Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pandora's Question Box

When I was four years old, someone gave me a basketball. Not an adult-sized one, but a toddler-friendly one, only about 20 centimeters in diameter.

After I got into trouble with my mother for bouncing the thing around willy-nilly, my father decided to teach me how to pass and receive a ball properly. You know, by four-year-old standards.

Somewhere in the middle of this, I asked my father why the sun rises and sets.

He told me to get a marker and bring it to his room. I picked a black one from the 24-color set my grandmother had given me (Chinese children use markers instead of crayons--they are more efficient for doodling on everything within reach).

Basketball rising over baseball.
"Pretend that this," Dad said, palming the basketball effortlessly, "is the Earth." We must have covered the bit about the world being round at some point, though I do not remember that conversation. I nodded.

He then took the marker from me and drew a little blob on the basketball. "Pretend this is Taiwan," he said, indicating the blob.

I scrunched up my face at him. "Why can't I see us, then?" (Cut me some slack, okay? I was four.)

He chuckled. "Because we're too small. Now, c'mere." He picked me up, sat me on the edge of his desk, turned on the long-necked reading lamp, and doused the overhead light. "Pretend that's the sun."

I squinted at the desk lamp and its incandescent bulb--the only one in my tiny toddler world (most buildings in Taiwan use fluorescent lights to save energy). It certainly looked yellow and round enough for its role.

My father held up the basketball. "Keep your finger on Taiwan," he instructed, and I obeyed. "It's daytime right now. But the Earth spins, so..." He rotated the basketball. My stubby index finger moved with 'Taiwan' toward the terminator, then crossed into the dark half of the 'globe'. "...now it's dark."

"Because the ball's in the way," I said.

"...And the ball is the Earth," Dad reminded me, "the ground under our feet."

I clearly recall thinking very hard about that. "So the sun sets because...the ground gets in the way?"

"That's right." My father smiled. I knew I had done something to made him proud.

Then something occurred to me. "What about the moon? And why does the ground move? How come we can't feel it move?"

"Oh, boy..." Dad heaved a long sigh. "You were a rug-rat, then a knee-gnawer, and now you have officially become a question box. Go get me a baseball."


  1. Haha, I love this entire conversation. I hope you are still a question box! :)

    1. Pretty much. Fortunately, I can take it out on Google now, else I would have no friends. ^_^

  2. I don't have memories this vivid of when I was so young. I can almost never remember how I learned something, only that I know it. This sort of interaction is what I most look forward to when I am a father. Pretty much my favorite thing is to think up cool explanations for things.

    1. I have a lot of vivid memories from before I turned five, but after that it gets muddier. Apparently it is the other way around for most people.