The Age of Innocence

Last month, I met up with my primary schoolmates whom I had not seen since I left primary school. That feels like another lifetime. I am surprised how sentimental some of my friends are and the things they could remember from school. As a rule, everyone remembers things differently but some of these school friends remember  the school activities and the teachers well. I hardly remember any of the things they remember. I feel nostalgic about my university days but never my days in school. To me school was not entirely fun as there were many rules to be followed and plenty of uninteresting homework to be done.

In school, we used to have dictations and spelling tests for English classes and we had ‎听写 (tingxie)  and  默写 (moxie) for Mandarin classes. Spelling and dictation test in English and Malay were less intimidating. Even though you did not study you could still get through dictations if you have a good ear and if you could spell some of the words but not 默写 (moxie) where one is required to learn the whole text  by heart. If you have not memorized the text simply because you had totally forgotten about the test, you probably wish that you had a fever that would exempt you from going to school. Unless you could feign a stomachache or some sickness, you would be heading for 交白 卷  ( jiao bai juan)  that means passing up blank paper.  I definitely learnt all the tenses after being punished once by the English teacher for not knowing my tenses. I believe that  as a young child I did not cause my mother too much trouble unlike the boy from One Red Egg and A Great Deal of Mischief ,  a children’s story written by  June Chiang.

One Red Egg and A Great Deal of Mischief is a story written in local context for both the story and the illustrations.

One Red Egg  is about nine -year- old Owen who lives in Penang. The narratives are done in Owen’s voice. In Chapter 1, Owen explains how his given name has come about. His mum named him after Owen, the Goldfish as it was her favourite cartoon character when she was little and she wanted her child to have puffy cheeks just like the goldfish.

Pa named me Jo Han, which is my Chinese name. The name came all by accident. Pa was with Mum in the hospital, waiting for me o enter the world. The wait got too long for Pa so he tool out his laptop and watched an exiting squash tournament. The squash Queen was playing in the game. She was running left and right chasing after the ball. When she hit the last ball, Pa threw up his arms and shouted, “ Yay! Nichol David is a johan! A champion! Nicol David the Squash queen has done it again !

That was when I pushed myself out into this world, Mum said, and Pa had missed the great moment. (Mum is still angry with pa for this,( The doctor and nurses looked at me fluttering out into this noisy world and said to Pa, “ What a Johan you’ve got here!

Pa said, “Indeed, indeed. He’s a johan, just like Nicol David.”

Owen is extremely energetic and he refuses to do his homework and constantly disobeys instructions given by the teachers even when his teacher punishes him. He is always up to some mischief and he squirms even when he is still. When the school term ends, he brings home his report card that carries zero marks for his  Maths test because he leaves the Maths test paper blank, his mother knows that something is amiss. His mother takes him to see a doctor and inside the doctor’s  room , as his mother tells the doctor about him, he starts peeling off the white paint from the wall. The doctor tells the mother that he will refer Owen to a psychologist to determine if the child has ADHD.

In Chapter 0, a psychologist is defined as ‘someone who knows why you bring home a red egg from school‘.  It is sweet when the mother  calls the child ‘ genius‘ and  the mother comes across  very kind, patient  and wise indeed. In Chapter 18 , when the dad roared, and the child’s observation about his dad was funny.

Throughout the book, the story flows nicely prompting chuckles along the way.The beginning and the end tie in very nicely. I have enjoyed reading it . How June tells the different anecdotes is clever. One Red Egg , text  by June Chiang and illustration by Amni is a delightful read indeed.

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