Don Quixote

Of all the kids, I was closest to my stepmom growing up, and when I was about 13, she started to loosen the reins by granting me more freedom to take part in extra-curricular activities.  Maybe she thought I deserved to have a bit of life outside of The Odeon – she even told me I didn’t have to work the afternoon shift at the canteen if I had after-school activities on.

So I took advantage of that by signing up for a bunch of school clubs – including the Literary, Debating and Drama Society, basketball and most significantly, the school choir.

She also let me hang out with friends on Saturday mornings as long as I made it to work at the canteen before the first movie session started.

With my new-found freedom, even though we’d since moved to a house in Temiang, I spent a couple of hours every Saturday morning at the Templer Flats with friends from school who happened to live there and in that general vicinity.

We were at the age when we were just discovering boys, and I started documenting our teenage crushes in a personal diary.  They were basically swoons over crossing paths with some cute boy or spying some dreamboat at the shops or trying to figure out who the mystery guy was who sent me a note etc. – pretty lame and innocent teenage stuff.

During the week, I had choir practice; persuaded by one of my best friends, Norfatin, to audition to join, we had both managed to secure spots in the group – a high honour, since the Convent choir was one of the best in the State, and possibly the country.

We trained hard for competitions, led by excellent teachers and song leaders, and through a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we bonded into a tight-knit group – that was also how I met one of my other best friends, Mona – an exquisitely beautiful girl in the year above us.

She was practically royalty among her peers thanks in part to her stunning good looks and, I guessed, to her genealogy (her family were descendants of the Islamic prophet Mohammed).

When we were in Form Three, our team, along with all the best school choirs in the country, converged on the campus of Universiti Malaya for about 5 days of practice, culminating in a TV broadcast of our singing.

Despite having chaperones and curfews, we still managed to have a ton of fun; the three of us called ourselves some goofy names including The Fantastics and Charlie’s Angels.

And we made friends with members of other choir teams, notably a group from KL, and the mostly-male choir team of Penang Free School (PFS).   I loved PFS’s dramatic rendition of ‘I, Don Quixote’ from the musical The Man of La Mancha – I still remember most of the lyrics – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYXpnFm1YRQ&feature=related ).

It didn’t take long before Mona acquired an ardent admirer, a Chinese boy from PFS – a bit dorky looking, with soulful, melancholic eyes – he wrote her some incredibly flowery poems that sounded so profound and well-written I was convinced they were plagiarized.

I think he even composed a song and serenaded her with his guitar.  One of his best friends was this other guy, Alex, who was an accomplished athlete at the national level – and he was interested in me.  It was a dizzying five days, and at the end of it, he had stolen a kiss from me, so, at 15, I had my first ‘boyfriend’.  All this I recorded faithfully in my diary.

I was brought back down to reality when we returned to Seremban.  Sometime after the trip, one of my brothers, recently returned from his overseas studies, discovered my diary and read it.  He hit the roof, and told my stepmom the contents – ie. that it mentioned boys.

I was in my bedroom at night and he banged on the door, demanding I let him in.  When I refused, he broke down the door and tried to force himself in, whilst I pushed back on the other side.  I was terrified.  Things settled down at some point, and I was allowed to go to bed.

I stayed up all night and pondered what was going to happen to me from now on.  I had evidently betrayed my stepmom’s faith in me – I had used my newfound freedom to develop an interest in the opposite sex.

I didn’t know what kind of punishment was in store for me the next day, and what constraints were going to be placed on me from then on.  I couldn’t fathom what it would be like facing the combined wrath of my dad and my brother. I felt I had only one option left – so, at 4am, I packed a bag and sneaked out of our house  – I was officially a runaway.

Choir trip at Universiti Malaya campus
1982 Choir trip – at the Universiti Malaya campus
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Bob Is Sexy

‘Oi, tukar, tukar!’ (Oi, change! Change!) yelled the Odeon cinema usher as he banged on the counter at my Dad’s canteen.  He needed some change for whatever reason, and forgot to say please.  I was furious; I’d had enough of his BS.

At 15, I’d had a personality transplant; from a mild, soft-spoken and obedient kid, I’d turned into a  take-no-prisoners Hakka warrior overnight.

I was ready to pick a fight with anyone, anywhere, and thanks to spending most of my time working at the Odeon, it generally meant the hodge-podge group of cinema ushers recruited, I was sure, based on their talent to piss me off.

I’d had an uneasy relationship with the cinema staff almost from Day One.  I remember early on at the ripe old age of eight, taking an instant dislike to one of the guys there – he seemed a bit too friendly and it gave me bad vibes.

One day I spotted some graffiti on one of the posters on the outside wall next to our canteen – it looked like something one of the other ushers had scribbled for a laugh. It mentioned a name, which I forget, but let’s say – Bob – and the message said –

‘Bob is sexy’.

I was disgusted and horrified at the same time – at that young age, having only started to learn English at school, I was convinced it wasn’t a good thing.  After all, ‘sexy’ came from the word ‘sex’ – and ‘sex’ was ‘bad’ – therefore, whoever ‘Bob’ was, must be some sort of sexual deviant.

So I asked one of the ushers – ‘Who’s this Bob? Is it him?’, pointing at bad-vibes boy.  He laughed and said yes.

That did it for me.  It confirmed all my suspicions about ‘Bob’.  I made it a point to be blunt and rude to him, and made sure he couldn’t get anywhere near me.

I even took pains to explain it to my younger sister and warn her about him.  It wasn’t until years later that I found out he wasn’t ‘Bob’ at all – it was actually the guy I’d asked the question to – so, not only had I maligned someone due to my lack of English comprehension, I’d done it to the wrong person.

I wonder if he ever puzzled over why I was so hostile towards him all those years.

One of the veteran staff there was nicknamed ‘Bengali’ by everyone – I never knew why – he was Chinese and bald and didn’t have any Indian blood in him as far as I could tell.  He even lived onsite, in a little storeroom upstairs plastered with old movie posters.

He was fond of me to the point of obsession, for some inexplicable reason.  Every time he saw me, he would sing out my name loudly – ‘Nyok! Nyoooook! Ah Nyooook’ – and just keep doing so all hours of the day.  I was pretty sure he was a bit crazy.

He would sit on the 6-inch ledge in front of our canteen during his breaks, enjoying his cigarettes . Every now and then, he would sneak me a movie poster pulled down from the billboards.

This was highly illegal, since they were meant to be shipped back to the film distributors at the end of the movie run.  I’ve often wondered what happened to him after we moved to Australia.

Back to Mr. forgot-to-say-please for his change, he was at the top of my list of ushers I despised.  I’d had a few verbal altercations with him in the past.  This time though, I felt he’d gone too far.

Thanks, I guess, to my family’s survival instinct to avoid having our canteen lease terminated (a constant implied threat by what I saw as the tyrannical management) I never witnessed anyone else confront him about his behaviour.  I had no such compunction about doing so.

‘Mahu tukar (Want change)?’  Here’s your bloody change, I thought – and I flung the coins hard on the stainless steel counter.  As predicted, they went flying everywhere – some hitting him on the face and others bouncing on to the floor.  He totally lost it.

He tried to grab me over the counter, and failing that, dashed around it to enter our canteen, procuring a sharp knife on his way (on top of candy and drinks, we used to sell cut fruit, hence the presence of knives).  He pinned me against the wall and held the knife to my neck, completely out of control.

I groped around for something to fight back with, but the only thing within reach was a sad little bottle opener suspended on a string.  I clutched it and held it against his neck in return – resulting in a knife vs bottle opener standoff, if you can picture it.

Everyone was freaking out (except me – I was all in despite my obviously inferior weapon).

It ended when he got dragged away by some of the bystanders.

Invariably, the General Manager heard about the commotion and summoned my poor stepmom into his office for what I presumed would be a dressing down plus more threats about kicking us out.

Apparently all he told her was to let us know not to fight with his staff.

Or maybe that’s just what my stepmom told me in case I decided to go all Hakka warrior on the GM as well.

This particular usher never bothered me again after that incident.

My younger sister at the Odeon canteen

The Odeon

Throughout my time working at the Odeon, I had at best a love-hate relationship with it.  It wasn’t always that way.  When I was younger, I stayed at home whilst all my older brothers and sisters were out all day and night working.  I wanted to join them, but thanks to my position in the family – 8th in a family of 9 kids – they didn’t really need me to work at that stage.

Before the Odeon, my dad used to be a street vendor – I’ve heard the story about my eldest sister working as a young kid, squatting over a tub of dirty dishes and accidentally dipping her hair into the dishwater as she kept nodding off whilst washing them.  My older siblings had it much tougher back in those days.

Every once in a blue moon at the Odeon, they would play a movie with an extended running time – eg. blockbusters like Ben Hur, Oliver! and The Longest Day.  This was especially exciting because they would have an intermission during which time the audience would come out to stretch their legs in the lobby.

And my dad would put out some trestle tables and arrange to have hot coffee and tea as well as yummy curry puffs to sell.

At one of those screenings, my dad finally decided he could use my help, so I was allowed to come along.  My parents  asked if I had any homework to complete for school the following day – I was in Std 2 (ie. second grade) – ‘Nope’ – I replied truthfully.

I didn’t tell them that I did, however, have exams starting the next day in case they changed their mind.  There was a ton of coffee cups and saucers to wash up afterwards, but it was fun.

After that, I started working there every day, and was put in charge of the ice cream stand.  My younger sister decided, at 5, that she’d rather tag along than stay at home, so that’s how the two of us got started with full-time employment.

We learned to scoop ice cream into wafer cones, and to order stock etc.  It didn’t take me long to encounter rude customers.  I learned to shortchange them with scoops of ice cream that looked round and full but actually consisted of a great big air pocket in the middle.

Then I discovered my dad was a tyrant to work for.  Nothing was ever good enough for him – because of his various other business ventures, he wasn’t around fulltime, but he would drop in every day.

We were always tense when he arrived – there was always some stock we forgot to refill, a soft drink bottle on display that didn’t have the label facing squarely to the front, or a spot we missed in our cleaning efforts.   And he was brutal in his admonitions.

As my older brothers and sisters left to continue their studies overseas, the ones left running the canteen were my stepmom, my older sister, my younger sister and myself.  Jessica was always his favourite – she was a natural sweet-talker; my younger sister was the baby of the family and super-cute, and caught some breaks on that basis.

I, on the other hand, felt that I bore the brunt of the verbal abuse meted out by my dad.  One time, as a young teenager, I showed up for work in a pair of shorts, which he thought was inappropriate.  He told me if he caught me in them again, he would break my legs, and happily spend a few years in jail in the knowledge that I would spend the rest of my life a cripple – that’s how dysfunctional we were.  There was a lot of pent-up hatred in me.

One of the things we had to do before they banned glass bottles inside the movie theatre, was to go around collecting empty soft drink bottles in-between sessions, and carry them out in wooden crates.

One time, I grabbed a bottle in the dark without realising it was broken, and managed to gash my hand pretty badly.  As I walked out to get my hand fixed up, a cinema patron said to his companion disapprovingly – ‘Kids these days will do anything for money!’  I wanted to yell at him that I wasn’t in fact getting paid – we never even officially got pocket money.

I noticed early on that instead, my older siblings would help themselves to the money at the canteen for their spending needs.  I started doing the same, and took it to a whole new level, to, as I saw it, make up for the treatment I was getting from my dad.  I finally got caught out by my stepmom, who took all the money away, but banked it all in an account in my name even though I didn’t deserve to keep it.

As I got further along at school, I realised most of my circle of friends were from better backgrounds economically, and I became ashamed about having to work.

When I spotted someone from school catching a movie at the Odeon, I would crouch down underneath the candy counter until they were out of sight.

Then, as I grew older, I began to appreciate some of the benefits of working there.  First off, we got to see all the movies we wanted, for free.  Back in those days, The Odeon was the most popular cinema in town, and all the best movies were screened there.  The cinema across the road primarily showed Chinese movies; I was grateful that wasn’t the case with The Odeon.

When big movies like Alien and Star Wars premiered in Seremban, people would wait outside the cinema before it opened so they could get in line before the sessions sold out – the fact that I could procure hard-to-get tickets enhanced my standing among my friends.

Also, I guess in hindsight, in an era before mass TV channels and the internet, the opportunity to view English-language movies over and over again probably helped prepare me for aural comprehension of the language in a variety of accents when I was to relocate overseas years later.

Odeon Cinema lobby

Odeon Cinema exterior

 

Names

‘Hi, this is Jackie, can i speak with Joanna please?’ ‘Hi, this is Dior.  My name is no longer Joanna.  Can you call me Dior from now on?’

Joanna, aka Dior, had been a friend of a friend from Hong Kong who had offered me a break in waitressing.  I figured she must have become a fan of Christian Dior since I last spoke with her a week or so before.  It’s not uncommon for the Overseas Chinese to adopt western names.  But these honkies as I call them (yes, I know honky is meant to refer to whites) take this whole name thing to a crazy level, I thought.

And it’s not just me – just Google it and see for yourself – some first names taken from HK publications and business cards include – Lancelot, Wanky, Hitler, Churchill, Superman, Morpheus, Nausea, Raccoon, Oreo, Alien,  Princeton and my personal favourite, Chlorine.

My own adoption of a Christian name came about when I was about 12 years old.  I’d had to live with an oft-mispronounced/mis-spelled Chinese name my whole life.  It didn’t help that in a dominantly Cantonese sub-culture, most girls with my name (Min Nyok) had it spelled the Cantonese way, ie. Ming Yoke.  My teachers often struggled with it as well; calling me variously Min York or better still, Min Yuck.  From there, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to come up with one of my nicknames – ‘Minyak’ (Malay for ‘oil’).  Thanks to my chunkiness as a kid, my stepmom sometimes teased me with ‘Choo Nyok’, ie. ‘Pork’ in Hakka – ironic since I’ve always hated pork.

My older sister had just settled on her own Christian name after a couple of false starts, so I asked her for suggestions.  We’d been attending church for awhile and she came up with something appropriately pious – ‘How about Grace?’ – she said – as in, by the grace of God.  I considered it at length – it sounded relevant, and it wasn’t as if I’d been exposed to too many Western names at that stage.  In the end, I decided against it – it just wasn’t ‘me’.

I was a voracious reader of magazines at that age, and my favourite was a UK publication aimed at teenage girls, called ‘Jackie’.  I used to buy every issue religiously and would chase up my Indian newsagent when it was late arriving at the newsstand.  I even ordered back issues from years prior, which he would bundle up in cling wrap and save for me.  All the way from England.

So, I thought, well, Jackie – why not?  I was worried my school teachers wouldn’t acknowledge it since it wasn’t listed on my birth certificate, but funnily enough, they were all too happy to adopt it – I think they were frankly relieved not to have to struggle with my Chinese name any longer.

And so it came to be, that I became Jackie Tang (and not, by the grace of God, Grace Tang).  One of my friends told me once that her older sister had seen me at the newsstand – and she quoted her saying in amusement – ‘I saw Jackie reading Jackie the other day’ – if only she knew, I thought.

I was well and truly Jackie and not Nyok by that age.
I was well and truly Jackie and not Nyok by that age.

Yum Cha

Despite working through Years 11 and 12 delivering pamphlets and local newspapers, I never gave up hope for better part-time employment.  I scoured the classifieds for any money-making opportunities, and dabbled in Avon, Amway, telemarketing work, you name it.  For awhile, I was a distributor of Yves Rocher, which, I was told by my supervisor, was the biggest cosmetics company in France, despite my never having heard of it.  She’d come to my house to give me a presentation of their product line (I had to invest over $100 for a starter kit).

I couldn’t be bothered making tea/coffee for her, but being a Chinese household, we always had a pot of Chinese tea in the kitchen.  So I asked if Ilona would like some Chinese tea, since all I’d have to do was pour it.

‘Ooh, how exciting, I’ve never had Chinese tea before!’ she replied in her bubbly manner.  ‘I’ll have it white with two sugars, please’.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her the only way to take Chinese tea was, well, with nothing, so I had to make her regular tea instead and pass it off as Chinese tea with milk and sugar.  Anyway, the Yves Rocher thing, as with all my other money-making ventures, didn’t last very long.

At that age, I dreamed of getting work as a waitress.  It seemed so glamourous, next to walking for miles carrying a heavy load of pamphlets.  Yet, every listing for a waitressing position mentioned ‘Experience Required’.  I had none.  I’d made friends at church with this girl from Vietnam (via Hong Kong, where her family had been refugees).  CT was four years younger than me but was quite the party girl and seemed to have friends everywhere.  I told her about my dilemma.

‘Oh, just lie about your experience’, she said, ‘Everybody does!’  I wasn’t prepared to do that.

So, for months, I kept looking.  I went down to Chinatown, where all the big restaurants served Yum Cha from trolleys.  It didn’t seem overly complicated; all the trolley pushers had to do were call out what varieties of dim sum were on their trolley, then stamp the cards at the tables, based on how many trays of food had been dispensed.  I went into every restaurant and asked at the counter.  Each time, I was asked if I’d had prior experience.  And each time, I was turned away.

Then one day, CT rang me.  Her friend, Joanna (aka Dior), was one of the main trolley girls at Choy’s Inn.  She couldn’t do her shift that Saturday, and wanted someone to fill in for her.  Would I be interested?  Hell, yes, I said.   So, that Saturday, I commuted nearly two hours to this rustic Chinatown restaurant, donned the period costume they supplied, and pushed trolleys from 11am-3pm, for $5ph.  I had to learn the names of the dishes, and deal with the temperamental head chef.  The very first table I served, I managed to spill some sauce on the Aussie patron’s lap – but he was thankfully very kind and laughed it off.

Another table I went to, I announced my trolley’s fare – fish balls.  The Aussie boy at the table, probably about 7 years old, turned to his dad and said, ‘Wow, dad, I didn’t know fish had such big balls!’  His whole family laughed at his wit.  Obnoxious little turd, I thought.

That shift was going to be a one-off, so at the end of it, I changed out of my costume and left.  I dropped in at Emperor’s Garden, a huge, new restaurant around the corner.  I’d applied for a job there the week before and had been turned away, as usual, by the lady at the counter.  This time, the owner himself was there.  I walked up to him and asked if he had any jobs available.

‘Do you have any experience?’

‘Yes’, I replied truthfully, grateful that he didn’t ask me to elaborate.

‘Then you can start next week!’.

Poetry

One of the most disturbing memories of living at the Templer Flats was the suicides.  The twin towers were easily the tallest buildings in Seremban, and the obvious choice for those wanting to end their lives by leaping off a tall structure.

We all knew what it sounded like – the sickening thud that signalled the end of another life.  I recently saw a headline which mentioned a woman killing herself by jumping off a building in front of her young son – it had taken place in Seremban, and further research confirmed my suspicion that it was at the Templer Flats – I guess after all these years some things haven’t changed.

My older brother, a devout Christian, was convinced some of these suicides were caused by demonic possession.  One time, there was this lady roaming the floors of our block, muttering to herself, and looking crazed.

She bumped into my brother, gave him a look and cursed in disgust – ‘Christian!’ – then went on her way.  A few minutes later, she wandered up to the top floor and leaped to her death.  He couldn’t figure out how she would’ve known he was a Christian without ever having met her before, hence his theory.

Not all the suicides were from jumping off the towers.  I had a playmate on my floor, who had moved in after my family.  She was one of four or five young kids in her family.

I remember not seeing her for a few days, then finding out the news.  It was in the papers.  Her mom had tied herself and her kids together with ropes and leaped into a river.   They’d all drowned. Apparently, her dad had been cheating on her mom, and she had found out.

I couldn’t imagine the horror my friend and her siblings must have gone through.

Fast forward to my teenage years, and one of the publications I used to read was a weekly local paper that specialized in tabloid/paranormal stuff.  It had a readers’ submission section where you got paid if you sent in jokes and poetry etc. that got published.

I started out writing rhyming poetry, which followed all the rules regarding stanzas, alliteration, rhymes and what-not.  They all got rejected.

Then I started writing random prose that broke all the rules and had no rhyme or rhythm and very emo in tone – I thought they were rubbish, but the editors loved them and they all got published.

I started getting RM$5 cheques in the mail, which I was proud of, so I wrote quite regularly.

One day, I sat down at home at about 9am and started to write a new poem.  I’d been feeling pretty crappy about some friendships at school – the usual teen angst stuff which I was sure, based on their track record, the editors would lap up.

I was struggling with writer’s block and over the course of a couple of hours, the poem evolved into one that involved a woman standing near water, looking at it contemplatively, then jumping to her death.

It implied that it had been because of betrayal by her husband.  And she’d taken a life with her – their baby’s.  When I looked at the clock, I realized I’d spent over 3 hours writing.

About that time, my dad came home and announced it – one of our relatives by marriage had just killed herself.  She’d drowned herself in an old mining lake and taken her toddler son with her.

The suspicion was that her playboy husband had been cheating on her.  I asked what time it had happened.  About 11am, I was told.  That was the same time my poem had taken a turn in subject matter.

I sent the poem off and it did get published.  That was the last time I submitted my work to the paper, and the last time I wrote poetry.

Templer Flats, Seremban

The Hair

After all the crap I had taken about my appearance, I was convinced that maybe, to Australians, I belonged in the ‘ugly’ camp.  I’d been turned down for jobs  – I was sure, because of my ethnicity and looks, had no friends at my new school, and was spending lunchtimes eating alone, then hiding in the library or wandering aimlessly around the school grounds by myself.

What a stark contrast to my life back home, when I was one of the high achievers for most of my school life, had a boyfriend, and even had a pseudo fan club at one stage in junior high – when a group of students in the year below decided collectively to find me worthy of their admiration.

Somehow, I had it in me to keep applying for work – work meant money, and money meant freedom – freedom from this miserable existence – maybe even freedom to return to Malaysia.

Then, one day, I came across a classified in a major Sydney newspaper – one of the largest manufacturers of hair products in the world was looking for models.  They had secured the appearance of the new superstars of the hairdressing world from Scotland – this husband and wife team who’d recently been crowned the best in Europe – and were going to showcase their revolutionary hairstyles at the Sheraton-Wentworth Hotel in the city.  They had hired a group of professional models, but needed a few more – apparently, most professional models didn’t like their hairstyles changed too dramatically and didn’t want the gig – so they held an audition for non-professionals to join their ranks.  So I went.

I was herded into a crowded room along with a large number of aspiring models.  The two hairdressers went around checking out the girls one by one and making notes as to whether they were suitable.  Then they spotted me.  Maybe my moody, ‘screw you’ demeanor – developed after months of rejection, actually worked in my favour.  ‘I LIKE her!!’ exclaimed the wife.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  For the first time since arriving in this country, my appearance had worked in my favour.  I was chosen along with a tall, freckled redhead and an exotic German-Japanese girl – not your typical blonde, blue-eyed Aussie chicks.

We weren’t going to get paid, but we would be given gift hampers of hair products, with the promise of free hair sessions at their headquarters after that.  It sounded good enough for me.  We would have to spend days getting our hair done at their studio, then attending choreography sessions.  And there were professional makeup artists to design our looks and do our makeup at the event.  The hair shows would run over two evenings and would be attended by hair industry insiders.

I had a problem – I had been missing school right under my parents’ noses for months, largely because they left for work early and didn’t get home till after school hours – but this time, it would be hard to escape their notice with my new radical hairstyle and the late hours I would be keeping.

I still went for it.  I was bored out of my brains sitting for 6-hour stretches getting my hair done.  And mingling with professional models turned out to be the most interminably dull experience of my life.  There was a lot of downtime during the choreography phase and in between showing off their modelling portfolios, I had to listen to these models brag about their rich boyfriends and their vapid exploits as mistresses to the rich and powerful.  They took vacuousness to a whole new level.  What’s going to happen when you’re no longer young and beautiful, I thought.  You’re irritating now, no-one’s going to be able to stand you then.

I got away with turning up home late with my crazy hairstyle, but not for long.  My eldest sister, who would put the Amish to shame any day with her moralizing ways, caught wind of what I was up to.  The day of the first hairshow, the crap hit the fan – she’d rung my dad and according to my younger sister, while he hadn’t been too bothered with the whole deal, after hours of needling and meddling from her, he was mad as hell.  I was told in no uncertain terms to come home.

I had to do the show.  It meant everything to me.  It was a small step towards rebuilding the confidence I had lost since arriving in this country.  I went ahead and did it.  At the end of the evening, I took the crowded elevator down to the lobby.  A couple of people who’d attended the show whispered to each other within earshot, ‘she’s my favourite’.  Others asked if they could take photos of me.

I was shocked to find one of my brothers waiting for me in the lobby.  Grim-faced, he had obviously been sent to fetch me; he drove me home over an hour away, without saying a word.  The whole affair had blown up to the point where my whole family had been drawn in, as if I had committed a moral transgression equivalent to prostitution or drug peddling.

My sister was waiting for me at my parents’ home.  She ordered me into my bedroom and demanded that I turned around for her to check out my bright orange hair.  Told me I looked ridiculous and ugly.  What’s wrong with me, she demanded.  In my absence she’d even consulted my parents about getting me sent to her place to live with her and her family – to straighten me out.  In the end, that didn’t happen, but I was ordered not to return for the second show, scheduled for the next day, so I didn’t, and I didn’t call to let them know.

I feel bad to this day about letting everyone down who was involved in the show, especially the Scottish couple who had given me my break.  They had no idea what a big impact it’d had on my psyche.   I decided from that day that ‘city’ people didn’t consider me a pariah unlike those in my part of Sydney, and knew that I needed to aim for the city for my future employment prospects.

Dutifully, I returned to school the next day.  Minus a can of hairspray and other products, my hair looked stupid.  My first class was Extension English.  I had been gone several days by this stage.  My English teacher (Miss Perfect Match) looked up as I walked in.

‘I like your hair, Jackie’.

‘Thanks’, I mumbled, as I took my seat.

As a silen rebellion, I never had natural hair colour after that inc. in this shot taken many years later - it doesn't show up in the photo but my hair was a dark blue.
As a silent rebellion, I never had natural hair colour after that inc. in this shot taken many years later – it doesn’t show up in the photo but my hair was a dark blue.