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Burghers, dim sum, and... Chapter 6

It was singer-actor and friend Sam Hui who was the first to know that Trina was pregnant- even before us. We were visiting him and wife Rebu at their apartment in Broadcast Drive. When getting out of the car, he casually asked when Trina was due.

Apparently, she had a “glow” to her. She always had a glow to her during these days as we were very much in love with each other. It was me singing, “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey”. And, yes, known only to Sam, after five years together, Trina was pregnant with a girl. There’s a fairly interesting story behind what became her name.

I originally wanted to name her Trina 2. The thinking was that if men can have a Jr or a number 2 to pass down their lineage, why couldn’t women have someone with their first names to ensure that the circle wasn’t broken?

Though talked out of that idea, I was playing around with the letters that spelt out T-r-i-n-a. This was shelved when, I guess, somewhere along the way, we both agreed on Sasha- Sasha Samantha Ebert. Frankly, I thought “Sasha” was trying too hard to sound exotic. Then again, how many who look like me are named Hans? Hans Ebert?

In all the hullabaloo of Trina’s water bag bursting when we were at home and us finding a taxi that would take us to Canossa hospital, I had already decided on what I believed was a better name for our daughter.

For some reason, a photograph of actor Tyrone Powers’ daughter had caught my eye. She was a natural beauty. Her name: Taryn.

As I had been playing around with the words that made up Trina and come up with Tarin, the ‘y’ made the name extra special when written out. Guess I was trying to create a brand.

Though Trina was somewhat surprised to read in the newspaper the next day that Sasha Samantha had been replaced by Taryn Samantha, the name passed her seal of approval.

She was happy which made me happy and I left with her best friend Nancy to have lunch and an interview set up with John McVie of Fleetwood Mac at the Bombay Restaurant on Wyndham Street.

He was great company and mentioned a new band to keep an eye out for with an amazing bass player named Sting. I was to see Police a few months later at a gaudy disco in Wanchai.

As for Taryn, there were some minor hiccups with the name. This was when after moving to a triplex that we were somehow offered at a bargain price in ritzy Jardine’s Lookout, where I felt bad feng shui, Taryn attended primary school at the nearby French International School.

Many apparently thought she was called “Karen” and which resulted in some teary mini dramas and how this was somehow my fault.

It all ended well when the name Taryn started “trending” in the school when new Chinese students with no Western first names needed one. Guess I did something right.

As for that triplex, a French family moved in when, though it looked fabulous and was great for entertaining, I wasn’t comfortable there and always felt someone trying to force me to jump when standing on the balcony. The son of the family who moved in did jump.

As a young married couple we led a simple and uncomplicated life. We had moved from the little Japanese style apartment to a slightly larger apartment down the road in Bonham Street called Bonham Villas, where the rent was a rather “exorbitant” HK$1600 including rates. We somehow managed.

With a supermarket and bank downstairs and a dry cleaner and small park across the road and the legendary “Russian” restaurant Czarina across the road, below, it was one of the most convenient addresses in Hong Kong. It also appeared that many of the Arts Mansion crowd had moved here.

Though we had Conchita from the Philippines as our domestic helper, looking after Taryn was a full time job for Trina. She wouldn’t have it any other way. It was great to see her so happy. She gave up all work for seven years to raise Taryn.

Taryn was a good baby though given to temper tantrums where she would hold her breath until she would go limp in Trina’s arms.

The first few times this happened it would freak us out, especially me, until our family doctor told us that the best cure was to ignore these tantrums. We did. Trina would just say, “Go ahead, hold your breath. You’re still not going to get your own way”. It worked.

Though extremely happy to be a father, I was a very nervous one. I worried way too much about anything bad happening to Taryn.

We took Taryn with us to Sri Lanka with my parents and my mother’s elder sister Doreen.

Far more adventurous than me, Trina and my mother enjoyed roughing it and staying at various guest houses and enjoying real home cooking. This wasn’t for me nor my father and aunt. We were, after all, Dutch Burghers. What were we doing eating with Singhalese and- my gawd child- Tamils!!!

Mosquitoes enjoying feasting on Taryn didn’t help and her constant crying was tough to take.

When she had one of her tantrums while at the zoo in Colombo, I smacked her on her leg. She looked baffled. Dad? Smacking me? It’s the only time I’ve ever touched Taryn.

Most touching for me during this trip was seeing my dear Podi who had looked after me when in Ceylon. We were so happy to see each other.

I was also very moved when my Auntie Berniece who had committed suicide and Uncle Maurice’s son Leon heard that we were in Sri Lanka and made the journey to see me. He had embraced Christianity and become a Chaplain.

Though he couldn’t speak, we knew what each other wanted to say.

I cried for hours after he left thinking about his life and everything he had to overcome.

I wish I could spend those moments with Podi and Leon all over again. They would definitely have a new meaning today.

Back in Hong Kong, there was the time when Taryn was around seven. We were at the bookstore of the China Fleet Club where we would get our favourite magazines.

Suddenly, we couldn’t find Taryn. I had never seen Trina panic before. Every parents’ worst nightmare was going through our heads. We ran to everyone on every floor begging- yes, begging- if anyone had seen our little girl.

I forget how we found her, but she had wandered off. She was okay. Trina hugged her and told her to never ever do that again. I watched and made a promise to myself that if anyone hurt my baby girl, I would have no hesitation to kill them. It was that simple.

To this day, I grieve thinking of parents losing their children to violence and wonder how they cope and forgive and carry on. Revenge, to me, is the only answer.

It’s about being Charles Bronson’s character in “Death Wish”. Or Liam Neesen’s character in “Taken”. It’s being John Wick.

It no doubt had to do with being an only child and not having a very close relationship with my mother and father.

We were simply not touchy feely people. All that kissing on both cheeks that went on in Hong Kong was something foreign to my mother. She found it “silly and artificial”. It made her uncomfortable.

Trina, coming from a tight Christian family unit, took to motherhood right away. She’s always been a brilliant and supportive mother to Taryn.

Me? I was starting to get anxiety attacks, but nothing crippling. It was worrying, but something that I kept to myself.

We would take Taryn in her stroller to the park across the road from where we lived and drive up to the Peak on weekends for walks.

These trips outdoors was also a way to get me out of the apartment. Trina could see that I was sleeping more and more and almost becoming reclusive.

I was starting to become dependent on Trina for everything and having her around me. It somewhat eased the anxiety that was coming from gawd knows where.

I was trying to fight it, but fighting an invisible enemy is not easy. Work and writing was overwhelming me and certain words would almost paralyse me with jumbled thoughts and bring about waves of anxiety.

I even needed an intern working at the ad agency pick me up and take me to work as even crossing the road became difficult.

One day while at work and inside a colleague’s office, I felt everything starting to give way from under me. He helped to take me to my parents’ apartment and where the anxiety started to subside.

I still needed a doctor to attend to me before Trina came by and helped take me home. But there was always this fear of what happened that day at work happening again.

It’s a full time job working on this. There are various “tricks of the trade”, so to speak, that us sufferers use to hide the fear and get by.

For me, coping was being with different women. They helped by mainly making me forget and gave me some some false sense of bravado.

With Trina, I would expect to fly into another brick in the wall and often did. She was a carer and it was okay to fall apart in front of her. She would put me back together. It’s probably why I was to later change girlfriends so often.

It was only until a Danish girl whom I was to meet much later in life gave me the confidence needed to lead a normal life though our relationship was anything but normal. Whatever it was, it worked for what it was at the time.

When married to Trina, tranquillisers, namely Mogadon, which was then available in Hong Kong over the counter, and which I would wash down with a Black Russian cocktail, helped numb the anxiety. It didn’t, however, cure the source of the problem.

Until needing to make regular long haul flights when with Universal Music and EMI and until the Great Dane came into my life, having to fly was pure hell.

It was the same for my father. He had to have a few stiff drinks to give him courage days before a flight. He would panic just to get to the airport.

I never talked to him about his problems and also his inability to cope without my mother.

After she passed away from Alzheimer’s, there was the need to have friends around him- some of whom he barely knew and whom he happily gave away family heirlooms.

I should have asked him what exactly he was scared about. But we barely spoke to each other.

Thinking back, he was mollycoddled by his sisters- my aunts- and my mother and all this probably became a crutch.

Funny thing is that none of those councillors and life coaches and shrinks I saw over the years ever delved into this part of my life. It’s no doubt why I have such a strong cynicism towards psychiatry.

Trina, being American and where everyone she knew seemed to go to a shrink, and with an elder sister, a qualified nurse, who wasn’t shy to admit that she couldn’t function without Prozac, believed mental illnesses could only be solved by professionals. Or prayer.

She might have been right, but, to my parents, only “crazy people” needed to see psychiatrists.

This was what I had grown up to believe and which added to my anxiety problems- and why I kept them hidden. I saw it as a sign of weakness.

It took me a few years to enjoy fatherhood or being married. I felt very nervous about carrying Taryn or spending any time alone with her in case I suffered an anxiety attack.

I really didn’t know how to find happiness nor what it was. Only now am I really getting there.

Unless you’ve been lost in the darkness, you won’t understand how this horrible illness sneaks up on you- and how much those who live with it suffer in silence.

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