Saturday, December 13, 2008

Switching Identities

Switching Identities

The year was 1907, Pearl Lee and her slave Little Flower boarded the steamer at Hong Kong to sail down the Pacific Ocean to Singapore. Pearl’s parents accompanied them from Canton to Hong Kong and said goodbye to their precious only daughter.

“What you reach Singapore, you will have a better life. Seng’s parents are very very rich.”

Pearl had been betrothed to Seng as a baby. Seng’s parents were rich rubber tycoons in Singapore. The betrothal was a common practice among the rich people in China at that time. When the children were in their late teens, they were wedded irrespective of the protests by the kids. She had never seen Seng and she went on this trip reluctantly.

Little Flower was born to a very poor peasant family.

“Not another bloody girl!” her grandmother and father exclaimed.

Before her mother could get up from her bed, Grandmother had snatched the baby and sold her to the mid wife who earned more money as a baby broker than delivering babies.

Pearl’s parents wanted a slave girl who would be a playmate for Pearl, and as the slave grew older, she was expected to do chores for Pearl. And in an extreme custom which would be frowned on in today’s world of woman’s lib, she would have to sleep with Pearl’s husband at the whim and fancy of Pearl.

Fate had Pearl and Little Flower growing up in an upstairs-downstairs situation. They grew up really close and surprisingly, rich little missy, Pearl wasn’t spoilt brat. She had a kind heart, and shared her food with Little Flower. Pearl’s parents were quite liberal and let the girls go out chaperoned by an old slave girl, Peony to the shops and the parks.

On one of the excursions when they were fifteen, they went past the village school. Pearl met Tiger in the school ground doing chores for the school master. Tiger’s parents were too poor to send Tiger to school. In exchange for lessons, Tiger had to do chores for the school master. Tiger was carrying water when Pearl and entourage came by the well to have a drink of water. As a perfect gentleman, Tiger give them some water from his bucket.

It was love at first sight for Pearl and Tiger. It was really silly of Tiger to even remotely dare to talk to a rich girl, far less to say to fall in love with one. Peony was not only a chaperon, but a spy as well. She reported to Pearl’s parents about Tiger.

They decided they had to act swift and fast before a scandal erupted. They went to the shipping agent to book the next available passage for Pearl and Little Flower to Singapore. Pearl got Little Flower to smuggle a note to Tiger to inform him of their pending departure. Little Flower returned with the message from Tiger that he would sell himself to a consortium that was offering free passage in return for three years of labor in a rubber estate.

On board the steamer, alone in their cabin, Pearl made a pact with Little Flower.

“Little Flower, let us switch identities, I, Pearl would become you, and you, Little Flower become me.”

“Are you sure?”

“When we land in Singapore, you will marry Seng, and I will wait for Tiger to come to Singapore.”

“It is a good idea and nobody would know if we don’t tell anyone. I am very happy to be in this situation.”

Little did Pearl know what lied ahead of her.

When they arrived in Singapore, a rickshaw pulled up.

The driver said, "Missy, please sit. You, the slave will have to walk."

It was hot and humid in Singapore. Pearl, now the slave girl had to walk, and she had to walk fast to catch up with the rickshaw. They walked miles and miles, and Pearl's feet were blistering.

They arrived in Seng’s mansion, Little Flower enjoyed her role as the future madam of the house. Seng’s family was not as generous as Pearl’s family in Canton. Besides serving the madam, the slave had to help the other three slaves in the household chores and the garden.

The older slaves had their own hierarchy and they bullied Pearl and made her do the difficult chores of carrying tanks of water and chopping wood and emptying all the potties. One must bear in mind, it was 1907, there were no proper sewage system and piped in water. Poor Pearl, she had never had to do any work back in Canton. Doing the laundry caused blisters and her palms soon became callous.

On the other hand, Little Flower, the young madam enjoyed her new role to a T. She joined other rich young ladies in their daily mahjong sessions. She didn’t have to lift a finger. There was however, one thing she didn’t like about this new pampered role. It was Seng, he was obese and had an obnoxious odor and very unkempt. He was a sex maniac. Before Pearl and Little Flower arrived, he had been a frequent patron at the brothels. The prostitutes there hated him for his sadistic addictions, but they had no choice or they would be beaten by their mamasans.

Now he had two women at home at his disposal. Appalled by his uncouth ways, Little Flower was crafty by fending a headache and a fainting sickness. She pretended to be frigid and asked Seng to make one of the many rooms in the mansion for Pearl.

Seng went to Pearl for his conjugal rights now that Little Flower had denied him his rights.

“You are my slave, you do anything I want,” Seng said gruffly.

Initially Pearl would fight him off, but after suffering his whipping and hair pulling, she gave up fighting. Everynight, after being used by Seng, she cried herself to sleep.

“When Tiger comes, things will be better.”

But things never got better. Tiger never came. To make things worst, Little Flower and Pearl got pregnant at about the same time. Little Flower gave birth to a boy. He was treated like a prince. Pearl gave birth to “another bloody girl.” Though Seng was the father, he did not acknowledge her to be his daughter. She lived her life as a slave girl.

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