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My life with the landlady and her family was short-lived, though there were ups and downs while it lasted. Some of the incidents I remember were:

  • I indirectly killed their dog because I took pity on her always chained at the pole, so I let her loose to allow her to run around at the streets, thinking she would be like other dogs, returning to the master once they had their fun, but I forgot that our housing estate led to the big road outside and minutes after I let her go, she was run over and became roadkill
  • My mom made Adeline and Alvin let go of the pup Snowy because she was getting skin problems that they couldn't afford to heal. She drove us down to some random school and we just dropped the poor pup in a nearby bush. Poor thing. She was so confused when I looked back to see her, and that was the last time I ever saw the pup. I hated my mom even more for that
  • Soon after, the family received two puppies, a male and a female, courtesy of the father, in which we thought safer if we put it in the backyard. Alvin and I named them Simba and Nala, because we were both fans of The Lion King
  • We actually witnessed the beginning till the end of the construction of a church nearby our housing estate, and we sometimes use the grounds to play with
  • I learnt the danger of smoking when we found the father's cigarette lying around, which me and Alvin lit and tried it. I didn't know it was one of the strong kind, and once I sucked it in my lungs, it burnt and I swore off cigarettes since then
About half a year of living there, it turns out that the landlady and her family was going to move back into their old home which they rented to someone to earn their keep. The person moved away or something because they were getting a new home, so the landlady was thrilled to move back, although they left all the odds and ends of their current home behind for us to handle. Since this house has a reputation of unable to withstand floods (it was a total nightmare when it flooded twice), it was definitely not a good place to live in.

There is a gap in my memory of what happened later on (not sure why), but what I do remember was that the maid was no longer with us and I was moving in to another place when I was roughly around Primary 5 that was sort of sponsored by my mom's friend who became partners with her in starting a tuition school/nursery daycare. I sincerely don’t know why I totally do not remember the moving. I just found myself living in it, and that was it. We had a new maid, and we had a room all to ourselves upstairs while the rest of the house was hustle and bustle everyday with kids and teens coming in for tuition and toddlers to be baby-sat. I did my fair share of baby-sitting, playing with the kids and stuff, and made friends with some of the kids and teens while I join them at the table doing my homework. I even have friends who went to the same primary school as I did and did tuition at our place, one of them being an Indian-born Chinese named Kimberly. The most prominent feature I remember about her was that despite her speaking very fluent Chinese, she was very dark and looked more like an Indian with a hint of Asian blood in her features.

Ever since I came back from Taiwan, I was subjected by force by my mom to write a daily journal in Chinese for her inspection. I thought it was bloody ridiculous, really, because a journal is where you write things, private things, based on your thoughts or how your day was that sometimes is best left not known by other parties. Having someone read your journals is not exactly very private anymore, but she claims that by doing so, I will maintain my level of Chinese and not waste all the effort that I have learnt for half a year in Taiwan. I know she meant well, but writing down your private thoughts to your mother at that time was just plain stupid. To make matters worse, if I don't write it or forget to write it even for a day, she will beat me black and blue. So I had to be careful in what I write, and create fantastical stories that I made up or that I read somewhere to illustrate my day but not going to overboard to the point of illogic in a day-to-day life.

Moving into this new place was no different than my last few lifestyles because again, my mom would sometimes disappear on ends, claiming that she has gone outstation and stuff, leaving me to be raised by the maid and the "family" downstairs during tuition and daycare. My mom's partner, Mrs. Tan, was a fussy, grumpy woman when it comes to the students, but rather nice to me, in fact even invited me to her house before to make friends with her daughters who also came to tuition to do their homework. They all never knew what goes on behind the scenes when I'm privately with my mom (like I said, she sees face-value above all else) and I never really told them, not after being betrayed of trust of confidence. Only those students who were close to me, including Kimberley who knew bits and pieces of my secrets that I am willing to tell, but being the kids we were, they couldn't do anything to help me, and I couldn't ask.

The behind-the-scenes private moments with my mom were definitely not a pretty sight to see. She would scream and yell at every little mistake I made and most of the time would not hear my side of the story. Lashing out due to my not regularly writing my journal and also the black and blue I receive over the lack of the child support on behalf of my dad's incompetence was inevitable. There was one time where I clearly remember bringing home my PE uniform, but don’t know how it got lost into the laundry until it just went mysteriously missing and no matter how I look, I couldn't find it. My mom got so pissed just for the sake of one missing PE uniform that she was screaming down the house, demanding that I admit I was the one who lost it, when I insist I didn't. I swear to God I remember bringing it back home, but she just wouldn't believe me, accusing me of being a goddamn liar like my dad. She accidentally slipped off her chair and landed on her ass while scolding me, and out of frustration and embarrassment, she took it out on me, slapping me again and again, as if it was my fault she fell down. As usual, it was all because the face-value. Because I witnessed her downfall, her face-value dropped and she despised people seeing her vulnerable, and needed to take out on someone, i.e. me.

One incident later on during that time frame that really bites the dust was the time I had my BCG shot. She was scolding me about something trivial while having my breakfast and waiting for the bus, and out of anger, she totally forgot that I had my BCG shot and slapped my arm where the shot was. It was swollen and in the process of healing when she hit it, causing it to burst and bleed all over my sleeve. I took the beating quietly, but it was the blood that snapped her out of her reverie and revert her back to that "loving mother" as she tend to the wound. She told me not to tell a soul and made me promise that I would cover for her, in which I agreed reluctantly, because I know there was no one I can trust with the truth. I did tell Kimberly and my other closer friends, however, when we were riding the bus, and I was so upset that I was in tears and swore that I would not go home. They tried to calm me down and comfort me, taking in some sympathy pains, but that's about all they could give me. Of course, being that the bleeding hearts of the world united in me, I forgave my mom and covered her ass for her, telling others that I hit the wall or something and came home promptly when the bus came to pick us, like the little dog I was, although I was tempted not to go on the bus for a moment there. My mom said sorry and helped me fixed my wound again when I came home, although I'm not sure whether she was sincere or not, because a day later, she went back to her usual self and I had to nurse the BCG wound on my own.

Well, at least one good thing came out of it: I don't have a bulge like everyone else does when their BCG shots healed. It was just one flat scar.

I think probably the only thing she did as a real mother should was when she tried to explain the birds and the bees to me. Well, not in a graphic sort of manner (since I more or less read a little about it in books), but she did get me prepared for the day I will have my first period and told me stuff about being careful with men and stuff and what to avoid to protect my chastity and keep from getting knocked up. I'll give her that much.

I always look forward to her going outstation because then I can have all the freedom I want, to do whatever I want and not care of the consequences. Of course, I have to remember updating the journal, but other than that, I would be all on my own, not having to worry about being demonized everyday and suffer it without anyone to help me. She usually goes outstation for maybe two or three days, doing god knows what, but there was one incident where she actually was away for an entire month during the one-month long school holidays. She never told me why or where she had gone outstation or anything, and I never asked. Not that I was complaining, but it did strike me as odd later on as to what exactly was she doing being away for so long. Did she go off with her boyfriend? Did she make a new one? Is she really even on a business trip? Or did she go off to Taiwan on her own lonesome without bringing me along? Till now I never knew the truth of why she went off that long and left me alone with the maid.

I remember during that one-month long freedom, there were very little tuition or daycare because of the hols, and I had the whole house to myself with no one to tell me what to do and fucking monitoring me like a freaking security camera. Usually the maid is not allowed to be in the room unless to put away the laundry or clean my room, but for that whole month, she has free access to watch TV with me provided she does her chores (although I am still bloody curious till now how was she able to keep up with the food supply for a whole month). I was forbidden to tell my dad where I live at that time period (he will pick me up from tuition on Saturdays, then my mom comes to pick me on Sunday nights to bring me home), so for that whole month, I never went to visit my dad. But it was OK. I was able to entertain myself. The most memorable time I had entertaining myself was that one video tape (during the time when VHS still exists), the ONLY video tape I had, which was Disney's Beauty & the Beast, and it became a religious routine for me to play it every night before I go to bed and every morning when I wake up, and it got to the point where I decided to immerse into either the role of Belle or the Beast (for the Beast, I always draped a shower towel to use as the Beast's cape), acting out their scenes and literally memorized every single line. So for that one month, I knew every line, every expression, every body movement and language, and every word. Besides drawing, reading comics, writing the journal and chasing after TV series (X-Files every Wednesday night), Beauty and the Beast was the other thing that kept me entertained, and probably got me interested in acting.

My mom once hit me black and blue when I forgot to find out the date of my UPSR exam. I know it is one of those big exams that determines which high school you would end up in, but I was just a kid. I was 12 years old, for crying out loud. You can't expect me to remember everything! She even said that I was getting too tall for her liking and she worried if I would ever fit any clothes if I grow any taller. I'm a human being, not a dolly you can play dress up with. Although it was probably her fault that I soon stopped growing at that age and had never grown any taller since. Thanks a lot, Mom.

That year was also the year I let go of what could possibly be a turning point in my artistic career. To pay homage to the X-Files I love so much and also after being inspired when I won 2nd place in a story-writing competition, I decided to start a novel series with me as the main character and some of my close friends alongside with me as "The Investigators of the Paranormal" where the title says all. I had help with a bit of reference from Famous Five to get my language correct, and I wrote as well as a 12-year-old could. One of my friends who was featured in my book said she would like to borrow it to read, so I did, and a few weeks later, she called me at my dad's place to ask if I was willing to give her dad the rights to publish my book. I know she is born and bred from a rich family that can afford anything, and that her dad probably could afford to pay the publishing fees. It was a very tempting offer, and it would've actually boosted my writing career, if only there wasn't a catch.

Because I am underaged, I must have consent from both parents.

I know my dad would support me no matter what (if he didn't, I could always bully him to agree, LOL), so I was sure my dad's side was no problem. But the problem would be my mom. She was already quite against me doing my drawings because, according to her, "I don't draw anything worthwhile or real", forcing me to do my drawings in private. If she were to find out that I have been writing what she calls "rubbish", and during school time, no less, I will never hear the end of it, and it was a no brainer that she would NEVER agree to sign the consent. So, despite that very tempting offer that would've changed my life, I declined.

I've always had a passion for music as well aside from drawing and writing. When I listen to Vanessa Williams’ version of the Pocahontas soundtrack "Colours of the Wind" nowadays, it feels rather nostalgic and brings me back to the day that determined my singing talent. I was Primary 6 at that time and our school was having some sort of an English Week Program with tons of events lined up to promote the English language, one of them being a singing contest. I was not interested in joining after I was reminded by a setback back in first grade when I tried to join the singing contest and my mother had strongly objected against it, telling me that it's a waste of my time and I should be studying instead. At least they've already chosen a class rep for this, so I don't feel that bad for not entering.

So there I was minding my own business coming into class that morning when suddenly our class monitor jumped to me and asked me if I knew the song of Pocahontas 'Colours of the Wind'. I didn't think it mattered so I said yes, and was shocked to find out that the class monitor decided at the last minute to representing the class for the singing contest. Apparently, their rep suddenly had cold feet and did not want to join no matter how they begged, bribed and dragged her to the school hall. The contest would start any moment and they were desperate, and since they said I had an agreeable voice, they opted me to be the next best thing to a class rep for the contest.

I was both thrilled and nervous at the same time. I finally get to enter the contest but what would my mother think of it? She would never believe that I was called in the last minute. She would think I've been planning this all along and used that last minute excuse to get out of it. I would definitely get a beating. So I tried to worm my way out of it, saying that I wasn’t ready or that I was too fat to fit into the class rep’s costume, but it seemed that fate decided to give my friend the insight when I don’t need it the most and said I could just go up with my glasses off (I wore glasses back then) and draped her canvas jacket on me to cover the pinafore and the school badge.

No matter what, I couldn't worm my way out of it. Our class has always been more or less the black sheep of the school and it was the class monitor's job to remove that bad reputation. At least I was the last to perform, so I didn't have to worry about not being able to get ready. They were lucky I have the soundtrack and listen to it like almost every day and memorized the lyrics by heart or else I wouldn't have agreed at all!

Someone else sang the same song as well before me. She looked as if she was born for the stage. She was dressed for the occasion, with make-up and all, and it's no surprise she must've practiced at home a lot AND her mother was there to cheer her on. The way she sang was pretty good actually, but it seems like her style of singing was following Pocahontas style with a touch of her own. Many people clapped and cheered (including her mother) for her after she was done. I was breaking in cold sweat at the backstage wondering if I could sing as good as her.

When it's finally my turn, I decided to just sing and get it over and done with. I went up stage and somehow as I began to sing, I began to lose myself into it. I was nervous at first when I felt dozens of eyes looking up at me and the judges scrutinizing me, but as I went along, they don't really seem to matter. I realized that unlike the previous contestant who had practiced probably weeks before this contest and singing with her own flair, I sang almost 100% Vanessa Williams style, with the highs and lows and the tremble in the voice like Vanessa Williams did whenever she sang, and a little last-minute go-with-the-flow body language to match. I don’t know, I must've been dreaming when I was singing that I didn't even know myself probably.

After that, when everything is finally over, we've got the results. Shockingly, I actually won! Me against someone singing the same song who probably had more learning experience and I won! Shocking, isn't it? I went home and told the good news to my mother, who of course looked at me with skeptical eyes about me saying that I joined it at the last minute by desperate people and was about to take me away for “private time”, but when Mrs. Tan and her students heard of it and praised me and my mom, my mom, who treasure face-value above all others, decided to accept my reason of joining and gloat about my success. Typical mom, but at least I got away from a possible scolding and beating.

Anyway, when I was near to the end of Primary 6, we moved again because apparently, my mom still thought it was not enough privacy and that there was a bit of a small rift in the business relationship between her and her partner. The maid was not coming with us, possible reason was that the maid could belong to my mom's partner. So, just like that, we moved.

Returning home from Taiwan was both a familiar and strange feeling. For starters, being away so long from home was giving me a sense of detachment, like someone having amnesia and they're trying to pick up the pieces to remember what they have lost. Everything looked different yet same to me somehow, and part of me wish I was back in Taiwan again, on familiar grounds.

Coming back to school was even more awkward for me, especially meeting my old friends and my old childhood flame (whom I had a crush on since first grade and rekindled after seeing him upon my return to school) again. They bombarded me with questions of where I've been and how was life and why did I just disappear and such, but of course, I had to deal with my homeroom teacher who seems to see me as a pet hate.

School semesters and school syllabus were different between Taiwan and Malaysia (especially a little bit on the timezone as well), and I distinctively remember that I was supposed to be put in Primary 4 because it was end of Primary 3 semester when I left Malaysia and went to study in Taiwan, but due to a technicality, I had to remain and follow their syllabus in Primary 3, and while I was still learning additions and subtractions at Taiwan, they were already into multiplications and divisions, which I have yet to learn because one, my math sucks; and two, my multiplication timetables also sucks. I was getting a little behind class because of that, and I became even more of a teacher's pet hate.

In fact, I got so behind classes because of me sucking in division, my mom beat me black and blue and made me stay up all night to do the fractions until I only got to sleep roughly at around 3 in the morning. And when I woke up for class, she was checking my work and made me stay there to listen to all my mistakes and how to correct them but I was so dizzy from lack of sleep that I literally fainted, and was late for class, which made my reputation with my homeroom teacher even worse because she didn't believe my fainting story and accused me of oversleeping.
That was the first time ever I actually stayed up so late at such a young age.

When I was old enough to understand, it seems that the reason why I was dragged along with my mom to so many offices was because they were looking for some guys who worked in the inside of the educational system to fabricate some letters to make it look like I was studying abroad in America because being that my school was a government school, they are very tentative in receiving students who have went to study in a Chinese environment. Had they not fabricated the documents, I would've been studying in a Chinese semi-government school instead, which was not part of my mom's ingenious and brilliant family planning to let me become the multilingual, all-rounder and Jack-of-all-trades daughter she envisioned me to be. So with the fake documents of me so-called studying in America (which broke more governmental rules than one), I was accepted back into school and I think that's why my homeroom teacher was having a grudge on me: Some kid who has never been under her rule of thumb just suddenly shows up in her class like they owned the place just because she studied abroad.

Turns out that my mom was renting a room in a double-storey home at a small corner housing estate with a woman and her two children: an elder daughter and a young son. I think the son's name is Alvin, but I do remember clearly the daughter's name was Adeline. I got to know the family slowly, and I heard that the husband was always away on business trips, so it's very rare to see him. My mom somehow mysteriously worked at night and stayed at home in the day, and in the daytime she would be sleeping while I would go to school, while at night, I don't see her coz she's at work and only comes home very, very late at night, in which I would already be sleeping, so yeah, again I still don't see her much.

But it was no big for me, because I had another new family to raise me, sort of.

I almost forgot how to speak the old Hakka (a Chinese dialect) that I grew up speaking when among friends, but with the family, it was like riding a bike again as it came back to me. The landlady is a nice woman who loves to cook, but quite strict to her children when required, although she can't seem to be able to badger her daughter because she was just as headstrong as she is, with the father's genetics thrown into the mix. The husband comes back once in a while, bringing gifts sometimes, and it was he who introduced the durian to me, which caused me to hate it with a passion. He is funny and a good laugh, but his appearance is rare, and now that I think about it, I do wonder if he has an affair somewhere else.

Speaking of the daughter, Adeline is quite pretty, but she was also quite masculine in a way despite having long hair and all the girly jazz. She likes to read women's magazines even though she probably doesn't know half of what she's reading and sometimes would ask me to translate health tips for her because they're written in traditional Chinese (she's a sucker for health tips). She also plays a role in disciplining her brother and can be far fiercer than her own mother. I remember at one time, Alvin did something wrong and she forced him to face the wall and made him pinch both his ears, and when the mother let him loose from the wall, he still didn't dare to let go of his ears unless his sister says so, and the sister had no intention to give him the green light despite the mother telling her to go easy on him, and he actually held his ears all day! She was that tough.

Alvin was pretty much an average kid who I think still studies in kindergarten at that time, and he's the usual fiesty, active boy who had more time and energy in his hands. They have a dog and a puppy named Snowy (I forgot what the name of the dog was) and a maid, who was technically hired by my mom to take care of me but since they're living under one roof, she takes care of the landlady and her family too. I would probably play a role in entertaining Alvin, playing with him and help him translate comic strips that came along with the women's magazines. We both have TV in our room because there was not much room downstairs to put the TV, but he likes to come to my room instead to watch because...well, I think coz it's bigger. He sometimes has to wait because I have tuition, but when I come home, I'll be the first person he runs to.

My dad had heard of my return probably from my mom, because the regular weekend visitations ensued. I remember the first thing he did for me was to get me a library card membership to have access to a big huge library down at the outback, somewhere in Penampang, where he will drop me off there so he could manage the shop for a while, where I'll sit there and read tons and tons of books, then when he comes back to pick me, I will be armed with books that I want to borrow back home and read them at his place before returning it to the library for more books the following weekend. I really enjoyed my time with him because again, I am allowed to be the spoilt child, being pampered and looked after. I enjoyed him taking me to Tanjung Aru beach to eat as much as I liked, and I enjoyed the fact that despite me wanting to watch a cartoon or animated movie, he is willing to sit through it and watch it with me. In fact, turns out he actually enjoyed The Lion King and Toy Story.

Still, I was always the one to suffer for my dad's sins and my mom's wrath, and all because of the child support money he always seemed to avoid paying. When I relay the message from my mom for him to pay child support, he would always ask me to tell her that he would pay it next week (in which he will only pay it 2 weeks later) and suffer the black and blue episodes on his behalf. Sometimes when I have too much fun and forget to ask for child support from him, again I suffer the black and blue, with the addition of my mom screaming down my neck saying "You're doing this to spite me, aren't you? You love your dad more than me, so you're taking his side. Why don't you go with him forever and be done with me??" or more or less something like that.

When I continued on further to assimilate life back in my old school and getting reacquainted with my old classmates, one of my friends had been eyeing me a little weird for a few days, and when the other classmates noticed, they thought we were having some sort of puppy love relationship going on. Then it got to the point where he actually asked me to talk to him in private outside the classroom during the free period, spurring more suspicions from my classmates and that was when I knew what job my mom had been doing all along every night: She worked in a speakeasy, a karaoke and bar lounge as a behind-the-scenes office worker, but apparently there were cases in which she would be a customer's escort lady as well. My friend knew of this because his parents went to the speakeasy to have some drinks and recognized my mom there, and he accused me of having a prostitute mother, in which I denied at first, but then that one fateful day where I was taken along for the ride to the speakeasy and saw her working in the office, I knew there was some truth in what my friend had allegedly said about my mother's line of work.

Still, in an odd way, I wasn't embarrassed. I was not angry. I was...indifferent. Like it didn't matter to me what she worked as, as long as it doesn't bother my life.

I also experienced another case of sexual harassment during that timeframe, and at that time, I knew better about what was going on. I was about 9, 10 years old at that time and was back to weekend overnight stays at my dad’s place where I re-familiarize with the place and got to rekindle my friendship with the neighbourhood kids. Apparently they seemed to have hired some new blood as housing estate security guards for the neighbourhood watch. I was sexually harassed, and I mean literally being touched at the ‘nether regions’ by one of the new blood when I was sharing his bike for fun while he did his rounds. He would come over the house on a pretense that he was checking security and he would start feeling me up, touching places where he wasn’t supposed to touch and kissing me in places he shouldn’t be kissing. I didn’t need to be a genius to know then what he was doing, but I didn’t want my visitations to my dad’s place to end either if my mom caught wind of this (and I know from experience that things would get very, very ugly between my parents if she knew), so I grit my teeth and bear with it, and when there was indication of the guard paying his usual “visit”, I would run and hide in the corner and ignore the knocking doors, sobbing and praying that he would go away.

Another thing that happened to me during that timeframe that I would never forget, that made my trust waver even more of my mom. My mom had actually forgotten to pick me up from tuition one time. My tuition that day ended in the afternoon, but no matter how I waited and waited, my mom never came. I remembered clearly it wasn't the weekend visitation, so my dad wouldn't be picking me up. Because my mom didn't have a cell phone at that time and I don't know where she worked and I don't know my landlady's phone number (haven't got it memorized yet), the next person I could think of was calling my dad, but no one picked up the phone either because my dad had a habit of being gone from the house all day or sometimes just doesn't pick up the phone because of the phobia of hearing my mom's voice on the other line demanding money, and I didn't know my dad's workplace phone number either.

So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Nightfall came. Failed phonecalls. Still no car came to pick me. I ended up spending the night in my tuition teacher's home and only then my mom came to pick me the next morning, claiming that she had forgotten to pick me.

You can understand a little bit more now why was I so detached from her and why have I never been able to connect with her. Because she had never really personally raised me. It had always been me with another family after another. There was not really any heart to heart talk or mother-daughter bonding between us. It's like we both lived in different worlds with a very thin bridge connecting to us that would collapse anytime soon with neglect.

And her trying to rebuild that bridge between us during the later years on was just too late.

I think somewhere almost to the near end of Primary 3, my mom and I were going back to Taiwan for the hols. It was fun, though the biting cold of winter was no joke. I remember on the second day of me being in Taiwan, I actually spent the whole afternoon with my maternal grandpa, taking very long walks in the nearby park and chatted about stuff, and only came home almost near dark and my mom and grandma jokingly saying that if we took any longer, they'd call for a search party.

Being around people was nice, because it would act as a shield for me from being demonized by my mom (because I knew of all things, she treasured face-value and reputation above anything else), but of course, in private, my mom would still whack the socks off me and told me to shut up.

Personally I WANT her to beat me in front of everyone so that they will see what her true nature is, but it's wishful thinking.

I thought this time it would be a routine holiday where it would be instead of spending it with the holiday foster family. But then, I found myself being taken to many different important buildings by my mom and either along with my grandparents or my youngest aunt, and my memories of that time consist of walking past many odd, tall-looking cubicles and then into an office where a lady would be talking to my mom and my aunt or my grandparents on things while typing certain letters. Then after that I was taken to a primary school where they had a long chat with a teacher about me starting classes and I had a feeling at that age of mindset that I would probably have to stay longer than I should (which later on, when I was older, I realized that I was unknowingly put in there as foreign exchange student).

As I predicted, I stirred early in the morning at almost dawn to hear my mom talking to my grandparents. I couldn't hear what they said because I was trying to pretend to sleep and hear their hushed voices at the same time, but I could tell that my mom was dumping me off again to live with someone else while she disappears doing god knows what. So I wasn't too upset to know that she was leaving, because both her and my dad had done this to me so many times already that it was old school for me.

When I woke up in the morning and asked casually where my mom is, my grandparents looked worried at first when they told me that she had left and that I will be staying with them for some time, then I surprised them by taking it casually with a "Oh, OK" word and left it at that when they were expecting me to behave like any kid who would be upset and crying over their mothers disappearing on them.

They should know by now that I am not like other kids.

Studying in a Taiwanese school with a syllabus totally different than Malaysian style was a little tough for me. For starters, being raised in Malaysia and having a healthy appetite, I was the tallest among all my minute classmates. I remember perfectly what my class was called: Class 3-5. When I came in to introduce myself, they were all looking up at me as if I was a giant. I was the centre of attention for a while, as when break time started, the girls were pulling me while the boys were pushing downstairs to the playground, all trying to get to know me.

I was still a little bit of a Malaysian Chinese dialect back then, so it was a little awkward for me to communicate with them, but I more or less got the hang of it. And then the students themselves were probably way advanced than I was, being that they learn tons of things that doesn't even exist in Malaysian syllabus, like Science, for example, and Social Studies, which for them it's a mix of geography and Moral Education, so I think I was often called "stupid" behind my back. Well, I can't help it for being raised in a backwater country. And boy, do they have a foul-mouth, knowing how to curse and swear and speak taboo words that even friends my age back home would never dare utter.

Their school days style was like this: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays is a full-day study, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (yes, we actually have school on Saturdays) is a half-day study, and we have to wear alternate uniforms on those days (we get two different uniforms where one is worn on the full-days and the other worn on the half-days--personally I like the one worn on half-days best because they have a very nice dark blue coat, unlike the screaming orange for full-days), and on Saturdays, we get to wear whatever we want, so I always look forward to Saturdays where I can show off my pretty dresses.

Every period, we get a 10-minutes break time to play at the playground downstairs (which I bloody wish they had it back in Malaysia), and on full-days, we get an hour and half lunch break which we eat either from getting lunches from our parents who wait outside the gate (which my grandpa always does) or from the lunch bento-s from the school canteen (which you have to purchase a weekly coupon and give one everyday to get it). My youngest aunt helped me pay for a whole semester's worth of lunch bento to ease my grandparents' burden (see why I love her so much?), which entitled me to just show up without a coupon and get bento without having to fight with the crowd, and I was famous among the canteen staff for always being their regular customer for frozen Vitagen despite the biting winter (frozen Vitagen seems to taste better and last longer than liquid ones).

After lunch break (on full-days), we get about an hour long naptime before classes resume as per normal, which I kind of hate, because if I take naps, I can't sleep at night, so I just faked sleep by covering my head with the coat and do my drawings underneath, and always try to hold back from laughing because we actually have a snorer in class (seriously! She bloody snores in class during nap time!).

What I remember having learnt in their syllabus would be the National Language, Art, Music, Science and Social Studies. They also have classes like Calligraphy Writing in which I think I totally sucked at because I was always getting red marks from a very traditional, old school teacher. Calligraphy is part of the elective syllabus in which if the students wish to pursue a more in-depth study of it, they will have to go to his office which is in another building situated somewhere near the school gates where you get to sit in those really traditional Chinese seating with the sliding door and all the whatnot. I've been there once, on the last day of my studies, and that was the first and last time I've ever been in there.

They also have a rotation system in which everyone gets to be the class monitor for a week, which was awesome, because I had the chance to be in control of the classroom and bear the responsibility of leadership and telling everyone to stand up and greet the teacher before class started, and it is the time where I don’t have to take naps but write down names of people who don’t take naps, meaning I hold the key of every of my classmate’s “life and death”. It was also the first time I actually learn Science in class when it is not part of the syllabus for Malaysia, and I remember one of our science project was to rear a bunch of silk worms to see its process from a larva to a moth, and it was an amazing experience when we set the moths free after that at the end of the project.

I remember that because they have a different way of using phonetics in reading Chinese than the classic pin-ying that Malaysian Chinese use, I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t know how to read the tougher words, only the basic ones, and of course, their Chinese is not the simplified Chinese, but the traditional Chinese with bloody more strokes than the regular simplified Chinese. The teacher saw my predicament and for about 2, 3 months, I was exempted from naps to be given special lessons to learn Taiwan phonetics.

At first she requested my classmates to teach me, exempting them from naps as well, but I always end up getting distracted and chat with them instead of learning, so she decided I should be with a really very nice teacher at a rec room next to the library. She would teach me how to properly read, write and pronounce the phonetics and at every end of the lesson, she would allow me to pick a book for her to read for me and for me to learn to read as well, just to improve my skills. I remember there was a set of children's series starring this very cute little kitten and his daily life escapades with his furry friends, and I always pick from that series.

During my days learning with her, I had the time of my life. During naps, I would quickly scurry away from class and run all the way towards the direction of the rec room where she would be waiting. I admire her dedication to forgo relaxing time to pay attention to me, and I owe her a lot for that. Sometimes when I wait for her to arrive (if I was early) I would eye at the cupboard to see really nice colouring pencils and pens and there was one very nice one that I have been eyeing forever: a colouring marker set that has a very beautiful picture of the character Candy from the old school anime Candy Candy. During the last days of my phonetics tuition with the teacher, she said I could pick anything from the cupboard as a graduation gift, and that was my inspiration to excel the phonetics test. I passed with flying colours and finally got what I was yearning for, although a scatterbrain like me ended up losing the yellow colour barely a week after I got it.

My dad somehow figured out where I was and would call to talk to me once in a blue moon, in which sometimes my grandma would make me pass the phone to her so that she could scold my dad for being a good-for-nothing bastard who bullied her daughter and squandered their money (apparently at one point, my dad actually borrowed money from my grandparents to cover his debts but never paid back), but all in all, at least he called, to check on me and see how I was doing. My mom, on the other hand, literally dropped out of the face of the earth. She never called, never wrote, and never even left any form of contact so that we could find her to see how she was doing. None. I never heard a single word from her since the day she left.

In time, I almost totally forgot that I used to have a life in Malaysia. I go to school, study, come home and have my usual meals with my grandparents (watching their funny antics in the process, especially their old married couple play-fighting), then finish my homework before I watch "Bao Qing Tien" or "Justice Bao" in English (I am a die-hard fan at that time) every night (except weekends, coz it doesn't show on weekends) before going to bed.

At school, I was occasionally the center of attention because of my art skills and also because some of them go to English tuition and being that I am the only English expert among them, I helped them correct their mistakes. I even had my first crush there, in which he was very nice to me, always borrowing me things that I don't have. Even shared glasses with me when my eyesight started to fail and I couldn't see the blackboard. It was a little one-sided though, and we broke it off as mere friendship after my time in this school ended.

And on weekends, I spend it with my youngest aunt and her husband, hanging out with them, doing my homework and basically being their instant daughter/niece. It's almost like my life back home when I was staying with my foster family, only that the visitations were with my aunt and uncle, not my mom or my dad. Sometimes, my aunt would read bedtime stories to me, some of them are of her own works (she is an illustrator for novels and children's books), while my uncle is being funny, smart, handsome and loving all in one. I even had a bit of a crush on him, but that's another story.

Somehow, my days as a foreign exchange student were soon destroyed bit by bit when my grandparents started to worry about the lack of news from my mom. My second aunt and her family came to visit (which was great because I finally was able to converse in my almost long forgotten English with my American cousins), so with her husband's help and lots and lots of phone calls made by my youngest aunt and her husband, they were managed to locate my mom, saying that she was doing alright and that in time, probably by the end of this semester, I will be going back.

I wasn't exactly the happiest kid in the world. I mean, sure, I may have felt a little glad at the time, knowing that my mom was doing alright and was not exactly found dead in a ditch or something, so to speak, but I have grown so accustomed to the lifestyle here in Taiwan that I’m not sure I ever want to leave. In fact, I was probably quite sure, at that time, that I wanted to stay in Taiwan permanently and leave my old life in Malaysia behind.

But of course, I can't say that after seeing my grandpa so happy that he was close to tears as he hugged my youngest aunt gratefully for finally finding my mom. Needless to say, when I told it to my classmates, they were less than happy as well as they wished me goodbye with tears and numbers and addresses, promising each other we'll keep in touch.

I was scheduled to fly back to my hometown about a few days after the semester end, and I remember waking up quite early to have my youngest aunt send me to the airport. It was the first time I was actually traveling alone. Imagine me, a kid barely 10 years old, taking a flight all the way back to my hometown. Of course, regulations doesn't really allow me to travel alone, so I had a very pretty air stewardess holding my hand and taking me to where I have to go and advising me what to do, then taking me to the plane and escorted me to my seat, all the while being very hospitable and entertaining my stories. At my seat, I also chat with a very nice lady and told her about my life in Taiwan, and we kept each other entertained until we reached our destination.

Again, I was guided by another (or was it the same?) air stewardess and also the lady sitting next to me to get my bags and show my passport and stuff, and I saw my mom waiting for me outside the gate. I was a little bit happy to see her, but mostly indifferent. I don’t know why, I just didn't really feel the excitement of seeing my mother even though we've been separated for so long, unlike other kids who would jump and hug and call "Mommy~!" I wasn't that.

I'm not like other kids.

My time spent with my mother when I finally returned to her care was rather short-lived and in bits and pieces, really, that I barely even remember that time period. Sometimes deep down inside me, I wish I was back at the family's home, and until now, I tend to wonder whether they were upset that I was no longer in their lives or whether they just went on with their lives, relieved that I'm gone, or maybe just plain forgot about me (although when I was in high school I actually returned to meet them once and they were so happy to see me, talking about the good old days when I was around, and that was the last time I have ever seen them).

As I said before, I live with my mom soon enough in a double-storey home deep down the district after a public trekking park area, which was also the same route towards my dad's home. Going home was always something I hate a little because we would pass by the same route where my dad stay and my mom would taunt me about "that man" every chance she gets, making fake threats to just dump me to this good-for-nothing man and be rid of me. I really hate it when she does that. Like as if being constantly reminded of my dad's mistakes that had nothing to do with me at home was not enough.

Within weeks of staying in this new home, I soon got to know of my mom's boyfriend, the mystery man who sponsored the stay in that white-themed, swimming pool condo. I don’t know his full name, but he is known to me as Uncle John, or Pops as I officially made him my godfather of sorts. He is a nice man with a bit of monetary background and quite handsome in his own way, and he treats me very well, meeting my every whim and fancy. He's a heavy smoker who always has to clear out phlegm because of his smoking habits that affected his throat (which was kind of disgusting, come to think of it). He is also almost the perfect house husband with his delicious cooking and expert laundry skills, and best of all, he pays the bills.

There was only one flaw he has.

He was very possessive. A jealous possessive man.

It didn't really bother me much, because his possessiveness is targeted towards my mom. I don't mind him taking all the attention away from my mom, because then I get to do whatever I want in my own privacy. But the only thing that really bothered me a little was that he was a married man, or at least he had strings attached with someone, because he was only around in alternate days and would never really stay more than a week, which dawned to me then that my mother has become his mistress, despite the fact that it was my dad having an affair that got her divorced in the first place.

Can you taste the irony in that?

She was an angry woman when he wasn't around, being her old mood-swing demon self as she made my life a damned tightrope to walk on. But when he was around, she was the mother that would never lay a finger on her "beloved" child, and I often roll my eyes at times when she sugar-coated her words and treated me like a princess in front of him because I know she wanted to keep up appearances to not scare the man away.

Somehow, during that time period when I was with her, never once did she actually look after me when I was sick. When I had a bloody high fever or the worst flu ever, or just plain bloody sick, she take me to my dad's, making him look after me and cure me with his age-old recipes from his Chinese apothecary/pharmacy store. Even when I was still living in the family and had a bad bout of chicken pox, I was taken straight to my dad to recuperate, him using old herbs to bathe me so that I won't scar once I heal and all that.

Anything that had to do with medical was handled by my dad. As if she didn't want to have anything to do with me being sick. She claimed that this was her way of making my dad realize that I was his daughter too and that he should bear the responsibility of raising me, but I knew better than that. The only time she actually took care of me was when I had a nasty stomach bug and was having diarrhea all night, though I'm not sure it's because she really had no choice or she couldn't locate my dad.

Their relationship somehow didn't really last. For one, he was always gone for long periods of time. Another was that when he was around, he was a possessive bastard and can be rather violent at that. No, he never hit me (though he did scold me till I cried when I didn't win a drawing contest), thank goodness, but he definitely dominated my mother in ways that my dad failed to do.

There was one point where he and my mom had a rather heated argument over something that I never knew even today, and he just stormed out of the house fuming and refused to come home. My mom, despite the fact that I was sick with a light fever and was falling asleep, dragged me along with her in the middle of the night to look for him, crying to herself and screaming like a banshee "Why? Why? WHY??!!" while I was right beside her lying down trying to sleep on the passenger seat. I covered my ears, not wanting to hear her screams and she was like saying "How dare you? You don't want to hear my screams, is it?" and I lied and said "The roads are too noisy and making my head hurt" because, well, in reality, she was driving with the windows open.

She found him at the bus stop after dunno how long of driving, and I did glance up a while to see him sitting there with his manly pride, refusing to get in the car. I don't remember what happened next because frankly it sounded like everything was quiet (maybe coz my mom got off the car) and I was finally able to fall asleep, but it seemed that when I woke up, he was back and they've already kissed and made up.

Frankly, I think my mom is a sucker for punishment. You'd think a girl would learn.

The incident that really created a rift between my mom and Uncle John was when he got into a bar fight with someone over my mom or whatever issue that may incur his hot-headed pride. He came home with a huge gauze on the back of his head and I saw my mom making hard-boiled eggs to rub it on his black eye, and he couldn't talk properly because whatever the person used to hit his head (assuming it could be a bottle) had rendered him temporarily speechless, as in his brain literally cannot transmit message that he wanted to say to his mouth. Probably hit the vital part that controls his speech, I guess, and I was told to stay away and not try to communicate with him too much. Then I think he disappeared for a while to stay at his sister's and it was quite a while before he came back finally able to talk properly instead of grunting all the time.

I think probably at some point at that time, deep down inside I knew, things will never be the same again between us.

I remember vividly an incident that really brought my relationship another notch down with my mom. I was at my dad's and bathing in his bathroom (because only the master bedroom where he slept in has a tub, and I love tubs) and was having the time of my life. I don’t know what possessed me to thrash around the tub for fun, but when I did, I banged my head on the side and I immediately have a huge gaping hole on my forehead. It couldn't be stitched, because somehow there was no skin there, just a huge gaping hole and a whole chunk missing with nothing for the stitches to latch on and be stitched together, so they had to use medicinal casts to cover the hole as it healed by itself.

When my mom asked about it, I don’t know what compelled me to tell her a lie, saying that I tripped and fell. She badgered me into telling the truth, in which I did, and yet she still didn't believe me. I don’t know why she had the sudden mindset that the new bike that my dad bought for me was the cause of my fall, and even when confronted with the truth of my accident with my dad, she still REFUSED to believe it, saying that it's all the bike's fault and he should get rid of it. I think since then she hated bikes for some odd reason, and during the period of my gaping hole healing, again I spent it with my dad instead of my mom, which was in a way a blessing in disguise coz I get to be with my dad longer.

This wasn't the first time my mom made a fuss with my dad at his home. Plenty of times, whenever he doesn't pay up child support on time, she would drive all the way to his home, dragging me along with her, either as collateral or as a pillar to back up her argument to make my dad feel guilty, and I had to watch as they yelled at each other's throat (with my mom doing most of the yelling anyways). At one point, she was so mad that she drove herself to tears, and I think for the first time in my life, I came over to her in tears to stop her and comfort her, telling her not to fight anymore and just leave, when usually I would just wait in the car and ride out the fight.

Since then, I knew the only thing that kept me together with my dad and allowing me visitations was because of the money, and all she could think of was the money, nothing else. I had a feeling they never actually divorced properly, just separated, because I never see any divorce papers, and later on when I'm older, saw inconsistencies in which she claims that she was still married to my dad for the sake of maintaining her PR residence. Their marriage of passion has now turned to a marriage of convenience.

Somehow I was never allowed to spend the school holidays with my dad, but I was never really spending it with my mom anyway. Which comes to my other foster family I was living with. They are considered a holiday foster family because that's where I always go to during the school holidays. They are, by far, my most favourite foster family because I get to hang out with the siblings of my age. I can still remember their names: Diana (a year older than me), Jonathan (same age as I am) and Kelvin (the youngest son and runt of the family).

If I'm not mistaken, they are Fook Chow, which is a Chinese minority race, and the days I stay with them, I learn to understand them, if not knowing how to speak their language, but we usually converse in Mandarin just fine. Diana was a kindergarten student of my mom's and subsequently my mom's god-daughter, so the family was very close with us. The dad was the owner and manager of a brick-making company, earning his keep by having a factory up in the hill that constantly reeked of heat as they baked bricks for construction sites, which would probably earn him tons. I think the mother was a teacher.

I called the dad 'Uncle Donald' in homage of Donald Duck because I always imagine myself to be one of the trio nephews of Donald Duck along with Diana and Jonathan (kind of forgot who's playing Huey, Dewey or Louie), while Kelvin tagged along at the sidelines like the little runt he is, demanding to play a role in Huey, Dewey and Louie but we never allowed him anyway. I learnt how to properly ride a bike without needing the training wheels anymore, and I had fun fishing at a pond just right down the hill with Uncle Donald's Indonesian workers whenever it is their break time (although I ended up getting bruised on my thigh when my leg got caught between the gaps of a small dock, making me phobia of bridge gaps, and fell into the pond and almost drowned).

Being with them was like the siblings I never had, because we would play together, chat together, do activities together (trust me, living near a brick factory gives you plenty of fun and adventures and allowing your imagination to run wild), bathe together (they had the insufferable genetics of able to eat without getting fat, as I can see from their skinny structure whenever we bathe) and slept together. I even had an early puppy love marriage proposal from Jonathan, saying that he wants to marry me when we grow up, in which I agreed, not knowing any better.

I do feel homesick occasionally and sometimes cried for my dad or my mom (think about it now, don’t know why the hell I did that, knowing my mom is a demon), but all in all, they were a great family to be with. They never scold me because, well, I'm not really their kid, and I try to stay out of trouble anyway, but I do have my share of witnessing how the parents discipline the kids.

There was one that I vividly remember the most was we were eating our dinner quietly at the table when suddenly the parents came in, scolding them for something they did, not sure what. They were then being chased around the table being beaten black and blue while I was sitting there at the table, caught in the middle, watching them being beaten without a clue what was going on (because they were talking in Fook Chow) and hearing them crying and screaming for mercy. Then when things calmed down and the parents went away, they returned to eating their food albeit sniffling and cursing their parents quietly while I sat there in awkward silence, not knowing what to say to comfort them. Well, at least one thing was that the parents are tough but fair. Neither parent played the role of angel or demon, and they gave their discipline equally, which I personally think should be the way to raise a child.

The mother would sometimes ask me if I liked my mom better or my dad better. Trusting her that this was between us, I told her truthfully that I loved my dad more because of his angel role in the family, that he pampers me more and never once laid a finger on me, while criticizing the role of my mom as the demon in the household. It may sound like he's spoiling me, but at least it's his way of loving me and earn my love, not my loyalty.

Then I found out when I came home that she had tattle-taled to my mom, and my mom, being the insecure demon, beat me black and blue, threatening to send me back to my dad and be rid of me, grabbing and pulling at my clothes and throwing me across the room, and even throwing the nearest item her hand could grab on at me, accusing me of being an ungrateful child for all that she had done for me and that I loved my dad just to spite her. Then when she calmed down some she warned me never to say anything stupid to the mother ever again. I trusted her with confidence and this is what she done to me.

I learnt then the true meaning of betrayal.

After the divorce, life was more or less alright for me. I went to school. I made friends. I had crushes. I had my ups and downs in class. I go to tuition every day. I make more friends there. I learn new languages and dialects (well, mainly Hakka and Cantonese Chinese). It's all good.

Except the fact that I was living with my mom the demon and the weekend visits.

I both look forward and dread the thought of visiting my dad because every Friday, my mom would ask me if I want to go see my dad. It's a lose-lose situation. If I said no, I won't get to see him and I'll have to suffer being with my mom and her insufferable temper. But if I said yes, she'd throw a fit, demanding me to tell her the reason why I should go visit “that man” and beat me black and blue before releasing me to my dad. If I don't give her a good reason, black and blue ensued. If I give her an honest reason she will freak out and retaliate and black and blue ensued as well (like the last time I told her that I want to go because I needed freedom and she started flaring out, demanding “Are you saying I don't give you enough freedom?! When have I ever confined you?!” etc, etc…).

Despite the fact that she had attained forced custody over me, she was also not exactly the best mom in the world. Sure, she fed me, dressed me, schooled me, paid the bills and such, but at the price of enduring her ever-lasting mood swings and tantrums that could rival a 4-year-old on steroids. She demanded attention, full-hearted loyalty (not a daughter's love, mind you, a daughter's LOYALTY) and seem to have made it her mission to make me hate my dad, telling me what an asshole my dad is and that if I don't shape up, I'll be just like him. I pretend to go with her flow for the sake of my life, but I know that she knows deep down inside I could never be swayed, making her even more insecure of my loyalty and bully me more into submission.

I remember before I officially stayed put with my mom, she also disappeared on ends, dumping me to places to stay while she was gone to goodness knows where. When I got older, I was told that she did that to get her life together, but during the weekend visits, I still see that she seemed to be doing fine somehow without me. It was an alternate visitation thing. Every other weekend, I go visit my dad and the other weekends with my mom. I remember one of our visitations was that she stayed in a very classy-looking condo (or was it apartment?) which was sponsored by her boyfriend that she made when she was away doing god knows what. I remember it very clearly because it was mostly white-themed and there was always a big TV in front of me playing a very classical Taiwan TV series called "Xue Ke" or "Snow" in Mandarin, and there was a swimming pool just a block away from it.

Unlike my dad who moved me from family to family, I stayed put in one for a year and a half (possibly from the lower half of Primary 1 to the end of Primary 2). It was a big family of 7 living under one roof with a plump granny, 3 daughters and 3 sons. The eldest daughter, who was my mom's colleague, was somehow convinced to adopt me for a while and I soon found myself living with a bunch of people I barely met. I have no idea how they are willing to spend money on me on my schooling and food and stuff, but I guess probably my mom had a hand in paying their expenses on me.

If I'm not mistaken, I think it was roughly that time where I had a hiatus in going back to my mother's hometown in Taiwan. Either my mom couldn't afford it, or she just went off on her own. I dunno. Not that it bothered me, because I had a new family to acquaint myself with.

They were a nice family. Firm but nice. The granny was a great cook, and she's always allowing me to have tidbits. The eldest daughter is a strict woman, serving as a disciplinary figure because of her responsibility to look after me, but she is mostly harmless, just strict.

The second daughter was the nicest person you would ever be with, and I remember her most by her curly hair. She loves music, and I remember that she was the one who got me introduced to the original Eternal Flame song, and she loves karaoke and got me into liking it as well. She is a devout Roman Catholic (I think) and goes to church every Sunday, and she actually took me along with her once. The mass I remember the most was being in a huge church hall and it was the day they were serving the Holy Communion, with the bread and wine. She told me I couldn't take it because it was meant for adults, but it was later on that I knew that I couldn't take it because I wasn't baptized, and the drink was probably real wine anyway.

The youngest daughter was a minute, dark, Plain Jane woman who looks like a typical geek girl and the most I remember about her was that she loved making those origami stars. I sleep with the daughters and granny in one room, and the sons have their own room to sleep in. I'm not sure what the other two daughters were working as, but I think the second daughter is an office worker. A secretary or a clerk, maybe.

The sons, on the other hand were probably not that close to me, but they exist in my life all the same. The eldest son is fat, dark and huge, who works as a contractor and has a Filipino wife (who could talk basic Chinese) and a son. Their room was always pitch black, because it was originally just a storeroom with no windows, and they slept on mattresses on the floor, and the most I remember was always being in the room to watch Old Master Q animated movies with the son and laughing our heads off.

The second son is probably the richest and most successful of all the sons (not sure what he worked as) and had the most beautiful wife any man could have (due to the fact that she works as an air stewardess), and also had a son, I think. She was even my favourite of the daughter-in-laws in the household, and their room was my favourite too, although it'll be very rare to actually get to go in there. They have nice carpeting and plenty of vanity items, including a Nintendo that came along with console and a gun for shooting games, and we get to watch cartoons like Tom & Jerry in the room on their nice bed.

The youngest son is the only bachelor and he works as a teacher, out teaching in the day and at home giving tuition at night at the dining room, so I had a lot of teenage friends at the same time. He always looked grumpy, and I never saw him smile before, so I'm mostly afraid or detached from him, and he is a quiet person when he's not teaching, so I don't talk to him much either. But he's still a nice guy, just a little anti-social.

During my stay there, it was an experience. It was like having a family that I used to have, just with more family members. I even got to know my paternal aunt whom I never knew I had because she was friends with the family. I made friends with their nieces and nephews and watched how old school chicken slaughter was done (their way by drowning the chicken in bloody boiling water to enable easier feather-plucking). I finally learnt how to bathe on my own thanks to the second son's pretty wife (yes, I was a spoiled brat, I know), with her standing at the door to guard me from Peeping Toms and telling me which part to scrub and soap and which part to rinse.

I remember fabricating a lie of being molested because I couldn't understand why it stung to pee (probably just to get attention, in which years later I figured out it was a one-time thing, something to do with the acidic content of my pee coz I don't bloody drink water), which in turn make me end up bringing in my mother to try and find out who the culprit is that “molested” me because I didn't know better and didn't know that being molested was a very serious issue for the adults, though I don’t know if they ever found out that I was lying. I was there when the eldest daughter was being courted by her man and was her flower girl at her wedding with another niece of theirs (getting make-up on was a killer, because I hate make-up).

The day I knew I was no longer going to live with the family was the day the eldest daughter officially moved in to her new home with her hubby. Since I was the eldest daughter's responsibility to take care of, I ended up moving in with her. I was like an instant daughter for the family. Routes for the school bus change were arranged, and I go about my schooling and tuition as usual, but instead of returning home to the family, I returned home to the eldest daughter.

I was really good friends with the man of the house, and sometimes when he has his headaches, I would help him massage it, and as a reward he let me watch whatever show I want for a while, and at that time period, cartoons and live-action Kamen Rider was my fav on the list. My mom would pick me up for the weekends to spend with her or to send me to see my dad, although usually, the method was that my dad would pick me up from school or from tuition on Fridays then send me back to the eldest daughter's home after end of visitation.

Finally, just like that, my mother relieved the eldest daughter of her duties as a foster parent and took me away to live with her in a double-storey home deep down the district after a public trekking park area, which was also the same route towards my dad's home.

That's where the tip of the iceberg of my nightmare began to surface...

The very first memory I had was probably being in my room, suckling at a milk bottle and my maternal grandmother looking down at me and talking to me something that I couldn’t understand or couldn’t even remember, and my mother was there as well. I was probably barely 2 years old at that time, and from there, my memories started to pick up, collecting and storing into the cranial archive that is my brain.

As my child-like mind began to absorb this thing called life, I began to learn bits and pieces of reality, starting with my own family. My mother, since the dawn of my cranial recollection, is a woman of fine tastes. She was born and bred in Taiwan and a typical city girl who had witnessed the ups and downs of a busy, sociable life of fast tracks and high rollers.

She has high ambitions and very headstrong, always wanting things to go her way. I remember my godmother telling me that she was her first and only best friend she had ever made since my mother came on her own to Kota Kinabalu 20 years ago to search for herself and gain her own independence, and had always have to put up with her eccentricities, much to the chagrin of others who couldn’t keep up with my mother and their amazement as to how my godmother could tolerate her and carry on being her friend for more than 20 years.

My mother had been a kindergarten teacher all her life, governing little children and wrapping them around her little finger, and somehow all the kids loved her for some reason. She always struck me as a woman who always made herself presentable no matter what the occasion. She was not short of vain and would never go out without her make-up and her day always started with standing or sitting in front of this 3-way mirror primping and pruning to turn herself from a plain China girl to a diva in less than half an hour.

My dad, on the other hand, is a good old-fashioned country boy who worked his way up to the city folk food chain. He is more or less a rough and tumble kind of guy who was childhood friends with my godmother’s husband and was the street-smart guy who knew the ins and outs of the harsh reality of society. He didn’t really believe in the commercialism of supermarkets and believes that things bought from stinky old marketplace ridden with flies, putrid smells and wet floors that you do not want to fall onto were the best and freshest of foods.

His family ran a Chinese apothecary cum pharmacy shop just downtown and both he and his younger brother inherited it at the event of their father’s death, and he was skilled in the knowledge of Chinese herbs and spices to cure all old-school ailments. If my dad were to be in a film, he’d probably play the China guy who provides the dealings of wondrous medicinal herbs and spices to the desperate people who could not cure their children by means of modern medicine.

My mom believed in the fact that a child must be multilingual in order to survive the competitive world, so at a very young age, I was exposed to the 3 basic languages of Malay, English and Mandarin Chinese. My maid took the role of speaking Malay to me and my mom took the role of speaking Mandarin Chinese to me, while English were dealt by both my dad and a healthy dose of English cartoons, mostly from Disney. Some say too many languages in the family might confuse the child and make them unable to communicate, but others say children can pick them up very fast and it would not be much of a problem. Either that or I probably just have an inborn talent for languages.

We used to go to Taiwan every few times a year to visit my maternal grandparents, and I always have fun with them and also hang out with my cousin, who was born from my youngest aunt from her first marriage (at that time I never knew he was born from her first marriage. I've always assumed he was her current husband's son). I even had my first gift (which was a dark-brown soft doggy doll) when I was 3 years old from my maternal eldest uncle that he personally designed (he's a novelty products designer). I remember coming down the stairs when I thought I heard talking, all groggy and sleepy, and my uncle greeted me and said “Happy Birthday” and gave me that doggy doll.

Come to think of it, from what I remember from my childhood photos, we seemed to have grown up together for the longest time, since we were babies (I remember a picture of me as a toddler staring at my cousin who was sucking a pacifier when he wasn't supposed to at his age—I think he's a year or two older than me), and we were the closest of friends, until he moved to America with his father after his parents' divorce, but that's another story.

Life with my parents was like my hometown version of the American dream. I had both parental figures that I love, a maid that looks after every whim and fancy of mine, a nice house with a great garden, everything a kid could ever wish for.

Everything was almost perfect. Everything was fine. Everything was just as it should be for a growing child to experience.

Except my mother was never satisfied and, to be honest, my dad wasn't exactly being the best dad in the world.

And also the fact that my mother was always the disciplinary measures, beating me black and blue, while my dad is the laissez-faire and/or pacifist parent, the one who stands in the sidelines while I get beaten black and blue yet the one I run towards to soothe my pain, making it clear that my mother was the demon and my dad the angel.

She is a perfectionist, planning things that will probably never happen and setting out things the way she sees it, and if nothing goes according to plan, she can complain and sulk for days at end. He is a go-with-the-flow guy that hates to be trapped in a cage, never plans ahead and lives for today. You'd think opposites attract, that their differences would balance each other out, but sometimes reality is a bitch.

My dad, like I said, was not the best of dad's in the world. He's an alcoholic. No, he doesn't drink and goes around beating wives and children, but he is definitely a drinker. He gets drunk, but thankfully he never lays a hand on us. He squanders most of his money on drinks and gambling (mostly mahjong) and investing on being a con man, which he totally sucked at because karma would just come back at him in the form of debts, and my mom had to clean up his mess. I remember at one point, they took away my piano to cover the debts he incurred and since then, piano lessons were no longer for me. I didn't understand it then coz I was a kid, but when I was older, I knew now why the piano had to go.

My earliest memories of seeing the rift starting to come apart was 3 years old when they started fighting. I was always told to go to my room because parents arguing is not meant for a child to see, but even though I do, I was never asked to close the door and since my room was joined together with the master bedroom, I can still see them fighting, yelling at each other with my mom screaming her throat out and hitting at him while my dad tries to shield himself and push her away, in which it gets her more angry and lash out even more. That's the thing about my mom. When she hits you, she expects you to stand still and take it. To fight back is just to incur her wrath more, and that applies even to the adults. She is a prideful woman, I'll give her that.

Later on, the rift got torn even worse when I remembered being with my dad for the longest time and never seeing my mother. I always found myself living from house to house with different friends and different families all taking care of me and the kids playing with me. Years later, when I was old enough to understand, I was hearing two sides of the tale: My dad said he did it to hide me away from my mother, to protect me; my mom said he kidnapped me. I don’t know which to believe, because if it were true that he kidnapped me, why did it take so long for my mom to find me if she really loved me and worried about me so much, and yet if it wasn't a kidnapping, why was my memory involved going to a police station and the police talking sense into my parents?

One place that I bunked in where I remember the most was a wooden home where I sleep in bunk beds with the kids in an outback small village. I remember eating instant noodles all the time and I remember feeding their cat instant noodles as well and even shared the spoon with it, allowing it to lick the soup off my spoon. The kids were friendly, though I barely remember their faces (probably coz I was so bloody young). The other place I remember the most was a home where there were was a boy and lots of older girls in the family. I think I remember at one point I love staying there so much that I didn't want to leave, hiding under someone's bed so that my dad won't find me, but it was a false alarm and they managed to coax me out and comfort me by giving me paper and pencil to do my drawings and let me watch "The Little Mermaid" for the very first time.

It was also the years when I experienced my first sexual harassment of sorts. I was 5 years old at the time when one of my mom’s friends came to visit with her two sons, one probably roughly almost between the age of 10 to 12 and the other one almost the same age as me. The younger son was probably a student of my mom’s, so while the adults talked, we were told to stay upstairs and entertain ourselves with cartoon or something. My dad was not at home as usual (no idea where he has gone to, or probably I didn’t remember), so we all gathered in the master bedroom and I put on a video for them to watch.

Then all of a sudden I was talked into being French-kissed by him while the younger brother watched as if it was the most normal thing to do. Of course, at that time, I didn’t know any better and went along with it, but now that I thought about it, it felt like something out of a bad porno movie to have my virgin kiss being stolen like that. He asked me to use the blanket to cover them under the pretense of being too cold in an air-conditioned room while watching the video—and my mother never suspected a thing when she saw us three under the covers—but in reality, I was asked to touch and let myself be touched on the ‘nether regions’ by the older brother. Again, at that time, I didn’t know any better, and when it was time for them to go, he gave me one last kiss and told me not to tell anyone, that it would be our little secret and if I were good, he’ll show me a good time the next time he visits.

I think after about a week later, when my mom and I had a casual talk while she was at the mirror diva-ing herself as usual, he suddenly came to mind and I told my mom everything that he had done as if it was the most normal thing to say, because honestly, how would I know? I had no idea what he was doing and at the time, I didn’t know it was a bad thing. My mom scolded me for not telling her earlier and after that, I never saw the boy again. Until now, I never knew of his fate.

Then soon everything started to fall apart. We still went to Taiwan but the frequency was lessening down to only during Chinese New Year, and sometimes only my mom and I went while my dad disappeared to goodness knows where for days at end. My maternal grandparents started to hate my dad with a passion, but I guess it's understandable. It’s parental instinct to want to take sides with your child, especially when it's your daughter and that she is being bullied by a man. I don't blame them really, but they didn't have to make me make an enemy out of my dad either.

There was one point, if I remember faintly, that my parents' argument got so out of hand that my mother sort of, kind of lost her sanity a little and was behaving like a babbling fool. I think I was still roughly 3 or 4 years old at the time, and I was sleeping in bed, and my parents were fighting as usual until my dad couldn't handle my mom's outburst anymore and had to call in my godmother (whom I see her so much more of a mother than my own) to talk her straight. No go. She was babbling like a fool and crying like a baby and hugging me tight or something, if my groggy memory serves me correctly. I think she was hospitalized at the psych ward for a while because in my memory, I remember being in some sort of hospital with a lot of white-themed background and my mother being fed by a nurse while I climbed on the bed wanting my mom and not wanting to leave.

The last straw was when my mom found out that my dad was having an affair when he went missing yet again and tried to call him but heard another woman on the other line, which explains his disappearing acts. I soon learnt that the call was made all the way to Kuala Lumpur where my dad and his mistress were dating. I don't remember anything about going to court or any of that child custody jazz that always shown on TV. I only knew, in my 6-year-old mind, that I was dragged along by my mom for no reason, no longer living in that “American Dream” house. No one sat me down and talked to me about them going to be separated or who would you go with and stuff. In fact, probably the last thing my dad ever did as a father before the separation was enrolling me into primary school for first grade and that was it. It just somehow naturally flowed into my life that I will only see my dad in the weekends.

That’s where the nightmare started...

I climbed the last few steps and heaved a sigh. The huge twin watch towers were in sight, facing each other like two entwined brothers who were so close and yet so far. Complimented with dark green metallic roofs that reminded me of Peter Pan’s cap, they were painted in brownish-maroon, which were the same colour as that old easy-to-learn Malay guidebook that sat in my bookshelf.

It technically doesn’t belong to me and I never really have a use for it. One good thing about being multilingual is that it’s a gift that provides you the leverage to communicate and interact better with people. Although, it can be a curse, because you understand everything, even the bad stuff they speak behind your back even though you try to ignore them.

My friend Qiang was ahead of me, so I quickly caught up with him, walking around the foundation base of the watch tower and trudged on higher ground to gain leverage to get on it. Before long, we were sitting down on the stairs of the tower, catching our breath and chugging down our bottles of water that tasted almost like the nectar of the gods at the moment for me as it quenched our fiery thirst.

“I can’t believe it has been 4 years to the day since I came here,” I said as I wiped my mouth and dried my sweat.

“Yes, time sure flies by when you’re having fun,” Qiang replied, taking out his camera as usual to make his casual snapshots. I have to hand it to him; that camera was sure worth the money. I would’ve settled for a regular digital camera instead.

“Who would’ve thought one decision could change everything, eh?”

“You mean that decision to leave your mother?”

“Yeah, that.”

I took another sip, looking into the horizon, thinking back to the days that led to who I am and what I am now…

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