I am a proud, obsessive aunt. I ask my sisters to tag me whenever they post pictures and videos of my niece and nephew on Facebook. These are the notifications I love to receive the most. I play the videos over and over and I often have a few pictures of my little relatives open on my laptop when I am preparing for a lecture, agonising over research or reading Cha submissions.
My favourite picture of the past few weeks is one of my niece wearing a red top that I bought her for Lunar New Year. She’s smiling and looking contentedly at an empty rice bowl. The bowl, bigger than her head, is made of plastic and has several traditional Chinese characters on it. Three jubilant bunnies dance on her blue bib. Like her “Big Aunt Mother” 大姨媽 (me!) her eyebrows are thick and well-shaped, while her hair is dark, sleek.
I am infatuated by that utterly sweet, satisfied smile on her face. Why is she so happy holding an empty bowl? What is the secret? What is on her mind?
I wish I could be happy so easily.
Instead, I find myself gloomier and more sullen by the month, by the week, by the day. I sometimes get annoyed at the smallest things. I sometimes really do not want to smile at people. Sometimes, on the worst days, I carry a face that announces “I am not impressed” wherever I go. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that I project a negative aura which wipes out the joy of others. This is partly why I worry about going to public events or being in a crowd. I’ll only murder your happiness!
But that doesn’t mean that I am down or bitchy all the time. I do appreciate minor amusements and there are many moments when I suddenly realise that I am contented, that I have been engrossed by something I am reading or a face in front of me. That life, after all, does not have to be an aggressive trial of the spirit. No longer looking for constant excitement and laughter, these little moments sustain my days—a moderate rather than a gluttonous diet.
Looking at the picture of my niece, I hope she can remain this innocent, this happy, for many years to come. One day, she will learn that she has to put food in the bowl herself and that those who love her however deeply can’t give her everything that she needs. But most importantly, I hope she will learn to be able to just let “The hours flow… amiable, carefree, almost happy.”*
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming / Co-editor
23 March 2016
*Claudio Magris, Microcosms (translated from the Italian by Iain Halliday), p. 12.