Sunday, June 13, 2010

Carrots, Sticks and Dumplings

During my induction into the harsh reality of the working world, I was swiftly introduced to the ‘Carrot-Stick Theory’ (or CST for short). Skeptical about the CST at first, I was absolutely amazed that such a simple concept can emerge to be so ruthlessly effective. In my observations at the workplace, most employees will consistently meet their deadlines for the assignments dished out to them whenever the management applies the CST. Submit your assignments on time and the carrot will (not always) be doled out generously: a pat on the back, a word of praise, or in the best scenario imaginable, magnifies your chances for a promotion or a huge bonus tremendously. Failing to do so and the wrath of the gigantic stick will (almost always) be felt mercilessly: a drastic pay cut, a suspension of employee benefits, dirty looks from your superiors during meetings and in the worst case scenario, your boss fries your cuttlefish (a witty Chinese expression to imply that you are fired from work and if you noticed, the word ‘fries’ can be re-arranged to become ‘fires’, brilliant!).

Unfortunately for me, the CST is so prevalent these days that even the volunteers’ committee at All Saints Home adopts its principles feverishly. As you have noticed by now, I haven’t been posting any fresh entries to this blog for centuries. Aside from enduring the punishing demands of meeting the never-ending deadlines at work, my habit of procrastinating continues to be the bane in churning out regular blog entries. After repeated successes in fending off the incessant naggings by Carolyn to update the blog, my string of good fortunes finally came to an end. She was forced to brandish the gigantic stick (studded with spikes and nails) in the CST to get me to post this entry on the Dumpling Festival celebration we had at All Saints Home yesterday. Needless to say, it got me writing.

As any average Chinese worth their salt in Chinese culture would know, a Dumpling Festival celebration will not be complete without the dumplings. And as any street savvy Singaporean would know, the prices of dumplings during this festive period would be jacked up ridiculously by the enterprising hawkers selling this otherwise ubiquitous snack. To prevent bankrupting the already dwindling reserve of funds we have for organizing activities at the home, the volunteers from SILRA home generously offered to supply us with 70 dumplings as treats to the residents at All Saints Home during the Dumpling Festival celebration. In addition, Christine’s mother also joined in the fray by providing us a fairly decent number of dumplings to ensure that we have sufficient dumplings for all the residents. For this, the volunteers from All Saints Home would like to thank them for their generosity and hope that we can repay the favor in kind if the opportunity arises.

And thus, I headed down to SILRA home with Emily to collect the throng of 70 dumplings laying piping hot in a Styrofoam crate. As luck would have it, we were also amongst the first to sample the dumpling made painstakingly by the volunteers at SILRA home. At first glance, the dumplings seem to be slightly longish and assume the shape of a trapezium rather than the pyramidal shape that we are familiar with. The taste test however, banished all the reservations we have on the dumpling’s aesthetics. Understanding that the dumplings were made for residents who are mostly aged, the fillings of the dumplings thoughtfully included chunks of lean meat, mushrooms and chestnuts chopped to bite-size portions, and even slivers of Lup Cheong (preserved sausages).

Under the suffocating skies of the midday sun, we were fortunate enough to ferry the precious cargo back to All Saints Home in the cool comfort of the air conditioning in Emily’s car. Arriving at All Saints Home just slightly before the start of the Dumpling Festival celebration, the volunteers wasted no time in cutting the dumplings into manageable portions and distributed them to the residents. At this point, I saw a sight that sent a shiver down my spine: a nearly toothless auntie wolfed down the entire plate of dumpling in less than 5 minutes without leaving a single morsel of grain! Mortified by the idea that she could have been choked by the dumpling’s sticky clumps of glutinous rice, I could swear that I noticed a satisfying chuckle from the toothless auntie after finishing her plate of dumpling. This was just the preview of yet another nightmare. The residents began to ask for second helpings of the dumplings after they have finished their first plate of dumplings. As most of the residents are getting on years, we refrained from giving them a large serving for their second helping to prevent the snack from taking a toll on the condition of their health.

Preparing the dumplings for distribution.

Residents tucking into the dumplings.

With all the dumplings nearly polished clean, we proceeded to celebrate the birthdays of all the residents who were born in the month of June. Coincidentally, we had invited the volunteers from the Volunteer Guitar Connection (VGC) to All Saints Home for a performance at the Dumpling Festival celebration. Strumming the tune of the birthday song with their guitars, they were the critical element in making this celebration a more raucous event. With the end of the birthday song, the birthday cake was cut by a matron-looking resident and distributed to the rest of the residents for yet another round of treat.

Birthday celebration with the VGC strumming the guitar at the background.

Wheeling the residents into the chapel for the performances organized for the Dumpling Festival celebration, I was extremely impressed that the residents were able to remain wide-awake despite the heavy meal and comfortably sat in the cool sanctuary of the air conditioned chapel. I struggled to suppress a yawn and followed the rest of the volunteers by clapping to the tune of the evergreen classics belted out by VGC. How on earth does one stay awake in this blistering heat? After nearly 3 years of volunteering at All Saints Home, the residents still surprise me to no end.

Linh and Chloe swaying to the tune of the evergreen classics.

Sook Ying and Meng Kwee getting into the thick of the action with the VGC.

When the celebration progressed to the rounds of games prepared by Linh, Trang and Sook Ying (who also co-EMCEE-ed this celebration with Meng Kwee) the adrenaline of the residents reached a whole new level. Eagerly raising their hands to participate in the games, the residents from All Saints Home have a thorough knowledge of the bounties (I mean prizes) that await them by winning each round of the game. While the floor of the chapel raged with the cries of the residents making their attempts at the correct guesses to the games, our 2 youngest volunteers, Quina and Eddy (I hope I spelt your names correctly since there must be at least a thousand permutations to your names from the way I heard them pronounced) whizzed through the crowd of residents and volunteers to hand out the prizes. Utterly charmed by the bubbly and impossibly adorable pair of toddlers, the volunteers wasted no time in taking their pictures as they distributed the prizes to the winners.

The residents listening intently to the emcees for the explanation on the game's rules.

Chloe repeating the rules to a confused resident.

Quina and Eddy, the irresistibly cute pair of volunteer.

As the distribution of the final batches of prizes was completed, the Dumpling Festival celebration officially came to an end. Perhaps it was the suffocating heat or the exertion from the preparing the celebration, all the volunteers were glad to be sitting around the tables at the dining area to feast on the remaining dumplings made by SILRA home and Christine’s mother, and engage in a noisy banter over who could finish the prodigious amount of food left over from the celebration. I am quite certain that the residents from All Saints Home had a good time during the celebration. Were they tired? Probably. But I found that the dumpling, which is a rare treat (for such a simple fare) to most of the residents in All Saints Home, evoked fond memories through a familiar and comforting taste. Suffice to say, it is their soul food. Recalling the toothless chuckle from the auntie when she asked for a third helping (to which I politely refused, as we had limited the residents to 2 helpings each), I suddenly realized that dumplings could even be a suitable replacement for carrots!


P.S. More pictures will be added shortly.