Memories

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A Year of Anniversaries

Filed in Memories, News

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Loma Pieta earthquake, better known as the San Francisco earthquake.

This has been a year of anniversaries …

Of course, every year is an anniversary for some event that’s important to someone somewhere in the world. 2009, however, seems to have more than its share of anniversaries for events that have affected not just individuals, but whole groups of people.

In addition to the San Francisco earthquake, other notable anniversaries in 2009 include the 40th anniversary of both the May 13 incident in Malaysia and Woodstock from 15 to 18 August, and the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square on 4 June.

It is also the 40th anniversary of Stonewall on 28 June. I mention this historic event separately because, although I’d heard of Stonewall, I was not aware of its anniversary date until recently.

In contrast, I have personal memories of the other four events.

May 13 in Malaysia

For many years, there were different versions of what happened, why it happened and who was involved. My grandfather’s Chinese herbal shop was on the street where it all started. I still remember all the other shops were already closed, but ours wasn’t. My dad and his older brother refused to close the shop, instead waiting at the entrance and it was only when they saw a group approaching from the opposite side of the roundabout that they decided to pull the metal shutters and lock up. Till today, I still shudder at what would’ve happened if one of them had stumbled and they were a moment too late.

I remember sitting at the round marble table upstairs doing my Malay homework. I also remember thinking “No school tomorrow!”

For many years, the different versions of May 13 conflicted with mine, but the recent publication of May 13 by Dr Kua Kia Soong has verified that what I remember of that night is true.

Woodstock – 3 Days of Love, Peace and Music

No, I wasn’t at Woodstock but I did go to see the movie when it was shown in Malaysia about a year after the event. It was a heavily edited version, altho there were still shots of that naked woman bathing in the open. There was only one female singer in the movie – Joan Baez – and it was there I heard her for the first time, and fell in love with her voice. Another vivid memory from the movie – Alvin Lee of 10 Years After being given a huge watermelon which he slung over his shoulder (can’t remember right or left shoulder).

Years later – late 1990 – I accepted an invitation to visit my professor and her family at their house near Woodstock. She took me to a poetry reading and I wrote this in my journal:

It could only happen in Woodstock. A number of 60s people still remain, and these are the people who have formed a group to protest the possibility of war in the Middle East that seems imminent. There was a draft resistor there who may be going to jail for what he’s doing. IT”S VIETNAM ALL OVER AGAIN.

Tiananmen Square

I was in my final year at the University of East Anglia when Tiananmen Square happened. This is what I wrote in my diary of the event.

Sun – 110689 (1:16)

I’m going down to London later this morning to join a demonstration in Chinatown. Heard about it on the telly on Thurs, and immediately made the decision to go. Was hoping to thumb a ride from Michael and Siu Lin but they’re not going. Apparently, there’s a coach going from UEA but I want to travel on my own.

However, the more I think of it, the more I realise it’d be a mixed demo, with different political groups joining in. All the more reason to go alone, so I can drift away if I get cheesed off.

Mon – 120689 (23:41)

I’ve worked it out that I was on the go 16 hours yesterday – from 6 am to midnight. And it told on my work today. So many errors! Also, I really felt TIRED.

Yesterday has been physically and emotionally exhausting. I took the 7:20 to London and it was a slow train, taking more than 3 hours, and changing once, arriving at 10:13.

As far as demos go, yesterday’s was in the same mould. Apparently, about 20,000 turned up. I don’t agree with a lot that went on, altho the demands were intelligent, particularly asking the British Govt to extend the visas of the mainland Chinese students.

I felt excluded, because almost everyone else there was with a group. I went as an individual.

It was very emotional overall, but the only time I got emotional was during the singing of “Heirs of the Dragon”, especially the line “Black eyes, black hair, yellow skin, forever heirs of the dragon”.

When the march started (after 2½ hours of listening to various speakers), I moved to the first corner and stood there, scrutinising every face walking past. I was waiting either for Julia or the UEA group. No UEA group, but saw Julia and walked up to her. She was REALLY surprised to see me.

She agreed the demo was basically a lot of “fei wah” (literally “wasted words” but actual meaning is “rubbish” or “bullsh*t”). The march progressed to the Chinese Embassy, by which time both of us were really tired and fed-up. Also, I was having one of my infamous headaches. We left at 3:50 p.m.

San Francisco Earthquake

I can’t find my 1989 diary where I must’ve written something about this. The following is taken from a post I wrote recently on the Flickr AlphaSmart group.

I had just arrived in San Diego to start my grad studies in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it was called that. I remember being outside and hearing a female student walk by quite hysterical and telling her friends her grandmother’s in San Francisco and she couldn’t get her on the phone.

Around 2 a.m. that night, my phone rang and it was my sister asking if I was alright and they heard on the news that the Golden Gate Bridge had collapsed. What happened was the tenant in my dad’s shop had heard the Chinese news (news on Chinese language radio) about the earthquake and the bridge in San Francisco collapsing. For many Chinese people around the world, there’s only one bridge in San Francisco and that’s the Golden Gate Bridge, that’s why my sister asked.

Actually, there’s another anniversary of importance this year, altho compared to the other anniversaries I’ve written above, this one is just a “baby”, just a year old. But in terms of magnitude, and especially in terms of what it meant for my beloved giant pandas, the May 12 earthquake in 2008 ranks alongside the others, maybe even more. I observed that 1st anniversary by being with my precious bears on that very day itself.

Thoughts on scrapbooking

Filed in Family, Memories

It recently occurred to me that my mother might’ve been a scrapbooker, maybe even one of the first in Malaysia. Except in those days (the 50s and 60s), it wasn’t known as scrapbooking, at least not in this part of the world, and there weren’t all the fancy scrapbook albums, accessories and supplies. Instead, there were just photo albums.

My sister, brother and I each have our own baby albums. These are simple books with black pages, hard board covers with designs, and photo corners used to hold the photos in place. The photo corners in my baby album are plastic and still in good condition, while the ones in my brother’s album are paper, some of them fraying. I think my sister’s album has paper photo corners, too, but I don’t have it on hand to check; she took hers with her after she married.


My brother’s baby album


Mine was a bit more ornate; but it was also four years later

Further back than my sister’s baby album, there is also my parents’ wedding photo album. Even further back than that are photo albums commemorating the 25th anniversary of the family’s Chinese medicine shop, as well as the opening of the family’s second Chinese medicine shop. In addition to photographs, the anniversary albums also had newspaper clippings of congratulatory messages advertised by business associates. Many of the photo corners in these albums have lost their adhesiveness so flipping through the pages is often an exercise in caution not to let a photo slip from its original page.


Some of the congratulatory messages in the
shop’s 25th anniversary “scrapbook”

All our albums also feature identical family portraits taken every year on, or around, our parents’ wedding anniversary. The portraits were taken at professional photo studios, but not during regular business hours. Since both our parents worked and couldn’t take time off for the sessions, we had to do it after business hours. Good thing the various photo studios were owned by my father’s good friends who agreed to do the photography in the evenings. Every year, we would put on our best clothes (chosen by mother in our younger days) and troop into the studio for the portraits. Each annual set would feature one of the whole family, a second of our parents, and a third of just us kids. The early portraits were full-length shots; these changed to half-body shots beginning from the year my sister and brother decided they didn’t want to wear shoes and asked that the slippers not be shown in the photos.

In addition to our baby albums, we also have other photo albums through our growing years. The designs of each successive album give an indication of the changing tastes and times. From the simple books of black pages and photo corners, we moved on to fancier self-adhesive albums with stiffer board-like sticky pages, each overlaid with a film cover the same size as the page. To mount the photos, the film is lifted off the page, the photos put in place and the film repositioned over them. The film can be lifted off again and again; unfortunately, over the years, the sticky pages lost the self-adhesiveness so that the photos are no longer held firmly in place.

From these self-adhesive photo albums, we moved onto photo albums with pockets. Those were the last complete albums that required time spent selecting photos to include in each album. Latter albums were throwaway albums that came back with photos sent for developing, each sufficient to display either 24 or 36 pictures, depending on the size of the film roll used. Once the photos went into such albums, they stayed there, and the albums accumulated into stacks over time, the intention to sort and refile them into bigger, more permanent albums, diminishing with each passing year.

And then, there were no more albums. At least not for me, as I’ve moved on to taking digital photographs which do not require physical albums to file them.

And now, in my mother’s footsteps, I am ready to become a scrapbooker. A digital scrapbooker.

For a long time, I thought scrapbooking was a forward looking hobby, good for storing memories for future generations. In fact, that was what my mother did for us, store our baby and childhood memories for us to look back in later years. That’s what a lot of current scrapbooking examples show, too (including my friend Karenika’s excellent site). But recently, I realised scrapbooking can be used to look back, too; it’s a form of memoir. And I have lots of old family photos to organise into scrapbooks; all the various photo albums mentioned earlier are with me, and I’m sort of the family historian.

However, I don’t really like physical scrapbooking – the physical pages and the pictures will deteriorate over time, and there can only be one copy which will be difficult to share with the rest of the family (my sister, brother, as well as our cousins). So what’s the alternative?

Digital scrapbooking. It will be paperless (I will be doing my part in not killing trees for my hobby), and will help to preserve old photographs. It will also be easy to share, especially online – once a scrapbook is ready and uploaded online, I just need to send an email to family members with email access.

In my own way, I have dabbled with digital scrapbooking, but in a very simple, almost primitive way. During my early website days, I’d created a mini site celebrating the family’s Chinese medicine shop, and scanned the two anniversary photo albums to put on that site. A few years later, I discovered software to create online photo galleries and have set up an online photo site which is home to various photo albums, including one for old family photos that I put up for my cousins after an older cousin passed on last year.

All these efforts to date are just digital photo albums, the way my mother’s “scrapbooks” of our baby photos are just photo albums, but they have been leading me to this moment. Mother is no longer able to further her skills to make actual scrapbooks, but I will take over and plan to learn digital scrapbooking skills to help me create digital memories of our family history for our future generations.

Now, where to begin?

Remembering Long Black

Filed in Gadgets, Memories

“Remember you used to go to Long Black all the time?” deesee asked the other evening when three of us met up for a “beamfest”.

Yes, I remember, and yes, I used to go to Long Black all the time. It was a cafe in SS2 – well, not just a cafe, but a cafe offering free wi-fi to customers. It also offered awesome all-day breakfasts. What more could a “young” wi-fi “warrior” ask for.

Those were the days. Actually not so long ago, maybe just 5 or 6 years back. But Long Black wasn’t open for long, altho I don’t think it was closed out by other wi-fi competition. When it closed, wi-fi was still quite a novelty, not commonly available like how it is now.

I have such fond memories of Long Black. I didn’t even have a laptop then, only a 16MB AlphaSmart Dana wireless, the reason for my being in Long Black a lot. Especially during November, the glorious NaNo month, I would be there, writing away, and then going online to update my word count. Ha! Those were the days.

These days, you can find wi-fi anywhere in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Most shopping malls offer free wi-fi, and those that don’t, there’s always a Mcdonald’s or Starbucks, even an Old Town White Coffee shop where you can fire up your netbook or notebook and go online. Most times, you don’t even have to ask for the password to get on.

Ah, those were the days. And here’s a picture of my Dana on the table at Long Black. Trust me, it is Long Black, even tho’ the picture is too close-up to see the rest of the place.

Oh, that “beamfest”? That’s another relic from the not-too-distant past, when PDA (mostly Palm PDA) owners used to meet up to beam apps to one another’s PDA. This recent one was attended by just three – deesee, tehoais and me – altho’ there were no Palm PDAs in sight and we weren’t beaming anything between us.

Fried Rice Paradise at 5 in the morning

Filed in Memories, Music

It’s one thing to get into a routine – in this case, taking my weekly Fosamax dose every Wednesday morning, and having done so without fail for the past 15 weeks – and another to miss one and then to forget to take it the next morning.

I’d woken with a pounding pain behind my left eye on Wednesday morning and it was a choice of gritting my teeth and taking the Fosamax tablet (and probably throwing it up almost immediately) or foregoing the Fosamax tablet in favour of two Ponstans for the pounding pain. After looking up the instructions (“If you miss a dose, just take one FOSAMAX PLUS™ on the morning after you remember.”), I decided to do as instructed and downed two Ponstans.

Almost 40 hours later, I’m in the kitchen and opening my meds drawer for my lupus meds. As the drawer slides open, I see the Fosamax box. Oh shoot, I forgot to take the Fosamax dose this morning.

The instructions didn’t say anything about taking the tablet two mornings after I’m supposed to take it, but I decided to do so anyway. After all, it’s another five days to the next dose, so I should be alright. It’s better than not taking the tablet at all. Anyway, that’s my reasoning.

I found myself wide awake at 4:30 this morning, and decided to get up and take the dose, just in case I went back to sleep and forget later on.

After taking the dose, I’m supposed to sit or stand for 30 minutes, and of course, I’m sitting in front of my computer. For some reason, a song from my long-ago teenaged years started to play in my head and wouldn’t stop playing. So, now I have a craving for “Fried Rice Paradise” – not to eat but to listen to, and not just in my head.

Hey, maybe it’s on YouTube. And yes, it is! A 2007 version from a stage musical that Dick Lee wrote around the song in the early 1990s. The original version was first featured in his debut album, Life Story, released in 1974. The version here is from the “President Star Charity 2007″.

Dick Lee is a Singaporean who started his musical career in 1971 at the age of 15. These days, he’s better known as a Singapore Idol judge, but in his hey day, he played the piano, produced his own albums and wore make-up. And yes, I have a vinyl copy of Life Story.

The day the music died

Filed in Memories, Music

This line is from the Don McLean song “American Pie” and refers to the death of Buddy Holly in the 50s.

In 1980, the same line came to mind when I first heard that John Lennon had been shot dead.

This morning, it came to mind again when I read that Michael Jackson had died. This time, the line is more personal as Michael and I are the same age and I first started listening to him at the start of his career with the Jackson 5. So for me, and the other music lovers around my age, 25 June 2009 is the day the music died for us.

I went through my vinyl record collection and found a Jackson 5 EP, probably their very first as it’s titled “Diana Ross presents The Jackson 5″, the same title as their first album released in 1969.

This EP features four songs – “I Want You Back” and “Can You Remember” on Side 1 and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “ABC” on Side 2.

Earlier today, I went out and managed to get a copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of the Thriller CD. It was the second last copy at Movie Magic, a shop at the 1 Utama shopping complex; an elderly couple bought the last copy. I overhead the old lady saying something about all his songs so I suggested they get the Essential Michael Jackson but actually, they wanted his music videos, so the Thriller CD was the right choice as it includes a special DVD featuring “Thriller”, “Beat It” and “Billie Jean”, as well as his performance of “Billie Jean” for the Motown 25th anniversary celebration.

I also bought a Jackson 5 compilation and at the last moment, decided to get the Essential Michael Jackson, too. I played the latter on the drive home, and was unprepared for the tears that came when I heard “Got to be There”, his first solo single, although not his first #1 hit (that honour went to “Ben”). I’d completely forgotten about this song, and when I heard it after more than 30 years, I was struck by what an angelic voice he had. I cried for the boy that Michael Jackson was.

All through today, the CNN website’s front page has been showing a revolving Michael Jackon memorial banner with different pictures. This is the one I like best. This is the Michael Jackson I remember best.

25 June 2009 – the day the music died for many in my generation. Farewell, Michael Jackson.