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					                                      Chapter 1: Learning to Breathe


        As I delve deep into the memories of my childhood, I realized that I remember less of the good

and more of the bad, and I remembered it in a strange, almost unreal way. My memories and feelings

are those of a four year old child and my decisions showed my naivety; the age of innocence and

ignorance, yet now they are also tinged with the knowledge of a more experienced mind. These

memories, fragments of my past, are all I remember of my early years.


        I lived in a small world my first years; a world of laughter, of construction, of good food and

warm nights. Yet these good memories are drowned out by memories of suffering, memories

remembered for longer and clearer than the good times. The closed in world of the condo complex in a

medium sized Chinese city was home to a multitude of children and adults. The children formed groups

in the day, like gangs. We rushed around achieving everything together, learning to befriend, to love, to

hate, to forgive, but most importantly, we learned to live.


        The first memory I always reimagine is that of the dark alleyway between two large condo

buildings. The alleyway was the grave of the cricket. The cricket squirmed as the needle was pushed

through its body. The sadistic boys laughed as they watched the creature, impaled on the hollow metal,

writhing in pain. One of the boys clumsily breaks off the needle off the tube like body of the syringe. A

chorus of angry voices breaks out amongst the boys and they leave without the broken syringe. I wait

for them to leave, then took the needleless syringe. I used it to water the plants.


        The car sat on the sidewalk like a defiant sign of capitalism in a great communist society. Little

by little, a small mob of children gathered around the big car, its bumper gleaming in the sun. The kids

began to crowd until they were on top of the car, blocking the view of the shiny bumper. The children
rioted on the car, rocking it back and forth with the weight of their smiles and laughter. Day by day the

children tortured the idle car; a chubby boy broke then windshield while another child dented the top

with his little feet. The car rusted over and decayed. Weeks passed and the former glory of a once

beautiful car sat on the sidewalk like a warning of the intolerance of capitalism in a great communist

society.


           The green chicken and the red chicken stared back at me, their dyed fluffy bodies shivering in

the cold wind. I pulled on the fabric of my mother’s dress shouting, “mommy I want those!” She saw the

two balls of fluff huddling in the frigid winter air. We bought the chickens, pets to be kept in a one room

brick condominium. I pulled out their tail feathers chasing them down the hallways. One day in winter, I

couldn’t find the two. My grandpa made chicken soup.


           The ball of pure metal tears through the empty building. We watch as rubble falls down on the

street. Huge sections of pavement are torn hungrily out of the ground by the ravenous maw of the

crane. We watched as the days passed and rain filled the ditch in the ground, covering the fallen glass of

the condos’ windows and the stone and mortar of their sturdy walls. The ditch filled like a swimming

pool and we fished for the lost memories of the old building, in which we chased and played. They

brought in metal bars a foot long. Their strict minds saw the bars as simple tools of construction, but we

knew better. They were toys, meant to be used as swords for dueling. We made games about great

fights between legendary heroes. But all heroes fall, and like Harold at Hastings, I was hit in the eye.

Well… to be clearer, close to my eye. The first traumatic experience which I clearly remember; the right

corner of my left eye was bleeding and forever scarred. The building materials were forever stained with

my blood and when the building was built a year later, I could literally say that my blood and sweat had

also gone into the great project.
        Before its completion however, the new condo cost me another grievance. A pool of water that

had not yet been completed as the basement was cool and inviting in the hot summer heat. I walked in

forgetting the glass and debris that it was covering. Coming out, I noticed nothing. However as I walked

a pain came on me that continued and only became worse and it wasn’t long before I realized that a

deep cut had opened on the little toe of my right foot. The doctors didn’t know how to fix it in the

summer. It would have been easy to just bind it with a bandage, but not in the heat of summer. Because

of the heat it was a difficult task. I healed and learned pain, a lesson I was not to forget


        For the first few years of my life, I hardly remember the happy times that I spent with them, my

friends, family, and the nice people who lived in the walled society of the sturdy condos; a protected

world, and yet so dangerous. For the first few year of my life, I was only just learning to breathe.
                                          Chapter 2: Staying Upright


                 I ran down the stairs, money in hand, noticing the burning rays of the hot sun piercing

the horizon. I ran down to the foot of the steps, looking for it. There it was, silhouetted against the

morning light, a cool breeze rustling the umbrella positioned above it. “Milk please!” The kindly looking

woman smiled radiantly as if to try and out shine the sun, and trades the wad of paper for nourishing

milk. I cheerfully ran up the stairs, seven flights in all, to reach the 7th floor, the right side door, and my

home. This was the exciting beginning of each lonely morning as I ran down for the milk that would be

part of my family’s breakfast.


        This was the age where I was learning, to read, to write, to make life impossibly complicated. My

world was full of joy though, as I learned to bike, and read. I watched TV, ran outside, and scrapped my

knees, all that childish goodness. My life was going great. I explored hidden worlds between the

buildings, in odd nooks of the great enclosure that was my personal biome


                 I ran down the stairs, money in hand, noticing the burning rays of the hot sun piercing

the horizon. I ran down to the foot of the steps, looking for it. There it was, silhouetted against the

morning light, a cool breeze rustling the umbrella positioned above it. “Milk please!” The kindly looking

woman smiled radiantly as if to try and out shine the sun, and trades the wad of paper for nourishing

milk. I cheerfully ran up the stairs, seven flights in all, to reach the 7th floor, the right side door, and my

home. This was the exciting beginning of each lonely morning as I ran down for the milk that would be

part of my family’s breakfast.


        The routine of the morning was broken by my wild cries for the freedom of the outdoors, and

once I was permitted to leave, I would gather a group of friends to come with me to explore every nook

and cranny, to turn over every rock, and to look for treasures such as a beetle or a newspaper. When I
learned to ride my bike, we would gather and race, cycling past nonchalant adults, strolling slowly as if

time should be wasted. We knew better.


        Every evening my mom would take me to buy groceries. Every evening I squealed that I wanted

this or that, and it would usually work. Being spoiled wasn’t so bad; it didn’t make me snotty toward

others, only to my parents, who would buy me what I wanted. And I usually got what I wanted. One day,

I saw a giant toy, a transformer action figure actually. I wanted the toy. I cried and begged, but my

mother insisted that I had enough toys. No matter how much I begged her for it, she was adamant in her

decision and wouldn’t buy me the toy. That day after I got home, I found out why. My dad had moved to

Singapore for his postdoctoral research and we would be joining him in Singapore in a week’s time.


        My life seemed so unstable then, what with a weeks’ notice to leave and the fact that the move

would be to a different country, I was totally unprepared for the torment I would face. Luckily, it turned

out that I wouldn’t have to face any torment at all, instead, discovering a 2nd home to love.
                                                  Chapter 3: Flight


        My flight to Singapore included many firsts, but none as important as the first time I would step

on the soil of a foreign country. Leaving my home country was a frightening thought, but I also felt giddy

and light, most likely from thinking of this rickety bird as my ticket to a new adventure. The plane ride

was quite enjoyable; there was TV, food, drink, and a gift pack of toys for the kids courtesy of airline. All

in all it was a great ride. Around four hours of watching airline movies, eating salty peanuts until I

needed water, overdosing the water until I had to use the restroom, and of course scaring myself when I

flushed the toilet. But the true shock came when we landed and deported. Singapore was a foreign land,

eerie and different, and yet it my eyes wished to take in every bit of the new, beautiful landscape. The

great city, with its immaculate streets almost shone in the evening light, drawing me into the intricately

planned streets that wound through buildings, creating alleyways, hidden passages, and main streets.


        My run up the stairs of the condominium brought me to the highest floor, the 15th, and on this

floor sat a quaint little apartment that would be my home for the next year. Of course the not-so-

exciting-condo wouldn’t do for me, so I explored around the vast courtyard around yet another

community amidst condominiums. This wondrous new area was dazzlingly clean and a sight foreign to

eyes that had seen dusty streets and dirty windows, eyes that now saw sparkling windows juxtaposed to

walls that almost seemed to reflect the moonlight, though I knew that was impossible, an almost angelic

beauty that the broken dreams of my old world just couldn’t meet.


        This new world was accompanied by a move into “kindergarten”, or preschool in Singapore. At

4 years old, we learned math up to the start of multiplication and watched educational programs. I

learned and played my way through these classes, gaining the knowledge I’d need for a successful life. A

great time I had in this school, though there was one bit that I hated: a child named Jack. A breaker of

rules, jack was not only the class bully, and class clown; he also frequently got everybody into trouble.
The tried my patience and I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with him. Finally one day, a

doctor diagnosed him with ADHD and autism, and he was moved to a different school (but not before

flunking out of the one I went to).


        At the end of the year, I had crammed everything I could into my brain and vacation was upon

us. My family went everywhere, from the beaches to the parks. I remember one park in particular,

Jurong Bird Park. A million colors were displayed in the form of birds, nearly uncaged and in their natural

habitat. The birds shone in the sun as they flapped and flew. i spent a wonderful month relaxing in the

Singaporean summer.


        Unfortunately school always starts back up again. 1st grade in Singapore, or kindergarten in the

United States, was challenging. It was the first time I was exposed to English, a language as foreign to me

as Chinese was to the English teacher. Needless to say, I learned little English, and in general hated the

class. I tried my best to no avail, and as the year drew to an end, I frantically studied for the English

exam. Of course, because Singapore was a multi-language nation, and the teacher spoke Malay and not

Chinese, I learned little and failed the exam. My parents told me that I was so ashamed after that that I

could look up and hung my head in shame for a whole week.


        Singapore was and probably still is a beautiful place, but in my memories, it was my 2nd home, a

place that made me giddy with joy and dizzy when I reminisced. Its beautiful skyline and tacky, but well

thought out buildings and statues as well as its lore will always live in my heart. I was thus devastated

when my father told me we would be moving to the land of the free and the brave.
                                        Chapter 4: Land of the Free


        America was the realization of a dream for my father, but not for me, for me, it was another

move, away from two lands I called home, nations that I had grown to love. The plane ride to the

United States made no impact for me, and I cared not for the long ordeal, in fact it was quite hindering

to my sleeping schedule, which, as a growing elementary student, was quite important. The

uncomfortable ride was followed by another that would take me to the capitol of Texas. This city would

be where I spent the next 8 years of my life.


        At 7 years of age, I knew little English, having attended a multi-language school in Singapore

where everyone was split into classes according to their native tongue, but I vowed to learn the English

language over the summer. I learned by watching little kiddy shows like Sesame Street, Clifford, with my

favorite being Wishbone, a series that allowed me to explore books without reading them. I felt pretty

smug; I had learned the English language in less than three months. Of course, on the first day of school,

I realized that Clifford wasn’t able to teach me a single important word, proving once again the

usefulness of “educational” television. I was immediately placed in an ESL class, but, as if to rub it in, the

class consisted of no more than two mentally challenged children and me. It turned out that during that

year, I learned more English from talking with the kids in my normal class than with the two illiterates in

my ESL class. At the end of that first year I was able to converse with anyone in the school, other than

my two classmates in ESL and the Hispanic teacher that taught the ESL class, whose heavy accent was

almost impossible to understand.


        That first year of school in the United States was an overall disappointment. I noticed the drastic

decrease in homework (there was none), the lack of an end of year exam, and relatively little

competition for good grades between the children. I thought perhaps we had picked a bad school, but

the trend continued when I moved and entered Laurel Mountain. My second grade education did
nothing to encourage my hope that I would learn something worthwhile in school. Indeed the only new

knowledge I gained was from recess, where I learned the art of language in the use of making friends,

and I made a few friends.


        After a grueling three years of learning and relearning the nearly same exact agenda items, my

third grade teacher finally informed us of the TAKS test, a test that would determine if we passed the

grade or not. I, being ignorant of the customs of the Texas school system, did not know the relative ease

at which these tests could be passed, freaked out. Believing that the district had finally stepped it up and

were giving us exams, I began preparing for what I figured would be the hardest test id had in a while.

The day before the test the teacher warned us not to talk during the test and to get a good night’s sleep.

I vowed to do both, sleeping early at around 8P.M. effectively giving me around ten hours of sleep. I

woke up, ate a “large” breakfast, some eggs and bread, and ran for the bus, nervous buy excited for the

math TAKS.


        After the long introduction by the teacher, I finally unraveled the seal, opening the test to the

sample questions. It might as well have been “what is one plus one?”, because I found myself thinking,

“I hope the actual test is harder.” But my hopes were dashed as the teacher allowed us to start the

actual test. Three weeks of study found its way to the fore front of my thoughts. What had we learned

this year? Multiplication, there was some on the TAKS. Division, there was some of that as well. But, I

had learned all this in Singapore, where was the new stuff, like solving equations, like the ones I learned

        at home, had studied at home? I was legitimately disappointed, probably the only time I’ll be

caught wishing a test was harder.


        Even if I pretend not to have learned anything though, in reality, my days in elementary school

taught me all I needed to know; simple is better. Only now, when everything is so complicated do I truly
begin to miss the simpler days, days where I would actually go outside and see the sun after school,

playing for hours with friends.
                                       Chapter 5: Cycle, Learning to Breathe


        Life continued and evolved, growing ever more complex. I felt the routine feeling of a daily

battering of boredom, mixed with a longing for the good old days increase drastically. My life had

become intertwined with the social and political atmosphere of middle school, a place where name

calling, exclusion, and general bullying made its greatest home. It was a time of change, as we were

taught by specialized teachers for the first time, given more freedoms, and allowed more privileges, yet

at the same time, put in chains and denied all rights.


        Life was hard. Sure I made good grades, had friends who supported me, but I felt like something

was missing, something that would allow me to think of this great vast continent on the other side of

the world as home. That something I later discovered was family, and the revealing factor? A baby sister

with the middle name Jingle. She was cute, a small chubby bundle wrapped nearly completely with

dinosaur blankets, with tufts of wispy black hair haphazardly sticking out of her cloth hat. After she was

born, as if to confirm that we would truly be calling this country our home, my father bought a house.

This house, spacious and foreign would be the site of many adventures to come for me and then newly

born baby, Athena.


        After the buy however, there was general nostalgia about the family we left in China when we

came to the USA, family that we hadn’t seen in nearly six years. So that summer, we hoped on a plane

for twenty four hours so that we could again see the world that we knew so long ago.


        After so long, some things still hadn’t changed. Walking into the walled enclosure of my old

condominium site, I noticed the cracks on the walls that had been clean and fresh last I saw. I noticed

the vines that had overgrown and were crawling along the sidewalk, as if with the evil intent of tripping

me over, the grabbed for my legs as I stumbled to that alley, the one where the children tortured the

tiny insect so many years ago. I gawked at the one dark alley, how shining with light. It had become a
bicycle storage area, filled with shining new two-wheelers and the occasional three-wheeler. Where

once a lone car had been parked now stood a row of cars, glimmering in the sunlight, daring me to

attack it like I had done its ancestor so long ago. I dared not, scared that the owners would come

rushing, to save a car that wasn’t junk in their eyes. The finished condo now looked old and crumbly in

the evening light, and the fading paint reminded me of just how much time had paced since I last laid

eyes on the seven story wonder. The basement was dusty, with literally a whole inch of dust on anything

and everything. I climbed the stairs to the 7th floor. There it was. Home, sweet home. It had been waiting

all these years, collecting dust, and cobwebs in the corners, waiting for me to come sweep all of it away

and remember the old spender it had once been. I was home again.


        What had once been the old one room condo we lived in was now fenced in and was a danger

zone. Where the lady had sold milk, there was nothing but a plaza, with flowers growing in rich soil from

a garden in the center. Worst of all, the whole city had changed. My world had become a giant

metropolis. Large golden arches to represent the cheap eats, while large LCD screens on the side of

skyscrapers advertised the latest phone and convenience devices. New impossibly beautiful buildings

had been constructed, competing for space to out match each other in the eyes of the buyer. Worst of

all, a heavy smog had filled the sky, obscuring the sun. I remembered the sun in the sky when I was little,

setting the world aglow, and I silently and inwardly wept for this curse of the industrial revolution.


        But this was home, is home, and will always be home for as long as I breathe the air of the

world. Coming back proved one thing and one thing alone, I’ll never forget where I learned to live,

where I learned to breathe.

				
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