Category Archives: Scenes from childhood

The joy Luck club..

The Joy Luck Club is the first book which made me cry, or I should say, sob with ugly abandon. Mostly because I really connected with the stories in it, and one thread in particular, that of June.
I grew up with similar pressures, my mother wanted me to be a prodigy, like my cousins. I lived through that story-the crushing disappointment emanating from my mother upon the realisation that I was no prodigy, I wasn’t even above average, I was just average. Unlike the book, I did not have the moment of clarity when June realises she could make her own choices and be strong/good in her own way. I grew up knowing I was average and knowing that it was the worst disappointment I would ever inflict on my mother.
Or was it all in my head? Was I transposing my own disappointment onto my mother? Had I wanted to be a prodigy more than my mother had wanted me to be one? Do I still want to be a prodigy of some sort? 
For so many years, I was bitter and angry about failing. I developed a severe fear of failure which resulted in me never aiming for more than low hanging fruit. I had no idea about my own future, what I wanted; no dreams beyond just having a ‘nice life’. I had no ambition, zero passion for anything. I always took the easy way out…
Taking the easy way out meant that I would never have to try. Taking the road more often travelled meant that I would always be good enough to succeed. It meant never having to disappoint myself or anyone else. It meant never having to think about what my heart desired.
There is no shame in being average, as long as you know your own worth. That’s not me.. I am one of those average people who yearn to be outstanding and yet will do nothing but stamp their feet and complain about how nobody gives them a chance. Because as I’ve said, not giving something a go means I don’t ever have to go through that crushing misery that comes with failure.
Two years ago, I embarked on a career transition. Which has so far, failed to pay any dividends. I thought I would be one of those corporate people, marching along with the besuited crowds in our matching black/blue suits along the road to corporate success (whatever that means). The reality is I am still lost, still have no idea what kind of ‘corporate’ I want to be (again naive me thinking that there was only one kind of corporate) and having to subsist on handouts from my parents and the occasional cleaning work. 
If I knew my own worth, would my story have ended differently? If I accepted my worth, swallowed the fact that I would be nothing more than ordinary, would I be happier? 


Lessons from a cup of Milo..

When we were kids, I looked up to my eldest cousin a lot. She was tiny, petite she would say, yet she had the confident nature of a white man twice her size. She was the kind of person who would never back down, especially if she believed her rights had been encroached. And she was always not afraid to ask for things, be it an additional free sample, or a free appetiser at a restaurant. 

To some, it might appear that my cousin is demanding. She’s that type of customer which wait staff dread. To me though, her conduct demands respect, even if at times I think she goes to far and that respect turns into condescension. 
My cousin was not always this way-this unafraid to ask for things, this fearless in pursuing her rights. Family lore has it that she was rather timid as a pre-adolescent. The kind who waited for things to be offered instead of asking for them. Rather much like I have been and still am. 
Where did the confidence she had come from? How had she learnt to seize things instead of just waiting for things to blow her way?
There is an apocryphal story in our family lore-about how the shy, timid girl was obliterated and in her place stood the strong woman. 
Once, when she was a young girl, there was a van offering free samples of Milo. What child could resist that? But my cousin was too timid to go and ask for a sample and just stood around, waiting for the nice man to offer her one. Her mother, my aunt was incensed by her behaviour. My aunt then insisted that my cousin go and ask for a sample, if she wanted one. Because nobody was going to give her a free sample if she just waited around. In fact, that went for life as well, my aunt said, “nobody will ever give you anything. If you want something, you have to ask for it! Just waiting around for things to happen is futile.”
It is a life lesson which I wished I’d learnt a lot earlier. But till this day, I still wait for things to happen, I still wait around for the winds of change to buffet me around. I cannot bring myself to ask for things. When will my Milo moment happen? 

In dreams

Dreams can sustain, but paradoxically they can also drain. What having a dream gives, sustaining the hope behind a dream takes away. One can live perpetually in dreams, one can use dreams as a shield, as a mask, and one can be lost in a dream…

What did he dream for as a child? Simple, nebulous ideas of an adult life spent surrounded by riches. But then what did he know about wealth? It was a daydreamed future of penthouses and stuff, of first class travel and 5-star hotels. It was a dream formed by an impression of Pretty Woman, in short, he dreamt of becoming a prostitute, whatever that entailed.

He dreamt of high powered careers, one requiring expensive Italian bespoke suits and shiny hand-made leather shoes of every possible hue. He dreamt of being able to fly business class to exotic locales, of gold filigree cardholders and power lunches. Where people would call his people and deals were made over caviar, champagne and cognac. Perhaps his dream here was influenced by American Psycho, the movie. Perhaps he desired the life Christian Bale had, with the beautiful body but minus the blood and gore.

He never had any ideas about the realities of his future. His dreams were simple-pass this exam, then that one; a life signposted by academic honours. He did everything he was told to do-which was to excel in all things academic. Nothing else mattered, he was told. Do this one thing and all your dreams will come true. He knew that that couldn’t be true. For at some stage, he dreamt of becoming a fashion model, and really what fashion model needed good grades? He dreamt of his face in magazines, the high end ones only of course, on glossy pages carrying the bold monikers of the fashion elite-Prada, Dior, Gucci. He dreamt of hobnobbing with Tom Ford, of meeting Miuccia herself and being a favourite of Karl. 

Of his disparate dreams of his future, perhaps one thing was constant-a life of security, of comfort. A life where money would never be a concern and excess extravagance was possible. He dreamt of the different ways to get to that place never really rooting these dreams in the cold harsh reality of life. 
For what use are dreams if they do not reflect reality? 

Chinese New Year blues…

… I mean Lunar New Year, sorry.. Don’t want to be judged as being exclusionary to the other ethnicities who celebrate it.

It is tradition that on the eve of New Year, the entire family gathers for a family dinner. It’s one of the cornerstones of the celebrations.. As modernity has begun to encroach, even the oldest, most cherished traditions have begun to die out. As families splinter and move further away from the family nucleus, the eve celebrations have just become like any other normal day.

It has been precisely 6 years since I last participated in an eve reunion dinner.. My family lives an 8 hour plane ride away and I never felt rooted enough to make the journey back. I was raised to look forward and not back and inadvertently, for their part, my parents raised a child who would no longer hold on to the ancient traditions and old customs. Even the language, the one tie that could unite the family is lost. I do not speak any Chinese dialects making communication with my grandparents, the undisputed anchor of the family unit virtually impossible.

So I never celebrate new year. It’s just another day for me.. Which this year was besmirched by my foolish foolish decision to meet that man.

It’s a terrible thing, but on that day, not only was there no thought of family on my mind, but it was filled by deeply unholy, impure thoughts at that. By tacitly agreeing to have sex with him, I have ruined the one tradition that still held some meaning for me..

But again, that’s a choice-I can chose to mark this day with that calamitous event, or I can choose to see it as a day where I learnt that there are some fruits which should forever remain forbidden. I can pick to see that day as a somber day, one where I learnt that ‘perfection’ does exist and that I missed out on it. Or I can choose to celebrate it as a day I was finally able to be honest with my feelings, regardless of how inappropriate it was..

As I wrote previously, it all depends on points of view.. How I choose, that determines how I feel. Happiness is a choice, memories are a choice; there is always the option to remember things tinged with the red of anger or the calming blue-to pick between nostalgia of the bad events or to just choose the good memories. Traditions die out, evolve, they mutate and they change over time but memories, those last for ones lifetime.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it..

One of my favourite books when I was a child and which I still enjoy today, is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. It’s a great story, one in which the British would classify as ‘cracking’ if they still use that archaic slang term. A line from that book remains in my memory; when Ms Honey goes and talks to Maltilda’s parents and her mother tells Ms Honey; ‘you chose books and I chose looks’ with the implication that she, and not Ms Honey made the better choice. For some reason, Matilda’s mother reminds me of my own; even in the illustrations by Quentin Blake where she’s portrayed wearing revealing, tight outfits which show of her cleavage and her platinum hair dye.. Like a grotesque version of Marilyn Monroe..

My mother also wore revealing outfits, tight and cut low; the better to show of her assets.. She used to always say, ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ which is another thing Matilda’s mother said.. The only difference between them was that my mother dyed her hair in purple tints (it was the 80s) and placed far more value on education for her children than she let on.

My mother is a practical woman; to her, a woman must be smart, yes, independent to an extent but she must also be make the best use of her assets to be maximally attractive to ensure she snares a ‘good’ Man; a good man in my mothers opinion being one with a sizeable income and food earning power.. So I guess I got the best of both worlds?

My vanity comes from my mother; that part is undeniable. She taught me, from a very young age, that there is nothing wrong with admiring ones looks and using ones assets for ones own gain. She taught me the basics of fashion too. ‘Boy’, she used to tell me, ‘never ever wear white because white makes you look fat.’ By the time I was 6, I could pick out my mothers clothes for her; I knew the kind of suits she liked to wear to work; brightly coloured, tight and short…

My mother, she chose looks over books. And it got her a good husband, one she could boss around and one who now supports her in her old age. Did she make the right choice? It’s hard to say that she didn’t…

It was a different time back then of course; women back then had less options. My mother, being eminently practical knew that she could never ever have supported herself had she chosen books; she took the easy way out.. These days, are those options still open to us?

Had I chosen looks over books; gone down the stage of being completely obsessed over my body and my looks when I was younger, where would I be now? I certainly would not be in Melbourne; I certainly would not have even left my home country. I would be languishing back there; probably a struggling model or small time actor with little to no prospects. The fact is, as much as I deride my own accomplishments as negligible, I did make it into university and through it by my own steam. I got myself my jobs, however unsatisfactory they are, I got myself accepted into uni again. I earn my own money, it’s not big money but it’s my own. All of these things I achieved on my own by choosing books.

So why does my self worth revolve around how men perceive me? Why does it, in the end, always come down to looks? I have my own accomplishments, my own merits and yet all I can see when in front of a man is my deficiencies.. I seem to be able to only view myself through the prism of another man’s opinion… And often times, it leads to the question of my looks. The dating game; relationships-we tell ourselves that they are about what’s inside. But to get to the point where a man actually bothers about the contents of my heart, of my soul, requires looks. My mother was right then, in her eminently practical way; that the way to a man’s heart lies not in books but in looks and you’d best flaunt what you have.

How do you solve a problem like Nick? Or the road ahead..

How do you do that indeed? Nick’s problem is that he has no goddammned idea what he wants from life. Does he want a great career? Sure doesn’t seem like it since he’s toiling as a grunt in an average paid job, one that doesn’t even have that much work to begin with, so all Nick does is sit around on his ever burgeoning ass, reading Buzzfeed listicles and hoping that there might be a really funny one with great GIF’s today. Nick is wasting his life, his potential and his brain power, laughing like a goon am moving pictures of people falling over.. Such is life.

Where did it all go wrong for Nick? He sure as heck didn’t foresee this being how he would spend his 30s… Where did Nick get waylaid? Most importantly, why the fuck can’t he seem to get the moxie to change his life?

Dear old Nick can’t even decide if he wants love; an actual adult relationship involving the sharing and melding of lives; being vulnerable and accepting that sometimes, one doesn’t need to be perfect. But no, Nick would rather remain alone than have to reveal any of his sharp edges; reveal that he’s actually human with a writhing heart which feels pain and hurt and emotion. No, he can’t do that see, because he’s been hurt before and there’s why he has all this sharp edges. And dear Nick thinks that to find love, he can’t be anything less than perfect or the mens won’t want him. There’s precedent for him thinking that, but really, perhaps what Nick is missing is that these men see through the sham perfect facade he puts on. They can see that the shiny surface exterior doesn’t go past being skin deep… So maybe that’s the reason men walk away…

See, Nick plainly and clearly does not feel comfortable in his own skin. Never did, and maybe never will. There are a myriad of reasons for that but the overwhelming cause is that Nick doesn’t think very highly of himself at all. Nick sees himself as a big failure, a fraud of sorts. He was given every single opportunity one requires to make a good start in life and yet, pffttt, here he is, wasting all that potential.. A rotten investment as his parents would say. Nick feels like for his entire life, he has achieved nothing of note. Maybe he’s being hard on himself, but it’s hard to justify not feeling like a failure when the barometer of success, as set by his parents, is monetary. Ah, you say, but why does Nick care so much about his parents approval? Because that’s Nick in a nutshell, always seeking approval desperately as he doesn’t really like himself much.

Dear Nick is at a crossroads currently; one fork leads to the status quo, not rocking the boat, charting a steady course don’t apathy way and leading to self hate avenue; that course is known and it is wide and nicely paved, comfortable, familiar. The other path is thorny, filled with unknown terrors; potholes, sinkholes, things which go bump in the night… Failure is an option on the latter path, it is the hard way, the tough road… Which path should Nick take? There is a finite amount of time that Nick can spend dawdling with indecision. A path must be chosen. What are you waiting for Nick?

I am Nick. And I choose….

Cat’s in the cradle..

I have daddy issues. Massive ones. It’s no secret, I don’t deny it any film/ad which plays on the difficult father child trope will usually send me fleeing to the nearest toilet so I can cry my eyes out in the privacy of a stall. By cry, I mean really bawl complete with sobbing, not that signified single tear falling from eye soap opera crying…

It’s not that my father was a bad parent, no, he was pretty much a par for the course Asian father. The kind who didn’t say much to his kids but who worked and toiled to ensure that they would never live the life he had to live growing up. So growing up, my father was an invisible presence in my life. Growing up was definitely a case of ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’. When I first heard that song I was in college, immediately made me cry… Also, just watching that Nissan ad from the Super Bowl? What was I thinking? I haven’t worked up the courage to watch the Toyota one yet because I know that I will double bawl and one ugly cry a day is enough for me… Also, that Bud ad.. Why?!!! I cried so much.. There’s something about lost pets and friendship which sets my tear ducts off as well. That or I just like to cry a lot..

Anyway, my father used to take a lot of business trips overseas; one year, he was gone for a cumulative 9 months. And when he was away, it wasn’t that I missed him particularly since him being away was the norm. But now that I am all grown up, I realise that I never had the experiences that most kids have of spending time with their fathers.. Of having their dads teach them how to cycle, or of playing sports with their dads. Ok, I was fat and generally uncoordinated as a child so that was never going to be an option.. But still, it does feel that now, as an adult, I missed out on something.

My father was away so much, he missed seeing his kids grow up. And by the time he was ready to ease of work and make overtures of trying to get closer to his kids, it was too late, we had gravitated too far away for him to ever reach. Me towards a brittle tough aloofness, wherein I never trusted anyone enough to let them in; my sister going the opposite direction of being so extremely convivial that she had no qualms letting the wrong people in to her life. In other words, my sister and I had neither the time nor the inclination to bond with our dad.

All my life, I figured that my father regarded me as a big disappointment; not the son he wanted at all. I kept seeing his disappointment, it manifested itself in his rare words, never of encouragement but always, always telling me I wasn’t good enough. Did that contribute to my own crippling insecurities? Oh of course not, I just came out of the womb thinking that I could never be good enough for anything…

It’s not that I regret having little to no relationship with my father.. It just is a fact; generations of Asian men never had relationships with their fathers. Couple my homosexuality with the general feeling that my father wanted a different son and you have a recipe for a disastrous relationship. One of the reasons I so adamantly refused to leave Australia, even though it was the wiser thing to have done in terms of my career, was because I never wanted to risk having to live within a 100 km radius of my father. Every time I go back to visit, I am reminded of the general rot in our relationship.

After all that is said and done, how do you repair a relationship that has been damaged for so long? How do you repair years of neglect and disappointment? How do you look the man who birthed you and yet who always seemed disappointed in the way you turned out in the eye?

I missed out on a father’s affection.. And now it is too late to repair whatever damage that was wrought.

Those ads wrench my heart not because of what my father did or did not do with me whilst I was growing up, but because I rue what it is I never had and what could have been…..