Sometimes I wonder if we remember the same things from childhood. What do people remember from, say, riding a schoolbus when they were kids?
Do people remember being rambunctious, chatting away gaily with friends, etc.?
Well, my classmates didn’t ride the same bus with me. The way the schoolbus system worked in my day was most inefficient and haphazard: a privately owned bus collected kids from every part of town and dropped them off at different schools. Sometimes you arrived a little late. But mostly, it meant that it is possible not to have a single classmate in the bus.
And so, my memories of journeying on schoolbuses are a bit hazy, consisting mostly of daydreaming.
Except for the year 1983. I was eight years old, and school was in by 7.45 am. For some reason, the schoolbus driver said he could only pick me up at 6.15 am. I was rousted out of bed by 5.45, and ready by 6.15. It’s a feat I fear I cannot duplicate now. And true to his word, the bus would come honking at the time he said he would.
The trip was surreal. Everything was still dark, the shops were mostly still shut, streetlamps still on, the kids on the bus would still be somewhat shellshocked and quiet at this hour. The bus driver, a middle aged Chinese man, would turn on a Tai Chi exercise music on the bus radio: Yiiii…. Wu… Yiiiii… Wu… mysterious phrases floating in a sea of relaxing zither music. It was actually quite nice. I guess my interest in Tai Chi began in that schoolbus.
Arriving at school, about half an hour later, finding the place mostly empty. I wasn’t scared. School was an interesting place without the kids. I saw the sun rising, red and vivid from the horizon, and I marvelled that I could stare at it without hurting my eyes, apparently. Dew collected on exposed metal surfaces on the struts holding up the water tank. I thought how cold the metal was at this time, when it would get so hot later in the day… it was about that time I started thinking about the properties of metal. I followed red ants all the way back to their colonies, massive complexes like cities. My imagination went wild. There were weaver ants, big and narrow-waisted, on the trees and fences. I found a certain type of berry made them react as if they’d eaten chillies.
It was precious time to think, without being interrupted or being told what to do.