Did I ever tell you that I love writing sunsets? Ever since I started dabbling in writing, I was ever so intrigued with the way the sky turned from blue to orange, rolling through with red – I loved to add the description ‘specked with gold’.
My best friend wrote a poem called ‘Sunsets With Apollo and Artemis’ because we are obsessed with Greek mythology.
It is an entail of the beauty of sunsets.
apollo dipped beneath the mountains
and artemis rose in the night.
their meeting seemed to cause some magic
that wove colours through the sky.
pinks as warm as aphrodite’s roses,
blood, crimson as spilt in the war god’s battle,
blues as deep as poseidon’s oceans,
yellows as gold as demeter’s fields,
purples as rich as the wine god’s drink-
spun and shone and danced above
soaking gaia in a golden light,
her mountains, hills and streams
basking in the crafted bond
of the godly archer twins.
what is the music of her wilderness?
i can hear it now-
aeolus through the valley,
thunder of a fallen tree.
a song of birds,
a cry of mirth,
a trickle of water to lead
to the sea.
through fell stroke of cronus’s scythe,
apollo dropped, and artemis rose.
and the forgiving warmth of the sun god
gave way to his sister’s grave chill.
collided were the crescent moon and shining stars
in that ebony black night.
so thus, ends this tale
Sunsets. The end of the day. A few moments of gasping breaths and admiration before the night came.
But I’m not meant to be writing about sunsets. I’m not meant to be writing about the end of a day.
I’m meant to be writing about a sunrise.
Dawn. The beginning of a new day. I suppose those same descriptions would still work. But there’s a different feeling associated with the sunrise.
There is excitement – a new day, new opportunities.
I remember watching a sunrise with our mum once. We were on vacation, and we woke up early. Sat in front of the window and saw the bright sun split through the sky over the perfect view of the beach.
Nature can be horrendous and it can be beautiful – that’s just the way it is. Our dad would explain it as Lao-tzu once did. The heart of Daoism – yin-yang – the balance that rules over all life.
You never had a chance at life. You were but a seed in our mother’s womb, devoid of a consciousness, before you were taken away. I was six years old and so excited. You might have been a boy or you might have been a girl – you could have been both, or you could have been neither.
But I desperately wanted a sister, so that is what I think of you as.
When you were gone, I didn’t understand why our mum was so upset. And I thought I was okay with it too. Being an only child isn’t bad – I get everything all to myself, I never have to fight with anyone over something as petty as the remote control.
In year one, there was a girl in my class who sat on the same table as me. She told me excitedly one day that she was going to have a new baby brother. In that moment, I stared at her, and my seven-year-old mind wished that I could transfer out of my body and into hers; all because she had something I was supposed to have, but did not.
Then, I decided that was ridiculous, I would never want to be anyone other than myself. Because you would have learn in school that there are always people who have it worse.
My situation could have been worse.
You could have been born, breathed a few moments of breath into your underdeveloped lungs and then died. Or you could have been born dead. And we would have to return home to an empty cot and toys that will never be used.
Or you could have been born completely healthy. We could have taken you home, and we could have played with dolls together and I could have braided your hair. You could have gone to school, gotten straight As, or D pluses. Although the latter would be unlikely, you would have gone to tutoring with me every week.
You could have taken your interests in the arts or the sciences. Become a mechanical engineer or a singer. You could have been my story’s first reader, or the one I would have to hide them away from.
But I guess that is the pain of what ‘could have’ happened.
Because we will never know.
You will never know how our mum spent her entire school life as class captain, and the top of her class. How her grades were so great and consistent that she was guaranteed an automatic spot in a prestigious university.
Or how she travelled the world, spent a year in England, and a few months in Belgium. Went to France and Germany and Laos and Africa.
You will never know how our dad spent his childhood catching frogs by the pond. How he tried to shoot a handmade something or other that malfunctioned and left a permanent scar on his finger. Unlike our mum, his grades were average. He would acquire his vast knowledge of Buddhism and Confucianism and Chinese history and philosophy later in life.
Yet, fate brought them both to a company in Shanghai. Upon their first meeting, they were both in the break room, and perhaps started up a chat. Our dad was eating sunflower seeds, but he put the shells in our mum’s plate – a habit he got from our grandma; why wash two plates when it could fit into the one?
They dated for a year, in which our dad did not once buy our mum flowers – something she still brings up to this day. Instead he played the guitar and sang her Cantonese songs and told her about the history of Switzerland.
He wrote her love letters too – a fact I only recently found out when we were sorting through old albums and two pieces of paper fell out addressed to our mum and scrawled in his handwriting.
They bought a small apartment in Shanghai with one living room, one bedroom, one kitchen and one bathroom. They also had a pet turtle for some reason who then went mysteriously missing.
I was conceived two years into their marriage. Our mum still brings up the day she went into labour, and they had arrived at the hospital with everything they needed – except for the necessary documents to get them admitted, which was solely our dad’s responsibility.
So guess who had to go rushing back to the apartment when his wife was in labour.
Then when I was three, mum and I packed our suitcases and boarded the plane to the other side of the world. Mum and dad spent an entire year apart because our dad couldn’t leave his job just yet. We spent that year living with our aunty – who was the reason we were in Australia in the first place.
Three years later, you were conceived.
But you left us before your life could even begin.
I don’t know what school would have been like for you because everyone goes through something different. My first day of kindergarten in a foreign country was confusion. I didn’t understand English. I shied away in the corner and refused to take off my backpack because that was how badly I wanted to leave.
The moment I took off my backpack was so phenomenal that it was documented in my kindergarten journal. I met a teacher who coaxed me out of my shell, and I eventually began to understand English and speak it.
It was at kindergarten that I met my two best friends, whom I still cherish deeply to this day.
School certainly isn’t sunshine and rainbows – there are scraped knees and fights and tears. However, I am lucky to be in a country that celebrates multiculturalism.
I should not have to be ashamed of my culture and the language that I speak.
But sometimes, I am. When we go out to restaurants and I am embarrassed when our mum has to repeat herself because they can’t understand her accent. When people purposely slow down their speech, trying to enunciate every word as though we were less intelligent.
Or when people pull up the corners of their eyes and expect me to laugh. Maybe the biggest problem is that I did laugh, because that was the only way to fit in – to make a joke out of my own culture before others could make the same joke.
And that was what told me Asian racism is a joke.
Eastern culture says that I should be quiet and reserved, to not speak up or draw attention to myself. And western culture tells me that my voice is powerful, that I should speak up.
But when I do, I am told that I should just take the joke.
You would have been like me. A Chinese immigrant raised in an English speaking environment, stereotyped into the things you should be. You should know that my maths skills are quite horrendous – ‘but you’re Asian, shouldn’t you be good at maths?’
The thing about racism is that most of the time, it isn’t direct. Somewhere along the way, it becomes ingrained in us – in the way we think and the way we act.
I will never forget the time I went on a walk with our mum. We were both wearing masks because that is what the law requires at this moment in time. We were silent. Yet as we walked past two ten-year-old boys talking in the front yard, I heard the words ‘ching-chong’ giggled after us.
The worst thing is that it wasn’t even the first time I heard that. But it was the first time two total strangers had said that to me. Before I had even talked to them, they had already made a judgement about me as a person.
That is something you would have learned too. Sometimes, people don’t know you, but they make assumptions just the same.
What’s the big deal about ‘ching-chong’ anyway? It’s two made-up words that have no meaning. But within that is the alienation of entire languages.
It is words like those that make people afraid to speak their own language in public, because they’re afraid that people will mock them. Even the ten-year-olds who have been brought up on the belief that saying such a phrase is okay.
It is the reason why my name on the passport was changed from my Chinese one to my English one. Because our parents didn’t want me to be made fun of because of it. My friends ask me what it is all the time, and when I tell them, my immediate response is to recoil, be embarrassed, jump to a joke to save myself.
When I know that I should be proud of it. In my name, our parents entrusted their wishes; Siyue – to think, and to go beyond.
I wonder what your name would have been. I insisted on Andromeda – once again, my obsession with Greek mythology, but our mum was quick to say no to that because it was too long and hard to pronounce.
It took me a long time to understand the pain of losing you. Of missing someone that never truly lived. Perhaps, that was just the way fate wanted to have it. If so, I’ll take it.
But I will never forget the day I came home to our mum crying because you were gone.
I wonder if we would have gotten along, or if we would have been at each other’s throats.
You would have turned ten this year, and I wonder what kind of birthday party you would have had.
All I ever saw of you was an ultrasound photo – the rest is just my imagination.
You begin life with a sunrise and end it with a sunset – but your sunset came too soon, and I can only hope that wherever you are, the night isn’t too dark and lonely.
There is a lake near our house and I like to walk there sometimes. The night is lit up with street lamps, but nothing compares to the way the moon reflects off the water surface – the ripples spreading the pools of light across the darkness like molten silver.
If you were there with me, I think you would have liked it.