FORMER international student, Maria Ngo reminisces on summer love, overbearing parents and the terrible effect snail mail can have on young relationships.
“No, we don’t want you going out with him,” my parents said. It was not an emphatic “No!” It was more like a semi-request bordering on a remark.
I think they might have discussed it a little between them to work out who was going to take the lead on this one. But it might just be conjecture on my part.
The conversation occurred during the end of my high school summer vacation home to Kuching. It was quite a ridiculous remark for them to make given that I had been living independently (as in made all decisions thus far about who I was seeing and going out with, how much I spent on food, clothing etc.) for a while now.
Funny they should even bring it up. Perhaps it’s just a parent-thing. I was too young and too naive to know better and they were doing what parents do best – trying to protect their baby girl. To this day, my mother still calls me her baby. Ok, less so since she became a grandmother.
It must be quite a scary thing for a parent to see their sons and daughters transition from dependence to independence. From child to teenager and further into a young adult. I wonder what goes through a parent’s mind when they see their daughter take an interest in the opposite sex?
I had been “keen” on someone before I left as an international student. I kept it on the hush-hush though. I don’t think my parents ever knew. Or if they did, they never let on.
This boy and I corresponded quite regularly during the time I was away. Snail-mail literally operated at snail speed back in the late ‘80s between Australia and Malaysia. It was not always that reliable. I had frequent visions of my laboriously hand-written mail stuffed into the bottom of a toilet somewhere – partly due to a rumour I had heard some time back about the postal service of my country of origin.
Well, somewhere along the line, I must have missed one mail because when I returned home, I found his attention had turned toward someone I knew quite well.
I could not believe my eyes. He did not even have the decency to let me know that we were no longer “together”, not that we were really “together”, but we had an “understanding”. Or so I thought.
So, what’s a girl to do with a semi-broken heart? After a few days of moping around, I came to terms with my loss and decided to move on. There were more fish in the pond. He was not the only one.
That was when Clarke (ok, not his real name, but it does make it easier when you are telling a story) entered the scene. He had joined the youth group I used to attend while I had been away overseas so I had not met him previously. He was a bit of a renegade and attractive enough in his own way. He loved sports, oozed adventure and had wheels. Perhaps it was his wheels that my parents objected to or perhaps it was all of the above. Nevertheless, they put their foot down.
Strangely enough it didn’t bother me too much. The thought “honour your father and mother” came to mind. But it was not a big deal whether I went out with him or not. It was summer, I was on vacation and I was on the rebound. Like I said, there was plenty of fish.
There was one fish my parents “steered” my way. I say “steered” but it was more like, they did not object when he asked to take me out during the Chinese New Year period. He was definitely not my type, but in the end I relented only because my parents had business association with him. Awkward, awkward, awkward is all I can say about that “date”.
He took me to visit his parents and relatives. They smiled welcomingly and tried hard not to stare, but I could almost hear their thoughts. I felt like a rabbit caught in a car headlights. I felt that my parents owed me one, big time!
Did I mention it was summer? Did I mention that the pond was teeming with fish? Clarke had been in the youth group for a while. He had hardly paid me any attention in previous years but suddenly, this summer, he started inviting me to try this special “pang-gang fish” delicacy with him. I don’t know what my parents must have thought, but seeing as though they didn’t object, I said yes. Perhaps they felt they owed me one. Never asked. Never found out.
Summer break was quite long and I had plenty of time to spare. The roller skating rink looked quite inviting. My girlfriend and I decided to kill time there one afternoon. We were happily skating around by ourselves when someone skated unobtrusively next to me and held my hand. He was a very accomplished skater. Or at least a lot better than me.
I don’t know what was going through my mind, but I didn’t remove my hand. Later my friend commented, in Hokkein, that he was quite fast” or a “fast worker”. A person who achieves things quite quickly.
In case you think the rest of my year was like that, let me assure you, it was not. It was probably a combination of a long vacation, a well-stocked pond and mostly a heart on the rebound. Perhaps the new hair-do (perms were the rage then) and new outfits might have helped a bit. I found out what a hickey was that summer but that was where I drew the line. A girl’s gotta have some boundaries you know.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Clarke and I carried on a long-distance relationship for a while. Snail-mail wrecked it though.
Maria Ngo is a writer, mother of two and a former international student. She now resides in Melbourne and lends her perspective on the international student life from the other side. She loves photography, painting, flowers and beaches, and has a tri-coloured collie called Maxi.