A Mother's Dream
An American friend, Ger, told me why he became an electronics engineer for a high-tech Silicon Valley firm in California.
“I was about six years old when I saw the Apollo 11 moon landing on our old black-and- white television. The men in their strange helmets and suits mesmerized me. Watching them pressing numerous buttons and floating around weightlessly, I asked my Dad who they were. He said they were called astronauts and that they were inside a thing called rocket. Men who built rockets were called engineers.
“When the program was over, I was so fascinated that I told my parents I wanted to go inside a rocket and do the same thing. I remembered my Mom said as she hugged me, “Of course you can be an astronaut. You can be anything you want!”
My Dad patted my head, “Son, you will if you dream it.”
“Since that day, I’ve been very interested in machines and tools. Watching my Dad fixing TV's, electric appliances and cars only added to my growing captivation by machines. My boy cousins and I played astronaut games in my treehouse and in my room!
“I didn’t like schoolwork. All I wanted was to build machines -- especially rockets! My parents weren’t very strict about school, but they made a deal with me. “You are allowed to experiment with machines as long as you try your best in school.”
“So, I experimented with as many machines as I could and I’m still experimenting now! I’ve not forgotten my dream of building a rocket yet!” Ger laughed happily, his eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
“That’ll be fantastic! I’m sure your dream will come true,” I said. “I wish I had built a dream like yours when I watched Apollo 11 on TV!”
I remembered that night very well. My whole family was in front of our newly-purchased, second-hand, black-and-white TV. Everyone was very excited to see men landing on the moon where Chan Er, the Chinese Moon Goddess, lived in legend.
I remembered my father commenting in awe, “Chan Er doesn’t exist on the moon!”
Ah Poh (grandmother) peered through her bifocals as she said in disbelief, “I’m sure she’s there. She is hiding because these white men are frightening her.” The women all agreed with her.
One of my aunts chimed in, “She must be frightened because they speak English and they are wearing astronaut clothes!”
A heated discussion about Chan Er and the astronauts broke out among the family. In the end, everyone agreed that there were two moons, one for the white men and one for Chan Er.
We children listened with fascination, but none of us thought about going to the moon. In our minds, it was something reserved for white men in very advanced and rich countries.
We didn’t dream like Ger did.
As a young girl, I didn’t know any dream other than my mother’s and my grandmothers’ before me – to marry a good Ipoh Chinese man whose family owned a house and to be a good wife. A blank-faced man used to come into my childhood dreams frequently carrying a red thread, the symbol of marriage. Although I studied hard in school, I knew that my dream was my destiny.
Luckily, Malaysia’s rapid development in the seventies and eighties slowly changed the views of my Ipoh community.
There was a growing awareness that girls could get better paying jobs and be better positioned to “catch” richer husbands if they were given higher education. Like many girls in secondary school, I quietly nurtured a dream in the smallest corner of my mind -- to go to university.
When I was offered the unthinkable opportunity to go to university, I dared only to dream a girl’s wildest dream -- study something “suitable” for girls, as defined by my community. Physics and engineering subjects frightened me. I had never dreamt of mastering or creating technology. It wasn’t for me -- the girl from Ipoh.
My dream was fulfilled when I received my university degree. Then, life began to unfold at its own pace as I got caught up in living, just like everyone else.
“So you see, I haven’t had a dream for a long time!” I lamented to Ger.
“It’s not too late! No one can stop you from dreaming freely!” Ger gave me a naughty wink. “Only the dead won’t dream!”
I took his words to heart.
While watching the news about the space shuttle Colombia with my three-year old daughter, she pointed at the astronauts and asked me who the aliens were and if dinosaurs would come and eat them.
“They are astronauts,” I told her. They fly to the moon and other planets in the sky.” Her eyes sparkled with fascination as she listened.
I took her to the window to look at the full moon. “When you are a big girl, you can fly to the moon and visit there with the astronauts!”
“Yay!” she cheered, lifting her hands. “I want to pick all the stars and bring them to my playhouse!”
“Mommy will help you to pick the stars too!” I cheered.
And the stars we gather together will be the dreams on which to build your future, my little darling.
(Ms Chong’s daughter, Big R, grew up to be very different after this incidence. She drew a blue fat rocket that didn’t seem to have aerodynamic possibility in the art class in Standard One when the teacher told the class to follow exactly what she drew – a bumble bee with yellow and black stripes. But then, that is another story!)
By Chong Sheau Ching