‘I can’t pronounce your name because I don’t speak English…’

‘Oh, just call me 愛美麗!’

The above is an exchange that has happened many times in mandarin between one particular woman and people whom she has come into contact with. You got it; that particular woman’s name is Emily, or rather, that is the name she goes by at work.

In case you didn’t know, ‘愛美麗’ is the Chinese equivalent of ‘vain’ and its pronunciation is very close to that of ‘Emily’ in English.

Emily is, without a doubt, a woman who takes great care and pride in her appearance. She unabashedly and wholeheartedly beams whenever someone expresses amazement and incredulity when her actual age is revealed. This happens a lot; the amazement and incredulity part, I mean.

I remember going through her old photo albums and staring in fascination at the woman who smiled back so prettily at me. No, pretty is not the word to describe her. Beautiful? Not quite right as well. Earthy and sensual? Perhaps. In her prime, Emily was a looker for sure. She still is now, but I definitely have a bias on this.

We have an edgy relationship, Emily and I. There is love, definitely. Alas, there is also friction that inevitably arises when people who are basically very different from each other are required to rub along on a daily basis.

I used to go out without carrying a bag; I’d just stuff my money and keys and extras into my pockets and go out. Anything else, I’d deposit them with DBS (Dearest Beloved Sister), and she’ll put them in her bag. Emily disapproved of that big time.

‘Like a boy’, she used to say.

Apparently, girls are supposed to carry bags when they go out. And I thought having the female anatomy is enough to classify me as one! Today, I carry a bag for practical reasons, but I still don’t like it. I lack the mindset, physique, and relevant skills to be like Jack Reacher, so I pray hard that I may become someone like doraemon. Wishes – they don’t have to come true to make one happy.

I had this conversation with Emily many years ago. It went something like this.

Emily: So and so died, and I have to attend the funeral. Do you want to come?

Me: No. I don’t even know that person. Anyway, he has already passed on; he won’t care (about his funeral or anything else ever again).

Emily: You can’t put it like that! Funerals are for those still living, and not for the deceased. It’s for the family of the deceased to receive some form of emotional support. 

Me: ……

To this day, I still remember Emily’s words clearly. Their resonance did not fade with the passing of time; rather, it grew within me until there is no doubt in my mind that this will remain one of Emily’s most important lessons to me. Her legacy to me, if you please.

To think beyond the individual and care about others as a collective.

Life is never only about one person or a singular unit. Our actions or lack thereof will prompt other actions or lack thereof in others. Life is a chain of flows and ebbs; it is never a constant. We are both acting and reacting agents, and to think and act otherwise is to deny the very existence of life itself. To see the self through a zoom lens and to ignore our interconnectedness will only propel us towards the destruction of all life forms ultimately.

Who cares? We’d be long gone, right? I know, but I still care because I remember being happy with others, with the environment, with the bare basics, with just being…and I hope that others long after me will have a chance at that happiness as well.

Going back to Emily, another thing I grew to appreciate about her is that she is an extremely avid seeker of knowledge. Global news, culture and customs, historical events, fashion trends, food preparation methods…she’s curious about all of them and more. Through newspapers and magazines, television programmes, and the people she meets at work, Emily keeps herself updated on happenings around the world. Impressive, and I love her for being a beauty with brains.

We share so many memories with our loved ones that we often find it difficult to pick any one favourite snapshot of the past. At least, I have a hard time doing that. However, for you dear readers, I have tried valiantly and the below are what I have to show for my efforts. All characters used in the images belong to LINE Corporation and in no way do I claim any rights to their design and distribution.

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Just the other day, Emily came into my room while I was working, settled herself comfortably on my bed, and closed her eyes. Nothing but the sound of my tapping away on the keyboard for a while. Unable to restrain myself after a long silence, I turned back to her…

And smiled.

Me (while pinching her cheek): You look like a cat.

Emily (opens her eyes): Hmm? Then what do you look like?

Me: Hmm…not sure, but DBS (Dearest Beloved Sister) said I have doggie eyes.

Emily looks like a cat. An image of an elegant cat with a sturdy body, a cautious yet gentle disposition, and great inner strength comes to mind. I don’t know how to describe the similarity to you, but she really does resemble a cat, especially when she closes her eyes.

You know how dogs and cats are frequently stereotyped as belonging to two opposing camps? I’m not going to validate or overthrow that stereotype, but whether they get along or turn their backs on each other with disdain, you’ve got to admit that more often than not, they’re fascinated by the other.

Likes call to likes. Opposites attract.

Whatever. It’s not relevant to us, because we’re family.

Mummy Dearest, I love you.