Tag Archives: Childhood

Rupees Dipped in Gold

When P and I went to the Bratabhanda in Wisconsin in April we met some of his extended relatives who were living in Germany. They brought several boxes of fancy German chocolates as souvenirs and distributed a box to each family’s household.

The chocolates were good, but very rich, not something you would snack on randomly after work, so we put the box on a shelf to save for another time.

Over the weekend a friend came to town to pack up her remaining things so she could prepare to leave the US for good; she spent her last few days with us. She is Peruvian, but has been living in Manaus, a city of 2 million people in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, for the past year. She had recently returned to attend her phd graduation ceremony, and was now packing the books and research that she had left behind the last time she departed. She’s very talkative, and I spent most evenings chatting with her about life in Peru and Brazil.

One night P brought the box of German chocolates out for dessert, and we indulged while continuing our conversation. As our friend and I talked, P unwrapped his chocolate and looked at the rectangle of fancy yellow foil that had once covered it. He smoothed it out, and gathered our other wrappings from the table. He flattened each and started to count them, like he was shuffling through a short-stack of $20 bills.

When our friend and I looked over to see what he was doing he said, “When we were kids we used to save fancy candy wrappers like this and pretend they were money. We would pretend to buy things from each other, or pretend we had a lot of money in our pockets.”

He shuffled through the wrappers again. They were golden yellow, made from heavy foil and cellophane. I could imagine five year old P prizing such a fancy find, pretending they were rupees dipped in gold.

I liked the vision of a young P, using his imagination, and making up games with the other kids in his neighborhood. I can almost imagine standing on the roof of his present-day house in Kathmandu, watching them play with their pretend money in the backyard, chasing each other around.

It was an image I thought I’d share.

Being Good at Christmas Time

There was a funny post today highlighted on the WordPress homepage called, “Why it’s a bad idea to peek at your presents” and I thought it was time for a confessional post about my own childhood Christmas curiosities, and—er—lack of patience? Too bad I didn’t have a character like the “Dad” in this post to “teach me a lesson,” I had to teach it to myself.

I promise, I don’t do this anymore, but for a few years in my pre-teen days, I fancied myself something of a Christmas-present-secret-agent. I was getting old enough to know the truth about “Santa” and savvy enough to know my parents had to hide those gifts somewhere, and I loved to find them before Christmas and figure out what they were.

It started in the first year or two with the family gifts that began to appear under the Christmas tree in mid-December. Instead of buying gifts for parents and sisters, then hiding the wrapped gifts until Christmas Eve, we would wrap them and put them under the tree shortly after purchasing them. It made the living room all the more “Christmasy” to have a few scatter presents there.

I somehow got the idea that I could get a good sense of  what the present inside the wrapping paper was if I scratched a bit of a hole underneath a gift tag or bow. Between present size, shape, sound (if shaken) and a tiny peep hole peek under the wrapping paper, I could make a pretty good educated guess. No one discovered my “wrapping peep holes” so I felt pretty daring.

The following year I decided to take it a step further, and when no one was around I thought I could sneak a gift to the bathroom, delicately peel off the scotch tape and open the whole edge of a present and see a majority of the box underneath. This gave me an even better idea of what gifts were—but I found that peeling off the tape sometimes ripped the wrapping paper, or pulled off some of the paper design, and the tape wasn’t all that sticky again afterwards—too much chance for discovery!

The year after that I got really bold. I figured that my parents hid the majority of “Santa” gifts in the attic, which was tough to get into when people were around. It was one of those attics that unfolded from the ceiling, you had to pull a draw string to open the wooden “door” and a collapsible set of “stairs” descended to help you climb up into the attic space. The “door” was part of my parents’ bedroom ceiling, and the collapsible “stairs” creaked to high heaven when you pulled them down and straightened them out. No chance of sneaking up there when others were around.

So I hatched a plan—fake sick, stay home from school alone, and spend the day exploring the attic space and checking out the gifts—remember, I fancied myself a secret agent, I was bubbling with anticipation!

Not to mention, my dad had lent me an old rubber stamp making kit that came with an x-acto knife. Due to the tape stickiness issues of the previous year, I theorized I could easily unwrap the attic stash by surgically slicing the scotch tape along the edges of the wrapping paper, unwrap the entire gift, check it out, then refold the paper along the same edges and apply a second layer of tape directly over the tape I had sliced. Presto, who would know?

The night before I was to put my plan into action I started turning on the theatrics… acting tired, rubbing my throat, complaining of achiness. I wanted to set the stage for a “I can’t go to school today mom, I’m feeling rotten” the next morning. And so it went—my sisters were herded out the door to the school bus, my mom left for work, and I stayed at home watching cartoons and sipping vegetable soup.

I waited an  hour or two, just to make sure that no one would come back and “surprise me” while I was frolicking in the attic. Once I felt confident the coast was clear I pulled on the string connected to the attic door, unfolded the creaky wooden ladder/stairs, grabbed the scotch tape and x-acto knife, and scurried up.

My suspicious were correct! The attic was brimming with brightly wrapped boxes of Christmas gifts, tucked amongst the rafters and pink insulation. I spent a good deal of time going through the piles to look for gifts, mindful to keep packages in the right “order” so as not to arouse suspicion. I unwrapped and rewrapped most of my gifts, and even some of my sisters’ gifts, just to see what was there. It was great fun, and once it was over, I felt a sense of pride that I was able to pull off this secret agent mission.

The rest of the day I was excited. I had this big secret. I knew my gifts, but my parents didn’t know I knew, and I knew my sisters’ gifts but they didn’t know I knew either.

However the excitement didn’t last long. After a day or two, I realized that knowing all the gifts kind of ruined the excitement and anticipation of Christmas day. There were no surprises to look forward to, no burning curiosity to keep you up at night wondering, no suspense. As the days ticked closer to Christmas Eve, I realized that by sneaking into the attic and covertly opening the gifts I essentially ruined half the fun of receiving gifts to begin with.

Christmas day I already knew how many gifts would be stacked in the living room. Of course it was nice to receive presents, but my enthusiasm was drained.

That was when I decided I wouldn’t look at presents beforehand again. I enjoyed the anticipation too much.

However somehow my family found out about my sleuthing, and I became notorious for checking out my gifts ahead of Christmas, even though I never did it again. They all expected it, and wouldn’t let me forget it. Even now my younger sister still brings it up.

So sometimes it’s better to be good at Christmas time… but to be safe, maybe parents out there should hide their scotch tape and x-acto knives.

My secret agent kit pretty much looked like this... perhaps I missed my true calling, as a surgeon!


Two things made me think of this post—

1)      P is amazing at finding random amusing things on the internet, which led us to the website wimp.com. We spent the better part of an evening a few nights ago watching videos linked off the page. That’s how we found “28 cartoon theme songs in 7 minutes.” I didn’t know all the theme songs, but I knew a good deal of them, and there is always something comforting about hearing the theme song from a cartoon you used to watch while eating cookies after school, or crunching on cereal in the morning. I busted out with lyrics that I hadn’t sang in 20+ years, and was surprised to find I still knew most of them! As the song progressed P said, “Where is Barbapapa?”

2)      Recently there was a facebook meme where many people were encouraging their friends to change their facebook picture to a cartoon character from their past “to help child abuse.” I noticed several friends of P’s changed their profile picture to characters from Barbapapa.

So if you are like me, perhaps you didn’t have Barbapapa in your childhood, and might have no idea what I am talking about. But Barbapapa seems to be a beloved character from the childhoods of many a Nepali I know.

So what is Barbapapa? According to Wikipedia (my favorite website of all time) it is both a title character and the name of the “species” of said character from a series of French children’s books written in the 1970s by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor. (barbe à papa is French for “cotton candy”).  The books were later translated into 30 languages, and the cartoons became quite popular particularly in many Asian countries.


Wikipedia continues…

Barbapapa himself is a generally pear-shaped, pink shapeshifiting blob-like creature who stumbles upon the human world and tries to fit in. The shapeshifiting is usually accompanied by the saying “clickety click—Barba Trick”(or other similar things in a multitude of other languages)… After various amusing adventures, he comes across a female of his species (more shapely, and black-coloured), named Barbamama. They produce seven children, known as the Barbabies, each a different colour:

Barbazoo—yellow, male, lover of animals
Barbalala—green, female, lover of music,
Barbalib—orange, female, lover of books,
Barbabeau—black and furry, male, lover of art,
Barbabelle—purple, female, lover of beauty,
Barbabright—blue, male, lover of science and finally,
Barbabravo—red, male, lover of strength and heroism

P’s brother U in particular has shared the Barbapapa love with me before, so if you want to learn a little bit more about your significant other’s childhood, maybe see if he or she has any Barbapapa memories they might like to share. What is their favorite Barbapapa character?

History of Television

Over at Gori Girl, she has been working on a series of suggested questions one should discuss prior to making a serious commitment in an intercultural relationship, including one that encourages you and your partner to discuss differences in your childhood to help understand different cultural perspectives.

So I found myself amidst a similar discussion the other day while at a neighbor’s dinner party. There were 9 Nepalis and one American (guess who that was). The topic of television came up because N starting singing commercial jingles  (have I ever mentioned that N likes to randomly break into song?) and S-di mentioned that her daughters speak better Hindi than she because they have had more exposure to Indian movies and television than she ever did.

To begin… my childhood was probably typical for my generation– I grew up watching way too much tv. It’s actually kind of embarrassing now that I think back at just how many hours each day I spent in front of the “boob-tube.” I grew up in the woods, and spent a lot of time running around outside as a kid… climbing trees, skinning knees, bicycling, swimming, sledding, taking the dog with me on adventures through the springtime mud. But much of my afternoon/evening schedule revolved around favorite television programs (sometimes even mid-day… like summer vacation lunch time watchings of the Price is Right!) My dad, who works outside for a living, used to get mad at my sisters and I when he got home from work and found us sitting zombie-like in front of the television. He’d say, “no wonder they look so pale! Forget vitamins, they just need sunshine and fresh air! It’s such a waste to be in the house in the summer!”

Tv was never “new” and “exciting” for me. It was always there. I remember in middle school my eighth grade history teacher told our class about the first time she saw a color television back in the early 60s. Her father brought the new tv home and hooked it up in time for the family to watch the movie “The Wizard of Oz” air on a local network. She was upset when the movie started because the picture was still in black and white (she forgot that the movie switches to color once Dorothy makes it to Oz) and my teacher pouted until the tornado dropped Dorothy’s house on the Wicked Witch of the East and she stole the sparkling ruby slippers.

Thus, my parents and their siblings grew up with tv. My grandparents all watched a lot of tv when I was young, so I never thought about their television deprived childhoods. To put it quite simply, in my lifetime, tv was everywhere.

However, according to Wikipedia, India didn’t have color tv available until 1982 and according to our dinner conversation, Nepal didn’t have tvs until 1986 or 1987, and even then only a few people had televisions, mostly in the Kathmandu valley. It wasn’t uncommon to have the whole neighborhood turn out to crowd around a single tv to watch an episode of the late 1980s Indian miniseries Ramayan. Some of my friends mentioned that their families didn’t have tvs until the early ‘90s! By then I was already clocking several hours of television a day, not realizing it was a rarity in other parts of the world. It’s kind of wild to think that P was born and spent the early years of his childhood pre-television. Pre-television sounds so ancient!

However, with tv’s ubiquitous-ness, I revolted against it… but I admit that I am a hypocrite. I banished tv from our house so that it wouldn’t be distracting, only now to find myself watching streaming videos online. However it is nice not to have tv around all the time. It’s liberating to know I can’t just switch it on for background noise (this happens a lot when I visit relatives) or get pulled into a show just because it’s on.

My mom struggles with our lack of television when she comes to visit. She don’t know what to do with herself in the evening without a remote to flip through the channels, so we find streaming news broadcasts for her and watch more movies, but I think to her it still feels unnatural. At Thanksgiving my bachelor uncle was shocked, “what do you mean you don’t own a tv? I have three tvs in my house and I’m the only one who lives there! One in the living room, one in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom!”

I explained to my uncle, “who needs tv when you can watch any program you like on demand and with limited or no commercials online?”

“It’s not the same!”

Anyway, the moral of this story is… intercultural childhoods can be very different from one another, even with something as basic as television. P’s family enjoys watching tv these days (although they only have one in a household of 6 and they can’t watch tv during the daily power outages– compared to my uncle who has 3 tvs in a household of one and never has power outages), and when I’m not watching streaming videos on a laptop, I like not having a tv in our living room… that way when guests come we can have debates and conversations, play games, sing songs and not feel like we need to turn on a television.

Now that I think about it… one day my hypothetical kids are going to talk about how their “ancient” mom was pre-computer! We didn’t have one until I was in mid-elementary school. At least their dad will be more “ancient”… he bought his family their first computer in 2004. Now who sounds like a dinosaur! ;)