The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Let me tell you about……..My Lil Bro

When you are little, it’s hard to imagine things. For example for #1 and 2, what is real is what they see day to day. Try to explain the existence of other places when Singapore friends move countries or when we talk about our friends and family who live all around the world or something that happened before their time, it’s very difficult for them to grasp. Then it all falls into place and becomes part of their consciousness when they meet that person or go to that place.

Until Nana Moon came to stay, she was just a name but now she is Nana Moon who has a brother called This who lives in New Zealand and a sister called That who lives in England. She likes Star Wars and #1 points out everything Stars Wars related. She also lives in space whilst Uncle Monkey lives in the jungle. One of those statements is true. It’s a first step towards establishing the importance of these relationships and that seeing is believing.

When I was very little, My Dad Mr Li had talked about an Uncle and Aunt that came with a Lil Bro and Lil Sis in Scotland but what exactly did that mean? (Another Lil Bro and Lil Sis came along a few years later). I should explain that in Chinese culture they are Lil Bro and Lil Sis and not cousins because the children of brothers are considered as close as siblings. Until that point, I had mostly been around relatives who were older and quite a bit older than me. So it was an exciting and whole new world to discover relatives the same age and be around them too.

I was eight years old when several important things happened all at once. I went to Hong Kong for the very first time in a jumbo jet and subsequently thought all aeroplanes were that big. It was quite an occasion we were going back for – the celebration of a brand new Li Clan house had been built in our ancestral village of Tai Po Mei complete with indoor flushing toilet. (I couldn’t quite see the significance of this until I saw the squatting toilets and bucket under the bed alternatives a short while later.)

Lil Bro but not Lil Sis came to Hong Kong for the celebration and also Cousin T who lived next door. Our house was in the furthest part of the village away from the main entrance as you could get but in the early 80s it was still a thriving community. Full of people who all shared the same ancestry and Lee/Li/Lei name. There was a banquet and fire crackers to mark the occasion of a new home to bring good luck and good health for a brand new start.

I have only ever experienced this kind of close knit community for the three short weeks I was in Hong Kong at the age of eight. By the time I went back again seven years later much had changed. But back in 1982, we were free to wander around our stretch of village and wander up to the small shop for ice lollies. We were around our beloved Grandma, Por Por, in her element and we were cocooned by so many family members who went back years and years. Lil Bro was familiar with them having lived in our village a few years earlier. He’s still close to many of them now and will mention a Brother Seven of Uncle Two or something and I will just stare at him blankly. I guess it’s a village male thing.

The experience of this first trip to Hong Kong though remains with me vividly even now. It was about finding out about my heritage, being with my Dad, Mr Li and having family like Lil Bro to share it with. We’ve had a couple more shared trips back to Hong Kong since then for other rather big occasions. Each time he feels the need to point out that Chinese doesn’t appear to be my strongest language which makes me want to brush up on my Mandarin and speak only that at high speed so he can’t follow and then tell him the same but regrettably I haven’t quite mastered that yet and so will have to put up with him being annoying.

It’s his birthday today and I’m not allowed to tell you he’s just five months and two days younger than me. I think he says I have to say he’s at least eight years younger. I’m not sure what he’s up to by way of celebration. Most likely staying up late and chasing girls like he says he’s always up to, to which I roll my eyes and say Pah.

When we were young, he was easy going, sociable and fun to be with. Even my quite a bit older relatives say this and they are super hard to please. He’s still the same now you know, although with a few more responsibilities to shoulder. It’s good to have someone that understands where you are coming from without feeling the need to explain yourself all the time.

It’s not often we express appreciation of our family as much as we do our friends. Perhaps we expect a lot more from family than friends when we need them as family are usually always there. But he is incredibly good at being there and a credit to his parents. He checks in on my Dad Mr Li and I’m grateful there’s another person looking out for him.

As I think about it now, I realise just how glad I am that we do get along and how he was there for my Graduation and when I got married, which was no easy task for him for reasons I’m not going to say. Though I guess a real sign of effort is the fact he will get up before noon to drive from Lincoln to Newcastle or London to see us on our trips back to the UK.

So today he’s celebrating his birthday and I just want to wish him a very Happy Birthday and to say I’m thinking of him too. And that I haven’t forgotten to tell everyone he’s my much younger Lil Bro like he’s asked me to.

Happy Birthday Lil Bro.

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I also want to include this photo too because he looks constipated and it makes me laugh.

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A solemn day

We have all been told before that amongst friends (and strangers) we should never debate politics and religion. I can claim no authority on either matter and so it’s not something I am likely to say much about. Besides on a blog it’s just a one sided opinion.

I know that September 11 will hold it’s own significance for you and I don’t wish to talk about the events that led to the loss of nearly 3,000 lives that day in New York and Washington but in my mind I will be quietly paying my own respects.

Before the tragic events of that day unfolded, it was already going to be an important date for me as I was flying to Hong Kong after an 11 year absence. It was meant to be a day of anticipation; a 13 hour long haul flight lay ahead of me with the thrill of flying Virgin Airways (very good in those days) and going all that way by myself to see family I hadn’t seen for years and best of all, to meet my eight year old nephew #1 for the first time.

When news broke that day of what was happening, shock and disbelief reverberated around the office, like it did everywhere else I imagine. Nobody was able to concentrate on work and speculation and fear was rife that the same would happen to Canary Wharf. With a flight to catch myself that night, I was naturally scared but I don’t recall thinking I ought to cancel. Just before I finished work to go to the airport and some colleagues were wishing me a safe flight and good holiday, I remember one colleague helpfully reassuring me that with a bit of luck nothing would happen to my flight because I was going the other way.

That evening at Heathrow airport, security was fierce as it ought to be but the atmosphere was very solemn unlike how an airport should be. #1 and 2 love going to the airport because we are either going somewhere exciting or picking up someone special. I am fairly nervous of flying as it is, a trait inherited from Mr Li, and it was hard boarding that flight after all that had happened on that day. Two years later, I again boarded another flight on September 11 and again it was a very solemn flight for the reason I told you about in my last post.

If I’m going to wander down this ‘where were you when’ path, I think of the day the Manchester city centre bombing happened on 15 June 1996 ( I actually didn’t remember the exact date and looked it up). I was still at University and it was just before summer break and the Graduation of many friends. At the time I was working part time for Ath-Leisure, a designer men’s clothing shop that played Oasis and Stone Roses on loop all day. The store was located right in the centre, just metre’s from the Arndale Shopping Centre and very near to the location of the bombing. By chance, I had decided to quit that job the Saturday before because I wanted to spend more time with my friends. The company policy was that you leave the same day otherwise I would have been working that day but I wasn’t. I was in the communal bathroom in our halls. Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment the shockwaves reached us and it felt like being inside a balloon when the air is suddenly let out and blown back in again.

We were unaware of the devastation until the photos appeared in the newspapers the next day. Then gradually as life resumed, we heard of friends who had been in town when it happened. I remember a boy telling me that he was walking past a shop window when the explosion happened and he saw the glass shatter just as he was passed it and had never felt so lucky. Perhaps being so much younger then, the impact of this event has left less of a mark. Perhaps it was because there were thankfully no fatalities.

Then there are the July 7 2005 London bombings. Whilst I was on my way to work and ought to have been on the Underground travelling from north to south London, the bombings had already taken place and I was evacuated from the train about five or six stops into my journey. There was a lot of confusion going on and no one seemed to know what had happened. Many people were attempting to get into work still. Mobile phone lines were jammed so it took a while to contact some at work and my colleague just said, don’t try to come in and go home. So that’s what I did.

I don’t have much else I want to say on this matter, you can probably hear the reluctance as you read but I did say that this blog is to remind me of what has come before and these sad events are significant in my history and this is what I remember of those very solemn days. On the other hand, whilst we won’t forget, there are and will be lots of other years that share part of these same dates bringing lots of good things and happier events like Birthdays and anniversaries and that is something to be thankful for.

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364

So with my 39th Birthday out of the way with, it’s time to get on with business. As I sit and write this I’m filled with a bit of apprehension and nerves because what exactly is a blog and what is it meant to achieve? It seems very ‘look at me’ or rather ‘listen to me’ and the British side of me feels a bit ‘do you honestly want to do this?’ and when I tell people about this blog I feel like cringing but overall I think I do want to do this. I haven’t particularly done any amount of research into how to write a great blog that people will read because that’s not my main purpose. Neither is it therapy to ‘find myself’, although if I dig out something that I thought was long forgotten then I won’t mind that at all. I guess I just want to share some stories of how I got to here. A blog is hugely personal, however it’s not all just about me, because my history involves other people and that could be you. Assuming the you I’m talking about is a friend and not some random stranger who happened to come across this by accident. So you could help me along the way too. Perhaps I’ve missed out some detail or you’ve remembered something too and can add to something I’ve said. Or perhaps with the cloudiness of booze fogged nights and too many years gone by, I’ve completely made something up and it never happened like that at all!

As I’ve mentioned before, right now I’m sort of non descriptive about turning 40, to some it’s no big deal anyway, but that may change because there’s a lot of emphasis and expectation about this big milestone. Turning 30 was great and definitely no big deal, it was all about a party and getting drunk with your friends, I’ll talk about this another time. It’s also not like I’m heading towards this step alone either, I’m sort of in the middle. I know plenty of people who have turned 40 and appear exactly the same as before and still smile every day (Husband included). Amongst some friends, like the old University group, I’m one of the first to go overboard but the others are not far behind. Then there are the odd few who are still in their early 30s and will view this spectacle with a distant superiority.

If like me, you find your days are flowing by and yet you feel you can hardly remember what has filled it, then it sort of explains how I feel and why I want to do an audit now. To build an archive of memories that I can refer back to but not so that I remain in the past, I’m very happy with the present and looking forward to the future. I just want to have a laugh at the me of past and remember you too. You the friend not the random stranger who is reading this by accident. I’m not going to write every day as that would be tedious but do check in once in a while and see if you make an appearance, I’m quite sure you will.

Today’s title 364 is dedicated to my wonderful friend Uncle Monkey, who is looking forward to this next year with relish and so am I because the escapades he has gotten us into requires a whole blog of it’s own.

Goodnight from me in Singapore.
Aged 39 and 1 day

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