Today is my father’s birthday. 

When my father was eight, my grandmother took him, and only him, from Shanghai to Macau, where they stayed for a time, waiting for the chance to enter Hong Kong. They thought that they were going to have to hide underneath the floorboards of a tiny boat, but what my grandmother has told me, what I think I remember her telling me, is that her half-brother, who was already in HK, was able to get them over somehow.

I visited my father’s old Shanghai home a few years ago: watched as my aunt took an old key, opened an old door, then I followed her up the dark, dusty wooden stairs.

It made me think about the different environments, linguistic and otherwise, in which my father and I grew up. When I was six, we lived in a brick house with a gray porch on a cul-de-sac in Texas, and as my father would get ready to leave in the morning in his suit and tie, my siblings and I would recite: “慢慢開車,早點回家, stop sign 你就 stop,” the last line being added after he was ticketed one evening at the end of our street. Two years later, just after my eighth birthday, I would arrive bleary-eyed in Hong Kong, not on a boat but a large airplane, and we would move into an apartment that was a twenty-minute car ride plus ferry trip from where my father grew up.

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