Under the auspicious, round moon

The moon is at its roundest tonight. A full circle, a symbol of wholeness, completion, and the coming together of family.

It is the Moon Festival, and as always, whenever there’s a festival, I go over to my grandparents’ for dinner. They’ll be making dumplings, noodles, pork ribs, and chicken drumsticks – the usual feast. My tummy rumbles just thinking about it.

I try to get off work as soon as possible, but I am held back by a coworker who wants a sympathetic ear. I hear my parents chiding me, “I told you to get off work early today.”

Chinese festivals are always like this. No matter how much work you have, if it’s time to celebrate, you’ve got to put everything down and rush back home. No overtime.

When I finally arrive at my grandparents’, the food is cold, and, to my dismay, there are no noodles. But despite that, the energy is still at its infancy. My cousin’s 1 year old daughter claps as I sit down at the table, starting a competition amongst the adults to see who can clap the loudest.

I happily munch away at my food, keeping one ear open to the conversations around me. There is talk of my sister’s new job, her salary, and her declining weight. She begs to differ. There is nothing wrong with her weight.

I stuff a mouthful of dumplings in my mouth. The skin is so soft and the mixture melts in my tongue.

Dumplings can be eaten with tomato sauce, or vinegar. I’m usually not a big fan of vinegar, but tonight, I ask for it specifically. In fact, I have been waiting all week to eat vinegar. Why? Because of the old wive’s tale that eating vinegar delays your period. I know it’s a bit hocus pocus, but it seems to work everytime for me. I whisper to my sister that the reason I want to delay my period is so that it won’t come during our trip to Japan. My sister winks in reply. She already knows.

I look around the table. Not everyone has stayed till the end. My other cousin slipped out of the night to attend church. He always attends church, despite looking the complete opposite of a church goer. He used to get into fights at school, and my dad would drag my sister and I to talk to his teacher, because our English was better than his. Those were the days. We used to hate him. Now we are planning a trip together to South East Asia.

On the other end of the table, my grandpa is putting food on my grandma’s plate. Ever since her stroke 3 years ago, she’s been unable to do simple things by herself. Her face has swollen from not bring able to move around too much, but despite that, she’s still loud and vocal. Grandpa chuckles everytime he gets told off.

There’s mum, dad, my sister, my cousin, my neice, my Aunties and Uncles, my grandpa and my grandma. Twelve of us on Friday 13th, minus my church goer cousin.

Looking around the table tonight, I realise each of us has our own little stories, our history and future. No matter what happens, or where we drift off to, we will always come together, on a night like tonight. This is the beauty of the Moon festival.

There is no war in love

I’ve been thinking of home lately. Not my parent’s home here in New Zealand, but the old one, my first home back in China, and even the one before then; the home my grandparents first lived in.

Taking me back to their home gives me a sense of pride in the midst of all my failures.

Lately, my senses have been dulled and worn down by the pain of heartbreak, by the shame of self-pity, and the doom of seeing no way out.

But when I think back to where we came from, I am reminded of the strength that existed before my time and which will always be a part of me.

My grandfather saw his neighbour gunned down next to him.

Waking up in a world full of uncertain tomorrows made life more sweet and precious. There on the sidewalk, with the blood of his neighbour’s son, uncertainty crafted his strength.

As the oldest, he raised his sisters from the poor to the strong. He was a strict man, a gentle man, and a practical man. He wouldn’t have spent his waking hours wallowing in self-pity. One hour of pity meant one less day of food.

He knew the difference between love and war.

War was hunger, getting shot at and families parting.

Love was in my grandmother. Taking care of her, looking after her, giving her a better life.

He did not see war in love, even after my grandmother had a stroke that forced him to give up his love of travel.

He cried when he had to give it up. But he cried harder when he almost lost my grandmother.

He was strong in this kind of way. Strong enough to know what was truly important.

Yes, he is still alive. Still, after all these years, there is a twinkle in the corner of his eyes, a gift from the universe for his unwavering optimism. That is the only thing I have inherited, his twinkle.

A few months ago, my mum told me that the twinkle in my eye had gone. How sad that made me feel, to have lost the one thing that connects me to my grandfather’s strength.

But what existed before will always be there. Although faded, weary and momentarily hidden from sight, a little spark, a little patience, will ignite it once again.

My catharsis

Like the ending to a Shakespearean tragedy, the drama in the last 6 months of my life has drawn to a close. I am in the third Act of this particularly gruelling scene, and I am experiencing a kind of catharsis that I thought would never come.

At the height of my pain, I was rejected twice: first by love, then in my career.

Driven by a need to want it all, I can’t help but compare myself to all those tragic, Shakespearean heroes who I read about at school. I thought they were so silly and dramatic for causing their own demise by pandering to their egos.

How naive I was to think that I would never fall trap to this kind of thinking. My ego, my pride, my need to be right, has gotten me into so much trouble. It has hurt me more than it has helped.

So, on these pages, I’m reminding myself of the vision that I have always had for my life.

In the back of my mind, I have always envisioned myself as a writer of children’s books. I would start the day early and sit by my window, writing a few pages before the rest of the world woke up.

I don’t need to earn a lot or travel extensively. I am not an expensive person, but someone who prefers the simple life.

I know of two people like that. An elderly couple who comes to the studio where I work. The wife writes, and her husband markets her books. He has the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard, the voice of someone who has found his meaning in life and is at peace.

They are an arm’s reach away from me, but a lifetime of dedication away from where I am.

I now know why good things don’t come to me suddenly. When they do, I become afraid to lose them, grabbing at their strings, and diminishing myself to half the person that I am. Good things come to me slowly, so that through the process, I gain confidence without losing who I am.

Lately, I’ve stripped myself bare of all the things that weigh me down, so that I can recognise the good when it arrives in front of me.

The good that is my family and friends.

Also, I am getting ready for my trip to Japan in a few months time. And I am really looking forward to it.

Let’s hope that the next 6 months of my life will start to resemble a Shakespearean comedy, or a Shakespearean love story, minus all that tragedy.

But we all know that’s not how life works. We get the good and the bad. For now, I’m bruised and sore, but enjoying the good that has landed on my shoulders before it flies away.

Does heaven have a translator?

At the time of my grandfather’s passing, I made him a booklet describing all of the things that I had done during my holiday in China. On the last page, I wrote him a goodbye letter, wishing him a safe journey to the other side.

When I showed this to my dad, he pointed out an obvious flaw: How could Agong understand the letter if it was written in English?

The answer was obvious. There’s a translator in heaven, translating all the foreign letters written by the grandchildren who were raised overseas.

This idea inspired an image of an elderly man walking in heaven, trying to find a translator to help him read his granddaughter’s letter.

I’d like to think that the booklet has kept Agong thoroughly entertained and that he is watching from afar, reminding me to keep the light in my spirit.

Writing under the full moon

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival. The moon is supposed to be at its fullest, but its been raining, so we can’t see it.

It’s a great time to finish the short story that I’ve been writing, the one about my Grandfather.

When I get home from work, the table is already laid out with roast duck, pork rib soup, and The Ant Noodle (the name my dad came up for a dish he’s made since I was a child.) There is a festive vibe in the air that reminds me of family, that’s why it’s a good day to write about my grandfather.

After dinner, I have a conversation with my mum about my writing dreams, conversations I’m getting more comfortable talking about in front of my family.

I tell her I’ve saved up enough money to work part-time so that I can focus on my writing. I write almost everyday, but I haven’t made substantial growth, because of time itself.

Still, my mum says that I’m not ready.

Sometimes I just want to take a leap of faith and deal with whatever comes my way, but I’m a little too sensible for that.

I feel like the moon tonight, covered, when it should be full and brilliant.