the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: January 2009

The best kind of love


It seems like only yesterday when I was sitting in the maternity ward at Children’s Hospital, trying to stay calm while we waited for you to arrive. Mommy was so freaked out that day because you weren’t supposed to come for another five weeks, that she even began that whole if-anything-happens-to-me talk, which I had to put a stop to before she worked herself up too much, even though we were all worried too. But you were here. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she woke up from the anaesthetic and said, “I’m a mother now…”

When I saw you the day after you were born, the first thought that came to my mind was, He’s so small. I had never seen anything like it; you looked so small, so very, very fragile, and so vulnerable, and  I knew then that I would do anything for you. But you were so strong that you didn’t even have to stay in the NICU until your due date the way most premature babies do; you were allowed to go home when you were two weeks old. I remember how secretly freaked out I was when Mommy said, “Will you be all right looking after him whenever I have to run errands?”, and all I could think was, This is me. What the hell do I know about taking care of babies?

For the first time in my life, I was responsible for another human being, and everything changed. It didn’t matter that I had been a babysitter before; you were different. You were my own little godson, and all I wanted to do was to take care of you, to protect you, to teach you all about the cruel realities of life before you found them out for yourself and had your heart broken, to tell you that it’s all right to be angry, to be afraid, to be sad, — because we’re only human — and regardless of what people thought of you, to be yourself and be all the man you could be. I could laugh at myself now for feeling this when you were only two weeks old.

aiden1You were such a well-behaved baby; I was always so proud to tell Mommy that you never cried on my watch, you ate when you were supposed to and slept the rest of the time. I remember how you never liked being set down in your bassinet, and we had to pick you up and walk around the house with you. I remember all those mornings when Mommy left you with me so that she could run errands — you would wake up the minute she left and cry, until I took you out of the bassinet and put you on my chest and you would go right back to sleep with me. I remember all the little conversations we had when Mommy wasn’t around; you smiled when I laughed, and you pouted when I cried, and it was as though somehow, in your little heart of hearts, you could understand. I liked to think then that you already knew who I was, that you remembered me even though I had been away for a month in Boston, that you would still remember me when you came home with Mommy in December.

I used to think that I would always be around while you were growing up; to teach you to speak Chinese and French because Mommy didn’t want you to be ‘one of those American boys’, to babysit you when Mommy wanted to go on a date, to let you hide out in my house when you got into trouble with Mommy. One of the most difficult things about being back here is that helpless feeling of knowing that I can’t be around to watch you grow up, to help take care of you when Mommy was going through the most difficult time of her life, and just to be there for the two of you. My only consolation is that you have the best mother anyone could ever wish for, and people all around you who love you and would protect you.

And now here you are: a year old, and the brightest, happiest baby I know. You will never know this, but it was because of you that I grew up more quickly over the last year and a half than I ever did before, and it was because of you that I learned that it was more important than ever to take care of the people who mattered to me and not care about myself. I know we won’t be able to see each other very often, and by the time you next come back you probably would have forgotten me all over again, but I have no doubt that at some point in time, we will be a big part of each other’s lives. I love you with all my heart, and I know the day will come when I can be proud of the man you have become.


In honor of Aiden Xavier Robb.


A booklover’s dream


So it’s finally here. After what must have been weeks — no, months, or maybe even years — of research and reviews, and probably frantic reading, the Great List is complete.

Behold the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: The Definitive List, as complied by The Guardian. It is every booklover’s dream, the one list they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives (quite literally, as reading everything off it will very realistically take that long). One thousand titles of pure fiction to take those of us with uncontrollable imaginations, and who love being swept away into that other world, away from the harsh realities and cruel awakenings of life, where nothing and no one else exists.

Be warned, though: this list has the potential to make you feel completely unread and primitive, even if you’ve been reading since you were a year old and you thought Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were enough to make you a literature buff.

The number of books I can check off this list as the ones I’ve read is disparagingly short. I feel rather benighted.

Labor relief

One of the good things — or possibly the only good thing in times like these — about this country is the vast number of public holidays it observes. They cut into the work week and make it shorter, especially during Chinese New Year and Eid, which take up two days and make going to work not even worth it. But for those who choose not to waste vacation days, here’s why it’s OK to go to work during a short week:

  1. The week goes by much faster and work doesn’t seem so excruciatingly long.
  2. Nobody can be bothered to go to work so it’s quiet all around.
  3. The traffic report on the radio announces that the roads are clear, making it the shortest report ever, as opposed to the usual, “The NKVE is backed up as usual from the Damansara toll… The Besraya Highway is currently congested due to an overturned truck in the left lane… People, please be normal, do not slow down to look because you’re holding up traffic…”
  4. Roads like the Federal Highway and Jalan Tun Razak, which are absolutely uncivilized on normal days, are clear and it takes a mere 20 minutes to get from Subang Jaya to downtown Kuala Lumpur.
  5. Nobody can blame you for not getting work done, because everyone is aware that everyone else has taken the entire week off.
  6. You have that many fewer days to deal with the stupid, lazy, irresponsible people.

Unfortunately, there won’t be many more short weeks like this for the next few months, until Eid rolls around again. So we will take comfort in the fact that most of this year’s public holidays are on Mondays and Fridays.

How will I know?

“Give me a reason to do it, and I swear I will.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This morning I did my weekly PostSecret trawl and found this:


It was nothing I hadn’t seen before; things like this pop up every now and then on PostSecret. Then I scrolled down a little further and saw this:


What makes it OK to leave? What is that sign we’re waiting for that will let us know we’re ready to let go of everything we have, pack up our lives and start all over again elsewhere? How will we know that our sign is right in front of us, how will we know that we’re doing the right thing?

I used to think that anything bad that happened to me was a sign that it was time to let go and move on, the most significant being the departure of someone that broke something within me, making all the troubles I was already having snowball and making me decide that I’d had enough and couldn’t do it anymore, that I needed to leave Buffalo (and in this case come back to this country) and rebuild my life. Maybe that was why it didn’t seem so difficult to prepare myself to come back here (although I hadn’t counted on how I would feel after I came back); because deep down I knew that I’d been waiting for something to happen, something to tell me that it was time.

And somehow, it feels like it’s happening again. In spite of the things I still have to do here, and the very few people who have become my lifeline over the last few months (although it’s really only two people, one of whom is completely immersed in her relationship and wouldn’t notice if I left, and another whom I’ve promised not to abandon and would bring with me wherever I go), I wonder if it’s happening for the right reasons. I wonder if That had been my sign.

The art of being together

Chinese lanterns dotting Paris's Rue du Temple

Chinese lanterns dotting Paris's Rue du Temple

When I was a little girl, I used to be very excited about Chinese New Year. To me, it meant being able to see my first cousin, who lives in Singapore with her family and is the only one from my father’s family whom I actually like, and it meant being able to be with my mother’s entire family in Penang. I used to spend New Year’s Eve waiting for my cousin to arrive, and spend New Year’s Day waiting for the day to end so that I could drive up to Penang with my mother and brother the next morning.

But as the years went by, that heady feeling started to wane. I began to look forward to it less, especially after my grandfather was diagnosed with colon cancer and my grandmother with Parkinson’s disease and they couldn’t travel as easily up to Penang anymore, and the number of my father’s relatives coming over to our house began to increase. By the time I moved to the U.S., I was relieved to have a legitimate excuse for not coming back for Chinese New Year, as it always fell during the Spring semester and I couldn’t have left even if I had wanted to.

And now, five years later, I’m back to celebrating Chinese New Year, with no reason, legitimate or otherwise, to escape it. I had thought that being away from it for five years would somehow bring that feeling back, but if anything, it somehow feels worse now. My grandfather is no longer here, my mother’s family now celebrates Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur, and the freeloaders at my own house have not dissipated. I sit and smile as my parents entertain their friends, sneaking naps in between visitors.

When we were young, we knew only what we saw and what we heard: our families all together in one place, sitting down to the reunion dinner, and the laughter. It is sad that as we grow older, we start to become more aware of the reality of life around us, learning of all the harsh truths and letting them steal what little love for celebrations like this we have left. And sometimes, as much as I don’t like to, I wonder what happened to the days when my cousins, brother and I reveled in having our own dinner table and pretended the adults didn’t exist, when our house in Penang was full of the energy and life that was usually so quiet at other times of the year, when I was allowed to stay up and watch my grandparents and grandaunts play mahjong so that I could learn because my mother didn’t know enough to teach me. And then I wish that I could give anything to have those days back.

All this makes me wonder why we can’t learn to set aside our differences and our grudges for just these two days, why we can’t learn to let go of certain things that have made us the unhappy people that we are, and why we can’t focus on the real reason we’re all here together in the first place. Right now my parents, my father’s brother and his family are all watching Ip Man together in the living room. So maybe it’s just me. Why can’t I?

And for the first time in my life, I didn’t buy any new clothes.

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am

“He was holding her hand and smiling, and I finally got it: They’re happy-slash-we’re over.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex & the City

It wasn’t really a surprise, but it threw me for quite a loop nonetheless. And it may not have meant anything, but it was still the greatest wake-up call of my life, and it was the kind of crash I needed to make me open my eyes and realize that all is fair in love and war now, and I need to get out of this immediately, if not sooner.

We said let go but I kept on hanging on
Inside I know it’s over, you’re really gone
It’s killing me ’cause there ain’t nothing that I can do
I stay in love with you
Mariah Carey
, I Stay In Love –

Baby, talk is cheap

“You were the one who talked about love all the time… And now it’s facing you, you run from it.” – Maya, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love

I hadn’t thought about it in a while. But then, while on the phone with Su Yin, my memory was triggered when she brought it up, asking which one you were, even though she already knew. And it all came back, even though I had been able to block it out relatively well over the last few weeks.

Even Cora got it right. But she only got it half-right, because I know that’s not all it was, because I see now how stupid, how incredibly, irrevocably stupid I had been.

Dear Mr. President,


I do not know you and I did not vote for you. I spent four and a half years in your country, learning only of your campaign in early 2007 and trying to catch up with it. And towards the end of it, I knew that if I had had the right to vote, I would have voted for you.

I know what a busy man you are, so I’ll make this short. You’ve made a lot of promises of hope and change, and I know there are many people where I am who would be grateful if you could follow through on them.  You’ve brought hope back and restored faith to Americans, and to people all over the world, at a time when we all feared that Hope herself had given up. America has never needed a change more. The world has never needed a change more.

Congratulations, President Obama, and good luck. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.