Friday, October 26, 2007

"The Home"

I always dreaded walking through the hallway of that hospital for the aged, which most would call an old age "home" or simply "the home", not because I dreaded visiting my mother-in-law (Ah Moo), but because I couldn't stand the sights of pain, suffering and loneliness. To get to Ah Moo, who was situated around the corner near the end of the long L-shaped hallway, I had to pass by some dozen other residents, some bound by their wheelchairs, some crouched over the arm of a chair, sleeping presumably, some slowly walking with the aid of a cane, some shaking and screaming on their beds, and some would just sit silently with an empty stare into the air. It was heart-wrenching.

I couldn't help but imagine the abundance of history that must have been held captive in that place.

Take Mrs. Wong for instance. With long, frail, white hair, a shrunken face and small feet that were remnants of a time when binding feet was the rave, she sat quietly, pondering. Her early life was a life borne of aristocracy. Having had to leave her home town in China during war, she ended up in Hong Kong, where she later became the matriarch of an influential family. The failure of the family busines after financial turbulance in the real estate and stock markets caused her family to retreat to a more modest lifestyle. They ended up in Toronto during the mid-nineties. Unable to look after her at home, her remaining daughter and her family was forced to put her into "the home".

Then there was Mr. Chan, bound to his wheelchair, with partial paralysis to his body. Mr. Chan was a classical ballroom dance instructor during his youth, as evidenced by walls full of photographs of a handsome young man suited up in dance gear positioned with a different young lady in their pretty dresses, in each and various dance poses. Mr. Chan did not have any children. After surviving a stroke, he was eventually placed in "the home".

Across from Mr. Chan's room was Mr. Lee, who was known in "the home" as a petty thief. And no wonder. Mr. Lee had been a thief most his life. A product of too much education, Mr. Lee spent much of his early years in school. One day, in his mind, Mr. Lee decided that that was it, he was done and headed for the streets. To his family's chagrin, he refused to go home. They begged him, but he just wanted to beg on the street. He lived there for years, begging, stealing what he can, until one winter morning when he was found near death by a passerby. After a brief hospital stay, he was sent to "the home". His family still had idea where he ended up and presumed he was dead.

Lastly, Ah Moo. She was a beautiful lady in her youth. A picture of her and her adopted daughter was by her bedside. As a child, Ah Moo lived with her aunt, who tried to marry her off shortly after she turned sixteen. As an act of defiance, she ran away from home and never looked back. She ended up in Saigon, Vietnam. She was hardworking all her life, first working for a wealthy family as a servant and later, peddled things door-to-door to make a living, from jade bracelets to gold rings. At fifty, she decided to adopt a newborn daughter, whom she had hopes in for taking care of her in her old age someday - that wish later became a reality as Ah Moo's health gradually deteriorated. With numerous ailments, she was confined to her home, taken care of by her daughter and husband. That care became more and more complex and intense, until it reached a breaking point. There was no choice but to put her into "the home". It was a dreadful decision.

After each visit, I left with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was glad to be leaving "the home". On the other hand, I felt guilty leaving so soon. As I walked back around the bend of the hallway and towards the light-filled exit, I tried to close my mind to the imagery, sounds and smells of what seemed to be a dumping ground of living human artifacts. It was not easy.

If it weren't for Sunday Scribblings, I wouldn't have written this.

Monday, October 15, 2007

If I Could Turn Back Time

I am in one of those reminescing moods today after recently reconnecting with some childhood friends. To my delight, all of the people I was able to contact still remember me after so many years. These reacquantainces make me realize how disconnected I am from those early days. It's as if a good chunk of my life was sliced off and then rammed back in after some time, full of dust and blurriness.

One of these friends told me I helped her break a particularly bad habit, not by my direct persuasion, but by the fact that she wanted to impress me! And yet, I only find out about this two and half decades later. Was I ever oblivious!

This makes me think, "If I could only turn back time, what would I change?"

I had to think about this one for a while - it's been over twenty minutes since I wrote the last sentence. The answer is: not much. I could say to be less oblivious, but that would be out of character of any typical adolescent boy.

One thing I would like to have done better is to take more pictures to help me remember better far, far into the future.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Music In My Mind

I can't get rid of it - I have music in my mind! It's wonderful, what can I say... I see skies a blue, red roses too...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Polite Smiles, Painful Tears

As fate would have it, Steve reacquainted with that elusive girl from high school, whom he knew very briefly and only in passing. In fact, Steve does not recall ever having had much of a conversation with Jane during high school. He is however, very fond of the polite smiles they exchanged in the hallways and classrooms, when she wasn't huddled with her then boyfriend by their lockers. They seemed so very much in love.

After high school, Steve and Jane's paths never crossed in any meaningful way other than polite smiles on the streets and in the malls and restaurants. Then after over 17 years, they finally get a chance to sit down for a nice chat over dinner. What is originally supposed to be a discussion about business, turns into something Steve totally does not expect - the outpouring by Jane of years of pain, anger and frustration.

Steve is happy to hear that Jane's career has blossomed. Jane has been keeping herself busy with many interests and talents, perhaps as an escape from her personal struggles. Steve is saddened to learn that Jane's personal life has been one battle after another. Jane's life was a struggle from the very beginning.

After high school, Jane got married, but not to that guy Steve saw her always in a huddle with in the hallways by their lockers. That guy apparently hurt her so much that she just found someone else very quickly and got married, right out of high school. Steve is quite shocked by this but he is afraid to ask what the other guy had done to her and she doesn't offer an explanation, so he just leaves it. Steve thinks to himself sadly, "what a sign of troubles to come for Jane's marriage."

Steve would not have made such a snap decision personally but empathized with Jane's decison knowing what must have been her terrible state of mind at the time. Jane's vision was obviously blurred by the heavy toll on her emotions.

Although Jane is still married to that same man all these years, that is only so because of their young daughter, who Jane explained is very mature. Jane's daughter is the glue to a marriage on the rocks. Jane and her husband are total opposites, and have become so tired of one another that every other conversation turns into a nasty argument.

Jane had separated from her husband a few years back. She even tried to get a divorce but was unsuccessful due to sympathy for her daughter and mounting legal costs. Jane is convinced that her husband dragged the process on for so long that her legal costs swelled beyond her comfort level. At the same time, Jane was taking care of her daughter all by herself, with little help from her husband, except for the occasional visit. It was a tough time for Jane.

Jane recounts a story of one evening when she was all alone. Her husband had taken her daughter for a couple of days' visit. She felt so lonely without her daughter. She put herself in the bathtub with a bottle of liquor and some pills by her side. She drank and drank and drank, in a downward spiral of depression. She could not tell how many pills she took but enough to almost kill her. Fortunately for Jane, she woke up, but in the middle of the night, in the bathtub realizing what she had almost done. She closed her eyes and saw her daughter - that awakened her senses. She picked herself up and forced herself to continue.

What comforts Steve is that through all of this turmoil, Jane saw the love in her daughter. She found the strength to continue living. She found a different angle to view a difficult situation. Steve feels so proud of Jane for that.

From a very early age, Jane was thrust into a world of responsibility because she is the eldest child. She was expected to take care of her siblings and to always set an example. Jane recalled a time during her family's stay in a Malaysian refugee camp where they took on excruciating chores to earn extra food. As the eldest child, Jane was expected always to take the lead in performing the chores, which had to be performed under unsanitary and bordering on cruel conditions, at least for a child. But then, Jane's childhood was no ordinary one.

Jane's first encounter with suicide was when she was seven. The pressure put on her was so unbearable that she decided she would throw herself off a cliff. Fortunately for Jane, her brother held on to her foot and dragged her back, so that she could not go through with it.

As Jane recounted story after story, her painful thoughts manifest themselves through increasingly moistened eyes. She feels so much pain inside. All that Steve could do is listen and allow her to release the feelings trapped inside. He really wants to give her a hug but holds himself back to keep a professional distance.

When Jane speaks about her father, her sadness intensifies to anguished levels. Her father hardly spent any time with them in Vietnam because he was engulfed in his own world. When it came time for her family to leave Vietnam, her father was nowhere to be found - they had no choice but to leave without him. Jane would later learn that her father did not meet a very good fate. He died a lonely and sick man in prison.

As if all of Jane's struggles weren't enough, a couple of years back, Jane, only in her thirties, found out she had cervical cancer. Since it was caught early enough, doctors were fortunately able to remove the cancer using laser treatment. However, Jane must now live with the overhang of a recurrence of the disease.

Jane is convinced that she will die young. Steve tries his best to comfort her. He tells her that it is important for her to be positive; that a positive attitude and outlook can sometimes conquer illnesses when medicine cannot. But, of course, words are easier said than done. Steve wonders what he would do if he was in her situation. Would he fair as well?

Steve can sense that Jane is still going through some turmoil, but is consoled by that fact that Jane appears strong. Steve knows deep down that Jane can find a path to make it through.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Forever Grateful

In my younger days, I used to wonder why my parents didn't take more risks when they were younger. I used to think they could have been something much greater. They could have started a business. They could have invested more aggressively. They could have had so much more.

But, I always end up bringing myself back to how they risked everything to leave a country they knew so well but a war-torn country that was a deterrent to its people; to how they risked theirs and their family's well being by stepping onto that boat destined for dreams; to how they did the best they could in a harsh refugee camp for four months; to them fairing so well during their interview with the Canadian immigration official that he approved our application to come to this wonderful country without much hesitation; to them stepping foot on a totally unfamiliar land with not a penny to their names; to them providing the essentials and more to their two sons the best they could have in their low income jobs; and to their unending encouragement that is always a generation behind but nevertheless relevant.

They have done more than I could ever ask for. I will be forever grateful for without my parents I would be nowhere.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Is Madness Created By Society?

What happened at Virginia Tech was madness, no doubt about it. Many innocent and promising lives were lost. All due to one mad man, right? Although the quick and obvious answer is yes, I believe to truly answer the question, we need to think more deeply.

What the guy did was horrible, disgusting, absolutely unjustifiable and indefensible. However, what I'm disappointed about is the little of the correct attention that is being given, especially by the American media, to how he grew up - how he was chastised by his peers; how he was laughed for his shyness (how ridiculous was this?); how he was told to "go back to China" when he wasn't even from there (how racist was this?). Why are people so mean?

Very little attention is given to the years of negative mental buildup that apparently drove this individual to do something so horrendous. The obvious discussion has been that he was mentally unstable. That's a "no-brainer" - he definitely had pent-up issues.

But, what if the society he encountered was a little nicer to him? What if they embraced him as someone different and a little outside of the norm (being quiet and shy is not a crime)? My gut says that had Cho Seung Hui been surrounded by a more loving society, he would not have slid so much outside of the norm as to do what he did.

The problem, I suppose, is that "society" is made up of many preconceived individual notions handed down from respective generations, which makes it very difficult to simply ask society "to be nicer" to someone even though that someone is "strange" or "too quiet" or "foreign" by that society's standards.

I would argue that the pain that a particular society has inflicted on this guy has in turn been inflicted back onto that society. People make the argument that it was only a "perceived" pain, as if it was only his delusional view of being wronged. I would put forth that pain is only ever perceived by the person being inflicted upon. Pain is always "perceived pain". He obviously felt the pain. And probably for years, he felt the pain. Unfortunately, he reacted to the pain in a tremendously violent way.

Let's all look around us. Is there that one little kid in your sphere of influence, who seems a "little outside of the norm" who is being chastised by his/her peers? We can change that kid's life by embracing his/her differences. We can explain to his/her peers, if we have the power to, that such chastising of someone a little different is wrong. We have to explain to the kid in question that he is loved and that the mean things people say are not normal. We have to lead all kids in a positive direction.

I'm not saying such a kid will necessarily turn out to be a violent murderer, but problems manifest themselves in other ways - some more obvious and obviously some more subtle. The point is that if we can just step outside of the box and be nicer than normal, we will thank ourselves in the future.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mundane Bliss

I can't believe I went through an entire winter without writing a single blog entry. I like to think that I have been really busy but I haven't really been that busy. I guess I haven't really been in the right mood to write.

I have been enjoying sharing my time with Justin and Khiem. I find myself looking forward to our evenings and weekends. Although we don't really do anything spectacular, all the little regular things we do do are almost always filled with laughter.

What can I say - the mundane can be blissful.