My heart’s longings always urge me
To undertake a journey, to visit the country
Of a foreign people far across the sea.
–Anon (translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland)
LONG AGO AS a child, I often informed PoPo (Grandma in Chinese) what I had dreamt the night before, and she would always explain what my dreams meant and whether they were lucky or unlucky omens. I had no idea who Freud was, or what he would have said. Where PoPo got all her interpretations from remains a mystery to me, but she certainly had convincing explanations for every dream I had and recalled. She had a whole set of rules for interpreting dreams, most of which have slipped my memory.
One or two rules I do remember still – What you dream before midnight is normally true, while dreams after midnight are not (maybe that is what people call day-dreaming?). Another rule was that if it was a bad dream and someone in your family had been hurt or killed – you should not keep it to yourself, but tell someone. That way, the omen is broken and a tragedy may be avoided.
PoPo may have been superstitious and her theories derived from no structured study, but what she believed affected me, perhaps more than I wanted to admit to anyone but myself. Many years ago, when I dreamt that my little brother had an accident, I wrote to Mother the very next day and warned my brother to be careful. As if writing a letter was not sufficient, I also told the first friendly soul I bumped into, just to make sure that no such unfortunate thing would occur. Nowadays, the telephone, fax and e-mail have made international communication easier and more efficient.
What effects do our conscious or sub-conscious have on our lives? Are dreams a way to express our deeply-rooted desires and frustrations? I dream a lot, and constantly. More often than not, I remember my dreams when I wake up. It is like I have a video camera in my head, and every night when I go to bed, I switch it on and start recording.
When I was younger, flying was one recurrent and consistent theme. I dreamt that I had wings and I could fly. The circumstances I found myself in varied, but the ‘experience’ of flying was so real and exciting, I always woke up in high spirits, glowing with that memory. It did not matter whether I was flying to rescue those in trouble, or simply escaping from a vulnerable and dangerous situation, the ‘ability’ to fly thrilled me beyond anything I knew.
How wonderful it was to be able to fly, even if only in dreams!
Some years ago, I went to a gliding centre and took my first, and only, flying lesson. Would this experience even come close to real flying? I wondered. It was one of those small planes where you sat in front of an instructor. I had a picture taken before we took off. “You looked super cool beside that leather-clad, handsome instructor,” my friends said.
It wasn’t so cool up there, I can tell you. Almost as soon as I was up in the sky and took control of the joystick, I felt my head spinning and a severe motion sickness overtook me. The assuring voice of the instructor didn’t help, nor did the wonderful bird’s-eye-view over the beautiful English countryside. “Can we go down now, please?” I pleaded, losing my cool completely. I never ventured forth in a glider again.
PoPo once told me that dreaming of flying and sometimes waking up with a kick, meant that I was growing. Long after I stopped growing, I still dreamt of flying. PoPo was no longer there to interpret my dreams. It was time to form my own interpretations. If we can indeed conceptualise or rationalise what we do, maybe the same can be applied to our dreams.
During one of my many browsing expeditions in bookshops, I encountered a book on ‘Dream Power’, which explained how people could learn from their own dreams and unlock their mysteries. ‘The dreamer holds the key to unravelling their own dream messages and provides the most reliable source of interpretation.’
No doubt our dreams express our deepest fears, dearest thoughts and desires. Our dreams take us as far as our imagination can reach. Our dreams set no limit to what we can do and achieve. Our dreams offer boundless resources and inspirations. Our dreams are something we can see and touch – and they have shape, taste and colour.
My dreams of flying are not accidental. Flying may symbolise different things for different people from different cultures. Some believe that to dream of flying like a bird is a sign that he or she is in some way attempting the impossible. Personally, flying in a dream represents a fundamental desire for freedom.
Freedom is a complex concept, not as simple as many people perceive it to be. It is not something that we are born with, nor entirely controlled by external forces. Human beings are born tethered by constraints, from both inside and out. Freedom is a precious thing which we have to fight for, and can be very costly.
Author’s note: The above excerpt is taken from my debut The Same Moon (published in 2011), at the beginning of Part Two: On the British Isles, recording the new life of Pearl Zhang after her trans-continental journey from China to the UK. Those of you who have read the book, you’d know just how hazardous and trying the journey had been for Pearl, the fictional character I created.
Many years later, after Pearl set foot on the Land of the Free, as some people describe the United Kingdom, has Pearl been blessed with the kind of freedom she dreamed of and fought for quite courageously for a long time?
As readers, you probably would like to know. As her creator, I wish I could make it happen in the fictional world where she belongs. But fiction and real life, dreams and reality, they are two different things – how often do we see people getting them confused, mistaking fiction as reality and vice versa?
The beauty of being a writer is to give meaning to our dreams, and to create stories that readers can sometimes have a laugh at, or a cry, and ultimately feeling that their precious time is well spent on something of value. I hope that you feel that way about my writing, and if you do, I’d be very proud indeed.