When I was younger I noticed that older people always slipped childhood stories into the conversations. I used to never understand why and quite frankly I find it boring and pointless to bring up such stories when they do not apply to the current, or should I say ‘modern’ lifestyle.
But as I get older, I start to understand why they do that. There is something so ethereal about childhood stories. They remind us of the time when days were happier, smiles were brighter and things were simpler. And it is becoming increasingly apparent to me why people would cling to such memories. So before the joys and sorrows of my childhood lost their poignancy and be overshadowed by the excitement of the new discoveries I unlock each day, I shall immortalise those memories in this post.
So this is my story.
14 October 1992 – The Beginning
It was a busy day. The streets of Penang were crowded and clamorous as they usually do. For I was born in the afternoon of October 14th, 1992, in the middle of Penang, a place that knows no sleep. Adding to those existing clamours, a newborn baby just made her way into this world. Her thunderous cry and ear-piercing shrieks marked her birth. (And that was Bahiyah in case you didn’t know. Haha. I just straight-up insulted her. HAHAHA )
My mother wasn’t done delivering, because unlike what most first-time mothers expect, she was pregnant with twins . As she tried to deliver the second baby, the baby’s heart rate slowed. The baby had an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The doctors had to slip the cord over her head and eight minutes later, she was born healthily. And that was me.
My sister and I were born prematurely. Being born at 7 months, we weighed less than 2 kgs. Bahiyah was lighter than me. She still is, in case you were wondering. We were two wrinkly funny-looking little babies with no eyebrows. My mom’s friends jokingly suggested to her to draw our eyebrows on. My mother was scared that we will never have eyebrows. Thank God we do now. There is such thing as a miracle.
We were then raised in a small town in Perak for a short period of time (which I have no memory of). My mother was working in Penang at the time. So she would leave early in the morning to take a bus to go to Penang and she would return at night. So my grandparents were the ones who raised us mostly. We were told by family friends that my grandparents had to split up and guard the front and back door so we wouldn’t go outside.
After our house in Penang was built, we moved to Penang and this is where we live till today.
1994 – Kindergarten
We started going to kindergarten at quite a young age, at 2 years old to be precise. My mom said it was because I was anti-social and I would only talk to Bahiyah (that hasn’t change btw). The kindergarten was supposed to help me make friends and socialised with kids my age. But my sister is still my closest friend till today, so we obviously know how that all work out. The kindergarten was lovely though. It was multi-racial. There was even an American girl there. Or at least I thought she was. I was too young to understand the difference between white people at that time. Looking back, it was probably the reason why we are able to mix with other races well now. We had classes, playtime, meal times and even nap time. There was a large room with very minimal furniture where every kid would be given a mattress and a pillow to sleep with. And it was compulsory for us to nap. I remember sitting up after the teacher left the room, wanting so desperately to play. But no one would wake up. So hesitantly, I would go to sleep. We also had a playground with slides and a small house. There was also a big pool.We weren’t allowed to swim in it. That used to bug me a lot. I wanted to swim in it so badly. The teachers would give us toys like boats or ducks, to play with in the pool.
Once we had a birthday party at the kindergarten. My mom took us out dress-shopping. She bought us each a beautiful pink princess dress. It was big and pouffy. Exactly what a girl would want. My mother took a leave from work on that day. We sashayed to class proudly. A teacher downstairs complimented on how pretty we look in our dresses. The class sang us a birthday song and it was time to cut the cakes. But then I started crying because I didn’t want to share the cake with other people. Weird kid huh?
1998 – Tadika Islam
At the age of 6 we started to go to an Islamic kindergarten. My grandma thought we should get some basic Islamic knowledge. I wasn’t particularly fond of this place. The place was big and ginormous (esp for a small kid). It had a high-ceiling and made me feel very agoraphobic. The place feels very industrial-like.Besides, the kids there were mean. They also have a particular fondness of telling ghost stories. Once there was a huge commotion about a ghost at the back of the building. Everyone rushed to see it. There was something on the other side of the window in the building and people claimed it to be the ghost’s finger. There was also a pillow found on the floor, and they said that’s where the ghost sleep. I was terrified.
The teachers there were strong believers of the ‘tough love’ pedagogical method. Once they took me and some other students into the meeting room and told us to eat mothballs because we couldn’t spell some words in Jawi. Everyone started crying and screaming. It was catastrophic. In the midst of that traumatising ordeal, I hid under the meeting table until they let us out.
1999 – Primary School
On the first day of primary school, as usual I clung to my sister. But my mom told me that I can’t sit with my sister so my anti-social self decided to find a single table at the back of the class and sat there alone. Again, my mom told me I can’t sit there. So I dragged myself up and find a seat next to this rather odd boy. As the class progresses, I turned around to look for my mom and I saw Bahiyah sitting in that single table. #notfairmommy #fml #iwantedthatseat
In primary school, Bahiyah developed a very boyish behavior. She always get into fights with boys and I was the one who will hold her stuff and her kain baju kurung while she runs around chasing boys (that sounded cute) looking like a murderous madwoman. They even made up all sorts of nick names for her; Bahaya, Danger, Danger Mouse, etc. And my nickname was “Adik Bahiyah”.
Bahiyah and I have also long established our leadership skill among our kampung kids. We gathered them all together, kids from all ages and genders, into a small group that somehow got bigger. We called them our agents (a word we learn from a black and white old Malay spy movie). And we were their leaders. We will decide what activity the group will be doing each evening. Some evening we’ll have lumba lari, and sometime we will have a cycling race (which I hated because it felt like my life was on the line). And that was also when I discovered my love for teaching. Out of the request of these kids parents, we started giving tuition classes, taught by me. And my favourite thing to teach (which I repeat over and over and over again) was photosynthesis. Why? Because I like to draw trees and arrows.
Then comes secondary school which I would save for another post. So that’s it for today, bye~