A short personal memoir about my childhood.
|As far as I can remember, I lived in a quiet neighborhood with my brother and my mother, and all I looked forward to was playdates with my friends. The idea of a good dinner was being taken to Subway after karate classes, and every afternoon I had a good time watching cartoons and making my Lego figures fight each other. Thinking back, I am really lucky to grow up in the city of Vancouver, a city where people are aggressively friendly, unapologetically always sorry for anything. My family and I were kindly accepted into the local community.|
As a Chinese child living abroad, my mother was all I had. My mom was like superman, except that she could cook meals so luscious that it would attract even bears to come to visit. She raised both me and my brother singlehandedly while living in a completely new country and learning a whole new language. In fact, I used to believe that parents were this kind of different human that had the power to never become tired and always know what to do.
In the tenth month of October 2012, I turned 7. That meant a couple of things; I remember having the best birthday party of my life in an indoor Jungle Gym with this huge infrastructure that we could climb and play in. However, it also meant that I was going to 2nd grade. 2012 was a significant turning point in my life, as I moved from my lovely big villa to a small apartment in China. I said goodbye to all my friends, teachers, and Lego figures (which was the hard part, telling you what kind of person I am).
As I got off the plane, I remember seeing a sea of faces and weird small diagrams that my mother called "Chinese Characters." Outside the airport, there was this tall man with rugged good looks and a charming smile that was introduced as my father. At that point in my life, I had few memories with my father, as he was always just this profile picture that magically appeared on the iPad during holidays. Meeting him in person, I was stuck in a quandary.
During teacher-parent conferences, my friends always showed up with two parents, one they called "mama" and the other they called "papa." Sometimes I would wonder where my papa was, and my mom would go through this whole lecture of how my father was making money for our family so that I could afford to eat out or go to university. I did not quite understand, but it didn't matter anyway, as my mama was all I needed.
Meeting my father for the first time that I could recall, I felt this strange sense of ecstasy mixed with a bit of reticence. I wanted to talk with my papa, but I did not know what to say. He felt so different from me; the way he dressed, talked, and the feeling was just not right. I did not know why. On the car ride home, I fell asleep listening to the loud honking of traffic.
I woke up the following day in a big bed. I tried looking for my mother, but she wasn't anywhere to be found. Instead, I found a dozen of strange-looking white buns on the table and yellowish milk that I thought must've been spoilt.
The next day, I was taken into a place where I would spend the next half-decade of my life, school. Introducing myself to the class, I felt like a deer being stared down by a bunch of hungry beasts. Looking around the classroom, I found out that everyone had their little social groups, and no one really hopped out to say hi. The rest of the day went by. At the end of the day, textbooks, worksheets, and notebooks were handed out to some students that seemed like they hung out with movie stars after classes. I was confused. The teacher went on talking about page numbers and questions; looking around, my classmates were nodding and scribbling down notes that I could not make out. On the outside, I sat firmly in my chair while I was frantically racing in my mind.
At home, I laid out the pile of sheets and examined them closely. There were at least 10 pages of unrecognizable numbers and symbols. I tried flipping through some textbooks, but they were nothing like the picture books that I have gotten used to. I always knew how to fluently speak Chinese (it was a cool thing to show off in class) since both my mother and father came from Chinese backgrounds, but never did I think the language I was communicating in was this complicated to read. I did what any 2nd grader would've done. I ran for my ma. Smiling down at me, my mother explained to me something that would later change my life.
In China, life is different from what it was in Canada. There was only one way for ordinary citizens to be successful: to do well in a standardized test called GaoKao during your senior year in high school, get into a good university, make as much money as you could, and have children. This was the standard life for students, as this was the only way taught. If you got into a good university, people would assume that you have "made it in life", and therefore there was this massive problem in the Chinese educational system.
In Canada, I and my besties would be dropped at the community center every day to do karate, swimming, or hockey. Classes would always turn into silly playgrounds, and we would always throw a tantrum when it was time to leave. I remember hiding under desks so I could spend more time with my friends. This was something I would always look forward to. However, China was nothing like this. At school, I overheard my peers discussing going to classes together after class. I was excited. I saw this as a chance to make friends, new friends that I could share my toys. However, when I jumped into the conversation to ask what was up, I found out the reason behind the hard homework that was handed out earlier. I couldn't believe my ears. My 2nd-grade classmates were looking forward to taking math, science, and even English classes. This blew my mind. When I asked them what they did in their free time, they told me that they read, did math questions, and occasionally were rewarded with TV time if they did well on tests. This did not sound fun.
A valuable lesson that I learned from my years in China was the importance of hard work. We were taught that every extra question we did, we were beating 200 people that did not do that question. We were taught that "fun" only came after academics. We were taught that there was little room for you in society if you did not do well academically. What I needed to do was to work hard. To be tireless. To elevate and stand out among my peers.
Looking back at my first week of school, there were such significant differences between my roots, and a little combination of both is what makes me who I am today. The part of me that is Canadian reminds me of the essential elements of life, friendship, family, kindness, and enjoyment, while my time in China taught me the importance of diligence and the cruelness of competition that occurs in life. While part of me wants to live a happy life lying around the people I love, the other portion reminds me of the importance of the grind and brings an aspect of ambition and the desire to impress the world. I am thankful for my mother's choice of raising me as a person of multiple cultures, as it gave me the power to look at many problems from contrasting perspectives and make a mature decision. Today, if anyone asked me where I was from, I would answer that I am a Chinese born in Canada studying in America and hope to conquer the world lying on a deserted island with my loved ones.