I was born an outsider.
I’m left-handed. It was a curse. In the 70s and the 80s, teachers never liked a left-hander, and left-handedness was a defect that any honourable teacher had to correct.
As a young child, I was scorned for writing with my left hand. Teachers cast me the scary look. A cane would rain down on me if I switched to use my left hand. My classmates were spies. They would receive rewards from the teachers if they reported to the teachers whenever they saw me writing with my left hand.
I didn’t win. Now I write beautifully with my right hand, but I still use my left hand for all other tasks in life involving dexterity: using my computer mouse, playing ball games, using chopsticks, and even picking my nose.
“Get out of my kitchen! You left-handed ghost!” My mother didn’t have much patience for a left-handed daughter either. The kitchen was always a chaotic war zone when kids were waiting to be fed. As a filial daughter, I would always help out in the kitchen. My tasks involved washing the vegetables and removing the worm-eaten parts of the leaves with holes in, and trimming every single end of a mountain of bean sprouts.
Another weekly task was dissecting squids. I first had to cut off their tentacles, peel off their skin, and carefully remove the cuttlebones. Very delicately, I must avoid cutting through their ink sac, or I would be squirted with black ink. My chopping tasks were endless: chopping ginger, meat, and shallots, or sometimes chopping pork with prawns together and mixing them well.
“You, the Left-Handed Ghost, are in my way!” My mother yelled that I was always in her way in the kitchen. She just couldn’t cope with the look of me wielding a cleaver with my left hand. My left-handedness with a cleaver annoyed and frightened her. She worried that I would chop my fingers off, so sometimes she would chuck me out of the kitchen to avoid the eyesore. “You’re so awkward in my kitchen!” Mum ranted and took over the chores.
Where do I belong?
As the youngest child in a family of adults could be the loneliest experience. I remember sleeping on the floor with two adult sisters. Some nights, they would discuss boys and exchange gossips in their secret language. As a kid, I was curious, “Tell me!” “I want to know!” However, according to the Chinese wisdom: “A kid should have ears, not a mouth.” Their stories were none of my business. So I learnt quickly not to interrupt. Very often, when I entered a room when my sisters were talking, their conversation would just halt. The presence of me had the ability to halt many conversations.
It was the norm that a child was hushed. In a crowded, boisterous environment, a child was mute. One day, when my father told me that he had hoped for a boy, not a daughter, I was not upset, because I grew up believing that I was found in a rubbish bin.
If you have immersed in the Chinese culture, you would know boys are more valued, because boys can carry the family surname. I am therefore never upset about this preoccupation with boys. However, I did rush to my mother for evidence. “Is it true that Father had wanted a boy, not me?” Mum answered truthfully, without any hesitation: “Exactly! Because your brother had died of leukaemia, your father, the Old Ghost, wanted a replacement. There were already too many girls in this house.”
I was meant to be an outsider.
“Your English is very good”
As a young student many years ago, I met some students from Hong Kong, who insisted on calling me a ‘Malay.’ I explained to them a Malay is another ethnic group and there was a clear distiction between a Malay and a Chinese, and both of them could be Malaysians. While I was studying in Taiwan, my friends were surprised I could speak Chinese. “But, if you’re from Malaysia, how could your Chinese be so fluent?” And, in the UK, people would ask, “But, if you’re a Chinese, how could your English be so good? How many years have you learnt English?”
Conversations like these often leave me mentally exhausted. Therefore, I’ve grown to be quieter, the older I become. Assumptions like these also reflect how some people see me: an outsider.
In my recent Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress, I have agonised over the psychological reasons as to why I blog, pondered how to stay focused with more self-control, and more importantly, tried to discover my view of the world through my filtered lens. It’s dangerous, as I may reveal more than I had planned for 15 months ago when I started blogging in English. I may even understand who I am in this process of self-discovery. The thought is frightening.
I see the world as an outsider. This is my filtered lens. What do I see? How do I feel? I am passionate about living, but I am also very detached emotionally. Will this new perspective make my writing any different? How might this change my voice in my writing?
What about you? What are you writing about?
My Related Posts:
- Seeing the world through my names
- Not a narcissistic outsider
- Must all boys love Lego?
- An age with relative freedom
- When did you last go home?
- Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore
- A poignant visit to a Singapore columbarium
- Why are we all called Jade?
- Weekly Photo Challenge – Urban life in Singapore
- Postcard from Singapore: East vs West
- Postcard from Singapore: Satay
- Weekly Writing Challenge: My Mum’s Net