Sunday, 5 October 2014

Movie: Empire of the Sun

I really hate studying in my room. I curse the architect of this house for leaving me and my brother's bedrooms utterly deprived of vitamin D. Even when it's midday, and the sun is lovely and bright, our rooms still look like an emo's galore because the sun never gets a direct hit into our windows. BLEH.

Yesterday night, I watched Empire of the Sun, the 1987 Spielberg movie starring 13 year old Christian Bale in his first feature film debut. He plays a loquacious rich English boy caught up in the Japanese invasion of Shanghai during WWII. His gets separated from his parents during a coursing 人山人海 situation on Shanghai's streets, who were then literally swept away by the waves of stinky looking Chinese peasants, all clamouring for an escape out of the city. I couldn't help but laugh my ass off as his horrified and disgusted mother became engulfed by the hordes of dirty, lower class 'Chinks' - her arms flailing madly as everybody else pushed and shoved in their desperation. What a juxtaposition. Her with the fancy hat and impeccable button down blazer and skirt ensemble - next to a bunch of icky dudes carrying bloodied chickens and cages and all sorts of other weird thingamabobs. Hah.

Anyway, cute little Christian Bale, officially appellated Jamie Graham in this movie, is really annoying. I guess you could say annoying in a 'sweet' way, but I found him annoying in a you-could-have-fucking-died-oh-my-god-stop way. I mean, for a guy who has received such consummate schooling and upbringing, you'd think he had more common sense than to run up to a marching cavalcade of armed Japanese soldiers and be all like "I SURRENDER! HELP ME! HELP ME! I'M BRITISH!" - then continue to weave in and out of said formation with the impetuousness of a lab rat.


Anyway, it's just a movie. lol. I still couldn't refrain from slapping the table multiple times. Also, it really pissed me off when his mum was holding his hand being all like "DON'T LET GO! DON'T LET GO!" during what was clearly a dangerous and urgent situation where lots of people around them were crying and yelling in distress. And then his toy plane falls out of his pocket or something and he LET'S GO to get his plane. Turns around afterwards and of course, his mum is long gone.


And that's the start of how he ends up at a Japanese POW camp.

Apart from Jamie's initial stupidity (I'm sorry J.G. Ballard, person whom this movie is based on), I really liked the movie. It had a lot of touching and suspenseful moments, and it is definitely the sort of movie I would watch with my young kids one day - snuggled up on the sofa with a bowl of pop corn. Firstly, it's historical, it's based on a true story and it's not dumbed down. Secondly, there are a lot of important lessons or values to be gleaned. Bravery, loyalty, friendship. Even I got teary at some bits. With a young protagonist, it's also slightly more relatable for children. Erm, I'm probably getting a bit ahead of myself here.

Great movie. Would recommend.

Friday, 3 October 2014

How it felt to feel worthless as a child (another catharsis)

One time when I was around nine years old, my dad was teaching me maths at the ungodly hour of 11.00pm. Seated at my desk, I stared blankly at the question, my heart racing like Phar Lap on steroids. I could feel my dad's eyes boring into my brain, probably accompanied by an inner monologue like this:
Why the fuck is my child so stupid.
Wow. How did she NOT inherit my intelligence. 
This is ridiculous. 
Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I'm tireddddd.

Meanwhile, I could hear the clock ticking. I knew that if I didn't answer this question soon, and correctly, my dad will be extremely disappointed. And when he's disappointed at me, he's not just disappointed. It's anger. It's disbelief. It's him heaving at me, asking me why I couldn't answer one of the most basic questions ever. Then comes the belittling. You're absolutely useless. Are you even listening? Is there anything happening in your brain? How many hours did we spend on this concept already??? How can you still not understand this?? WHY? What the hell are you doing? 

And it was truly unwarranted. I wasn't a recalcitrant child, and not the least bit impetuous. Before my revolutionary rebellion at the end of grade 6, I was still that timid kid that always listened to their parents i.e. took their parents' shit. Never did I speak up for more than one time in an argument. I just bowed my head and absorbed the psychological battering. And worst of all, I had always genuinely tried my best at whatever they had wanted me to do.

So that night, doing that maths question with my dad next to me, I was really scared. In fact, if I weren't physically trembling, I was definitely mentally trembling. The thing my dad never understood is when all your kid(s) can think about is not getting yelled at or hit, there is no way they can fully focus on learning. It took me hours to learn really easy things because the whole time, I was just drowning in fear.

Then I said these suicidal words. "I don't know..." I whispered, feeling more and more pathetic. There was a long moment of silence after the words left my mouth, and I thought I was being sucked into a black hole. But at least in a black hole, I wouldn't have to deal with my dad's wrath. I continued to stare at the paper, not daring to look at my dad's face. I heard my dad sigh. And then he sighed again. And then, something absolutely extraordinary happened.

I think my dad started tearing up.

For THAT was how fucking annoyed he was at my incompetence. I heard sniffs. I saw red eyes. I didn't want to believe that I had pissed him off enough to make him cry. I've seen his face go red like a baboon's ass when he yelled at me - frustration written into the wrinkles of his physiognomy. But I've never ever seen my dad tear up. He let out a long woebegone groan, and put his face in his hands. It was as if he had just received news of a loved one's death, or maybe that he had just lost his home to the bank. After a few terrifying seconds, he raised his head and...laughed. Are you serious? He asked me. It would have been something along those lines.

I immediately broke down. Tears streamed down my cheeks like the Nile. I sobbed into my balled up fists and contemplated why I was still living. Why are you crying??? My dad asked insensitively. Through sobs, snot and tears, my nine year old self replied:  B-because...I-I'm s-s-s-stupid... 
Until then, I had never felt so pathetic and unloved in my life. And I thought that maybe, I deserved to feel that way because I really thought I was stupid. I was so stupid, I had made my dad cry. And I didn't want to cause him to feel that way for both of our sakes. I know y-you don't l-love me... I said.

I don't remember the particulars of what happened after - me walking out of the room to escape the unfolding Greek tragedy - dad following me down the hall and actually laughing as I explained why they (my parents) didn't love me - my mum a passive witness... All I remembered was how shit it felt. And that was only one of many similar incidents to come.

Over the next few years, I kept diaries. Whenever I read them, I always feel sorry for myself as a child. Notable phrases that kept popping up in my entries were things like: "I feel useless", "I feel pathetic", "I wish I were dead". And a litany of swear words - FUCK, SHIT, FUCK, I FUCKING HATE YOU - were common graffiti.

I wrote in my diary every time I was angry, and because of this, I had a record of every single time my dad made me feel like shit. When I started talking back to my dad, I would always remind him...

Remember that time you yelled at me because I lost that tennis match? 

Remember when I told you other kids weren't being nice to me at squad training and you just told me to 'ignore them'? 

Remember when you hit me in front of other students from my primary school over an argument about basketball rules?

His reply was always: stop thinking about the past and move on! I don't remember it! Stop bringing little things up to attack me. And get rid of that stupid diary. That's the reason why you're still bringing up stupid things from the past.

I couldn't believe how he couldn't see that these weren't 'little things' at all. Obviously, these were things that really impacted my self-esteem. I remember those things so well, so clearly - how searing his words were... It also changed the way I thought about my dad forever. And if we had the same debate today, I'm sure he would just say the same thing.

After all the shit I put up with, I'd say I turned out pretty well. I'm social, outgoing, and I now have extremely high self-esteem and self-confidence. It was because one day, I realised I wasn't worthless or pathetic or useless. It truly was an overnight epiphany - I was 10 years old, lying in bed thinking about killing myself, and suddenly I started to think about people that had it harder than me. The homeless, the kids in Africa (...yep), the physically disabled, the people lying in hospital beds waiting for a new organ... And I realised that even if I didn't get a high ATAR or whatever my parents use to measure my worth - I was not useless because I am fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to change someone else's life. I've read enough Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to know that it's possible for just one person to make an impact... and I told myself that was what I was going to live for.

Today, I've learnt a lot of new things about parenting, especially Chinese parenting, and its effects on children. Everyone experiences it differently. Who knows? Maybe some children don't really mind it - they've truly put it behind them now that they're acing life. Maybe they're even grateful. But I know that when I was being verbally abused day in day out, there was no way I could stand it. And I do know other people who can't wait to move out and have come to despise their parents.

I still feel bitter about my childhood and I don't think I can ever forgive my dad for how he made me feel when I was young - unless he apologises. But fat chance of that ever happening. He still asks me things like: "Why don't we get along??? I feel like we should, we have so many similar opinions on things!" <-- which is also completelyyyyyyyyy inaccurate.

Anyway. This has been a really good cathartic exercise. Even now, as a 20 year old 'adult', I still think back to the years that made me who I am now. All that fucking pain. I hope one day my dad will realise why our relationship is the way it is now - kind of shit and dysfunctional.

I can imagine him sitting in an armchair, old and shrunken, cheeks freckled and saggy, his wrinkled hands gesturing towards me in the air:

What the heck did I ever do to you???

If you ever feel lost, hopeless, lonely and anxious - find someone to talk to. It helps immensely. Don't keep it bottled up inside, especially if the only reason is that you don't want to be a 'burden' to your family or friends. In addition, there are always counselors at high school or university.

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
To support Mental Health Week, ABC is going Mental As... Join us, show your support and donate to mental health research today.

Occupy Central in Hong Kong

It's been a tumultuous few weeks in Hong Kong. One of my best friends is currently on exchange at Hong Kong University, and she tells me that every day there are students skipping class to take part in their own Occupy Central protest on university grounds. Classes have diminished in size, while public spaces, mostly centred around Admiralty, have ballooned with impassioned truants.

Here's a photo she sent me:

Who knows what will happen a week from now - whether it's going to escalate or die down - but it has been fascinating watching the responses of my peers to Occupy Central. Over this past weekend, a number of my mother's colleagues staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Victorian State Library, holding placards emblazoned with democratic slogans and draped with yellow ribbon. A man whom I personally know was said to have orchestrated the event, and later on in the day, I saw a Facebook video of him making a rousing speech to at least a hundred others about how overseas Hong Kongers must show their support and pride for those at 'home'.

"Later, if someone comes up to make a speech - film it, put it online and let everyone know that the Hong Kong people of Melbourne are not just sitting here doing nothing, but that we also have a voice. We will let the world know, the people in Hong Kong know, that we are actively supporting democratic Hong Kong!" 

Video accessible here: