Wednesday, 18 August 2010

One step at a time

It's not as if this island is a place where no-one wants to come, I plead to Tiger.

Probably for the umpteenth time, but at least this time I'm not on my knees with my head in my hands. Things are improving. I'm even throwing my hand out, towards the beautiful green jungle view through the window. And I'm working hard to jolly along my voice too, so that it rises and falls like a song. Hands up! La la la!

I admit. It's cruelly reminiscent of the daily school forgery as I dashed to the finish line of the Lord's Prayer.

There really are many advantages to life on Lamma, aka Hippie Island. Yes. Truly. There are. For a start, it's a sort of counter culture island. Life here combats some of the gross excesses you can find on Hong Kong Island, where you need never step away from the smooth, cool slipstream of aircon Dior.

Here, on Lamma, there are no roads. There are concrete footpaths in various states of disrepair. Holes are covered over with wooden boards or metal panels. A helpful sign shows you a character who looks like a Mr Bump, falling over on his behind. Underneath reads the caution: Slipper floor.

And it's a place I may fit in. I am a beat up old hippie, let's face it, so I'm right at home here among the expat types who shade under trees and fringe the beach. The Tao seekers, hedonists, and lotus eaters. I may yet dangle those healing crystals on chains round my neck and nod wisely to that ad sign: the one that advertises holistic cat food.

These protestations cut no ice with Tiger. These are mummy reasons to be here, and what use are they to a ten-year old in despair? I don't belong! she cries, stabbing at her bed. She's seen the Chinese writing everywhere, and she doesn't understand it. She can't read it. The English words make no sense either. Her world is deeply unsorted, all jumbled up.

There is worse. On this island there are dogs. Dogs are allowed. What can I say to that? Yes, Tiger, I know. I shall round up all the dogs, lock them in a container ship and exile them to Antarctica. Then I need never look at your terrified face ever again.

But even if I sorted the dogs, there is the heat, the humidity, the absence of glue and glitter, the place where horse tail should be, there is nothing.

Tiger, I will sort all of that too.

I would if I could. Right now, in these desperate hours, if I could protect you from everything you find painful, then I would. I would reorder the world, just for you. Then you would find these transitions easy, gentle, and slow. You could get used to change. Run behind the butterfly. Learn Chinese. Pat a dog. That is my want. In the meantime, while I reordered Planet Earth, we'd just have to accept that an awful lot of people might be inconvenienced. There are seven million of them right now going about their business in Hong Kong. They might feel a bit put out.

Tentatively, I say We will get to know the friendly dogs. I don't add, And we'll avoid the ones you think will push you over and rip your face off. Because right now that's all of them.

I'm discovering that relocating children - dropping them from one culture to another - is about more than rubbing ointment into insect bites and pointing out the butterflies. We have to set about building our communities, creating our joys, knowing what makes us happy. If we know ourselves, we can yet be content, and satisfied.

I sound like a hippie already. And is happiness something I can teach a child? Isn't it simply something intuitive she can know, and discover, for herself?

Not now, not with me. I have already betrayed her, my little girl. I brought her here. The love affair is over. She hates me. She doesn't want my cuddles. She calls Mummy! She snarls at me. She fights me. She needs me.

Tiger stares mournfully at her bed. Her face crumples, and she coils herself up, like a shell.