One Night in Kowloon

Well that was a bad title for a child’s story. But then again, this is not a story for children. This is a child’s story. A story about a child, more accurately.

I recently shared with my husband about how I found out I was different from other kids. I’ve always been keenly aware how odd and off I am. Yes, I am keenly aware that my presence repels people and I find it hard to build real relationships. This realization happened at a small outlet of Kowloon House, twenty-something years ago. It’s still stands to this day, prompting me to give my husband a piece of nostalgia.

I was about eight or nine when one of our tenants celebrated her eighteenth birthday. She had Down’s Syndrome. It was both a debutante ball and a children’s party. Her parents rented a small commercial space on the ground floor of our building so me and my brothers were invited, along with other neighborhood kids.

They asked my two darling brothers to dance in the cotillion. I didn’t realise or even wonder why I wasn’t asked. I was too busy playing. Perhaps I was too tall and awkward for any boy to be my partner. I was only happy to attend, I even accompanied my brothers to watch the rehearsals. I remember the other kids also didn’t care so much for the celebrant. We all just wanted to party.

This was an entirely new experience for my eight-year-old self. I felt miles away from home. The Kowloon House outlet was a good hour away from home and looked small in front. The dance rehearsal was on the top floor. The actual party was going to be in a bigger, fancier branch specifically for events. A lady tried to choreograph a dozen pair of kids to the tune of Blue Danube. It took the entire day.

It took a while for the boys to give in to the fact that this kind of dancing involved holding their female playmates. It didn’t help that the other kids, including me, poked fun at them and made pretend camera-flashing gestures.

The other girls shrank in horror at their antics, my antics. When the day started, I was too busy playing to care about how girls treated me. This was the moment that I realised that they never played with me before, and I realised that they never would.

I looked out at the awesome view from the rooftop and saw the neon lights beyond. I spotted the neon lights of a very familiar mall. That mall assured me that I’m in my lolo’s town. I wanted to get out of Kowloon. I wanted my lolo.

So I started walking. They caught me just as I was about to cross the highway. I spent the rest of the evening looking out towards the mall.

I’ve never been able to put a finger on what exactly what was wrong with me. I wasn’t exactly a happy kid. I was a cry-baby, a fact that my cousins took delight in. Perhaps I was too serious and irritable for a kid. I wasn’t exactly smart, pretty or charming. That combination just made a boring and annoying child.

A few years after, my parents hired a child psychologist to figure me out. They never talked to me about my diagnosis. I tried to self-diagnose as I was growing up. I read books about personality disorders. The closest that I got was that I have a highly-functioning sociopathy, a frightful case of self-centeredness, an inert personality or simply that I am a misplaced introvert. Mental health is so taboo and expensive here, it’s not even worth mentioning.

I’m still struggling with building relationships. I’m far from accepting myself. I find that for me to accept something fully, I have to understand myself. I’m quite comfortable with the few strong friendships that I have but I still find it hard to connect with the people I love. I try my best but I am annoyed with the fact that I have to try. I am frequently amazed by people who find it natural to be friends with others. I am amazed by people who put up with me.

I’m still that kid on the rooftop, looking towards the neon light. Often alone.