Have you ever wondered how the older generation managed to procreate while being crammed up in one-bedroom HDB flats in the 1960s? They certainly had more kids than we do now, and we all know that in those days, as many as up to six or seven adults could be living in one unit of HDB flat with just one bedroom. So, just how did they procreate? Well, I just found out!
Over lunch with my mom this week, I asked her to describe to me her living arrangement and condition when she first moved to Singapore. When she first moved to Singapore, my dad had just graduated from university and obviously did not have the money to buy a place of their own. Hence, they lived with my dad’s older brother, his wife, their kids—one infant and one toddler—and their mom (their dad passed away when my father was just a boy). They lived in a big two-storey semi-detached house. There were three bedrooms on the second floor; my dad’s brother and wife took the master bedroom, grandma and the two grandkids took the second room, and my parents had the third bedroom. That’s a pretty good arrangement, don’t you think?
My mom then went on to further describe this middle-class lifestyle (or maybe even more “middler” than I think). They had a live-in amah whose sole role was to do the marketing and the cooking. Yes, I’m sure you heard about them; they are the celibate women who dedicated their entire life to serving a family. My mom recalled that the food she prepared was very delicious. Now, this amah didn’t do the household chores and was also not involved in taking care of the two kids. They had a separate maid to manage that. On top of these two helpers, a washing lady came by each morning to hand wash the laundry (no washing machines yet at that time); after she had hung up the laundry to dry, she would iron and fold all the dry clothes from the previous day. My mom thinks she was paid five dollars a month for doing that. This lady didn’t even need to wash the bedsheets; those were sent to the laundry shop. So, all in all, life was pretty good for my mom.
My mom’s friend, however, didn’t have it so good. Being a fresh graduate too and just having returned from Japan, she and her husband had to live with her husband’s parents and his other three older siblings who were single…in a one-bedroom HDB flat. Poor girl had no idea what was in store for her. When she first moved in, she was very puzzled as to why the other siblings kept “intruding” into her bedroom and keeping their belongings in the room. Then, to her horror, she discovered that her husband’s three siblings also slept in that one bedroom, together with her and her husband! Her parents-in-law slept in the living room. HDB, apparently had taken into the account that several people would be sleeping in the same bedroom and had built-in ventilation openings at the top of the bedroom wall linking to the living room.
So, in such circumstances, how could intimate bedroom activities be carried out in such sleeping arrangements? Well, dig this! Twice a week, the siblings would pack up their clothes (in my mother’s words, they all packed up their clothes as if they were all going on a holiday) and all go out of the bedroom to sleep on the living room floor. Yes. I kid you not! This would happen about twice a week and cause her much embarrassment. The ventilation opening connecting the bedroom to the living room made it all the worse! Apparently, she never knew which nights of the week they’d scram, but my mom suspects that her hubby probably just declares to everyone when she’s out of hearing range, to “go sleep outside tonight.” EEEW.
So, there you go. I bet you never knew. Or maybe you do. Because when I told my sister, she said she’d already knew because someone had once told her. So, did you know this?