunder. The weave of the baskets, like the enclosure of two hands, is generational.

The mother reaches out to the display table and touches the basket's weave with a tentative finger. But she instinctively recoils, not at the varnished texture of the bamboo, but at the memory of her fingers getting cut. Without a word, she quickly pulls her daughter's hand away.


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