Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dat passionfruit.

Currently, I'm going through staff training and orientation for my summer internship as a teacher. There is this non-profit organization that provides a free English immersion summer program for children from less privileged backgrounds or from environments where Chinese is the medium of instruction. They hire older students who are mostly from colleges abroad and grew up speaking English as teachers. Teachers come up with their own content, as long as it works towards the overarching goal of helping the students become more confident in speaking English. I'm teaching the history of fashion, and I think this whole thing is a step out of my comfort zone; I've never seriously taught, I'm currently not a big fan of kids and don't really know how to talk to them, and I don't know much (or anything) about the history of fashion. I've never studied this subject, and I'm not even fashionable myself. I'm just kind of interested in fashion and haven't really explored it from an academic perspective. So...yeah. My students will have the most ready teacher ever.

In these past two weeks, we've gone through a LOT of things; handling all sorts of classroom scenarios, micro- and macro-management, leadership, developing spirit, English Language Development, understanding students with a holistic mindset, teaching approaches, and the list goes on. We get to school at eight every morning and finish at about five or six in the afternoon, so it's quite intense. I'm really enjoying it though because I can feel myself growing as a person and learning so much everyday. Even though I am not sure about going into education as a profession, I see this internship as a very comprehensive, jam-packed set of life skills lessons that can be applied to a lot of places in life.

Today was big because we got to know who was in our "cross-departmental collaboration", which is a fancy term to mean a group of four teachers, one from each department, who are assigned to teach the same students but at different periods of the day. After that, we got to read these students' applications to the summer program in order to have a better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and interests. 

These students' responses were honestly a lot more intriguing than I expected them to be; at times, there were some interesting trends to be seen. One of the questions on the application was "What do you think is Hong Kong's biggest problem?" Out of the eighteen kids in our CDC, I think all but three of them wrote "air pollution". I feel like air pollution has become one of those things that I've accepted and become so apathetic about that it probably wouldn't be on my top ten list of the city's biggest problems. 

Some of the responses made me laugh. One of the questions asked students to list three adjectives they would use to describe themselves. Given that admission to the summer program is pretty competitive, I thought that students would be aware of this, and choose positive-sounding adjectives to make themselves look good as an applicant. However, some of these kids were really honest - one wrote "lazy", another wrote "careless". I am these things too (sometimes), and it was really refreshing to see them reveal a side of them that I am sure most of us have too but hide from others at the beginning. On a more serious note, it also made me wonder if they wrote these things because that's how they are described by negative people around them all the time. 

Some of the responses tugged at my heartstrings. One of the questions was "What was the happiest moment of your life?" and some kids wrote beautifully simple answers that made me question my own life. One kid (who I think misunderstood the question and didn't choose a specific moment) said that hugging his mother makes him happier than anything. Another kid (who also probably misunderstood the question) wrote that she loved going shopping with her mother because they could talk then. A third wrote that his happiest moment was when his brother was born six years ago and he's so proud of his brother.

What would I have written if I had to answer that question too? I thought about how I do think I'm a pretty happy person most of the time and I have a lot of happy memories to talk about, but I don't have a specific memory that means more to me than anything else. I don't even have a proper shortlist of the best memories. Is having an absolute happiest moment necessary? I would be inclined to think no, since different memories are wonderful because they impacted me in different ways and had different contexts. I think it would be difficult to replicate a context in order to create a memory that trumps one you already have. 

See, my job even makes me contemplate questions like these.

To finish off, here's a cheer that my department has to present to the rest of the staff tomorrow. It's utterly random and beautiful for that reason.

Happy llama, sad llama, totally rad llama
Super llama, drama llama, big fat mama llama
Baby llama, crazy llama, don't forget the rocker llama!
Fish! Fish! More...fish!
Turtle! Ugh.
Unicorn, peacock
Passionfruit!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Small but awesome.

"Do you live here? I haven't seen you around recently."
"Yes! I attend college in the States, but I've lived here for fifteen years and I'm back for the summer."
"Oh! Which college?"
"Colgate University, in New York."

If I had to draw up a pie chart showing how common certain responses to my answer are, it would look something like this: a huge part of the pie would be "What's that?" or "I've never heard of it" or simply "Oh" and an awkward pause.

This is an uncomfortable exchange I've had quite a number of times in the past year in Hong Kong. It's uncomfortable because I feel like there is the assumption that if one has not heard of a school, it probably isn't very good. This assumption (or an assumption of an assumption?) is an issue to me because I love my college and think very highly of it. It's a top liberal arts college with great classes and has been compared to lower-ranked Ivies. It bothers me when people don't recognise this and it makes me feel like its excellence, my effort and my intelligence are disregarded when people correlate its relative unpopularity to its strength. Growing up, the adjective people gave me the most was "smart" - not "pretty", and not "funny" - so to tell these people where I go to school and see them change the way they look at me because of this hurts. I wish I could completely not care about how other people back home think in this case, but I can't because...just because. Logically, I understand that liberal arts colleges tend to be less well-known out of the country because they are small, meaning that so are their alumni networks and the chances that one knows a graduate of the school is lower than say, a graduate of a larger college. I am sure that there are other international students attending great, small colleges who face the same issue back home.

How can this issue be resolved? I don't know, I wish I did and that would make this post a lot better. At the moment, I'm just writing about an issue without a proposal or a call to action. It's difficult to change assumptions or the way people think (with their thought process of "haven't heard of school = school is probably not very good"). I've tried to explain why it's a great school several times but it hasn't been very successful so far; from people's reactions, I get the impression that they think I'm just overcompensating for my college's perceived shortcomings or trying to make myself look better. The latter is probably true to a certain extent; I do want to look better in other people's eyes if I think the way they look at me is unjustified. The way I see it, there are only two "solutions" for now; learn to care about what other people think less, or work on continuing to be whatever I am and hope that in time, people can see the virtuous impact my college has had on me in the way I behave and speak. These aren't really proper solutions that can alter the reality of most people and their mindsets, but they are all I can think of for now.

In the meantime, you now know how to have a great first-time interaction with me; just show that you know something about Colgate when the question of which colleges we attend comes up. I will love you five-ever for that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Things I Do Not Miss.

Not you, I'm not there yet today.

But I do not miss
The way I talked enough for the two of us;
Excess words to try and cover the discomfort
Which you made me feel was purely in my head.

You and I were on different islands
I do not miss
The way we stood on the newly, hurriedly reclaimed land in between
And pretended that land was always there.

I do not miss trying to laugh;
There are only so many times one can do that before it gets old.

It got old, and now I have to learn to not miss you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On the cruiser.

The shuttle bus that goes around campus is referred to as the cruiser.

So I went to the bookstore this morning to buy birthday cards; I caught the 9:18 cruiser heading downtown and was hoping to choose and buy the cards in time for the 9:30 shuttle back uphill.

There were no other students on the cruiser downtown, so the cruiser driver and I had a conversation. I told her why I was going downtown.

"Oh," she exclaimed. "My husband's birthday is coming up soon! On the twenty-seventh. I haven't gotten him anything yet."

She then went on to say that they had been married for fifty-four years, that they had dated for two and a half years before getting married, and that they met on Saint Patrick's Day.

"We met when I was sixteen years, three months and eleven days old," she said, so fondly.

As I sat there and realised that the youthful-looking cruiser driver was about seventy-four (are there laws that prohibit driving when above a certain age?) she continued, "It's really nice that we got to grow up together. My parents were married sixty-one years, and Nick's parents were married for sixty-eight."

"Wow. That's amazing," I said.

"There were times when if Nick walked into a room, I'd walk out. But I still loved him," she said. "Things are different now though. I think people give up too easily nowadays."

She turned around and smiled at me. That moment was the first time I had questioned my decision to break up with my boyfriend over a week ago. Had I given up too easily? I wondered whether she would judge my actions as such if I told her why I did so. The moment was also profound because I consider myself someone who doesn't give up easily on these things. I know that my decision has come as a surprise to some others and that I have given up a really good thing in my life. I still don't regret what I have done, but this conversation left me wondering what she would consider to be acceptable circumstances to give up under. I have been working through a bunch of emotions this past week; guilt for breaking up, guilt for not being guilty enough, and to a tiny extent, terror. I consider finding a serious significant other one of the most important things in life, and to give up being with someone who has been so wonderful to me creates greater uncertainty that I may not find this. But the weird thing is...I think I'm okay.

The cruiser stopped in front of the main street traffic lights, by the village green. I said bye to the cruiser driver. Of course, her husband's birthday falls on the same day as my ex-boyfriend's.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The grownup with the green glass heart?

My life is not the same as it was when I first started writing this blog.

That statement is probably obvious (a lot of change usually happens within three years of teenage-hood) and doesn't really need saying, but I just did anyway because this may help explain why I haven't been posting often here. Being busy does not cut as a good excuse for only being able to write an average of one post a month. It took me unreasonably long to realise that the bulk of my posts here came from two themes - feeling like I don't fit in/asserting my uniqueness, and being hopelessly smitten about somebody that I can't have. Writing here helped me feel empowered, and I think I am able to be very open about sharing my experiences today because of this.

However, I don't really feel anything towards either of these themes anymore and haven't for quite a while. Being at Colgate and being un-single has changed what I channel my thoughts towards. While I wouldn't say that I'm completely homogenous to the others here (I'm not white, I'm an international student, and I still have yet to drink at college) I have been accepted and welcomed into every group I've encountered. The characteristics I don't necessarily share with others are just...characteristics. We connect over what matters instead and honestly, I still have to occasionally convince myself that all this is real life - I did indeed wake up in my bed, I'm really here with such wonderful people and no, this is not a dream which will end and I won't be waking up to the world of high school all over again. I fit in well at college, and I feel so silly for having felt guilty about it at the beginning, as if my "uniqueness" was being compromised in some way. I now think that saying you are different from others in itself is not useful - it creates a sense of self-superiority, and acknowledging the difference itself does not explain what makes you special. Do we even need to explain why we are, and if so, what makes us, special? I don't need to assert this to myself because I feel comfortable with who I am, even if I am not very interesting, and I don't need to assert this to you (okay, maybe I do if I am writing an application of some sort) because I'd like for my actions or concrete examples to show you who I am. This feels more natural and less showy. I think I tried to assert my character a lot of times here, to the point that I felt like I needed to stay "consistent", because wasn't this who I so proudly was? People can change, and even the rate of change or the existence of change itself is not guaranteed as a constant. I think that maybe this is the way the world works. I've learned to stop worrying about this and just ENJOY the fact that I'm fitting in without needing to do much. My middle and high school life probably happened to remind me to be more compassionate towards others, but being able to fit in is probably not inherently wrong. I can't believe it took me so long to realise this.

And then there's my boyfriend. We've been together for almost a year now. Things have been going so, so well, and he's still so much more than I deserve. It's strange, we may not have had a defining "it all clicked" moment, but looking back, the past year has been many, many wonderful moments one after another without a pause for us. Long distance is supposed to be really hard and I'm always wondering whether there's going to be a hiccup or fight around the corner because things have been so smooth so far. Some of my friends said that this was not normal. I asked my boyfriend what he thought about it, and he proposed that we growl menacingly at each other so that we could tell them that we had fought. That was really nice. This relationship has been really healthy and my mind's been much more peaceful - there's way less insecurity and self-doubt and fear of being alone. If he decided to leave me today, I would be upset, but I would also know that I can go forward with a mind and heart that is more zen-like.

I've been writing about not fitting in and having "love"-related feelings for years now, and these changes have made me feel like I now have nothing to write about. And this is why I haven't been writing as much lately. Being busy is just a tiny part of my life. I actually check Blogger every day and I've longed to resume blogging regularly, like I used to do, for months now. But this checking and longing obviously doesn't translate into posts. It's silly, but I'm scared! I don't really know what else to write about. I've worried that I'm now even worse at writing, that I haven't flexed my blogging muscle in a while. I worry that this fear is causing me to get even weaker metaphorically, and this is really silly.

But I hope that articulating all these feelings changes this dynamic - I need not expect the same thoughts out of myself and I can blog things that actually matter to me now. This is awesome and unsettling and frankly, something I should have known all along. Oh, you silly child.