Monday, December 12, 2011

When the Northern Winds blew

AS recent as 30 years ago - those above 40 would be able to recall - the loveliest time in the city was during the end of the year. The skies were cloudless and blue, and the mornings chilling and fresh. The afternoons were hot but the wind blew all day long.

Clothes hung out to dry at sunrise could be collected by mid-morning. You could even expect the thick blankets and curtains put on the clothesline at noon to be dry by four in the afternoon, all crisp and dry, thanks to the wind.

The Hokkien called the winds that blew during this time of the year Pak Hong (Northern Winds) because they came from the North. Some of us called them Kuay Nee Hong - the New Year winds because they heralded the coming of the new year.

The winds usually blew from late October right through February. The winds were cold and dry. Someone told me this was because they came from the wintry regions in China but I don't know if that is true.

While the windy days were welcomed, they also signalled the appearance of seasonal ills such as coughs, colds and nosebleeds. The most dreaded was what the Hokkien nicknamed Pak Jit Sau, the 100-day Cough.

For those who had caught the persistent cough, a barrage of antibiotics, syrups and home remedies failed to alleviate the itchiness in the throat. The cough gave one nightmares - not because it was serious but because it deprived one of sleep as it gets worse at night.

One just had to bear with it until it went away on its own, which it usually did in a month or two. With the cough gone as mysteriously as it had arrived, one is left fearful of taking cold drinks and morning baths for a long time.

I have not felt the chilly year-end winds for years now, let alone see the clear, sunny skies. I consider myself lucky if there isn't a haze these days. The past four weeks, instead of looking up at cerulean blue skies, I only see the Payne's grey colour of rain clouds which sometimes begin trooping in as early as sunrise.

Each evening, being caught in traffic snarls brought about by the rain has become routine. By the time I reach home and have geared up for my evening walk, the rain would come again.

One evening last week, despite the drizzle, I decided to take my chances. I thought it would stop by the time I clocked the first kilometre. It didn't.

Instead, the drizzle grew into a shower that lasted almost an hour. Lucky for me, I had brought my handphone with me. I called my wife to rescue me from the bus stop. And wouldn't you know it, just as I was getting into the car, the rain suddenly stopped.

I suppose my daily frustration with the inclement weather these days is nothing compared with that of my friend, Ah Yeow, who operates a rice and drinks stall in Sentul. The rains must be affecting his livelihood while they are merely disrupting my routine.

For people like him, whose income depended on good weather, the rains always mean hardship in the days ahead. With the Lunar New Year just six weeks away, all they can do is pray that the Northern Winds will start blowing again.

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