Visiting my grandfather in Hong Kong always brings back fond memories.
Her name was Guinea – a Dalmatian I think. That dog was the highlight of my visits. I would walk her any chance I got. Even if it meant waiting while she sniffed out every doggie toilet in the neighhourhood. She wasn’t the cutest of dogs but boy, was she loved. Every day the housekeeper had to fry up a special batch of rice with meat. Nothing else would do. And only the housekeeper could cook it just the way she liked it. The rest of us fed her scoops of ice cream and tossed her the lion share of the bak kwa we brought over from Singapore. During winter, she shared his bed, and slept snug under the blankets. We often joked that the dog had a better life than some humans. Whenever he returned from a trip, she made it clear how much she hated being left behind. She would hide under the bed and sulk until he apologized. I think she did it just because she knew she could. When she died, he cried for days. I don’t think he loved anything quite as much as that dog.
The apartment used to overlook the sea. In the mornings, we would stand at the balcony and breathe in the salty sea breeze. Only a long concrete wall separated the sea from the estate, and I would often hoist myself up against that wall and look at the lapping waves. Out of habit, I still head out to the balcony, except a large park now sits on reclaimed land.
Have you heard of the Japanese student who died because he ate too much instant noodles? Well, I have. At least a hundred times. Every single time he caught me slurping up a bowl of instant noodles, he would tell the story of the Japanese kid who died. BECAUSE of instant noodles. I’m not sure if he really saw it off the news or made it up. But I still hear a tiny voice in my head every time I eat instant noodles.
There was this game we invented. We would shake hands, and he would squeeze it as hard as he could as I stood there grimacing and giggling. We would see how long I could stand it before I yelped in pain and surrendered. We must have played the game at least a dozen times a day. It was the silliest of games. It was the best of games.
I think he recognized me when I came through the door. And he seemed really happy. Then the fog would come back, and he would talk of things buried deep within his memories. Of his older brothers. Of people I’ve never met. But in between there would be moments of clarity and he would remember how old I was. And ask how come I haven’t had kids. Heh.
I held his hands and didn’t let go. Then it was time to leave. I promised to come back to visit soon. He walked me to the door – something I hadn’t expected he could still do.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to visit. The coward in me was worried that he could no longer remember me. And I would be left sitting with the shell of a man I once knew and played with. But then I realized that at 91 years old, if I missed this visit, I might not get many other chances in future. I’m glad I did. Feeling the warm clasp of his hands reminded me just how much the visit was worth.