12 Days of Christmas – David Liew

Introducing David Liew, who hails from Singapore. We catch up each year I attend the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and swap a few emails in between. It is wonderful to have him onboard and sharing his memory of the annual family Christmas party.

Some of the fondest Christmas memories I have are the parties my parents would host at old semi-detached. My late father worked as a building site supervisor, with long hours and very often no days off for years. But the week between Christmas and New Year was the one time of the year other than Chinese New Year that he’d really take some time off.

The guests would largely be Dad’s colleagues from the Japanese construction firm he worked for.  In the building boom of late 1970s Singapore, this meant a whole lot of expatriate Japanese engineers and their families. The urban legends of overworked sarimen who explode into a frenzy of partying to release pent up work stress were no myths. At dusk, these folks would arrive at our gate by the vanload (it was a few years yet but you could almost hear the future refrain of “The Ride of the Valkyries” from “Apocalypse Now”). Our ping pong table would be groaning under the mountains of food prepared by Mum (Dad was no shabby cook himself but lacked Mum’s sense of proportion and portion. The one time we let Dad handle the catering there was enough food to restart the Marshall Plan). It was almost like being visited by a swarm of very polite locusts who happily chomped away at anything and everything edible (including one year, the dog’s biscuits). All this time I would be observing all this with a mixture of horrified fascination and fascinated horror, safely ensconced behind our plastic Christmas tree.

The real fun started after dinner, when the ladies and their brood would take their leave, leaving the menfolk behind.  This was when the repressed sarimen truly expressed himself in wine (and any other intoxicating liquid available – we had carefully locked up the window cleaner and any stray bottles of cologne just in case) and song. Despite the drunken revelry, there was just something frighteningly endearing about a whiskey-soaked young piling engineer from Osaka hollering what I assumed to be the Tokyo Top of the Pops for the Summer of 75 at the top of his lungs.

As midnight came around, the vans which spirited the women and children away returned for the men, now totally too tanked to find their own noses, let alone drive. As Mum started to wash her totally empty pots and bowls; Dad, my brother and I would then do a sweep of the premises to make sure no stray partier was left unaccounted for. Behind Mum’s rose bushes… under the dining table… and one interesting year, atop my gate post …

The amazing thing was despite the revels, there was never any riotous behavior that would have had the neighbors calling in the local constabulary. And the best thing of all for my brother and myself was the the annual Christmas party also marked a countdown to Chinese New Year in a month or so, when the Happy Horde would be back again. Interestingly, they didn’t bring gifts at Christmas but instead stored up the spirit of giving for the New Year, in the form of very generous hampers and even more generous lucky red packets of money for the kids (except in Japan they’re white.. which to a traditionally-minded Chinese was a colour of mourning – but of no consequence to a very young me more practically inclined to focus on monetary contents).

Dad is no longer with us. The old house is still there but we’ve moved away. The celebrants have all returned to what is now the Land of the Sinking Yen. But whenever I hear the strains of off-key karaoke, to me it’s the voice of Christmas past.


David Liew is an illustrator from Singapore, working in a combination of traditional pen & ink techiniques and digital colouring. As a sculptor and miniature-maker, I’m exploring three dimensional illustration. I’m currently the Singapore Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. His latest book is “Monster Day on Tabletop Hill” (Written by Akiko Sueyoshi, translated from the Japanese into English by Cathy Hirano). Discover more about David here: http://bluewolfe.wixsite.com/bluestone-arts

My “sketch” is “Robotdave” – which also happens to be my business card image



Leave a comment