A Girl’s Nostalgia in Old Havana

Cuba: August 17, 2016  6a.m

I have never dreamed so much in my life. I dreamed until I got a headache. It’s crazy. I feel like I’m turning into an old lady because of my daily routine. I woke up too early and I slept too early because I never go out at night. They say it’s very safe here that a girl has no worry to be out on the street alone. Guys will come annoy you but they will never touch you because it’s about 25 years in jail if Cubans do any illegal thing to tourists. Well, I mean I can go out at night for a few drinks but I’m not interested in doing that. I don’t know why I don’t feel like what the others do. Perhaps I am not enjoying doing it alone, or I’m enough with those annoying Cubans men, or I’m really turning into an old lady in this country even though I look like 21, like what the local has told me the other day. There are stars on the sky but they are not very shining; those shining one are not real but artificial satellites. Yesterday when I was having my “turkey breast with Cuban source” in one of the fancy hotels, there was a middle-aged man sitting at 2 o’clock from my table. He was alone with a blue book in his right hand, just like me with a paper on my table. He ordered a glass of red wine and an omelet and something else that I didn’t pay attention to. His hair was smooth like waves and they were facing the south. He has his scientist-like glasses on his face which made him an intelligent but strange looking man. I saw him glanced at me when I was looking at him. I wondered what he thought of me because through his eyes I was a sense of suspicion. I couldn’t see what book he was reading but I wanted to know what was it about and what was in his mind. Though I didn’t talk to him but only observing what meals he ordered for lunch: Omelet and meat with red wine. According to the Egg-Personality test, a person who ordered omelet is more likely to be passive and easy to be overshadowed by the others – which quite matches his outlook but still, he stood out from the others in my eyes. I first noticed him was yesterday, right on the sofa in the lobby of a fancy hotel which I normally went there for internet access. Sitting on the sofa with the same blue book in his hand, he wasn’t reading but glancing the people in the hotel, just like what I was doing at that time on the second floor. Perhaps we have the same kind of interest: watching people.From watching the others our desire of being a peeper can be satisfied. But what really fun in this game is to find out if you were also being watched by someone at somewhere.

Supposedly, my desire of wanting to be watched that lies under this little hobby can be linked to my childhood. Thinking about my childhood, there are a few people that play important roles in my early life. First, my grandmother since I was brought out by her until I was eight. Scenes such as watching her busy cooking when I facing her and taking a poop in a tiny bucket; the moment when she was yelling at me because I shitted myself behind the door; when she was putting every spoonful of porridge into my mouth; when she was walking back after seeing me off in front of the school bus; when she taught me how to sing her folk songs in her own language (which I wish I could have remembered all of them now); when she had fallen asleep in the middle of the old Chinese opera play so I watched the rest for her…Finally, the scene when she said, “come if you want to be beautiful” and none of my sisters but myself went to her due to my belief in her old words. Under her magical hands, I got my earholes done with a heated needle and a piece of cut ginger. Now I always tell the other that my earholes are the best gift from my grandmother, that I become a beautiful girl because of the spiritual ceremony she had held on me. 

However, when I was only a child I had never thought of myself as a beautiful girl because of the comparison those adults had made between my sister and I. If you look at my child photos you will see I look like a boy and my sister is so beautiful and sweet with her smile one her face. People always pay more attention to her as she was prettier than me. I guess this is why when I heard the magical word from my grandmother I was thrilled: becoming more beautiful. The more the others praised my sister’s beauty the more self-conscious I became. My competitive mood became stronger when my parents took us to the calligraphy and art competitions. I was very low every time when I got nothing while she got the first price. I kept on putting a lot of efforts in calligraphy practice then a one-day miracle happened. I was full of surprise when I was told that I got the first price. Totally overwhelming because the first price was out of my expectation. Everyone was shocked around me. I saw a sense of disappointment on my sister’s face. Since then I have gotten the top three prices in all competitions. However, I got beaten again when I was putting into the elder group, which consists of more competitors. Returning to my feeling toward my success, the more I was satisfied with my success the more guilty I felt toward my sister. She is my company as well as my competitor; I admire her as much as I envy her. 

Perhaps this love-hate relationship exists not only in sister-sister relationship but also parents children. I still remember how my father made me a guilt catcher when I was seven. He hit me so hard after knowing that I skipped my class and spent time with my brother’s friend. He didn’t know that I skipped my class because I fall into that little boy at that time. He didn’t realize that was the first time where his daughter feels differently towards the opposite gender and he hit her so hard that she cried and shouted out loud. She tried to run away when she saw him holding a rattan but then she fall and he pulled her leg from the living room into the bedroom and locked the door. She was terrified when she heard the locking sound of the door. This is over, she thought. He commanded her to show her hands and he hit her badly. At the same time, he commanded her to lower her voice and stopped screaming like hell. The more she screamed and cried the more rattan she’d got on her hands. She forced herself to stop crying and eventually the whips slowed down and stopped. The father didn’t understand the true motivation of her action but it didn’t matter him because he was sure that those whips would definitely make her not to skip class again. Indeed, the girl never tried to skip class since then.

The Ng family has four children and there is five years gap between the oldest and the youngest one. I remember when I was little we used to play Onigokko (someone is the ghost and tries to catch the others). One time when for of us were home alone, we played this game and the whole house became a mess when we ran all over the places. Our house is not big we only have two rooms with one living room, a kitchen and a toilet. But we have four children running all over the rooms and screamed like hell. When the oldest one ran into the small room and slammed the door in order to get away from the ghost (I don’t remember who was the ghost), the youngest one accidentally placed her fourth finger in between the door. She cried out loud and the other siblings screamed and asked the older one to open the door immediately. But the old one thought it was a trick because she was still in a game mood. After thirty seconds she finally opened the door and the little one’s finger had turned into purple color. The old one took her to the first neighbor while she was crying all the way, wondering if she had lost her finger. The neighbor put her finger into the sink and tried to wash it. She was terrified when she saw her nail came out of her finger. Holly shit, she thought. The neighbor decided to take her to the clinic after the washing. The little one felt insecure and she wanted the old one to go with her. I still don’t know why at that time I only felt safe if my elder sister accompanies me to the clinic; I wanted no one but the one who hurt me to protect me. Perhaps this event made her a guilt catcher and me a guilt maker. 

Returning to the whipping episode, the reason why the little girl didn’t get to tell her father about her real motivation of skipping class is because she didn’t know how to express love since she never heard of that word comes out from her father’s mouth and her mother wasn’t there to teach her how to express love. Maybe she did say “I love you” to her mother through the phone two or three times but she remembers none of it, sadly. What she remembered was that her mother was far away in a country called Japan and sometimes she received some stationeries such as color pencils, sharpeners, pencil boxes and some toys from Japan. To her, It is the mysterious Japan that took her mother away and therefore, her curiosity toward this country was far stronger than any other countries. 

When she grew older, she understood that her mother was working in Japan in order to support the family. She admires her mother’s sacrifice to the family and she wrote a composition about her mother. Her composition has been picked up and praised by the teacher in the class. She was very happy about that because she assumed that she has a very fine mother. One day the father told the children that their fine mother was coming back home from Japan. The children were all quite nervous when waiting for their mother to return home. The mother was full of tears when she saw her children. They hugged each other so tight that it formed a circle in the middle of the living room. This is my mother and this is my home, this is my mother and this is my home, the girl thought. 



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1 Comment

  1. Amazed to see how you remember many details of your childhood, and how you connected your trip in La Havana with it. Congratulations!…consider me a fan of your writings.

    Liked by 1 person

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