In my first EVER paycheck this month, I earned more than Mum if we both worked the same number of hours that week. Most people would leave this milestone behind as something to be proud of: after all, Mum now has another source of pride for her son.
However, in an eventual spiral of emotions ranging from pride, eagerness to spend everything I just earned, and bittersweetness; since this milestone means another step towards total independence…I eventually arrived at that familiar door of guilt again. Remember my stories from last month?
“What right do I have to such a good first payday?”
“What have I done with my life that has any remote worth compared to my parents?”
“Why does the world treat me so unfairly well? I don’t deserve this.”
Questions of this ilk always comes around back to my head. They are like a evasive fly that just refuses to stop landing on every inch of your skin. Except for me, these questions all buzzed around in my head, with no chance of retaliation from me.
What do I live for?
My first younger cousin is almost high school age. And like every student studying in China, pressure mounts like an active volcano that will eventually decide to erupt violently one day. High school entrance exams is not an experience I really had, since here in Sydney, ‘high school’ for me was 6 years on the same campus, from year 7 to 12. The transition from primary school (years 3 – 6) to middle school (years 7 – 9) was a slightly different story, but let’s just say that I had it extremely easy, ESPECIALLY when I compare it with Chinese students.
In a combination of unfortunate circumstances regarding boarding schools and homesickness, middle school was reportedly not a positive experience for my cousin (as I have overheard from phone conversations between my mum and grandma). Not only was this the first time he had to leave his parents for months at a time to sleep, study and eat at an unfamiliar environment hours away from his home, the pressures of school hasn’t been kind to him. His test results plummeted, as were his free time, since poor test results always meant punishment. It is an endless spiral: damaged attitude towards school means worsening scores, which leads to less time to relax, which leads to more stress and a worsened mood means even more damaged attitude towards school. My cousin’s parents (my second uncle and aunt) didn’t respond to this situation…correctly. Scolding, guilt-tripping him about how much money he “wasted on a good school when he didn’t have the test results to deserve it” is perhaps the worst line of approach that this university student mind could think of. Frankly its maddening, and my mum agrees with me when I voiced my opinion on the matter. But more on that later.
I visited my home back in China during the June-July break, and I got to see this situation first hand.
Me and my cousin didn’t have a very extensive relationship, due to just how little time we spent with each other. And what little time we DID spend together as children, we quarrelled, bickered and fought with each other like typical siblings. But I think that my yearly visits back home since I started year 11 did help me in gaining back some connections with him.
My cousin is pretty passive as a teenager. Like me, he’s not much of a conversation leader. So for two introverts to open up to one another is rather difficult. But I am observant enough to notice that pressure is getting to him, and frankly, his parents aren’t doing the work to properly help him. And I’m not even sure if my methods were right, however limited they may be, since I was there for a really painful dentist appointment which rendered me unable to speak, eat and drink freely for 2 weeks.
I offered to help him with his English homework, telling him to come to me whenever he’s stuck on something and I will guide him to the answers. I didn’t offer to outright give him the answers (nor did he ask of this of me), since I didn’t see that as real help. I gave him my Nintendo DS Lite which I no longer really use and a couple of games. I taught him how to race Mario Kart and some cool play styles for Crash: Mind over Mutant, since he never had a game system before. I guess that second action from me doesn’t really amount to helping him improve his studies, huh?
Well…for whatever reason, that was how I tried to help my cousin. That was the only way I knew. I spent like what…11 years in Sydney. I never really stressed myself as much as my cousin evidently had about test results. I already spent 2 years in bloody university, and that was the only way I can think of to help my cousin. Teaching him how to procrastinate with games.
I would be crushed soulless if I was put into an environment like my cousin’s. To me, an hour on that DS was how I spend the nights before spelling tests in class, how I spent an afternoon after I returned home with a humble 74% on my maths quiz in year 6. I would watch the 2 hour re-runs of The Simpsons at 7:30pm on TV after I came back from afternoon sports in year 9. Sometimes, I only need to spend 40 minutes at a desk to complete 3 subjects worth of homework.
This is fucking unfair. This is unfair to my cousin.
And this is partly the reason why I have such a survivor’s guilt when it comes to my life here in Australia. I spend each and every day browsing Facebook and Twitter, sometimes stumbling upon those comments on news pages, complaining to the state government transport operators about delayed trains and buses, telling the managers to fire their entire staff for their incompetence. My right eyelid would twitch, rage would just…swell from my gut and into my lungs. I want to scream at these ungrateful pricks for not knowing just how much they have. I want to reach out and grab their throats and choke every molecule of oxygen out of them.
I mean for FUCK’S sake, the BUS was late and you were late for work on Tuesday. SO FUCKING WHAT?
Why do I get this golden ticket to basically suck on a straw made of silver and have the right to complain about the most pathetically shallow of problems in our blissful lives, when my cousin is back in Chengdu, worrying to death about the possibility of never getting into high school, meaning that he will never be able to get into uni and a well-paying job to support his family and future wife and child? WHEN HE’S STILL JUST 15?
I recently had a long conversation with my mum about this exact subject: My first real job being a fancy-sounding ‘Marketing & Content Coordinator’; despite the fact that I never enslaved myself to 6 month internships that didn’t pay to get that almighty reference letter for FUTURE opportunities, whether I was being a good, respectable senior to my younger cousin, and how could I EVER believe I deserve the comparatively easygoing life I’ve had so far.
“My job as a parent is to make sure that my child doesn’t have the same hardships as I did. I daresay I succeeded on that count, didn’t I?”
That was my mum’s response. A two hour conversation and she never once mentioned the words “you owe me.” She instead went on to talk about my share market investments, and how she wants me to save up enough by graduation so I can buy myself a new and safe car. She wants to buy another house before then too, so the family here can have some bankable assets when the times gets rough, or before the house prices have soared way above my pay grade.
I told her about what I did for my cousin. All she did was nod and smile. “That’s your way. You made it work for yourself, so why wouldn’t I believe that it will work for your cousin too?”
On her next phone call to his younger brother, mum told him to take my cousin out to a few hot pots for the month-long holiday, give him 2 hours on my old DS every day and make sure he hears nothing about homework and school fees for the rest of the month, or least until arrangements can be made to withdraw him for boarding. He needs down time in his life more than ever. Here’s to hoping that a re-energised teenager with some impressive high scores that beat my own can get himself back on track in time for the entrance exams.
My grandma and mum are considered enigmas of their respective generations. For whatever reason, during the 1960s, in a village where women weren’t expected to be educated, and were instead expected to bear sons to help with the farms, my grandma got into her head, that her eldest daughter (mum), is also going to university along with her 2 sons, so she can leave this village and start her own career. No one thought that way in that village. The fees felt like a dragon’s hoard, not to mention how grandma herself wasn’t even properly educated. I might never know how or where grandma got this idea into her head.
Grandma and grandpa worked tirelessly to get mum into university. But society wasn’t done with them yet. Mum was one of the few women in her course, and the ONLY one from the ‘peasant’ social class. PROFESSORS would legitimately go up to her and tell her to give up on this pipe dream.
Mum responded by topping entire year groups, acing course finals, while also maintaining this impossible image of being that naive girl in uni who naps and plays ping pong during the weekend before exams. She told me that she ‘had her ways’ with studying and persistence that allowed her to top her classes and being able to graduate without even her teachers’ encouragement or blessing. She also told me that this mindset was branded onto her by her own mum: the idea of a parent’s monumental goal not being to better their own lives, but to better their children’s instead. And now this mindset is being exercised on me.
Despite the toxic nature of firm culture in terms of hiring new talent, where the bosses’ son or the vice-president’s wife’s close friend’s son getting first pick, mum was able to secure a decent job at a hospital. She gave that up to fly me over here, because she *knew* (I REFUSE to believe otherwise…because mum’s big decisions has NEVER made any situation worse for the family) that my personality and inherited mindset would thrive better in Australia. The inherited mindset?
You live to improve yourself, to better yourself so you can provide an even better environment for your future children, and to never lose that love for life, because losing the will to be happy is a loss for the whole family.
So. Grandma and grandpa sweat blood and tears to get my mum and her 2 brothers out of poverty. Mum flew me thousands of miles down to Australia to give her only son a more enriching environment. What I am going to do when it’s my turn? What do I live for?
Eyeing 20 In the Horizon
In a month, I will be 20 years old. I will be 3 years into my 5 year university course. I’ve lived like a mellow petal that swayed in whichever direction the wind blew. In my case, the winds are so powerful and paradigm shifting, that each breeze felt like a milestone I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve. My mindset is an endless chasm with a single staircase that I have to climb every day. The reason I climb that staircase every day is because I am staring into the backs of everyone who have started climbing decades before me, just so they can smooth out the cracks and give me a less daunting experience. Refusing to better myself is basically me refusing to take up my mum’s mantle that she’s passing down to me from grandma. I climb that staircase every day because I want to be a good person who has enough substance in him to share with others, enough to stockpile for the future, enough for my family so I can hopefully reach that point where I can confidently look into their faces, and hold my gaze because I deserve to be standing with them.
Am I a good person?
Fourth and final entry into my Funomenal Month of Christmas column for 2016.