I grew up in Victoria, Canada as a shy and curious Chinese kid. I immigrated from Hong Kong when I was 5 without the slightest bit of English. On my first day in Kindergarten, I needed to use the bathroom but I didn’t know how to ask – so I held it in. After a few agonizing hours, as my insides were seconds away from reaching supernova, I jumped up and screamed, “ARE YOU A TOILET?”
The other kids fell over cackling and, when I realized my error, I experienced two life-defining epiphanies: I’m funny and I don’t know where I belong.
Befriending animals when I first arrived in Canada in 1995.
At 5 years old, I understood that I was a child of two cultures but I didn’t fully fit into either. Lost, I observed other Chinese kids around me and was horrified to see many would fall into a merciless stereotype known as “Asian.” This pit was filled with stringent violin recitals, unlimited AP calculus questions, A-plus-or-death-style schemes, inhumane piano examinations and ruthless badminton tournaments. After witnessing my ethnic comrades perish one by one, I decided that this will not be my fate. I would not allow others to judge me on the color of my skin – so I set out to break all the “Asian” stereotypes.
I quit piano and picked up drumsticks. Instead of AP Calculus, I took AP Creative Writing. I exchanged quadratics for quatrains, fried rice for french fries, Bach for Hendrix. Anything “Asian,” I avoided like the black plague (or yellow fever). Though, there is one exception – I was actually good at badminton and pushed our high school team to the provincial level – so I suppose nobody’s perfect.
The sign of success is always a fine moustache.
In retrospect, it seems silly to subscribe so religiously to not being a stereotype but by defining myself by not who I wanted to be, I became who I am. I overcame my shyness and exercised my curiosity through art and music. I embraced all the creative tools that appeared to me and through the tribulations of learning each craft, I found my voice. I could write a story and explain why I’m silent. When the world can’t be captured in words, I could translate it into a photograph. And when a picture falls short of moving you, I could write a melody that makes moving irresistible.
Borrowing the words of Dylan Thomas, “like the force that through the green fuse, drives the flower,” my voice has pushed me through so many different mediums. Pencil, camera, keyboard, spray paint, verse and punctuation – the list continues to grow.
It’s funny how the development of my personality and passions can be traced to that first day in Kindergarten. To end things, an update on those two life-defining epiphanies: I have a few more jokes than just ones about toilets and peeing but I still don’t know where I belong (and that has made all the difference).