They say that I was awful at Cantonese when I was very little. Not that it has improved drastically over the last twenty years. I had bad intonation and limited vocabulary and spoke to my sister only in English. This, also, hasn’t changed.
Having an older sister is useful in discovering memories of yourself you never had and which your parents have already forgotten. Anecdotes of fevers, whining, fears of monsters at the window… All of the following is remembered by my sister.
When I was one, the two bones in my left arm were broken, my parents were told, while crawling around (very vigorously?). Social workers came to our house to investigate and to see if the cause was child abuse. My parents had to temporarily replace the padded mahjong table and chairs they were using as my make-shift crib with a real crib they had to borrow from my aunt.
I don´t think anybody really found out what had happened exactly. My sister told me that I would stay at my aunt’s house during the day at that age; she was unofficially the Chinatown babysitter because she didn’t work.
My aunt also babysat a pair of cousins, a boy and a girl. They spoke mandarin. My time spent there resulted in me babbling phrases in perfect mandarin at home, one of which I frequently mimicked was: “Bu yao da mei mei.”
My sister remembered asking my mother, “What is she saying?”
“Don’t hit your little sister.” Probably something my aunt used to repeat to the mandarin-speaking boy. Perhaps that had something to do with my broken arm, who knows really? The resurfacing of these little bits of information after the course of the years is like finding gold. Perspectives change. Memories alter, adding pieces of you to yourself.