To: all the years that have gone by
I remember on May, 11, 2010, just five hours into the flight to North America, I had tried to use my broken English for the first time to order a Coca Cola I didn’t even want. My three-year-old brother was sleeping with his legs in my lap and his head in my mother’s. We said goodbye to everyone seven hours ago – I left my friend with a flimsy sheet of paper promising to come back to her, my aunt with words that I will never forget in my mother tongue, and my grandparents with the hope that North America will give us something more.
June 2010: We landed a month ago. We packed everything up from a borrowed apartment in Mississauga and moved into a family friend’s basement in Toronto. We slept on a puzzle of couch paddings and pillows made out of our sweaters. A month later, we packed again and moved into a house. I looked up at the two storey building and never imagined to see a house with so much space, greenery, birds and squirrels. I woke up and couldn’t hear old men on their tricycles calling to trade in the garbage for a few cents. I woke up and couldn’t hear our next door neighbours arguing with each other and slamming their steel doors. I woke up and couldn’t hear the door knock that was my classmates reminding me to leave for school.
September 6, 2010: First day of grade four in Canada and all I wanted was everything I had before – I wanted home and the cat that was always screaming in the staircases of our apartment; that one boy that wouldn’t stop bothering me during gym class; that group of girls that always got me into trouble during recess and the teacher forcing me to recite ‘I will not cause trouble during recess’ in homeroom.
September 5, 2011: I told my mom I don’t want home cooked food anymore – I don’t want the hot, steaming rice with vegetables and the dumplings and the pork buns and the ‘zhajiangmian’ with cucumbers. I wanted Lunchables sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, and hot pockets. She screams at me for an hour – “You don’t know what we came to Canada for! We came here for something more, not for you to be an ungrateful child who does not recognize what we left for you and your brother here.” – and I thought about how I never wanted to be here. I thought about how my classmates here steal my backpack, hat, and books and then make me chase them around the entire playground until I can’t breathe. I thought about asking my classmates to join in their games of ‘grounders’ in broken English and them laughing and whispering and running away to play with their other friends without telling me anything. I got upstairs and I never asked her again, but my lunchbox was always mostly full when I come back home.
June 28, 2012: I went back to Beijing for the first time since 2010, and my aunt jokingly asks if I forgot how to speak Mandarin already. I hid behind my mother and didn’t say a word.
August 2013: I met a girl on a school bus heading to our summer camp; she sat beside me and tried to peak at what I’m reading on my phone. She gave up after a stilted conversation where I had no idea how to deal with a person who was interested in what I like. I fell asleep and woke up with my head on her shoulder and her poking me insistently – “Hey we’re here, we need to get off the bus,” she said in Mandarin. We got sorted into the same group, and stayed by each other’s sides for the month.
September 2013: I saw her on the first day of middle school. I hugged my mother’s lunch bag close to me and tried to sit a few seats beside her discreetly, thinking “what if she doesn’t remember me?” She said hi and asked me what was in my lunch bag and that it “smells so good!” I told her that it was my mother’s pork buns, and we finished two of them long before lunch started. We had the same classes throughout the year, and she persuaded me to download Facebook and add her.
2014: There was a girl in my science class that sat two rows in front of me. She has long, flowy black hair, she talks to everyone and all the teachers love her. I thought to myself, I want to be her. Me, with my awkward bangs my mom cut for me and the two Naruto figurines I have in my room and my smelly Chinese lunch.
June 26, 2015: I scrolled past a Facebook video with two women holding hands and kissing, and the caption that the United States of America just legalized same-sex marriage. I closed Facebook and tried to forget about it.
September 2016: I asked my mother to cut my hair – I hated brushing the thick mass of it every morning, having it blown into my face and blocking my sight when I’m swimming. She sheared sections of it off until my hair barely reached my neck, and I have never felt as light.
October 2016: I shave the rest of my hair off. The undercut is patchy and there are tufts sticking out at the back of my head where I couldn’t see. When I tried to push down on the top the longest strand barely reaches my eyebrows.
February 2017: I was walking with my friend to her house with her backpack in my hand and her hand in my pocket. We linked arms with each other. As an old lady walked past us, she cooed, “Oh, what a sweet boyfriend you have!”
“Oh no, we are just friends haha!” she exclaimed. I laughed awkwardly and don’t say anything. She kept her elbows linked with mine, but I returned her backpack to her.
July 2017: There was this one girl at work. She has short floppy brown hair, swims in the North York Aquatic Club, likes dogs and always laughs with me when I get thrown in the pool by the other instructors.
August 2017: We went to see Spiderman: Homecoming after work, and in the darkness of the last row she put her head on my shoulders and tangled her legs with mine. She held my hand until the movie ended. We didn’t talk about it, and I went home and told my mom there was an accident at work and I had to stay behind to write the incident report.
June 2018: We went to prom together, but sat a whole world apart where I couldn’t hold her hand and I introduced her to my friends as a friend from work. She asked for our photos the next day, and I had to scroll past all the pictures with my friends to find a few of hers. She doesn’t reply.
January 2019: I text my friends asking where I should take this one really pretty girl out – how do I text her, and does she like me – and what does this text mean.
And today on March 25, 2019, I woke up 25 minutes before my 8:30am lecture, took two steps into my walk-in closet at Saugeen-Maitland Hall in Western University, and comes out of the closet with a jean jacket. I ran outside with a Yakult in one hand and a pineapple bun in the other and made it to the lecture with two minutes to spare. My Spotify playlist full of last century’s Chinese pop music starts playing, and I quickly shut it off so the professor won’t call me out for disturbing the class. I close my WeChat conversation with my childhood friend where we were planning our trip around China this summer and click save on my director slide deck for Western’s Chinese Students’ Association. The lecture starts.
It’s a day like any other.
Nine years ago, I didn’t think all this was possible– I didn’t think that I would be writing the most honest and revealing blog post about myself in English. I didn’t think that I will be laughing along with my international roommate who just came to Canada from Nanjing seven months ago while watching her Chinese TikTok videos. Nor did I ever think that I would complain to my mom casually – “Mom, when am I ever going to get a girlfriend” – as easily as her asking me three years ago about when I’m going to find a nice Asian boyfriend. Never did I ever think that I will hang a Pride flag above my bed and invite friends I only knew a few months into my room.
But times have changed, you know. We grew up and you evolved into me. Our culture isn’t something to hide behind a pretense of liking Lunchables, Taylor Swift and One Direction anymore (not that there was anything wrong with us liking those things all those years ago). There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to see more people like Amber Liu, Hayley Kiyoko and Angelababy in movies and TV Shows easily accessible here in Canada.
And finally, I just wanted to tell you that it gets better. I promise.
You in 2019