The Prison Inside

Image via the Telegraph, UK.

Hi. I’m moving to Tennessee for a few years.

I don’t really know what you think about that, and frankly, at this point, I have already made my decision. Frankly, what matters is that I am jumping into my own fear.

I am moving South of my own accord.

Why? The answer is a bit complicated.

When I was young, I lived in Arkansas. In those formative years, I grew up thinking I didn’t matter. When I did matter, it was for my test scores, or to boost someone else’s grade, or to win or to get better. I was depressed and lonely. I saved face by pickling my own Asian face and hoping that, one day, I would be accepted in someone else’s eyes. When I left, I thought I had escaped.

It’s a bit of a stereotype to think that bullying is the worst base on numbers or statehood. Bullying is the worst based on quality or lack of quality of life for every student impacted by it. Sadly, I didn’t just face bullying in Arkansas, but also as the new kid in school in Illinois. For years, people called me ugly names and I believed them.

I am lucky. I have amazing parents and friends sent by God. However, that is not to belittle how awful and hostile a school can be. Not only did I have students (straight A ones too) make fun of me, but coaches, teachers, security guards and even counselors. The very people who were supposed to protect me in school, they tried to teach me that I was a disease, a mistake or a joke.

Who was the worst bully though? The worst bully, the one who said the most vicious things. She always stayed close, harboring ill thoughts and words that cut like razors. That bully was me. I said the meanest, crudest things to myself, to the point where several times I thought, “I don’t deserve to live.” So, the first thing you need to do, as Sean Stephenson says, is to escape “The Prison of Your Mind.”

Those days of bullying are long gone. Sometimes, my mind’s prison comes back. She revisits my story and tells me all the ways I can’t. Then, I let the bully go, because my mind can also be a garden. I now know that everyone is capable of cruelty, but also capable of profound love. I know I have voice all my own and I will fight with every fiber of my being to make sure that the underdog will always, always, always be heard. I want those kids with the worst bullies, the ones who live inside them, are going to be not just okay, but absolutely great. Stunning, unbelievable, accomplished, astute, role models. Phenoms. Geniuses. I believe God made every soul on this earth precious and perfect in His sight. For that, because of that, I want just one more student to know that someone out there cares. Not just me, but the Creator and a whole world of loving people we haven’t met…yet.
Yes, I am going to somewhere where this was reported. But you know what? I’m also going somewhere where this was reported.
It doesn’t matter that I’m going somewhere new, only that I’m going.
It doesn’t matter if other people don’t believe, only that God believes in me.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know, because I have faith that great change will happen.
It is inevitable.
Great things are going to happen. We just have to stop bullying ourselves, let go of assumptions or stereotypes or prejudices, and step into the light of honest, real thinking.
You’re going to change the world. Is it for better or for worse?
“He was despised and rejected[a] by men;
    a man of sorrows,[b] and acquainted with[c] grief;[d]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[e]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
-Isaiah 53:3 ESV
Christ was bullied by all of mankind, and He was the Son of God. If that’s the case, then humanity truly needs work.
“Work hard. Be nice.”
S.

ForGive

I had this friend back in university. I suppose that’s a generous term. This person spent time making sure my self worth and the things I enjoyed were riddled with holes. When I came to them about quitting a certain team, they said, “Yeah, it was never really your thing. Better stick with what your actually good at.” When I wanted to move in with my close friends, lo and behold who decided to take my roommates? When I suggested reconciliation with another friend, this person completely turned the situation against me. I spent a whole lot of time thinking of ugly names and descriptors for who this person was. I spent ages counting the way they hurt me, the friends they had “stolen,” and the things they had said.

Look past it.

Look past it.

You know what though? As my dad likes to say, anger and stubborn hate only serve to imprison yourself. I let this person get so far under my skin, I treated potential friendships like poison with the labels ripped off — complete wariness and suspicion. What they did, what they said, how they treated me…I couldn’t let any of it go. My resentment and fear of getting hurt ate me up inside. My senior year in second semester, I mostly curled into bed, unwilling to even go to church if I had to see person A, B, C, etc.

It wasn’t fair. None of these people were nice. Christian people aren’t better people or good people, by any means. Real Christians are forgiven, but many of us have forgotten what that means. I knew I have and probably will again. However, I would like to make a commitment. Christianity is based on the idea of sacrificial love which embodies forgiveness. On the Cross, Christ is not recorded saying, “Father, smoke these idiots. They deserve it. Let them burn.” Rather (far more profoundly), Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:34 ESV). As those fools gambled away the last of Jesus’ earthly possessions, Christ pleaded with the Almighty for forgiveness on behalf of them. They were completely undeserving of mercy. With a jury of their peers present day, many of us would cry for justice against those who sell off possessions as a murder happens.

Forgiveness and love is what motivated Christ to not seek vengeance on this earth. Forgiveness means letting go of anger to choose to love. It’s not an easy choice, but I believe it can be so rewarding. Forgive. Forgive. You give away your anger and take back the ability to live life to the full. You give away guilt and resentment to receive a new life from God. As John Piper says in “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” “The greatest risk is that we may lose heaven. Because one way to lose heaven is to hold fast to an unforgiving spirit and so prove that we have never been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.” I am not God, but God lives in me. I know I must let go of the idea that anyone owes me anything. Love, forgiveness, and all ideas worth having are freely given. Sure, this person was cruel to me. They lied, they gossiped, and hey, maybe slandered my name. Haven’t I done the same and much worse to so many other people? We all need forgiveness to move on to a new day, a new morning in our lives.

I have been thinking lately about how easily we take care of our bodies, but how we lack true understanding about mind and soul hygiene. From our childhood, we understand how to floss or exercise daily, but even today we might forget to check our soul and mental welfare. Is what you’re doing today right? In whose eyes? These last few days, I dragged myself places. I crawled to work, I limped to the market, and I sifted ideas through the mud. Everything felt…soiled and selfish. You see, I set my own needs before others. Through my unsubstantiated opinions and self-entitlement, I deemed my own voice more worth hearing than others. How depraved is that?

This is my commitment. I will listen. I will not judge. I will let go of my past hurts and anger. People are going to talk, they always will. So, I will choose my friends more wisely. I will give feedback only when asked, in the most gentle of ways. I promise to embrace my perfect imperfections in my pursuit of God. I will not fear the intrepid waves of doubt from myself, the unkindness of others, or the undulating happenstance of life.

Nothing is known to us today, at least not all of it. What we can give, we should before the day is done and the lights go out. In forgiveness, maybe I can bring a little light to not just others, not just myself, but to God too. A blessing all around.

A little sadder, a little wiser, a little more hopeful.

Blessings,

S.

Take It Slow

You know I will always be real. No lies or silkscreens here. At least, as few as I can manage, I promise you that.

Image via Pacifiqa.

Sometimes, I have trouble accepting how students who may be less motivated are treated in the classroom here. Rather than take the extra time to help students figure out questions in their own way, I feel like the classroom culture instead pushes people who are even a little bit different against a wall. Students who don’t finish corrections in time are instead asked to copy a classmate’s. At least, that’s what a substitute decided to do in her classroom today. Instead of engaging with a problem, the teacher told me since this is what students did in junior high, she figured it would be completely acceptable in an elementary school setting.

Maybe when I first started teaching, I would write this off as collectivism. Students all have the same amount of time to complete something, so the ones who don’t need to “catch up” to the rest. After thinking seriously about the issue, I am not sure that is the case. I still believe human kindness is valued across cultures, and refusing to teach someone falls under negligent cruelty. I gave up teaching a dance class today to make sure two students received feedback and corrections before their midterms. (The teacher didn’t actually pick up the phone, so I assume they were out of the class anyways. Even if not, I would choose to help out kids who might not understand a concept).

Don’t get me wrong. These two individuals were far from happy that they had to give up their break alongside me. If they could decide, they would have just copied the problem and run out of the classroom. I received glares and huffs of frustration. Nonetheless, there we were working together to understand those strange combinations that make up English words. It was difficult to see students struggle, but at the same time I believe it’s needed. After all, sometimes what someone wants and what they need are completely different, often contradictory things.

Am I saying that all teachers need to give up their lunch breaks to help out students? No, but I’m saying that a little bit of selflessness never hurt anyone. (You can also eat and teach/learn at the same time…but that’s a different story.) Growing up in a consumerist society, I believed that everything was about me. Even if I was in pain, the whole world had to know my suffering. However, that’s simply not the case. As a teaching assistant, you might be needed when you least expect it. The students are worth it. They deserve your attention. It certainly doesn’t mean you get to give up.

Image via Edutopia.

It is my firm belief that every student has the right to a quality education. As a teaching assistant, I want to help them study and become the best version of themselves. Maybe these two students won’t remember me in a year. Maybe they could care less about my attention to their English competency. However, I know that if I hadn’t stopped them from copying and gave them at least the chance to learn, then I was robbing someone else’s future.

I hope that even decades down the road, I value learning more so than I do now. If it were about the destination, I would have let those students copy their classmates’ workbooks word for word. Yet true learning, and life (I would venture to say), takes place in the in-between places, the getting-there’s, the journey itself.

Sappy though it is, it’s true still.

Happy Children’s Day.

S.

The Fallacy of Binaries

There has been an age-old fascination with binaries. Certain people can become prone to believe in simple heuristics and generalizations. Not just literary symbols, but ones which can alter the way you see people and the outside world. What do you think of when I say black v. white? The matter no longer follows symbolism, but how we portray people and how we perceive them.

yangliu

Yang Liu, East Meets West.

This divider has been bothering me for quite some time–circular versus linear thinking. Educators and researchers alike seem content on focusing the theory that linear and circular thinking can, generally, encapsulate entire cultures. While I acknowledge these theories, I believe they look over certain aspects of our continually globalized universe. Why do we consistently enjoy putting up dividers onto lives that, in this contemporary time, begin to fuse together?

At a recent event, a speaker talked about teaching his or her students, a more “western” way of writing which allowed them to properly write essays. I questioned what exactly this person meant by his or her statement. In response, they wanted to acknowledge circular v. linear thought patterns. However, this did not end up answering my immediate question at all. I wanted to know how, as an English teacher, he/she expressed wanting a more Western-style of writing. Was it narratively more straightforward with less examples? In the expository piece, did he/she expect more explanation rather than detail? How, exactly, was it more Western and, implicitly, correct?

The answer, in my opinion, was a cop-out and ill-thought about. “Yes, linear thinking.” What is even meant by linear thinking? Yes, THE West, I get that bit. Did we, as English teachers, students and speakers, ever consider that a Western style of expository writing might just be one way to convey an argument? I remember an elementary school teacher telling me how to properly write an essay. “Build it like a hamburger. The introduction and conclusion are the buns, the meat are the reasons, and the details are like the lettuce, cheese, all that.” (This is quite a limited metaphor, first of all. Many meals in many cultures, American included, do not incorporate the ever-famous hamburger.) Cultures, neo-cultures, sub-cultures and non-mainstream alike, all have their own way of conveying narrative. It’s not fair to condemn a student who does not adhere to the general or traditional standards. Yet…we do so much in the literazzi. From IOWA tests to SATs and ACTs to the ever fabulous GRE, people continue to refurbish the idea that standardization amounts to something beyond access to test books and capable teachers. That all you are is a score. That a university can deny you on the basis of a few letters and numbers. What are we as educators accepting and we as students learning? Standardization has its place, but it cannot be the benchmark of status quos or hierarchies.

There are those of us on the fringes and borders. There are Chinese-Americans, South-African Ethiopians, Cambodian-Laoese, Siberian, Nigerian, and many others. Many of us are naturalized New Americans or non-native speakers of English. Perhaps I tell a story differently. In one of my most memorable panel interviews, I was told I have a “very non-linear, kinda spiral-y” speaking style. My advisor told me something I will never forget. I asked if I should change it. “Oh, no don’t do that. That’s your charm. That’s so you.” In the midst of teaching rules, regulations and boundaries, you know what we should be teaching? Voice. How to find your voice. How to grapple with it but let it ring free at the same time.

There is no such thing as the traditional linear narrative. It is as defunct as saying the world is flat. Perhaps, one might argue, it is even more ridiculous. A line covers the distance between two points. It doesn’t have to be straight. A circle offers limitless possibilities, but some might see it (punny as it seems) as “pointless.” However, there is more geometry to language and storytelling than this fallacious binary will allow. There are pentagons, tri-decahedrons, hexagons and some non-shapes as well. Spirals, anomalies and parabolas. The exciting thing is, as a person, you can learn to speak each shape, symbol, line, or dot. You are not limited by where you come from, what your skin color is, or who your parents were. You are not limited by what other people think of you (no matter their PhD or MBA or WHATEVER), you are not limited by the cruelties of childhood or the ghastly things they call standardized exams. You are not any of those, but you are going somewhere. You are. You are somebody, and you don’t have to be or be like anyone else. Oh, and before anyone goes and points out this is a somewhat “individualistic” argument, we are all capable of opening our minds up and encouraging others to do the same.

To be honest, I hesitated to write this because of wanting to respect the academic voices represented in this piece. It was also due to fear. However, that silly fear is not bigger than my fear of old ideas. Gone are the days of binaries. It’s time to realize the overwhelming possibility of telling more than one story.

Yours in spirals and curves and zig-zags,

S.

What Teaching Has Taught Me

Hey, it’s been awhile. Travels aside, I wanted to give something back. It’s so very simple to slack off on being thankful for all the numerous blessings that grace our lives each day. So…here’s just a handful so far.

1. Sometimes, you’re going to get it wrong, but it can still be a teachable moment.

Growing up, I always thought teachers were these superhuman (or sometimes strange) entities made to make learning either a fantastic journey or a tightrope act to getting an A. While sometimes my spidy senses do tingle, it’s usually because I forgot something in my scooter, and I must rush back into the trenches of the parking lot to retrieve it. Teaching is a TON of work and non-stop action. The best moments can be when you do something wrong. Instead of laughing it off, note it. In ESL, you can use it as an example about pronunciation, phonics, or responsibility. You can learn so much from a mistake, as can your students. However, to all those first year teachers out there, keep lesson planning and figuring out new ways to do things. The train wrecks will be real, but so will the learning. Big risks don’t ensure safe results, but who wants safe anyways?

2. Reflect

It’s really not just an English major thing, I promise. Reflection is key to getting better at what you do, whatever you’re doing. Once you make the leap into troubled waters and come back out alive, you might want to make a few notes about how you got there, don’t you think? I also really like to pray. I think I need to, actually. There are some days when even putting a pen to paper can seem too much.

3. Ask more questions and complain less.

I often find myself stuck in this rut of lamenting my circumstances, instead of choosing to ask, “How can I be better in this situation?” How can I react better? How can I plan better? Why did the classroom situation play out they way it did? Complaining can be therapeutic, but in cycles it can wreck your perspective on teaching. Hopelessness and cynicism might be comforting, but that doesn’t mean they’re productive bed fellows.

4. Forgive.

I can’t stress this one enough. I can be such a firecracker sometimes. I turn on the dramatics, complete with fuming at the ears and flared nostrils. I stomp around, huffing and whining. Again though, this does nothing to change the situation. My dad often says that anger and hate only traps your own soul. You become your own prisoner, enslaved to your feelings of betrayal and hate. Forgiveness is as much for the other person as it is for yourself. Perhaps it’s a student who cheated or a colleague who miscommunicated. Be the first to thoroughly think over the situation and forgive that person. No, not because they deserve it or because you owe it to them. I believe we forgive because God intended us to, because His Son first forgave us. Also, living as we do, I just do not think many of us want to live cynically or bottled up with a bevvy of mixed emotions. For myself, forgiveness is a gift that is free and promises freedom.

5. Get out of the classroom.

This applies both metaphorically and literally. In your head space, don’t forget to connect your lessons to the outside world. Your students are not just reading for grades (hopefully), but they can read for pleasure. They can read for empathy, a writer far from them yet near in heart. They can read to slip away from the harsh realities of life or dive into them. Encourage that and remember it in your lesson plans. Don’t let them fall flat and one-sided.

Once you do that, or if you fail to, take a moment to go outside. Is it raining? Snowing? Is the sun out? Let the sky do as it pleases. Let it wash away your grievances or bring to light something you were blind to. Never turn down a walk around the track or block, or even just a 5 minute break sitting outside. Living in Yilan with open hallways, the windows opening onto cyan mountains and tremulous rainstorms always remind us of how small we really are.

I’m just starting. I think this year has been the most stressed out I have ever been in my entire life, but it has also given me some of the greatest joy. I don’t know if I will be a great teacher, but I want to be. I want to know what sacrifice means, what it means to not live comfortably, but to live fully. I want to know what it means to not be lukewarm in anything, but ablaze with a passion for life.

Now is not the time to sit still and settle for compromises. Now is the time to rethink, relearn, and begin again.

Wishing you the very best.

S.

Power & Control

During university, I had a hilarious and smart friend named Muneeb who thought the lyrics to Kanye West’s hit song “Power” included a verse that purportedly said, “Power…and controoool.” Of course, it was misheard (and fantastic) but it still rings true for me. When you are a person in power, you need to know how to control it before the rapacity for it consumes you, as in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Or…can you control it? Will power just consume you ultimately?

Recently, a person in power told me, verbatim, “You cannot change the world.” This person followed this comment by telling me that I could change the world only a little, and only by changing others one at a time. (Oh, and that since I could also be a mother, this could probably contribute to my worth.) Basically, whenever I asked a question or attempted to explain my situation, I was responded to thusly:

This commentary and its flowery delivery astounded me to no end. Despite this person and their insistence that change can only happen based on groupthink, I completely and utterly disagree. Change can happen in anyone, at anytime. When one person changes, the whole world changes because of that person’s perspective. Change happens every single day because of individuals and because of groups. Change relies not on a single group or a single person, but on the singularity of purpose divulged. Basically, change goes as high as you can dream it. Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it stupid? No, I don’t think so. Is it realistic? If you can dream it, there is a way. You might fail and blunder and fall, but there is more than one way even. This world was built by dreamers and foolish thinkers who triumphed over ridiculous, some say impossible odds.

Remember when people used to think the world was square? How about when many, even scholars, believed the universe revolved around earth? Yes, the Italian Renaissance heralded in many great thinkers, one of which was Mr. Galileo Galilei who, through observation and theory, that heliocentrism existed. What was his just reward during his lifetime? Inquisition then house arrest. Under the guise of religion, groupthink extinguished someone who dared to think differently. Let’s let Galileo speak for himself, shall we? “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual” (Galileo,Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men 1859). Galileo also reasoned that a God who blessed him with intellect would probably want him to use it. I agree. I believe God gave us discernment and the ability to think for ourselves for a reason, not just to follow the crowd. The more we herd and bully each other into sharing the same old, antiquated ideas, the farther we drive ourselves into the pit of ignorance.

I’m currently reading a beautiful compilation called Small Acts of Resistance by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson. Through the many true narratives of people using their lives to change the world, I have realized how wrong that certain person of power is. Individuals, whether in a small dedicated group or as simple small numbers, have strength far beyond their frail human forms. Individuals are amazing. Sure, I’m preaching in direct contrast to the stolid, numbing disinterest in Fight Club that Tyler Durden so aptly put, “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” I would beg to differ, beyond this millennial drift into apocalyptic dread. Perhaps we all can’t be a Galileo or a Nelson Mandela, but you can be you. No one in the history of mankind, present, past or future can ever have a perspective as unique or as genuine or as brave as your own. Of course, there must be measure in madness. Uniqueness does not guarantee safety or kindness. We need more of that. We need to teach more of that. We need more peace through attentive care of our neighbors–proximal, global or otherwise. I’d hope that our own dreams are a bit less selfish. Perhaps less about money and objects, and more about bigger things. People, education, faith. Government, society. Respect, love, honor. More of the good stuff, less of the ignorance.

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

Once upon a time, a smart woman stood up to a counsel of many men and changed the world. It is not a fairy tale or just a story. It is the life of Malalai Joya, who at the ripe old age of twenty-odd years faced the loya jirga constitutional assembly to defy a regime. She was one person who stood up to warlords who have been known to kill and torture. She, one person, stood up and changed the world. In Small Acts of Resistance, she is quoted as saying, “They will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower–but you cannot stop the coming of spring.” This was a response after a total of five assassination attempts at the time. She stood up in the face of everything.

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

History, of course, is never gentle to those who “dissent” or who think differently. Nelson Mandela spent decades in a prison. In the Old Testament, Joseph was a dreamer who was left for dead by his own brothers. Malala Yousafzai was shot three times by a gunman while on a school bus. Desmond Tutu fled South Africa. So the story goes, but the dreamer doesn’t stop dreaming or acting. Because every dreamer has the potential to be an activist.

I recently had the pleasure and blessing to sit in on a sermon given by Jamie Taylor, the descendant of the well-known and revered Hudson Taylor of the missionary variety. His sermon, given at Island ECC on 1 Samuel, was called “Give Me a Person.” It concluded the annual Go Conference at my Hong Kong home church, and it was wonderful. Mr. Taylor prompted action, citing the story of David and Goliath. He reminded me that missions is an invitation to “stand in the gap of God’s glory.” They are front row seats, and they are free.

So, I’m talking to you Person of Power. No more conference talks, no more snarky comments, no more commentary. I only have a few words for you and people like you.

God is living. He is working. I am going. I am, I will.

You might be Goliath, but we are David.

If you stand in my way, you have no way to block the tidal wave of change coming your way.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m going to do it with a smile on my face. Change the world that is.

-S.

33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said,“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” -1 Samuel 17 ESV

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
Nelson Mandela

Learning the ABCs Backwards

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Photograph via my mother.

Advice to my CBA 12-year-old self.

Chinese Born American.

You don’t have to apologize for it you know.
It’s not a crime, the way it sounds,
The way you sound or the way you look.

You are a walking anomaly
Some people will find fascinating and others puzzling.
Some, of course, will hate you.
And some people need to re-learn their 123’s,
Remember how to substitute some1’s ignorance for 2 listening ears,
Remember how to divide their attention to multiply their awareness,
And add a bit of <3 to the equation.
You are not just a walking anomaly.

You are. Are not.

It will be difficult walking through the Northwest Arkansas Mall
On Veteran’s Day.
The old people all think you bombed Pearl Harbor.
They will glare.

It will be difficult walking through Woodland Junior High School hallways
Where people treat you like more thing than person,
Because glasses and Asian means nerd in media and culture,
Because no one is secure in junior high school.
You’ll have no social currency, but the money doesn’t matter anyways.

It will be difficult to stand up for yourself.
Stand up anyways.
It will be difficult finding friends.
Be a friend to yourself first.
It will be difficult to love your eyes.
Love them anyways.

You are. Are not.

People think learning Chinese growing up is easy.
It’s not.
They don’t know about Saturday morning cram sessions
For Saturday afternoon Chinese school
Attended by kids who really don’t want to be there.

Or, they think it’s so “exotic.”
So exotic, in fact, that when you call them nonsense in Chinese,
The principal freaks out about foreign languages,
And makes an announcement about “No foreign curse words!” while glaring at you.
青菜頭.

You don’t always have to be right.
I’m sorry school tried to program you that way.
You don’t have to always be sorry.
Sometimes you’re not the one who has to apologize.

Don’t hate people because they cannot change.
Pity them.
Don’t hate the system for breaking down.
Change it.

Cry when you want to.
Laugh when you can.
Drown out the yelling with music,
Kill the bullies with kindness.

I haven’t got it all figured out yet, CBA.
I’m still learning my alphabet backwards,
Learning that beauty is more about soul
Than the way eyes or skin looks.
Learning that words carry so much weight
That bullets can fly.
Learning that some silences
Are louder than any debate.

If you can’t beat them, don’t join them.
If you can’t forget, at least forgive.

I have found a way home.
It is not on one shore or the other,
but somewhere far away.
Home will find you, but not on this world.
Too many see you as
Forever foreigner. Whitewashed. Yellow.
Not enough see the
Writer. Great Pretender. Lone but not lonely.

Start from CBA,
Then 1 day
Your 2 broken nations
Will play fair
in this 3-sided love.

Counting Breaths

GIF via Giphy.

GIF via Giphy.

I used to have trouble with counting. Not with math. I was pretty good at math.

Counting was my way of making things normal again. Someone made fun of my weight that day? Count the tiles backwards from the corner, skip one and start over. A “friend” said that no one would ever love me? Hold my breath until I forgot about it. How should I drown out the insults from the bully sulking in the corner? Organize eraser shreds until they made sense again. Count from ground zero.

The closet was always perfectly organized–summer, winter, fall, spring, and color-coordinated besides. My desk had to be perfectly in order, books stacked a certain way and alphabetical, of course. Pencils lined up by height, sharpness and general preference. Nothing out of place.

Life is messy. I thought I could control it by the routine of my outfits and the order of my breathing. I hated the very idea of imperfection. We usually don’t have a choice. We fail. We say things, do things at the wrong moment.

We forget to breathe as we’re counting breaths. Perfection has its cost.

There are so many things I want to complain about right now. Perhaps I just need to be a bit more creative and embrace the mess. This back ache? This back ache is me growing a backbone slowly and painfully. I’m learning how to rise up to occasions properly again. The intensity? It can be called passion.

Life is messy, but it is still life. Just last week, I saw a woman faint and fall off her scooter at a major intersection. In the middle of rush hour, in the middle of small talk, in the middle of routine. Terrifying. Miraculously, she began talking again, but there were a few terrifying instances where it looked like she might not get back up at all. Life is messy, but always beautiful.

No matter how much you get the temptation to count down on yourself, count instead on Life. Life lived to the full. Maybe, then, the things which seem so messy start to make sense again.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ESV

Junior High ESL Teaching

Junior High in Taiwan.

Junior High in Taiwan.

To set the record straight, I am 1.5 generation Chinese-American teaching English at a Taiwanese secondary school of my own free will. I am proud of my heritage and my people–Chinese, Chinese American, people of the AAPI community, Yilaners, Fulbrighters, Chicagoans, Oak Parkites, Kansas peeps, Iowans, Marylandians, Arkansans, and more. You are all my people, people. I’m proud to be part of your community, past, present or future.

Teaching as a profession, then. Let’s talk about the last five months or so. Sometimes I love it. Other times, not so much. NPR does a great segment on what it means to be a teacher called 50 Great Teachers which sums up current theories struggling to emerge among long-set traditions perfectly well. So, why the mixed feelings? Teaching is hard. Like, drag your butt up 25 flights of stairs when the elevator is broken hard. Like… this is what running a marathon everyday feels like hard. You have to be on your game at all hours, making sure you’re getting all grading, lesson planning and classroom management sorted. However, it’s also the most rewarding and beautiful thing you will ever do. Students are quirky, witty and downright fantastic. They will make you laugh, cry, and get frustrated in the best possible of ways. Junior high in Taiwan is quite different from the States, but it’s quite the same in most cases. You have the stolid social hierarchies. Students can be mean to each other, often writing terribly condescending or crass notes to each other and even making each other cry. I saw one student get escorted off campus today in tears. In Taiwan as in the U.S., you also have the great students. Not the ones who yell “Miss Yuan!” or “Teacher!” (although who doesn’t like that?), but the ones who really listen, who want to learn and be taught. Strange but true, how on both sides of the teacher-student dichotomy, we need to do more listening. Quietly observing before jumping to conclusions. How crazy is that, right?

Anyways, recently I had an interesting issue with my students at my junior high. I invited a friend out by popular demand based on a teaching evaluation I conducted. While the whole invitational went more than splendidly, something didn’t sit right in my stomach. That gut feeling proved to be true. My students questioned my legitimacy as an English teacher because I look very Asian as opposed to my friend who looked more foreign than I did. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friend, she’s absolutely the best, and I expected the kids to love her just the same. However, I did not expect them to treat me like crap because I wasn’t her. “Teacher Sherry isn’t as cute as _____.” “I wish ____ was our teacher, not Sherry.” One student even passed the record sheets to my friend because he saw her as the main authority based on her skin color and accent. I couldn’t even muster the strength to get mad. I just went home and cried. As I told my concerned friend and boyfriend, it felt like a broken dream and a breakup. You don’t get to choose how students accept you, especially if it’s based on skin color.

However, contrary to the shame I felt, I decided to be honest to everyone involved. I told my LET how hurt I was by my student’s response. I told my friend how I was deeply saddened by my students. This week, I did my multicultural Prezi lesson with both my junior high clubs and invited them to watch the two last videos posted on my blog about foreigners abroad in China or Taiwan. To my surprise, everyone was quite supportive in the end. My friend and LET gave me nothing but love and understanding.

And the students? The students actually listened this time. They stopped talking while I was talking. They understood what they were doing, and I could tell they didn’t like it. I don’t like being a source of conflict, but at the same time I don’t want to change being Asian-American. I want to teach them. Today, this day…I think they finally got it. This last semester was all about pain, humility and honesty. I came home after junior high in tears, with headaches and many questions. How do I get through to them? How do I give everyone a voice, including myself? How do I gently rebuke? I failed, many times. However, I think this time, despite students being rude and making downright racist remarks, this time they listened. They considered what it was like to be AAPI, African-American, Mexican-American, Spanish, French or otherwise while in Asia. It was nothing but fantastic to see them stop and think.

Was the pain worth it? Was the suffering worth it? Was the endless hours spent wondering, praying and getting frustrated worth it?

Absolutely. And then some.

~S.

2014 in review

Just some review stats for this year. I’m excited to write more this coming year.

Look forward to some new posts!

~S.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.