Ruam Mit 9

Good one-liners of late

“Buy Me Nothing” – on the cover of a Christmas card
“It’s Here” – on the cover of a Christmas card in the same series

“The most interesting place is the next place I’m going to” : On travel. It struck me as profound. People usually ask “What’s your favourite place?”; I ask “What’s the most interesting place you’ve been to?” Because with travel, every place you visit is going to have good and bad, it’s all apples and oranges, so how can one have a favourite?

I’ve been resolving not to write about grouchy subjects, but of late, everything has been so irritating to me. It’s been one of those days at work which has merited an update of my resignation letter to today’s date.

I’ve been contemplating that for me, the secret of the universe is “How do I not let little things get under my skin?” Then it got put in better perspective when I got home, and my dad had left a half-tongue-in-cheek message saying “Hit up Auntie Pauline for dinner.”

It’s my grandfather’s 100th birthday today. My dad was taking folks out to dinner in honor of his centenary. He figured Auntie Pauline might do the same! (Funny, though I’d always thought he was born in 1905, but maybe Dad’s counting in Chinese years.)

A couple of weeks ago I looked up Grandfather’s birthday date (because we’d celebrated it on the lunar calendar), and remember making a note to myself that on his birthday I’d get a box of unaju-don (Japanese eel over rice) and some McVitie’s digestive biscuits. But because I’d completely forgotten while wallowing in the detritus of my life for the past few days, all I had to offer were some persimmons. I’m writing all this while waiting for the incense to burn down.

Grandfather was an iconic figure in our lives, larger than life, perhaps a bit remote. When you have 16 kids and are travelling 11 months out of the year, that’s how it is.

But for me, we had a connection: he was very supportive of my writing. He bought me my first typewriter when I was in 7th grade. I’ve always thought that if I ever became a published writer, I would dedicate my first book to him. A decade later, all I have to show for it is a measly blog and some on-the-fly travelogues. Now on his centenary, I’m reminded of how little I’ve accomplished.

Grandfather passed away 12 years ago. I was already going through an emotionally rocky period when he died. I just sort of tuned out and dropped everything I was doing, because I had the same inclination many people have when someone elder in their family dies: they want to write about or document family history. As links to the past are broken, they realize they want to pass on the knowledge to the future generations. So I wanted to right a book for him; I felt I owed it to him, for the typewriter

But what often also happens is that while family members are still grieving, it’s too painful and raw to talk about the past. Especially in a large family like ours, where rifts have become chasms. So the family history remains unwritten, although it would make for a fascinating read.

The wanderlust gene has dominated in many of his progeny: many of us love to travel. Six months after his death, I found myself with use-it-or-lose-it-because-they-were-going-to-expire air tickets to get to Switzerland (the one-way fare to get to his funeral had cost more than round-trip, so this was what I had left.) I decided to use them to go to the the four E’s: Eastern Europe, England and Egypt. The fact that it was dead of winter was not a problem; but it was the first time I traveled abroad alone, which filled me with anticipation and nervous dread. It ended up being a marvelous trip, of course. And it got me hooked. I’ve never looked back since.

Apart from being a man of honor and humane disposition (he earned greater respect amongst his peers, if less of a fortune than they); Grandfather was also a very cultured man.

When I was a little kid, he would buy tickets to the opera or other live performances and make us all go. I would find them so tedious. “Can’t I stay home and watch ‘Tom and Jerry’? instead ?” I’d whine to my parents. I remember watching a film of “Don Giovanni” at the Alliance Francaise and kicking the seat in front of me, as befit an 8-year old. My parents ticked me off when we got home. “Even though you’re not enjoying the show, you can’t disturb others who are enjoying it.”

The only time I liked an opera Grandfather made us attend was “Hansel and Gretel,” because at least I knew the story. And on top of that, the novelty of Gretel played by a Japanese woman! I had no idea that Asians could be in a ‘classical’ opera.

When Grandfather was stuck in ICU after his first heart attack, he made my aunt scour Bangkok for tapes of his favourite Italian operas. “Anything by Verdi would be good.” They were rather hard to come by. But my aunt eventually found something, and he bore his hospital incarceration by blasting Rigoletto on his walkman. (He was also deaf, but too proud to wear a hearing aid). The nurses had to ask him to turn it down, because it was disturbing his fellow patients.

30 years later, the arts appreciation seeds Grandfather sowed have sprouted and taken root. Now I go to all sorts of shows: music, dance, theatre, etc. I may not always “get it”, but it’s away to get away from it all for an hour. In the audience, in the dark it’s a perfect time to be with nothing but your thoughts.(And of course I get irritated by others in the audience who talk, don’t switch off their cell phones or kick my seat!)

And maybe in the next ten years, I have something written something worthy of a dedication to KSC.


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