I am reminded of myself as a kid, around seven or eight. In those days I played all day. I was a horrible student - consistently last in the class. But on the first day of second grade I won the Most Improved Student Award from my elementary school.
I can remember it vividly. Summer morning, blazing sun, stifling humidity. I stood stiff, motionless and weary with other second graders, listening to the instructor jabbering on about one thing or another. It was right after the daily morning flag-raising ceremony with the whole school. The ROC flag rippled proudly, gazing down on the rows and rows of sweating children organized like soldiers.
The man on the stage announced my name, said that I won something. My classmates told me to go up the stage. My teacher came and urged me to go up to the stage. I was nervous and afraid. I refused and stood stiff and motionless instead.
Eventually I did get my prize. The school gave it to my parents directly. Ironically, even after receiving the prize for improvement, I was still last in the class. Scoring from 30 out of 100 to 60 out of 100 is a big improvement, but still a failure.
Rewind a year. The first day of first grade. I remember this day vividly too. Ms. Hong walked into the classroom filled with forty or so first graders. We were all seated already. She was tall, young, and beautiful. It was her first day of teaching; it was our first day of schooling. She asked an innocent question, “Which one of you is smart?”
I eagerly shot my hand up and shouted “me!”
I was surprised no one else said anything, that no one else had raised their hands. Didn’t their mothers tell them they were smart?
Ms. Hong looked at me and followed up with, “Well if you’re smart, can you recite the Buh Puh Meh Fuhs for me?” (the rudimentary Taiwanese pin yin system, kinda like the alphabets).
I couldn’t. I remained silent, looking surprised and ashamed. Everyone laughed. On the first day of school I learned two things: that my mom had lied about me being smart, and that I was actually stupid.
Elementary school in Taiwan was defined by failures, failures, failures, defeat, defeat, defeat. I was the stupid kid, skinnier and smaller than everyone else, the object of bullying. I hated school, but I loved every moment outside of school. I loved being home and playing with my cousins.
Fast forward about twenty years. I am thousands of miles away from my dinky hometown. I am writing in English, something that I had never thought I’d be able to do. I have a college degree from a top school. I am in an internationally recognized university pursuing a doctorate degree in law, on scholarship.
Perhaps not so stupid anymore.
But I am tired, anxious, and dreading each day. Tomorrow is just a repeat of today’s weary routine. All I really want is to go home and be a stupid kid again.