Channel 48 on cable is their staple TV fare, being the only TV channel to broadcast programs entirely in Cantonese, most of it from Hongkong. Even the Japanese cartoons are dubbed in Cantonese.
My children recognise the theme songs to Cantonese dramas and the Cantonese news, because the channel is on almost all day. Isaac sometimes dances to some of the theme songs, bobbing his head (and sometimes shaking it from left to right). If the music is more upbeat, he would even wave his arms around. All done with a silly grin on his face. Great, my son is an 18-month-old "Tetno"-loving Ah Beng.
My Mom and Dad are fully conversant in English, and my Dad in Mandarin too. But they do not watch much of the free-to-air Channel 8, because their mother tongue is Cantonese, and not Mandarin. And they absolutely hate watching Mandarin-dubbed Hongkong shows. There are no dialect shows on free-to-air, because we are supposed to be a happy homogeneous Mandarin-speaking Chinese society.
At the rate my kids watch TVBS, I won't be surprised if they start conversing in Cantonese. Which is fine by me, since I don't believe society will disintegrate just because they don't speak Mandarin.
The only thing that annoys me is that they both, especially Isaac, like to go up close to the TV screen. We spend a lot of time yelling at him not to be so close, fearing that he will end up like Papa, who wore glasses at aged four. I even have a photo of myself in Primary 2A with celebrity Hossan Leong, the only other kid with glasses on.
It is also a pain to clean up the saliva from the nice new Toshiba my Dad recently bought to replace his 15-year-old Panasonic 29-incher.
I sit there having my dinner, still in my work clothes, mentally drained and physically exhausted, but amused by the sight of my parents having to keep my son from his nonsense.
When not licking TV screens, Isaac is runs after his sister, in a fruitless bid to play with her. He does not seem to mind that she ignores him, and being the optimistic kid that he is, chases after her as if he is part of her play world.
It is not easy being Faith's little brother. Isaac does not have his sister's autistic condition, and for him, learning, interacting and playing with others is a normal part of growing up.
Faith, on the other hand, is in a world of her own most of the time.
When Isaac was born, we knew that one of the biggest challenges was getting his sister to accept his existence. While other parents lament how their older children respond with immense jealousy to their newborns, Ginny and I could only wish to see that behaviour in our daughter. How we longed to see her go green-eyed monster on her brother, and walk over just give him a jealous whack on the head!
At least that way, we know she knows he exists. And with knowing, she may also grow to love him too. Isaac definitely adores her and runs after her, even when she doesn't give him the time of day. It is in this innocent persistence of his that we find hope. Hope that he will grow up loving and caring for his sister despite her lack of reciprocity. Hope that his child-like adoration will draw her out of her shell.
The last time we saw any significant interaction between them was when Faith pushed Isaac's hand away when he tried to play with her TV-Piano toy.
As I look into the living room from the dining table, 爷爷 (Grandpa) is telling Isaac not to stand so close to the TV again. My Dad turns to answer a question my mother asks him. Then in a moment that no one in the room notices because they are all busy talking to each other or doing something, Faith gets up from her comfortable spot in the sofa with 爷爷 and makes her way to the TV, placing herself between the screen and her brother, and pushing him back.
As she runs back to her sofa, in her usual tiptoe (a sensory issue we have yet to fix), I sit there, with rice still in my open mouth.
"Did anyone see that?" I exclaim, after finding my voice. "Did anyone else see what just happened?"
The rest of the family turn to look at me. "Faith just moved Isaac away from the TV!"
"Is it?" my Mom says.
"She's done it before, it was a few days ago," my Dad says. He should know. He spends a lot of time hanging with his grandkids, watching his two televisions. Yes, my Dad watches a 29-inch regular TV and a 20-inch LCD at the same time.
"Maybe Isaac was blocking her view leh?" my wife suggests.
"No, no. It was a deliberate act!" I exclaim, frustrated that no one saw it but me. "Look, we try again. When Isaac goes too near the TV, we try it again."
Isaac, who does not disappoint, wanders too near the screen again. Twice.
We cheer and clap for 家姐 (Big Sister), to ensure that she gets the reinforcement she needs.
Isaac does not understand what just happened. But he is content to scamper after his sister, laughing and playing a catching game he thinks his smiling sister is playing with him.
Maybe she is, after all.