My parents would not have been aware of this Japanese saying when they sent me at age 8 on a 5-hour trip from KL, my home town. I took the local bus, the driver of which was Chinese, but the conductor was a large chatty African-American (then described as a negro).
The bus to Kuala Lipis staggered up the mountain range which runs down the centre of Malaya. The view out my window looking down, down, down was spectacular. I disembarked about half-way downhill, to be collected by the child-less couple who had asked for me.
I spent 2 weeks by myself, except for mealtimes. My uncle (no relative, but all older men were ‘uncles’) went to work, while my aunt seemed to be busy in the house, which was many, many steps up from the track below. From the landing at the front door, the steps were edged by a low concrete wall, the width of my bottom. About half way down, the concrete levelled out for about 2 feet at another landing; then the steep slope continued to the road below.
Why do I describe this? For 2 weeks, morning and afternoon each day, I inched down on the concrete edge on my bottom, rested halfway, then continued down to the end. I then walked up the steps – a long way up for a small boy – and rested; and then repeated my precarious slide. I was alone all that time. That is all I did while I was there.
Childless, my hosts had little to say to me. They had no experience of talking to children. What could an 8-year old say to them? However, I do think that I chatted away during each meal, as children do not usually have any difficulty in finding something to talk about. They tend to have roving minds. Indeed, I recall telling them one mealtime about my plan to marry a particular girl in my neighbourhood; I remember vividly their stunned looks.
When I got home, my mother discovered that my 2 pairs of shorts had their backsides almost worn away. The concrete was indeed rough; rough enough for my toes to grip the surface.
What did I learn from that experience? Accepting solitude. What did my parents learn from sending their first-born, their only son, away on such a strange journey?