The professors and grad students had a baby shower for my professor, Dr K, who is adopting a 3.5-year-old girl from China.
During the baby shower gift opening time, I sat through a 30-minute Introduction to the Best Children’s Books 101. The professors in the college of education gave the most acclaimed children’s books. The professors also gushed over some of the books and how their own children wanted their moms to read those books to them over and over again.
And that got me thinking…hmmm, I don’t remember my parents ever reading to me when I was young. Maybe I was too young to remember. But I think, they were probably too busy putting bread on the table.
We did, however, have lots of books. And there were not ordinary children’s books, we had sets of different children’s encyclopedia and TIME-LIFE books. That’s because my dad used to work for the only company that sold Encyclopedia Brittanica in Malaysia.
However, my most vivid memories of my early childhood are not of books. I most vividly remember the Chinese videos that my babysitter used to let me watch. I must have watched those videos many many many times and developed many dedicated long term memory neurons to those stories.
Chinese video#1: Mountain Song
This story took place in rural China. Once a year, the young men and women would go up to the mountains and have some sort of singing-find-a-partner festival. The guys would sing something. The girls would sing something. Occasionally, one guy would sing something witty and another girl would reply with something wittier. And when the guy finally outwitted the girl, the blushing girl would run off, and the guy would run after her. And that’s what happened with the two protagonists, Ah Lian and Ah Kong. They were the wittiest and most handsome couple.
Ah Lian, however, was very poor. Her dad, owed the village bully, Bully Loong, lots of money. In order to marry her, Ah Kong had to make the difficult decision of sailing down the dangerous Yellow or Yangtze river to find his fortune to repay Ah Loong. Ah Lian was devastated. Every day, she would go to a lookout area up the hill and wait for Ah Kong to come back. But he never came back, and finally the deadline to repay the debt came, and Ah Lian’s father had to agree to give Ah Lian in marriage to Bully Loong.
On the day of the wedding, the marriage procession made its way to Ah Lian’s house and on the way back to Bully Loong’s house, Ah Kong appeared. Ah Kong looked beat up from the long and dangerous journey. Ah Lian was ecstatic. Bully Loong was mad. Bully Loong refused to give up his bride, so Ah Kong fought with Bully Loong. Eventually, Ah Kong won the fight and got Ah Lian back.
Chinese video#2: Lady White Snake
This story was about the prettiest maiden in town, Miss Beautiful, and her handmaiden. Some rich guy married Miss Beautiful and they were about to live happily ever after. But unbeknownst to him, his wife and her handmaiden were snake ladies. Occasionally, they would change into snakes.
Anyway, one suspecting person tried to prove that the ladies were snake ladies. He tried to splash sulphur on the ladies. His plot was successful and the husband found out the truth. But I can’t remember what happened after that.
Chinese video#3: The Empress and the Burning High Tower
Once upon a time, there was this evil Emperor who fell in love with the most beautiful woman in China. He forced her to become his empress. The Empress, however, hated the emperor and was in love with one of the palace guys.
The Empress then tricked the Emperor to build her the tallest tower in all of China. The Emperor was so enamored by the Empress, he quickly began to have that tower built. But building that tower caused much misery to the common people.
Towards the end of the movie, the Empress tricked the Emperor to the top of the tower, got him drunk and then she set fire to the tower. The Emperor died, but she was rescued by the guy she loved. However, I think she had severe injury and died in the end.
Well, those are my most vivid early childhood memories, not of books, but of old chinese dramas…hahaha.