Author's Note: This is the Phase Autobiography in my portfolio, or, My Path to Now.
The Parts of Me
"You're going to a new school," my mother told me one day.
"Why? What type of school?" I asked.
"It's an international school that teaches in English. I'm a little worried that you're losing your English and your creativity."
"Okay. Will I be a new student? I don't want to go with everyone knowing everyone else already."
"No, the school is a new school. Everyone else will be new just like you."
I am a lot of things. I am a girl. I am someone who loves to read and write. I am ambitious. I am a perfectionist who has her own definition of 'perfect'. I am an organized person who follows her own rules of organization. Some of those things are things we can change, and it might surprise you to see who others once were.
I was once a wallflower. In a Chinese public school, I was the kid who didn't really talk much in class or participate in class discussions, but didn't get extremely poor grades so that the teacher picked on her. Starting elementary school, I was six, and just moved my entire life westwards 5,400 miles. The soil under my feet was now Chinese, as was the people I met, the environment I lived in, and the education I received. But I am Chinese by blood, so it was okay. Six years of English shriveled up and was buried in the back of my mind. I once told my mom in stammering English, "Sometimes I want to have a sign in front of me saying 'Continue speaking English!' or else I'd want to switch back to Chinese." Holding long English conversations were hard, because I read in English, but did not write or speak. Books were my connection to the language and home I left on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I changed, too. I didn't have any experience with the system they used in China. I was a wallflower in Chinese class. Sitting and doodling while my classmates answered questions about the text. I simply did not get it. I thought of everything one second later than everyone else. I hated annotating because to me, the text was just the text. I didn't care about the shrimp in your backyard or your journey to Mongolia. I didn't want to analyze the structure of the composition and I loathed writing essays. I always had to make things up during tests and pretend I had a lot to say about it, when in truth, I just wanted to get to the 300 character requirement so I could pass.
Then came the conversation my mom had with me. It now strikes me weird that the only concern I had was whether or not the school was new. I didn't mind being in a different school from my friends, and during my last days there, I think I even boasted a little. Maybe it was because THIS was only a 10 minute drive away from home when there wasn't any traffic, but I didn't feel bad at all when I was going to leave everyone. I didn't question my mom, either. Mother dearest knew best. She knew the direction she wanted my path to take on, and she knew what type of person she wanted me to be. She was the river that guided the inexperienced sailor in her wooden boat. As the sailor builds her boat and reach the ocean, the river gives one final push and then the sailor is free to sail the seven seas. Perhaps I needed a new start. Back in an English environment, I was a fish back in its tributary. I tried different personas, but I did not want to be a wallflower anymore.
We still had Chinese classes, and whenever I was in those classes, I was rigid and stiff. I rarely got out of my seat, even if it was to sharpen a pencil; I secretly wished that the traffic each morning would be so bad I'd miss first period altogether and not have to go to Chinese class. Later on I'd describe this feeling of dread as, "Every time we go to Chinese class, I get so nervous like whatever recent homework I'd turned in will come back to me with a huge, red, 'F'." Even in seventh grade, when we had a new Chinese teacher, there was this feeling of withdrawal when I watched other people answer questions. I looked down at the text to find it, as always, simply text. The teacher directed a question at me, she must have thought I was being too quiet, asking, "What do you think the author's intent is?" I replied honestly and bluntly, because I've discovered that honesty is the one thing that knocks Chinese teachers off their feet, "I don't know." She paused, hesitated and maybe assessed me. Is this kid going to be trouble? I think she saw something, but I'll know, because she nodded and said, "Ah, that is an answer, too." I have since then warmed up to that teacher, as she passed my assessment just as I think I passed hers. Maybe it would have happened eventually, as I grew and analyzed better, but slowly, the text is becoming more than just words and my pen is finally feeling natural between my fingers as I pen the individual Chinese characters, arranging them into paragraphs of what I want to say and what I want others to hear.
That was the growth of the Chinese wallflower, but what about the other one, the American one that I claim never really existed? At the beginning of eight grade, we did a simulation in Language Arts class. We were given a situation and a personality, and we were supposed to act that personality out given the situation. Ms. Miller laughed when she handed me mine. The small square of paper said, "THE EVAPORATER." The Evaporater was everything I wasn't. She didn't like talking or participating, when I already started mentally compiling suggestions and things to say about the situation right after I heard it. The Evaporater wouldn't voice her opinion even when she knew someone else was wrong. But me, I'd correct everyone else simply because I know the answer and I have to be right. Being the Evaporater was painful. I had to start drawing stars on my notebook to keep myself occupied and bite my lip so I didn't say anything. So I think it's safe to say that I am not a wallflower anymore, at least not at THIS.
There are definitely turning points in our lives. Sometimes, we look back and wonder how things might have been different if we went down the other path when we were given a choice. But paths are confusing things. When I talk about my path to who I am now, and all the crossroads I encountered and the decisions I made, a very good question to consider is: where exactly are you now? What are you now? Who are you now? Where are you now? Then slowly, you work from that 'now' and backwards until you see who, what, where you were before everything happened. There are different parts of me that I could have written about. I could have chosen the ambitious me, the not-so-perfectionist me, or the not-quite-organized me. Instead, I chose to write about my evolution as a wallflower. I could still be that wallflower. I could still be living the life 5,400 miles and ten years behind me. I could still be another nameless student in the "people-mountain, people-sea" China. I could still be the sailor, not yet ready to take on the terrors of the world. My eyes are now open; text is more than just words and I care. I thank THIS, because without this tributary, firstly the fish would die of dehydration, and secondly all this defiance and ambition and pride and determination and China and America that is me would never have awoken from her slumbering.
Date Completed: November 10, 2013