Sunday, August 1, 2010

Live Together, Die Alone

My brother is at my apartment, with my eldest nephew. I am torturing the little guy with Oprah Winfrey's Internet classes with Eckhart Tolle. All 20 hours of it. Hahahaha.

Earlier, we had drinks where my brother and I, with another sibling, compared notes about growing up.

We didn't have nice childhoods, just boring ones. My siblings lived rough. My brother remembers a time when running water was just a few pipes outside homes, where people take showers - fully-clothed - in the open.

My father was a teacher, so he didn't make very much. We were poor. Still are. But not as poor as some people.

To supplement his income, my mother sold breakfast. I used to follow her around, carrying nasi lemak or nasi dagang in baskets around the village.

My mother taught me to distrust people, pointing out tell-tale signs of people lying or doing bad things.

At a very young age, I was aware of the evil in the hearts of men and women.

Most of the older kids and young adults were drug addicts or ne'er-do-wells. My father was instrumental in getting one or two to become police officers or join the army, but there's really not much he could do for the rest. There were farming projects, but they all failed due to apathy.

My siblings had to sell various things as well. Fruits and stuff. My brother had to herd cows my father owned in an ultimately failing or moderately successful farming venture.

It was tough work for a primary schooler. He had to watch the cows eat and at night, scrape cow dung with a piece of asbestos and light it up to warm the cows up.

I remember electricity. 24 hour electricity came in 1986. I was six years old.

The first time I felt air-conditioning was in secondary school. Before that, the concept of air-conditioning was alien to me.

It was a tough childhood, especially for my siblings. We all left home at 12. By the time we're 18, most of us earned our own money.

Most of us did very well in school. Most of us were top students. I don't know what was motivating my siblings, but in my mind, I knew I had to get away from a future as a drug addict. No fucking way am I inhaling shit fumes or giving blowjobs for crack.

My only retreat was my father's books. Most, published in the 50s and 60s.

The image I had of the world was one of a more innocent time. Where neighbours help each other in the suburbs and working environment was beautiful in its chaotic craziness.

I was also reading how the world was changing due to the feminist and civil rights movements 30 years prior.

It is not big things, but the little details that get to you. The way certain articles were written. The voice and viewpoints of writers as they support or lament the change to their environment.

I read about the Vietnam War as the world experienced it. The Middle East crisis as it unfolded.

I read about scientific breakthroughs and cultural revolutions. I read about Kent State. The outrage. The uproar. The media spin.

This is perhaps one of the reasons, that I grew up as an old soul. New things, while shiny and attractive, did not seem to fit my nostalgic world view. I was a 40-year-old man in an 8-year-old body.

My sensibilities are that of the 50s and 60s, when Superman was simple and not complicated. When you knew what is right and what is wrong, who the good guys were, and who the bad guys were.

I was lost in that world, that time, as my siblings were outside, killing snakes and birds and anything that happens to cross their paths.

We had different experiences, growing up. I drew inward, lost in the energy crisis and first person articles, as my siblings grew outward, getting physical with the world, and establishing their social skills.

I grew up thinking that people are not worth considering. At most, they are an annoyance that has to be tolerated for a limited period of time, before they die or go away.

I was much more engrossed in ideals of journalism, loyalty, good-naturedness and whimsical fancy.

However, growing up, all of us believed in a few things: freedom and independence.

Freedom is more important than life itself. Independence, meanwhile, is the ultimate goal. Not depending on anything or anyone is absolute freedom.

And all of us, worked very hard for those things.

We grew up strong, in our own different ways. Each one of us are resilient and somehow, very very angry.

We did not have great childhoods. My siblings had to deal with a lot of hardships, and I was busy building my superhero complex and other dementia.

But we are not annoying to each other. Most of the time.