Up close and personal: tales of the unexpected

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:21pm

Writing during this festive season, I recall two happy episodes when my now grown-up children were small.

The first was a Christmas when Fabian, my youngest son, was still in primary school. His older sister and brother were well into their teens by then. That year, we were going to stay with relatives in Vancouver, Canada, for a white Christmas.

Fabian still believed in Santa Claus, and asked me whether Santa would still fill his stocking if he was so far away. I reassured him suitably. When we were leaving to go to the airport, he was the last to come out, after checking to make sure his stocking was empty and in place.

Then I declared I had forgotten my scarf, went back in for less than two minutes - just in time to shove the toys I had ready into the kids' stockings and grab my purposely-left-behind scarf - and rejoined the family waiting outside.

When we returned from our trip, Fabian dashed inside to check his stocking. Gleefully, he said: "Hurray, Santa did come and give me my present. And all my classmates laughed at me for still believing in Santa. Now I'll show them."

I exchanged knowing looks with the two older children. They kept quiet and didn't expose me, wanting to make sure I kept spending my money on their Santa presents every year: a perfect illustration of the phrase "silence is golden".

The other episode took place around Christmas, when Fabian was two years old, at the square outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui at a World Children's Day event.

My daughter Phoebe was still in primary school then, and was her school's representative speaker at this rally. Standing before hundreds of people, mostly children, she said:

"On behalf of all the children of the world, I solemnly declare our right to play. We protest against overburdening us with heavy homework assignments, frequent tests and the unduly heavy pressure of exams. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the saying goes. We demand to be heard. We want to have ample free time to play games, exercise, and just rest and do nothing."

I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was proud of her speaking up for her rights; but I also sighed at the reality that her rights remained largely deprived, with schoolwork, piano lessons and swimming classes taking up her time.

The MC that evening was a late television artist, very popular back then, who had been divorced for a year or so. She had brought her daughter along to the event.

During a break, her little girl started playing with Fabian. Suddenly she turned and asked me: "Where is my daddy?"

I felt guilty because I was acquainted with her father (another celebrated television and movie star) and knew he was performing in a Chinese rendition of Edmond Rostand's romantic classic, Cyrano de Bergerac at the Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre.

I did not have the heart to disappoint her, so I told her the truth: that her daddy was occupied at the time, performing in a show, and could not be disturbed before her bedtime. I was gratified to see her comforted by the answer.

These days I see her all grown up on television, but I still remember her as the toddler who witnessed my daughter making a declaration of children's rights, and playing with my son while asking a perfect stranger the whereabouts of her daddy.

Rupert Chan is a recently retired university administrator, and chairman of the Chung Ying Theatre Company