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Living with little monkeys in Singapore (no, actual monkeys)


In the bathroom I line up my kids. “Right. So who took the toothpaste?” All three shake their heads.

“Come on,” I repeat, impatiently tapping my foot. More headshaking. “It wasn’t me,” they chant unanimously.

I make angry eyes. They shrug, and look at each other in turn. So do I. I look them in the eye, one at the time. Normally I can easily tell which one is lying. “You cannot brush your teeth without toothpaste; come on, guys. Where did you put it?’

Getting nothing but silence and blank looks, I give up. For this once, I squirt adult paste on their princess and superhero brushes. We brush, and I install them on the sofa, ready for story time.

Then I notice something on the lawn. A small, red and white tube.  I point, teeth gritted: “Now, look over there. Who threw the toothpaste into the garden? Seriously guys. Who did it? The fairies?”

They laugh, and my four-year-old daughter points at the book she’s holding.

It’s about flower fairies. “Flower fairies do not steal toothpaste,” I grumble.

I walk outside to pick up the tube before it gets dark. When I lift it from the grass I notice two holes in the tube, half a centimetre wide, and two apart. The tube is sucked clean; nothing remains but a strong fruity scent. From a branch, the culprit is looking down at me. Am I just imagining the pearly white sparkle in his grin? Then, I remember: I forgot to close the small bathroom window earlier that day when I went out. I grin too, and turn inside to apologise to my kids.

When we moved into an old bungalow bordering MacRitchie Nature Reserve, I knew we’d have monkeys for neighbours. Singapore’s long-tailed macaques are usually a friendly bunch. They will have breakfast in our palm tree, munching on the seeds while we eat toast and cereal. They weave through the bushes, travelling from one side of the garden to the other, surfing the big palm leaves that bend over with their weight, letting them travel from tree to tree without ever touching the ground. I can watch them for hours, sunk in my patio beanbag, especially the playful babies that remind me of my own wild offspring.

Our monkeys are shy and don’t approach humans. They are no nuisance, just a fun part of our adventurous new house. I learned my lessons, the hard way. I learned, on our first day, not to leave a bowl of bananas in front of an open kitchen window. I learned not to abandon the table in the middle of lunch when our furry friends are around. I learned that macaques like raw onions, papaya plant leaves, and especially pancakes. And that if we want to grow our own fruit, we will need to get a big guard dog first.

Our monkeys are great. I miss them when they do not visit for weeks on end; I really do. And I keep on learning to never, ever, leave food unattended. Or strawberry-flavoured toothpaste.

Karien blogs about her Singapore adventures at www.bedu-mama.com