The sun rises and then it sets but you don't know one until you know the other
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
When you were younger, your experience of a day was always longer... A day seemed so long.

So long in fact that you might not remember things that happened the day before because it felt like it had happened a life time ago.Do you remember that feeling? A feeling of continuity and also disconnection: your life continued but each day, each hour, each moment was so disconnected from the one before and so far from the one coming next. 

Like the time you fell over and looked at your leg, scraped and bleeding. You held your leg, scrunched up your face as the tears rolled. You looked at the wound, horrified. It never occurred that it was something so insignificant and that it happened to all children. So it was less significant that you thought at the time, yet it still marked you. The scar still remains, however small and faded, as a reminder of that moment. 

Now you're older and you have mastered something called hindsight.

The importance of moments gone by; now highlighted by your greater knowledge of the world, of cause and effect, of history, is something you can hold now... nostalgically. 

Here are some moments from my life captured through the filter of hindsight:

Belief in life long learning,  love of narratives and pride in my cultural heritage
# I remember my grandma telling me stories of the events and figures of Chinese history. How brave and how repetitive grandma... I had heard them all before. I remember lying in her bed as she patted my hair, telling me to always ask questions, always read so and become educated so that I may one day I may have glory like the women in the Chinese histories. I went to sleep and dreamt of the princesses and queens who ruled China through their weaker husbands. Were they beautiful? How clever. How grand.

Grandma, do you know how much strength this knowledge and belief in my ethnicity, has given me all these years living as a minority?

The power of knowledge, strength to question people even if they are 'superiors'
#2 I remember sitting in a dark unit in Lakemba with a woman who was my English grammar tutor. My mum had found her details in the Chinese newspaper and was worried that I would not be able to pick up the syntax of the English language on my own. We opened up a secondary stage grammar intervention workbook. I was in year 3. We had to write simple, syntactically correct, sentences over and over again. I remember the word 'sun cream' had come up. I was resolute that it was not sun cream, but sunscreen. The tutor told me that it was a cream for sun and that it was definitely sun cream as sunscreen did not make sense. I told her to look it up in the dictionary which proved me correct. I did not feel arrogance and it was not about pride. I simply knew something and I could not pretend I didn't know. 

Grandma, do you know this tutor told my mother the same thing you told me? That if I had questions and if I had an opinion, I should find strength to share it. 

Ignorance of academic achievement
#3 I sat a test when I was 11 years old at an asian tuition college in Campsie. I remember the large whiteboards full of writing and numbers scribbled over it. I remember the children all seated, facing that whiteboard, copying down what was on the board. It was a Saturday. So this is the place my mother told me about... the place where children should attend because if they did, they would almost certainly be guaranteed a spot at a selective school. Well that sounded exclusive, I thought to myself as I was walking past the children to my own small table to sit this test. I am smart, I thought. The test was incredibly difficult and also very abstract, nothing like I had seen before at school. I 'failed' the test. 

"We can't accept your daughter. She won't make it into any of the top selective schools and it is already too close to the exam date. You might want to look into sending her to a private school." I overheard the Principal tell my mother at the top of the stairs as I waited below, on the street level watching everyone else go about their Saturday business. I remember the anger, the heat and the embarrassment. I remember my ears and face being red hot. I'll show you, I remember thinking. 

Mobility is a treasured thing and not everyone can access it 
#4 The class leader tells me to stand. We all stand for the teacher. The class leader tells us to sit. We all sit behind our single desks facing the same direction, to the teacher, the giver of knowledge. This is China 1995. I had returned from Sydney to study for 1 year at the local school near my grandmother's house because my young sister was about to go through with her cochlear implant surgery and my parents could not care for me. Sisi you just have to fit in, I told myself. I never felt more alone and different than in that school, in China, with peers all ethnically the same as me. I was different because I was from elsewhere. I was different because I did not live with my mum and dad and they weren't in the country. After our first exam, my first experience of a test, I placed 2nd last and everyone knew. We sat in the order of our rankings from the last test. On my right, the person who placed last, was a boy with a friendly broad face who had some form of disability. I felt embarrassed to sit next to him, knowing that in that test, I was better than only one person in the room. By the end of that year, I was 2nd from the front. As proud as I was, I would often look back at the friendly boy with a broad face... sitting in the far back corner of the room. Not once had he moved from his place in the room. 

I wonder what he is doing now. I feel for him that the society highlighted his differences so harshly. It is what it is. 

Now that I am a teacher myself... I often find myself thinking about that year. 

Fulfilling responsibilities is the first step to resilience, self efficacy, confidence and self-esteem. 
#5 "But why do I have to do this grandma?" I found myself crying through the tears in the lounge of our small apartment in China. Mental maths books opened, A5 size, with two columns of 50 sums each - 100 sums on each page. We had to complete 4 pages a night, 400 mental sums. My grandma sat behind me and she had nothing to say except that it was homework and so it had to be done. I threw tantrums. I cried. I cursed the teacher who had set the homework, and although she had the same surname as me I would chant her surname and curse it. At 10pm I looked at the time and I was exhausted but the homework had to be done. When I finished the last sum I looked and it was already 1am. I was slow at maths then. 

It taught me that deadlines have to be met, no matter how difficult or how tiring it can be. The person who set the deadline believed that it was sufficient time to complete it, which is not always the case but I have never found one time in my life where I have not met a deadline, at school, university or for work. Could it be that awful teacher who instilled in me a sense of resilience and work ethic that has taken me this far?

Today I only have time to share 5 experiences of mine which shaped my life in ways I could not imagine... but only when I had hindsight. Have you ever thought about how you became the person you are today? What experiences shaped who you were to become?