LIM, SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN
Born in Malacca, Malaysia, as a Chinese and baptized at age eleven as a Catholic, Lim was named after a Hollywood icon (Shirley Temple). Lim explains that her mother's people were peranakans—“a distinctive Malayan-born people of Chinese descent assimilated into Malay and Western cultures, ” and her father was a Chinese Malayan whose family spoke the Hokkien dialect of China. She grew up speaking the home language of Malay, her mother's language, but became fluent in English once she started her British school education at age six. The confluence of Chinese, Malayan, and colonial British languages and cultures both enriched and confused the young Shirley. Her early years were spent in the extended family home of her paternal grandfather, surrounded by many Hokkien-speaking aunts and a shadowy Malay-speaking mother who was an outsider in her husband's father's home. When her father opened his own business and moved his young family away from the ancestral home, Shirley notes in Among the White Moon Faces, “It was as if I woke up from a dark and discordant infancy into a world of pleasure in which my mother was the major agent” (11-12).
Her mother was “funny, knowing, elegantly obscene, ” and young Shirley delighted in her mother's language, her humor, her smells. But when Shirley was eight, her mother abandoned the family, and Shirley recalls, “I was never certain that she loved her children till later in life, when she needed us” (14).
Both her parents were enchanted by Western culture and the celluloid world of Hollywood. The children loved the cinema too and would buy treats. “We could already taste the tropical treasures in our eager mouths together with the American imaginary—the luxurious orchestra sweep, panoramic scenes, close-ups of white male and female beauty—to be ingested in cool darkness and silence. We emerged from the cinema hall gorged with Western images” (22).