Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

On 31 August 1957, Malaysia celebrated its first Independence Day.

I got my first bike when I was nine. I rode every day and skinned myself badly when Dad took the training wheels off the first time. He doesn’t know this, but I cried because I was so happy.

I got my first paycheck when I was 17. I was an accounts clerk at a local department store. I made less than 400 bucks a month for a five-day week. I came home exhausted and marveled at how parents – mine, anyone’s – manage to keep it together. I regretted being a crap child, and suspected I would be an even worse parent. I still believe this today.

I drove a car alone for the first time when I was 18. When my Dad gave me the keys he couldn’t look at me and I thought he was cos he was worried about his car (it was new, it was a two door, it could fly). Mom later told me he lit some incense and prayed when I was out the door asking Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy to keep me safe.

I went on my first trip alone with my first girlfriend when I was 22. I told her mother the week before, a little awkwardly, that I was going for a holiday with her daughter. I also told her we would be staying at a hotel. “Take care of my girl,” she said. Then she kissed me on the cheek. And being a very traditional Chinese mom, she never kisses anyone.

I lived away from my folks for the first time ever during my last year at Uni. I have always been independent, but never alone. And while my friends found the first month amazing, I was nearly crushed by homesickness. But I learned to be alone without being lonely, I discovered I loved driving, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I fell in love with writing.

I got dumped for the first time ever, and it happened on Valentine’s Day. Within a month or so, people rushed to tell me she was seeing someone new, and I knew who my real friends were(n’t). In fact, she paraded him. It messed me up bad and I felt very low. Then one day, I realised: If she didn’t hurt, then it couldn’t have been special. And if it wasn’t special, I didn’t lose anything. And then I was ok.

In 7 years or so, I will have paid off my house. My parents will still live in it. As will my kids, whom I guarantee you will be beautiful – inside and out.

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