When I was a kid under twelve, this was the time of the year for me. We celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival on the lunar calendar, which usually fell in early June. I used to indulge myself with yummy rice dumplings. My grandma (Chan Yin-Mui陳賢妹小姐) made the best rice dumplings (with peanut fillings) in the world and she loved seeing us eat them. This was also the time when I was supposed to do the academic year-end examination and it was very close to the beginning of a two-month long summer vacation.
Singapore is blessed with summer all year round. I am not complaining at all.
Usually, after the final examination, my family would make a short visit to our hometown in Southern China, a village very close to Shenzhen (蛇口, 深圳), to visit my extended family. Almost every single soul in that little village was related. Well, this rule also applied to the people lived in the next few villages!! Such visits were big productions – it used to take close to 10 hours door-to-door! Nowadays, it takes less than 2 hours!!
One of my highlights at the village was my daily duty of ‘watching’ Lychee (荔枝) trees my grandfather planted at the nearby Lychee orchard!! Every afternoon, I was given that task together with my cousin, Sun-Chuen, who was about 3 years older than me. We marched off to the orchard, which was about a 30-minutes walk under the searing hot summer sun. I had no complaint because it was there at the orchard that my cousin taught me how to climb trees, catch beetles (beautiful metallic green shield bugs, 金鳳, FYI, about 2cm long), and small crabs from the little streams which separated the rice fields.
As a matter of fact, by the time my summer vacation started, we were very late in the season to harvest lychee as most of them were over-ripe by then. However, lychee being a uniquely south China sub-tropical fruit (soapberry family), it loves the hot sun. The best, biggest, sweetest lychees were found at the very top of the tree crown late in the season. A small boy like me had the unfair advantage of reaching for them and then enjoying their dainty beautiful translucent pearl colored luscious sweet succulent sumptuous extraordinary fruit while I sat astride the low branches.
Most lychees contain seeds which should not be eaten. However, my father taught me a trick to turn a lychee seed into a toy top by driving a toothpick through its center. Who needed plastic toys when I could make as many lychee seed tops as I wanted 🙂 ??
Though it is not common, there are seedless lychees too, i.e., where all the seeds inside the fruit completely fades out. My senior colleague, Dr. George Wong, presented me with a big box of it the other day. The sweet fruits brought back tons of my childhood memories. My sincere thank you to Dr. Wong.
Sadly, my grandfather’s lychee trees are gone. That area has been developed into a very pretty high-rise residential real estate. My home town village would probably soon be integrated into the 前海深港合作區 (Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Cooperation zone) too. With this development, it is no secret that the properties there will be worth many many many bucks more. I have never thought much about the family inheritance. However, if I had a choice, I would rather have my grandpa’s lychee trees there and be that little boy watching it the lychees. May I only have those sweet fruits once every few hundred days…