Yep. That little kid you see in the photo is me. I have got the confirmation this morning and I will get to that in just a moment. Like many entries I write, this one started with a concept, a consolidation of ideas for the past few days. I have got my thoughts linked and drawn out on a piece of paper last evening ready to be put down in words, in a snippet style. But like many entries you see, I prefer to start each piece of writing with a picture – an anchor to the words that follow. As I dug deeper into the digital archive my father has recently created for my sister and I finding that one picture that suits the theme, my emotion ran high. One event led to another and I have decided to chuck most of my initial train of thoughts onto a perhaps a later schedule. Besides, today is a Sunday. Sundays are for the family and the pondering of the good old days.
It all started with the 2004 film “13 Going On 30” played on TV one relaxing Saturday night, last night to be exact. My initial plan was to read a book borrowed from the national library while accompanying Cynthia to be the coach-potato-in-crime. That did not work out. I ended up laughing and crying with Cynthia, as we watched “13 Going On 30” together. For those of you who may not have heard of the storyline, a 13 years old girl wakes up one day as a 30 years old – exactly what she has wished for on her birthday. And all of a suddenly, there is a memory gap of close to 2 decades.
Yesterday was also the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally – in Hong Kong as far as I can remember – families carried lanterns lit up using candles joining hands as they walked to a park nearby. It was a pretty scene to see in the evening. We would spread a mat onto the ground; my sister and I would place the candles and mark the perimeter of our base; and we would eat mooncakes and pomelo and other munchies as we admired the full moon. Replenishing the candles around us and inside the lanterns was enough to keep my sister and I occupied throughout the evening. Occasionally, lanterns would catch fire burned to the core. That was as close to playing with fire as we could get.
So, it was “13 Going on 30” in the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, with I in Singapore, my parents in Hong Kong, and my sister in her new family not too far away from where I live, I could not help but pondered: How years have vanished! And how I have changed!
In retrospect, I should have gone through the old photos with my parents when they were here in Singapore earlier on this year. But you know how we always think we have better things to do, I have missed that opportunity, an opportunity of a narration of my very own childhood story. This morning, as I looked at each photo of my sister and I and our parents – a visual memory of our childhood – there was a surreal feeling of being taken back in time, a time that I have zero recollection. I was unsure of the location; and I was not even sure if it was me in some of the photos. Panic struck and I called for Cynthia’s help. “That should be you, I think,” she replied casually as she continued with her breakfast. “I think” is not good enough. I need certainty!
So I called home. My mother picked up the phone while she was still asleep. I was so happy to hear her voice. Describing the photos in detail, one by one, I kept on asking if it was me or my sister or someone else. I wanted to know where we were and I wanted to know what we were doing. To be fair, I think my mother must have had a hard time trying to take in what I described and to give a definitive answer. “That should be you,” said my mother as I described what I wore. But she added, “Although you sister would be wearing the same too. You two shared some of the clothes as you were growing up”.
The signboard says Macau, was I there? The background is a mountain and a lake and there are straws of grass as the foreground, was I the kid in the photo? That green lion statue, where was it? It was a picnic, a mat, a half eaten apple, a bottle of milk, a little toddler playing with a plate, was that me? My dad was half naked, making a face, and the little one with long hair must be my sister; how come I was not in the picture?
I talked non-stop, bombarding my mother who has freshly woken out from the bed with questions after questions. But like all good stories that ideally should come with a good ending, my dad returned home from fishing. I could hear our dog scratching the door in anticipation. “I will ask dad to call you later, OK?” asked my mother. “Sure,” I replied. “I will be waiting,” added I.
Ten minutes later, my phone rang. “That was you in that photo!” exclaimed my mother. “That was me!” exclaimed I. Apparently, my parents were watching the DVD – that I too should have a copy – as they commented on the locations and the circumstances of each photo. That DVD! I have almost forgotten. “You dad has sorted the photos nicely on that DVD,” said my mother, “One section for you and another one for your sister.”
I quickly slotted the DVD onto my computer and was surprised to see the following message from my father on the screen. The title is “回憶”, which means a recollection. I would have missed his message to me had I not planned to write this entry!
I will not translate the message in full here, unless someone really wants to know. My dad has a few life mantras that he often shares with me. One is about the end of bitterness comes the sweetness. Maybe because his life is full of hardship. Endurance appears to be one of his strengths and he always works towards that “sweetness”, that reward. And he often projects that ideal reward onto the success of my sister and I. Another one is to be happy is to be contented, without greed, without evil deeds, without jealousy, and without hatred. Maybe because these ideals are imbued onto me since young, they seem to be my personal mantras too.
It was my parents’ turn to describe the photos while watching the DVD thousands of miles away from me. As I closed my eyes trying to recall the photos that I have spent the entire morning admiring, I imagined I was with my parents in Hong Kong, in our living room, watching and laughing at these visual memories together, as they narrated through the photos. It has been a while since we laugh, in such openness. We touched onto the topic that I found it hard to tell between the pictures of my sisters and the pictures of mine. “When your sister was young, people said that she looked like a boy,” said my mother. She then paused, a long paused. And I continued, “And I looked like a girl?” “And you looked like a girl,” laughed my mother.
It was such a lovely morning, such a sweet morning.
Spend time to make a living if you may, spend time to get entertained if you wish, spend time to read if you want to acquire new knowledge, but don’t forget to put aside some time to document your life or lives of those whom you love (online social networking does not count, unfortunately). One day you may wish to answer the question on how years have vanish.