I dropped my popsicle stick into my soup with a plop. Why did I do that? I don’t know. Just like I don’t know why I stuck my finger on the electric fly zapper on purpose, or why I poured cold water on my baby cousin while he was taking a bath. I’ve tried to remember, with no prevail, what I was thinking while I did these bizarre things that no doubt caused my family much concern. I grew up with an air of cluelessness that I suspect still lingers in my head today like a numb fog.
The random, jumbled memories of my childhood home are disjointed. The apartment with the green leather couch, the white stray cat with an affinity for leaving droppings everywhere, the rusted metal bars on balconies sealing us in like we were prisoners, the pots of aloe plants, the small scurrying mice, and the white tile floors was where I grew up. My home was like an eclectic Oriental antique gallery. Chinese knots hung bright red and festive in every corner, and walls were decorated with calligraphy pieces. There was the omnipresent and unwavering heat infused in the China air that we chased out with air conditioners and fans. There was the problem of cockroaches hiding in cupboards and shoes, and the pesky ghosts of white ants that left the bedroom floorboards chewed without mercy but the floor polish intact.
I remember standing by the large wooden front door early in the morning to see my mom off to work; not quite comprehending that she would be back. I would spend the rest of the day mostly in the care of my grandmother. My mother’s absence emphasized the rest of my family’s presence, and a vacant part of me decided that this was because no one else in the family had to work. I was like an infant who did not quite understand object permanence. I knew nothing, and I did not ask. It was a blissful ignorance.
In my childhood home, I had a bucket of sand that I would dump out onto the cement floor outside and play with. I remember the sand, but I don’t remember what I built with it. I had a bag of smooth pebbles that my family used to help teach me simple math. I remember the beautiful rocks and their cream coloured marble smooth texture, but I don’t remember my difficulties with arithmetic. I had a red plastic toddler-sized motorbike I rode around the park. I don’t remember the bike at all; I’ve only seen it in pictures of myself – a little girl in a red checkered dress with a sunhat, sitting proudly on her plastic bike.
My beginning was made up of family, quirks, and memories. Every bit of home made me who I am. Even the food I ate was as much of a home as the structure I lived in. My grandparents’ cooking was not to be rivaled. I grew up with freshly steamed rice and delicious savoury stir-fry every day. One of my favourites back then, and even now, was tomato and egg soup. I remember staring at my bowl happily, knowing it held my favourite. I had just finished eating a popsicle, and was absent-mindedly holding the wooden stick in my hand. I reached forward, and dropped it deliberately into the bowl with a plop. I will never know why. There is an air of cluelessness that efficiently muffles all reasoning in my brain, and I think it has followed me all my life.