07. May 2013 · Comments Off on Piercing Memory · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years · Tags:

I have a long life memory going back to the day when my mother pierced my ears.  I remember the room and the new pink jewelry box on the table.  It is just like the one my sister has.


My mother says that since I am almost two years old it is now my turn to collect treasures.  To wear earrings, I need to have tiny holes in my earlobes.   My sister and my mother have earring holes.  I see the long needle in her hand and shrink back against my nanny’s comforting tunic.  But Ah Seem is on my mother’s side.  She shows me that she also has earring holes.

“It’s not going to hurt much,” my mother says.  I hold still.

It hurts!  I do not hold still for the other ear, and that is why one of the holes in my ears is crooked.

My mother says don’t be a crybaby.  Ah Seem just holds me.

When we were brought to her hospital bedside to say goodbye to our mom, she said to my older sister, “Take care of Doreen because she is wild.”  I was eight years old, but I understood that our mom’s words were not a rebuke or a warning.  I knew that she cherished the wild child as well as the sensible one.

This wild child thing no doubt started with my nanny, Ah Seem, who would never have thought of it that way.  She just thought that making me happy was her job, and she let me do all the things that she would have loved to do.   

To get to my play date, she would hail a sampan nowhere near where we were going.  She would let me trail my hand in the water and even stand up, balancing precariously next to the laughing sampan woman and pretending to row, feeling the cool spray in my face.  Ah Seem convinced my mom to let her take me to her family for Chinese New Year, so that I could chase the dragon and dance in the street with the other children.  She took me to over-the-top Chinese opera and let me eat from vendors, and sleep on her lap when even the clashing gongs couldn’t keep my eyes open.

When I was three, our family had a summer shack built on stilts in the outer harbor.  Ah Seem took me there to cool off.   One afternoon, a boat that looked like a huge dragonfly came by.  My Uncle Artur was driving it. 

My uncle said that his boat could also fly.  Did I want to fly?  The only one there to say no was Ah Seem, and of course she said go with your uncle.

That was my first trip over the rainbow.

Many years later, I brought it up in a conversation with my aunt.  She stared at me.  Artur?  A pilot?  Never!  He was your grandmother’s baby.  He never left home.  He never married.  He had the same work.  You were only three and your mother let you?  You must have imagined it, probably when you saw Meryl Streep and Robert Redford flying around in that little plane in “Out of Africa.”  

How could that be?  How could she not have known that Artur was a pilot?   And yet, it was out of character, if you thought of him that way.  But I remember what I remember.

It wasn’t until 1995, when I was rummaging in the stacks of a Chinese bookstore in Macau, that I came across a graduation photo of a Pilot’s Training Course.  Smack in the middle of the front row was my uncle Artur!

Some childhood memories are precious, especially those you can’t edit out or dismiss because they don’t fit.Artur Pilot

My uncle Artur with his class of pilots

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Me at our summer shack.


Macau in pre-war days.

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The inner harbor



05. May 2013 · Comments Off on The Abyss Yawns Open · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years, Take Bull by Horns, The Beast · Tags: ,

I see the boy at the top of the slope just as he is coming down.  His bicycle has a bell – rrring – rrring – rrring.  His white shirt is blowing, the wind is in his hair, he has the widest smile.  Rrring – rrring – rrring.  Oh, how I wish I could do that!  I lean forward on the balcony to see him speed by.

I see the bus coming at the bottom of the street.  I hear the crash, but I can’t see because Ah Seem has grabbed me against her tunic.  I know the boy died.  I feel the horror filling up inside me.  It makes me sick.  No one says anything about the boy.

The next morning, when I go with Ah Seem to the park, we pass the crossroad.  Ah Seem pulls me along quickly, but I look back and I see the bloodstains on the road.  The horror comes back.

I am not yet three.  How can I know death, why do I feel that horror?  But even when I learn these things later, I would never again feel horror in the same way.

I become sick.  I remember Dr. Gomes with a big needle I don’t want.  Then a lot of darkness, of shadows, then my mommy’s face, then my daddy’s.  Dr. Gomes is here too.  They smile, but they are not happy.  They blur, and I go back to sleep.

But I wake up.  I learn a new word: crisis.  It’s what I came through.  I get a lot of hugs.  But I still want to sleep.

Weeks go by.  One day, a man carries a bushel basket into my room.  Look, Ah Seem enthuses, your godfather, the big judge, sends you a big present!

I am too tired.

Ah Seem reaches into the basket.  Look!  There are many pretty packages!  She holds out a brightly wrapped little package.

Too tired.

She opens the package and sets down a little pink glass pig with a curly tail.  Then she puts down an even smaller pink piglet with a curly tail.  There are two more.  They are so cute.  What else is there?

Ah Seem hands me a package.  I want to know what’s inside.  You can open it, she says.  Soon we have little goats, buffaloes, dogs, swans.

I pull aside layers of soft tissue and find a glass dragon with many colors.  Ah Seem laughs as she holds it up and makes it dance.  Good fortune!  Good fortune!

The dragon sparkles and reflects a shaft of sunlight into a million dancing lights.  I want to go outside with my dragon and make it dance in the sunlight and show everyone.


glass dragon

The Glass Dragon

04. May 2013 · Comments Off on Daddy’s Little Girl · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years · Tags: ,

It is my daddy’s birthday.  My sister and my nanny dress me up before I come downstairs to the party.   I wear a turban with pom-poms, bunches of grapes, and a banana on my head.  I sing and dance Mama eu quero.  Everybody claps and claps.   When I hear them call out Encore!  Encore! I know that’s my cue and I sing I, Yi Yi Yi Yi, I like you very much, just the way I saw Carmen Miranda doing it in the movies.


sketchCarmen copy

 Like in the movies

I get kisses and hugs from all my parents’ friends, and I am feeling pretty.  One of my mother’s friends, a large woman, pushes her way to me and wraps me in her arms.   She says you are just too cute as she pinches my cheek, hard.  The sharp pain surprises me.  She is looking at me with a cunning smile to make sure that I understand she does not like me.

But my daddy is claiming me, his little girl.  They bring in the cake with so many candles on it I have to help him blow them out.  Then they are asking him to do his Charlie Chaplin act that always gets them laughing so hard even the amahs stand at the door to watch.

When I have to go upstairs I can still hear my daddy playing the piano and everyone singing Show me the way to go home.

My daddy has a song he sings only for me.  When I am sick and fussing, he carries me in his arms back and forth on the verandah to get the cool night air.  I lean my head on his shoulder and he sings to me.  There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do, for you, for you.

I’d make a string of pearls out of the blue, for you, for you.  Over the highways and over the seas

I don’t remember any more of the words.  The last phrase would always linger in my mind.  It has an echo.  It is prophetic.


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My father


03. May 2013 · Comments Off on Arm in a Sling · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years, Out of the Blue · Tags: , ,

I have many uncles.  Even though he is not one of them, we call him Uncle Adelino.  He is my favorite of all my parents’ friends.  He makes funny faces.  He can move his ears, one at a time and then both at the same time.

Whenever he comes to see us, he scoops me up and asks for a big kiss.  Everybody expects me to give him the biggest smackeroo, and when I do, they laugh and clap.   It’s our little game.

My sister calls me Fussy Cat.

One day, Ah Seem takes me to Uncle Adelino’s house.  He is taking us somewhere for a surprise.   Ah Seem and I wait by the stairs as his servant goes to tell him we are here.

Uncle Adelino appears at the head of the stairs.  He has a big smile.  As he bounds down the stairs, I see that his arm is in a sling.  I scream and cry and bury my face in Ah Seem’s tunic.

No, no, don’t be afraid, Uncle assures me.  It does not hurt.  Very soon it will be good as new and I will play tennis again.

I keep screaming and crying until Ah Seem takes me home.   I am three years old.  No one mentions the incident again.  I don’t forget, even though I would never again react that way to an arm in a sling.

UncleAd copy

Uncle Adelino


02. May 2013 · Comments Off on The Therapist from Hell · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years · Tags:

Before my mother died when I was eight, and before I went to live with my grandmother, I had my own nanny.  Her name was Ah Seem.  She came to be my nanny when I was born.  I thought she was better than my guardian angel because when she suddenly grabbed me and hugged me tight to keep me from seeing the bus hit that boy, I could feel her arms and the familiar warmth of her tunic against my cheek.  I never felt my guardian angel.  Ah Seem was also much more fun than any nanny was supposed to be.

One day, Ah Seem took me to see the Devil.   Well, the Devil part was hearsay.  My sister said my mother said that he was the Devil.  Whoever he was, he was very popular.  Ah Seem and her friends went to him regularly for group therapy.  He turned out to be much more of a drama queen than any therapist I have seen in the movies.

Even before we went upstairs, the receptionist saw the gold chain at my neck and pulled out the little cross.  Ah Seem handed her my necklace, assuring me that I would get it back when we left.  Sensing that some boundary had been crossed, I kept my mouth zipped and my ears perked like dog ears.  I was careful not to be caught staring as I held on to Ah Seem’s hand.

Upstairs, the large room with shades down was backlit by a tall window with a thin curtain, in front of which was a platform.  People stood in a semi-circle leaving a wide space by the platform.

A man in a long gown, with two attendants, came into the room and walked to the platform.  The attendants stepped aside.  The man climbed onto the platform and sat there with his legs crossed under him.  He started to hum, hum, hum.   He seemed to be hugging himself to keep from falling as his body swayed around and around.  Suddenly, someone nobody could see lifted him up and hurled him into the middle of the room.  He crash landed on the floor.  He began thrashing around.  Then, in a deep, guttural voice that made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, he began taking questions.  I don’t remember whether Ah Seem asked any questions.  I was waiting on pins and needles to get out of there.

At the door they gave me back my necklace.

Many years later, when it was the 70’s and the New Age of Aquarius, I was visiting my uncle in Macau.  I said I wanted to ask Father Texeira a question.  He was a learned Jesuit, loved and admired, and an expert on old Macau.  He came for tea.

My question was, “Were there demonic possessions in Macau?”

Without even putting down his teacup, he answered, “No, my dear.  There has been no demonic possession since biblical times.”

That should have cleared things up.

Kun IamTemple_NEW

Temple of the Goddess of Mercy – a more traditional way of communicating with another dimension

Macau Psychic Seat

For untold decades, a psychic sat in this seat in Macau.  He was not a tourist attraction but was respected.  He would tell you bad news also, and your character flaws.  Seat shown here in modern times.

01. May 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years · Tags:

My brother and I love to listen to our daddy sing at the piano.  When the songs end, he gives us each an English toffee that he keeps in a jar on the piano. The toffees are from England where he once sang on the stage.

One day, he said that we should learn to dance.  The carpet is too rough, and we roll it up.  The floor is still not slippery enough, so Daddy runs upstairs and brings down the box of face powder that sits on our mommy’s dressing table.  The powder makes the floor easy to slide on.

We are dancing and singing louder than the gramophone until we notice that our mommy is standing there with my sister at her side.  She is angry.  She sends my brother and me upstairs.

My sister takes piano lessons.  I want to learn too.  Mommy says no.  I am four years old, how old do I have to be?  Mommy says that it is not my age.   Playing the piano is my sister’s thing.   Later, I can have something else.  I don’t understand.  My mommy says that my sister has a lazy eye.  She is slowly going blind.  I feel bad.  I don’t want her to go blind.

My sister does not go blind.  She wears glasses for her lazy eye, and later they invent special contact lenses.  At school, she is still First of the Class.

30. April 2013 · Comments Off on Moving House · Categories: C. 1 to 4 years · Tags:

Something bad is going on in Hong Kong, where our granny lives.  Bad things are happening here too.  Someone came into our house when we were sleeping and took the silverware.  They dropped a knife near the door.

We don’t have our house anymore.   We are in Avo’s house.



She is our mom’s mother.   When we say the Big House we mean her house.  Avo has her own amahs, but Ah Seem comes with me.

Everyone eats at the long table in the dining room, except me.  I have to wait another year, when I am five, even though I sat at the dining table in our own house.  I don’t mind eating at my own table because my nanny Ah Seem is with me.

My dad does not like it here.  In our house even our mom spoke only English.  Here she speaks Portuguese with everyone except us.  There are many uncles and aunties and cousins.  We didn’t even bring the piano.

We leave Avo’s house.  We are in a new house.  Ah Seem says, look, your sister’s school is just over there, on the other side of the park.  Soon you will be going there too.

Our building is new and round.   We have an apartment upstairs.  It is shaped like a piece of pie.  Ah Seem thinks it is very clever because all our rooms are lined up on the edge of the pie, and they all have views of the park.  My sister and I have a room, then my brother has his own room, then there is a verandah outside the living and dining rooms, then our parents have their bedroom, then Uncle Pedro has his bedroom.

Uncle Pedro is not our real uncle.  He owns ships.  He was stranded in Hong Kong when they commandeered his ship, and he became a refugee.

I play with my new friend downstairs.  She has many boxes of shiny beads and balls of many colors.  Her father has a factory that makes them.  When we get tired of stringing them and tossing them around, I draw a house that is just like our house that we had to leave.  My friend likes my picture so much that I give it to her.  I think they had an old house like ours.