The camping holiday was Aunt Gek Kim's idea.
Or perhaps it was Uncle Tan's, although as usual
it was Aunt Gek Kim who did all the talking
while he sat beaming at them all through his
little gold-rimmed glasses.
Aunt Gek Kim
considered that her city-bred niece and nephew
would benefit from a week out in the open
breathing the fresh country air and studying the
world of nature. 'Their environment,' she called
it, and, 'the heritage they have a right to
explore.' Meili didn't want to explore her
heritage, which seemed to mean her father's
hometown in Malaysia, which as far as she
remembers is bleak and muddy and inhabited only
by cows and goats, and country bumpkins. As for
the world of nature, she could just imagine it
creeping into her tent in the form of
caterpillars, ants and spiders and all other
crawling things that were no doubt lying in
But she kept quiet until they had gone
and she sat with her father and mother on the
balcony, watching Zilong play at camping with an
old blanket slung over the clothes line.
can take Zilong," she offered and thought with
pleasure of one week free from the noise and
silly jokes of a nine-year-old boy. "Kids like
that kind of thing," she added. "They can take
him and I'll stay at home with you," she said.
That, as far as Meili was concerned, settled the
family's holiday plans very nicely. But her
father and mother had other ideas.
and Uncle Tan have gone to a lot of trouble
planning this holiday," said Mrs Zhu. "You know
your father can't get off work in the school
holidays this year and they've put themselves
out so that you can still get away and enjoy
"That's all right then. I'll
enjoy myself a lot better at home."
know that, Meili," her father put in. "You can't
say you don't enjoy something you've never
"I haven't tried sleeping on a bed of
nails, but I know I wouldn't enjoy it," said
Meili, and heard an outburst of giggles from
Zilong's make shift tent. She had thought the
remark rather witty of herself.
But Mrs Zhu
was not amused. "It isn't just that," she said.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy the trip as much as
anyone once you're out in the open with all the
freedom and all the things Gek Kim was telling
us about; but dear, I'll be so much happier if
you're there to help take care of boy-boy. You
are six years his senior and can be so helpful
and responsible when you want to be, and your
uncle and aunt will be very busy with the tents
and cooking and everything."
That was always the way of it, because she was
older and a girl. It was unfair and she told
them so, at some length.
"That's enough, Meili,"
said her mother. "Nobody's being forced to go on
a holiday. If that's the way you feel, you can
stay at home, but so will Zilong. If his big
sister's too selfish to help keep an eye on
There was a shriek of anguish from the
makeshift tent and Zilong hurtled out backwards,
wailing, "Meili, you've got to come. Make her,
Dad. Please, Mum, make her, so we can all go
camping with Aunt Gek Kim and Uncle Tan."
"She'll go, Zilong," said Mr Zhu, smiling at
Meili, "and she'll love every minute of it."
That was what they all said in the two weeks
that followed. Her father, her mother, Aunt Gek
Kim, Uncle Tan, and even Zilong, catching the
idea from the grown-ups. Whether she shrieked
and stamped and slammed doors or just sat
looking rebellious, they all said, "But you'll
love it when you get there," as if she was the
only person who did not know what Meili liked
Meili kept on arguing until the
last day, but nobody listened. She could do
nothing but scowled and thought her own private
thoughts about brothers, uncles, aunts and
healthy camping holidays. Finally, the morning
came and Meili's last battle was lost as Uncle
Tan stowed her unwillingly packed suitcase in
the station wagon.