In sixth grade, I became a sworn sister to six other girls in my class. We committed ourself to being (like) family. In fact, some of us still keep in touch and address each other as sisters. We always hung out: between classes, after school, before tutorials, and on days-off. We united against boys who accounted for the majority of our class and were sometimes mean to us. We cycled around to explore the city and got lost. Hanoi was too busy a city for us ten-year-old girls on our own bikes. We taught ourself amateur gymnastic bars for fun. Moves varied from basic ones like skin the cat or tap swing to risky transition between uneven bars. We would move from a upside down hanging position on a higher bar to a lower one with a strong hand swing. Sometimes we liked hanging ourselves with our legs crossing over a bar and our head nearer to the ground for a good few minutes. It was interesting to see things upside down once in a while. It was mediation even though I didn’t know what meditation was then. I remember we spent most of the time sitting on bars, talking. We felt special. We grew real closed.
A few days ago, I went to the airport to pick up my fiancé. Since I was there early, I looked around for something different to trick my mind off an anxious wait. I saw three little girls playing bars. No, they do not have gymnastic bars at Schipol Airport. The girls used metal barriers outside arrival gate as bars. They were probably as small as five to eight and the barriers were just right for them. Their swings were similar to ours. Their faces were brightened with joy and excitement. I was so jealous. My grown-up mind had never seen barriers as gymnastic bars. It had never occurred to me that I could have used them to play. Instead, I just took them as a restraining order to not walk right through arrival gate and fetch my loved one.
All in a sudden, the girls abandoned their game rushing toward a man who was on his way out through the arrival gate. He must be their father. I thought. The girls must be sisters. At that moment, I was so long for a ticket to childhood to spend some more time with my sisters on those bars.
I learned that in Dutch, people tend to use verbs expressing actions (e.g. stand, lie, sit) rather than ones of static status (e.g. be) if they can. For example, one is more likely to ask Where is your book standing? – Waar staat uw boek? instead of phrasing it as Where is your book? – Waar is uw boek?. Such choices fascinate me. It is perhaps a linguistic indicator for their being physically active. I read somewhere that Dutch are encouraged to get out of the house and do things as much as possible. They are undoubtedly out and about a lot in their bikes. They cycle to offices for work, supermarkets for food, coffeeshops for weed, cafés for beer, and literally anywhere else. Kids can either be put in the front like a windshield or be trusted to ride their own tiny bikes, with which they will exhaust themselves keeping up with their parents. At first, I found it absurd. The poor little ones! But perhaps it let kids grow stronger and more independent. Either way, they definitely grow up being confident bikers. Getting off bikes, there are a lot of people running, jogging, dog walking, or socializing in parks. For the last three months, I have run regularly at various times of the day here and there. Even in the coldest, wettest, darkest and windiest winter days, I have companions. It is encouraging. Dus ik laat mijn boek op de plank staan, en ga voor een run.
When I was a little girl, my parents noticed that I had to sit real close to watch TV. Dad decided to take me to an optician, and I came back with a pair of glasses. Throughout my childhood, Dad kept having to take me back there. Because my glasses were increasingly thicker, eye check-up became a phobia. I felt on edge for a whole week leading to any check-up. I was engulfed by pangs of guilt whenever I had to tell the doctor and my Dad that I couldn’t read the first few lines. I felt like I disappointed my Dad. He never really said anything but he looked gloomy. Now and then he suggested me reading a bit less. However, we both knew that the culprit was my gene, not my books.
So I went through schools and undergrad carrying thick glasses and the fear of opticians. It was the kind of fear that made me want to hide. Because I got bad news each time I went there, I figured it out myself that I would be better off not going. I wasn’t born a fighter, and didn’t grow up to be one. I read all the books I could get hold of. I always kept my glass on or nearby. And I loved my Dad more and more each time we went through optician experience together.
Just before my graduation from my bachelor’s degree, I went through an eye operation. Dad and Mum were in the viewing room to see doctors taking layers out of my eyes and put them back. It was like magic. I woke up the next day to see things in the furthest distance I had ever seen without any glasses. Dad finally told me how worried he was throughout all the years we spent going to eye check-ups. He didn’t tell Mum half the things doctors told him there. He didn’t want to worry her. I realized I was too much like him.
After the operation, I got rid of glasses, started to trim my eyebrows, graduated, got a job, got another degree, and a few other jobs. For six years, I hadn’t been to an eye check-up once. I refused to because regardless of how much further I could see and go, the fear was still inside me.
A week ago, I found myself in an optician. My sweetheart booked an appointment for me, and promised to be with me the whole time. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I fidgeted on the chair pointing toward a board full of letters. I failed to read certain lines. I was recommended to use glasses. I chose a frame, and had an appointment to come back in ten days to pick up my newest pair of glasses.
Soon as I walked out of that place, I felt amazing. It was still as scary as ever at the optician. But I finally chose to face my fear with a head held high. Now I am even looking forward to put on my new glasses.