Amy Tan was in town recently speaking at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and promoting her autobiography “Where the Past Begins” which had attracted favourable reviews even before it was published, such as “A profound work of endless fascination, discovery, and compassion” from Booklist, and “Wise and Profound” from Publishers Weekly. I flipped through her first best seller “The Joy Luck Club” in between waiting for the sisters shopping in malls in Los Angeles. It must be 1989 or early 1990s when we visited their parents in San Francisco every summer with the children to meet their cousins so that at one time I was babysitting something like seven if not eight children of varying ages, from six to 13, sometimes by myself, but usually with a brother in law.
Coincidentally, Rosita’s younger sister Hilda was in town last Friday to meet some old schoolmates and we had a chance meeting over coffee in her hotel with her husband. I was finishing off dinner when the phone lit up with “Private Number” on it, which I would normally ignore, but which I somehow picked up and found myself talking to Hilda on the other side, as if on the other side of the world. Well, it could well have been. Their travel schedules were such that it was the only slot possible we could meet, so I went over to their hotel for a rather strong coffee, which kept me up almost all night, but that would be another story. The hotel turns out to be the very hotel in Yau Ma Tei in which Lawrence stayed when he was last here at the start of Occupy Central. Suddenly, thoughts went back a few decades as we talked about the children.
In the Eighties and early Nineties, children played hard and went to a lot of birthday parties – at least that was my recollection when my children were young or much younger, which was some 35 or more years ago. Back then, Nancy who is Stephanie’s godmother was the organizer of most of the birthday parties. She had three sons, and between the other four buddies – including myself – there were six more children so that in the hay days we had parties with as many as ten adults and nine children of varying ages almost every month. Very often though, birthday parties were spaced or grouped with festivities such as Christmas, New Year or Easter for administrative convenience, but it was a chore sourcing presents for so many children so often. These parties ended when Nancy’s family immigrated to Canada.
Children parties can inadvertently bring out the best and worst of adults and children, such as the over-protection or defensive instincts of parents, the aggressiveness and possessiveness of children, or conversely their frailty and defenselessness. At times, some children demonstrated leadership, while others showed signs of withdrawal. Those were the days when there were no computer games or smart phones. Girls played Wendy House and boys played toy cars and trains. Lego was popular.
Still on birthday parties, we went to one two Sundays ago, ostensibly to a two-year old kid’s which was to have taken place two weeks earlier but had to be rescheduled because of an untimely or unseasonable tropical typhoon. His mother called Su again for the rescheduled date which became closer to her own birthday, so that there were more than a couple of cake cutting at the party. We decided to go anyway because Su had bought the kid some present. Well, this birthday boy has a brother about eight. The parents are barely in their forties if at all. Su gets to know the mother because the latter had made her dresses before she got married and the two became friends afterwards. It turned out that the father is the son of my ex-colleague in the Eighties and who is also a close friend of Nancy. What a small world indeed!
As could be expected, there were many children milling around, quite a few from the family – they certainly brought back old memories and other thoughts. An elderly gentleman came over to greet me and shake hands with me. I have never met him. I asked him whether we had met. He said probably not and introduced himself by his first name, but whom I later figured out is the grandfather of the birthday boy.
There were the obligatory photo taking sessions; and then it was revealed that it was close to the mother’s birthday as well, which called for more photo taking and cake cutting. The father or my ex-colleague’s son is a rather sociable character and appears to be a wine lover. He made sure that there was sufficient bubblies going round, and we had no problem with that. In the course of the party, the parents indicated that they were interested in Freemasonry too or at least not averse to it and Su suggested that maybe I invite them to some social functions at a suitable occasion, but that would be another story.
Our lives or for that matter anyone’s life and possibly Amy Tan’s life are inevitably and intricately interwoven between stories, sometimes of our own making but very often because we find ourselves in them. Amy Tan had the fortune or misfortune of growing up in intriguing environment and circumstances, turned her life into stories which in turn became best sellers; and now she is unraveling some of those story-lines to weave her autobiography, probably the first installments of it.
Maybe I should simply start to write, but regardless, I hope to talk to you again soon.