I’m done with Life Writing class! It has been both awesome and disappointing. Awesome because I got to meet some amazing ladies with incredible stories to tell, and got myself to start writing again. Disappointing because I realized that not all writing classes are equal, and if not for my awesome classmates, the class would be for naught. Next, I’m thinking of taking either an interior designing course, or a computer programming course. And hopefully continue writing on this blog.
One thing I did learn during this course is that apparently writing related segments, and then putting it together really does work. Here is my finish product for the course. Hope you enjoy, and constructive comments are welcome.
While my brother, Ocean and I still live at home together, we’re really more like neighbors.
Every morning my brother leaves the house at 6am. He’s a chef, and needs to get into work early to make preparations for the day, working odd hours (including weekends and public holidays). I have an office job, and barely leave the house before 9:30am. Sometimes when I have a late night out on weekends, or cannot sleep, I’d hear him in the bathroom going through his morning routine. Not long after that, I’d hear the front door banging shut. Once I woke up at an ungodly hour early on a Sunday morning for a marathon and we left home together. In the evenings, I get home at around 8pm, just in time to say goodnight to him. That is pretty much the extent I see my brother in daily life. Otherwise his presence is only felt in the slippery bathroom floor and the empty freezer where my ice cream is supposed to be.
Once in a blue moon, when he and I are both home for the evening, and he’s in a good mood, he’d come over to tell me about his latest girlfriend, or all the planning he has done for his upcoming trip to Japan. I am always amazed by the diligence he applies to planning for Japan (if only he were half as diligent at school!). This occurs every few months, whenever he has saved enough money to go. Personally, I don’t get this earn it and spend it concept (I’m more of a save for a rainy day kind of girl), but over the years, I’ve learnt to be encouraging and non-judgmental. Behind his gruff I-am-too-cool-to-care exterior, is a sensitive soul. Besides, I leave the censorship to to my parents.
But even on that front he gets off easy, and pretty much does whatever he wants. He brings random girls he meets on the internet home, never cleans up after himself, never shows up for family events and is in general downright rude. It is not because he’s a boy, and my parents are typical Asian parents who favour boys. But (I suspect) because they feel guilty about his traumatizing childhood (he was academically challenged, and spent his childhood either at school or after-school school), which culminated to what we thought was anorexia when he came back from studying in Canada after a year, looking like a skeleton (being a huge McDonalds fan, he was borderline obese when he went!). That, and because my parents just don’t know what they can do with him. After so many years, he’s pretty much immune to any parental rebuke (and he’s much too old for the stick).
As for me, you know what they say; you can choose your friends, but not your family. We are so different, that under normal circumstances, we probably would never have even spoken. But yet, here we are. He is the only other person in the world who has both my mother and father’s blood running through him. There has got to be some love in there somewhere.
I’ve not always been this sanguine about my brother however. Before he came along, life was pretty sweet. I was an astronaut, and the world revolved around me. You see that spike below, in the late 1980s? That was me and my parents.
As most middle class Hong Kong families did back in the late 1980s in fear of the the imminent handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 (especially after the 1989 Tienanmen Square Massacre), my family moved to Canada when I was about three to sit out our four year immigration “prison sentence.” Like most Hong Kong immigrants, we didn’t actually want to leave Hong Kong (the economy was booming and fortunes were being made), we just wanted the option in case the Communists come and take over all our hard earned money and put us all into hard labor (as they had done to our ancestors before they fled to Hong Kong). As a result, many “astronauts” were created. Not the floating around in a space suit kind of astronaut, but the kind who spent a lot time flying in the air between Canada and Hong Kong to get their passport and work at the same time.
My father was an astronaut; and to some extent, my mother and I were astronauts too. We flew back and forth quite frequently, spending about half the year in Canada and the other half in Hong Kong. My mother grew up surrounded by a large and boisterous family in Hong Kong, and could not stand the cold and radio silence of Toronto. She barely spoke English or knew anyone there at the time, so there really was only so much she could do. There were only so much pretend telephone conversations and meals (real and make belief) one can have with a chatty three year old; and only so much one can shop at Eaton and “Hope Renview” (it was only much later that I found out that my mother’s favourite store was actually called “Holt Renfrew”).
Kindergarten was only a distant afterthought. Between flying around and basking in my parent’s love, I did not have time for it; and I hated it. I cried so hard my first day in my Canadian kindergarten near Chinatown, that my mother, the softie that she is (or perhaps she missed me too?), gave in and didn’t take me back afterwards. The school principal called a few days later to find out where I went, and tried to convince my mother that it was normal for a kids to cry when left in a foreign environment, and that I’d get used to it soon.
While others remember stealing kisses from the girl on the bus (or vice versa), I remember the ugly yellow uniform of my Hong Kong kindergarten. I remember playing the drums by myself in the corner next to the window, staring out into space. Even at such a tender age, when children still played indiscriminately, I failed to connect with anyone. Later this would lead to years of self-doubt and confidence issues. But at that moment, I just wanted my mommy!
Not long after we moved to Canada, my mother got pregnant. Because her baby bump was very ’round’ at the time, she was convinced that it was a girl (a boy is supposed to have a sharp baby bump, according to wherever traditional Chinese superstitions come from). So for many months before the baby was born, I would cuddle next to my mother in the family living room next to the kitchen, where the white marble fireplace which we never used was. I’d gently put my cheeks on her stomach and talked to “Hoi Fa” (meaning “ocean flower” in Chinese – my chosen name my unborn sibling) in three year old gibberish, while my mother watched TV. After so many years by myself (there were no such things as play groups back then), I couldn’t wait to have a REAL LIVE baby sister to play with. I was going to be the best-est elder sister ever. We were going to do everything together in matching red outfits and pig tails!
Before my mother had a chance to get a proper scan to confirm her conviction however, her water broke on the eve of October 30, 1990 (3 months early!). After over 24 hours of labor having me, she wasn’t going to rush to the hospital just to wait and have oily hair for the rest of the week (another traditional Chinese superstition dictates that women should not wash their hair immediately after giving birth, and should at least wait a few days). She very calmly finished making dinner for me, called in reinforcements to look after me and washed her super curly, shoulder length hair before heading to the hospital. My brother was born shortly after by cesarean. When I found out, I ran up our long curving staircase to my room, jumped onto my bed and promptly burst into tears. Despite my aunt Anita and uncle Peter’s best efforts, I was heartbroken. My baby sister had turned into an icky boy. I fell asleep staring mournfully at my Mickey Mouse lampshade.
Needless to say, the arrival of my brother was marred with disappointment and nagging feelings, which I eventually identified as jealousy. It was not so bad at first. My mother came back a few days later, and the three of us (my mother, my father and I) went out for dim sum as usual. Since my brother was born premature, he had to stay for further observation at the hospital, inside a small plastic box. My mother marveled at the highly professional (and convenient) service of hospitals in Canada. There were round the clock nurses and and at least three pediatricians looking after my baby brother – all for a fraction of the cost of my uncomplicated birth in Chicago (a point which my father marveled at). My mother had absolutely nothing to worry about. Instead of staying up all day and night feeding and changing diapers, she was relaxing and enjoying herself with a nice cup of tea. After a week though, the hospital called asking my parents where they were, and why they had not come to visit at all. They thought that my parents had abandoned their newborn. I wish they had! Having just immigrated to Canada less than a year ago from Hong Kong, their English vocabulary had just not extended to “visitation” yet.
When I envisioned the arrival of my new sibling, my three year old mind had not factored in the fact that it would take my parent’s attention away from me. Indeed, I thought there would actually be one more person in my orbit to circle around me. Parents nowadays try to ease the entry of a second child into a household, by presenting the first child with gifts from their new sibling to generate good will. But my mother is fifth of seven children and my father is second of three. They have absolutely no concept of what an unwelcome intrusion a sibling is to a single child. I was suddenly thrown out of my limelight, and I did not like it at all.
It was dark days for me after that. I don’t remember much (I hear that the mind automatically blocks out unpleasant memories), but from what I’ve gathered in home videos, it was cringe worthy. Every time I see those videos, my heart goes out to that little girl. One in particular featured my brother lying naked in all his glory, in a small tub full of water in the shower, while my mother kneel next to him giving him a bath. My father stood next to them, holding his huge rectangular video camera over his shoulder, taking a video. And in the background, you can hear the voice of a little girl, repeatedly going “daddy daddy, look at me!” Then the camera shakes a bit as my father glances back and reproaches the little girl, telling her to be quiet. I stop watching after that, as embarrassment and rejection overcomes me all over again. I was supposed to be the focal point of my father’s big black machine. I am camera shy now, but back then I was a natural (perhaps this is where my camera shyness stems!)! I would just look straight at the lens and talk non stop, showing my invisible audience a photo album or just go about cooking in my toy kitchen, while my mother cooked in the real kitchen next to me.
Eventually I got over the fact that I have a brother instead of a sister (I even started to appreciate that I never have to share my clothes). I learnt to share the limelight, and appreciate the distraction (the trick is to be the most obedient, well behaved and hardworking little girl ever). At one point, my brother and I were even close. We’d flip over the plastic slide in our living room and play star ship. Or make tents out of our mother and fathers’ blankets, and played house with our stuff toys. I was the mother, he was the father and the stuff toys were our kids. Our domestic bliss however inevitably came to an end, as we fought over our “kids” and got into more and more hair pulling fights, which always ended with “Mooooooooom!!!!!” whereby we’d get sent to our respective rooms. Then my brother discovered video games, and I discovered books. That was pretty much when we started to become neighbors.