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.

1973-17-015-Web-Inner-Harbo copy

The inner harbor



26. April 2013 · Comments Off on Friends Everywhere · Categories: D. 5 to 8 years · Tags:

DoreenAngelFloating Angels

I sit high on a float, dressed as an angel holding a harp, surrounded by little girl angels.   Our Lady has a crown and clouds at her feet.  We are in the clouds.  Walking alongside us are men with open books, singing like daddy.  But daddy isn’t here, or mommy, or Ah Seem.

Ahead of us, priests in long purple robes and tall hats hold up crosses.

Then there are altar boys in red robes and white lace tunics.  They swing smoking incense lamps.  It smells like inside the church on Sunday.  Behind us there are choir boys and girls from school and nuns with candles.  Everyone is singing.  It is getting dark.  I see the lights of candles way in the back.  On both sides of the street, crowds of people watch us.  I see a woman lighting candles at her window.  I see many windows with candles.

It is a long ride.  We circle up a hill.  I see the moving lights of boats on the sea.  Church bells are ringing.   We are at the top.  The bishop comes out of the church.   He also sings and holds up a big golden cross.   People kneel and bow their heads.  They make the sign of the cross.  Suddenly they are going here and there.  Someone lifts me down from the float.  I still don’t see my mommy or my nanny or anyone.  I try to find them.  I walk and walk.  Then there are not so many people or candles anymore.   It is getting too dark to see.  Someone behind me says, “Look, there is Doreen,” and she scoops me up.  It is my mommy’s friend and her husband.  They take me home.   Everybody is home, including Ah Seem.   They couldn’t find me when I wandered off in the crowd.  They knew someone would find me and bring me home.  No one was afraid that I would really get lost.  I wasn’t afraid either.  It would be like that my whole life.

Penha nightBishop’s Chapel on Penha Hill