I celebrated a birthday not long ago and I stumbled upon this article by Robyn at the Daily Post. I thought it was extremely timely as it was all about looking back on life with nostalgia and writing about it. And so I was inspired to answer the prompts in a post of my own.
1. The place where you felt happiest or safest.
I moved around a lot when I was growing up. Every couple years or so I would move into a new house leaving behind old haunts and secret hiding spots. Very few things stayed the same between houses. During that time I developed a love for high perches. Odd sounding as an adult but pretty normal for a child. I would find little nooks and crannies where I could wedge myself and watch the world below me. I especially loved a reading nook I had with a window that faced out onto the street where I could watch the cars passing by. My favorite time to do so would be when it rained and I could look out and watch the water droplets race down the panes of my window. Actually, even now as an adult I love to do that, though I can’t manage to wedge myself onto the tiny window ledge to do so.
2. An antiquated item like a pay phone you had to dial, penny candy, or your Charlie’s Angels lunch box.
There’s a particular candy I grew up eating. It was a white, milk-flavored candy wrapped up in blue and white paper with a picture of a rabbit on each piece. I called it “rabbit candy” and every once in awhile my mother would buy me a pack, rationing out the pieces throughout the day. Chinese New Year saw bowls of the stuff laid out on counters and tables in my house. I would always sneak one or two between fistfuls of chocolate gold coins and red pineapple candies. They were my favorite, sweet and creamy. And I had a ritual. Each piece would come wrapped in a thin layer of rice paper which I would meticulously peel off and consume before putting the now very sticky candy in my mouth. It took me a long time to realize the rice paper was edible.
3. A food that reminds you of your youth.
Once when I was very young my grandmother came to live with my family. My mother would go out to work during the day and my grandmother would watch me. I called her “por por” which means great-aunt in mandarin even though she was my maternal grandmother. It was back in an age when I used to speak Chinese as frequently as I spoke English and my parents used to call me their “little Singaporean girl”. My por por would cook alphabet soup for me. I remember gleefully scooping up the letters with my soup. I knew how to read and I took special joy in seeing what I could spell out with the letters. I miss the smell and the taste of that soup. It took me years to figure out that the soup came out of a can. I had always imagined that my grandma had homemade it. And yet when I tried the canned version it never tasted the same, never tasted as good as when my grandma made it for me all those years ago.
4. What you thought you were going to be when you grew up.
I was a ridiculously practical child and I blame my parents. They cautioned me to pick a career choice that made money from a young age. I would tell my mother what I wanted to be and she would shoot me down in the same matter-of-fact tone over and over. I wanted to be a school teacher- I had no patience. I wanted to be a doctor – I didn’t like the idea of blood. I wanted to be an artist – I had no creativity in my palm lines. I wanted to be a lawyer – you’re good at arguing so why not. So I settled on being a lawyer for a long time. I liked a challenge and I was good at reading so being a lawyer sounded reasonable. Obviously I’m not a lawyer today, even though my parents continue to pester me to take the LSAT. But I’m glad that at some point or another I stopped listening to my parents and started being honest with myself. I love writing. It’s a hobby and a love affair – the neglected best friend turned lover of my life. I never seriously considered writing as my occupation until high school and even then I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue it. And here I am,or so it goes.
5. Your childhood fear.
Some people are afraid of the dark or of clowns or of brightly colored balloons. I was afraid of practical things – thieves, knives, uncontrollable fires. Except for one thing – I hated costumed characters. Something about those dead-eyed costumed heads made my skin crawl. It felt insincere and wrong and creepy. And the chief of demons for me was Santa Claus. Even though he didn’t wear an over sized head like the others he had more of a back story. Who was this weird old man who wanted to give me toys in exchange for sitting on his lap? Why did he want to watch me and judge me year after year? My parents made me take a picture with Santa once. I cried so hard my dad had to sit on Santa’s lap and then I sat on my dad’s lap. I’m sure that mall Santa did not appreciate that!