May 23, 2015



Found this picture on my laptop. Don't know who the original artist is; thought it was appropriate for today's subject.

Didn't update Tuesday; spent the past week or so at other people's houses without my laptop. I came back to over 80 emails in my inbox, and it made me want to scream.

Anyway, just a little blurb about my mother's childhood for today, since she used to live in Hong Kong back when things were... different. Half of this conversation took place in Cantonese, so parts have been translated.

My Mother's Family

"Mum," I said, "tell me about your childhood. Anything interesting?"

"No," she replied, "not really."

"Well then just tell me about your life."

"It's pretty boring. We used to live in a stone house. Then, we moved to a wooden house, in one of the poorer areas (she didn't specify where, she literally said "poor-people area"). Your grandfather gambled a lot. He gambled all his wages away, so we had to move. After that, he managed to stop."

I asked her where she went to school.

"My brothers and I went to private school. My father worked two jobs -- as a streetcleaner, then, because some of the garbage he picked up was saleable, he would resell whatever he picked up -- and he put us through school. We were too stupid, didn't do well enough on our tests, to get into publicly-funded schools."

"Then what?"

"Then I went to nursing school*."

"Tell me about your mum. Did she work?"

"She didn't work until I was in middle school. Then, she worked at a perfumery, bottling perfumes.

"She's amazing (or "formidable", this was a little harder to translate). If she had learned to read better -- she was nearly illiterate -- she could have done great things. Her memory was incredible -- she only ever had to see or do things once and she would remember everything. If I ever touched the flowers or disarranged the house in any way, she would come home, see it, and beat the lights out of me. I remember once, I accidentally burned the sleeve of my new jacket** while cooking. My mother beat me like crazy after that."

My aunt, washing the dishes laughed sympathetically. "You're lucky you even got to go to school," she said. "We had to work because we didn't have money. And I met your mother a few times, back in Hong Kong. She had a sharp tongue, complained about a lot."

"She is very smart," my mum said. "She lives in welfare housing now, with my older brother and his wife."

* There is more to the story, but she didn't elaborate in this conversation. Basically, she had to choose between arts and science in school, and she chose science. She told me that she really should have chosen arts, because she was much better at those subjects, but she chose science because she was young and stupid***

** This jacket, transliterated as "meen lap" from Cantonese, is a super warm, down-stuffed [overstuffed], silk-encased affair. They're very expensive.

*** One of my favourite stories from my mum is about how "stupid****" she was when she was very young. She used to ride the bus, look out the window (as one does), and notice that the road and outside environment were passing by very quickly. "I wondered how they made the world outside move to transport us from one place to another," she said, "and I didn't realise that we were the ones moving. I was super confused; in my head, I just had a giant question mark."

****I thought she was brilliant.

... and that's it. Those are all the details my mum volunteered before she got distracted by her Chinese dramas. Stay tuned for my dad's stories. As a totally unrelated side note, Hong Kong has dismal elderly care.