Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dear me at 16...

Dear Me at 16,

You're really, seriously, young, and you have your whole life ahead of you. So don't feel so bloody down-hearted about the fact that you're so "old" already. You're so not!

You may feel like a completely gawky awkward kid now, and perhaps wonder when you may eventually find your self confidence when it comes to your looks and physique. You will be fine. The waif look of the 90's will mean that you will begin to look on your own body image much more positively when compared to your peers with their already developed womanly curves at 16. You will improve your posture, and eventually learn to walk with confidence. And yes, you will eventually lose those dreadful glasses! (Don't stop fighting with your mother on this one! Even your aunts will agree with you!)

Feel properly proud about your achievements, but don't succumb to the myth that you have to garner more glittering prizes or your life would be over. That's a silly, silly attitude. Life is so much more than good grades and trophies (but be glad to have them, all the same, for they shall give you, as you suspect, a way out of the preconceived life paths to which others who share your gender and ethnicity supposedly must adhere).

Cherish your self-discipline, but don't burn yourself out. Which in your case, is easier said than done. Give time for your creativity to flower, pick up the paintbrush again and again and again. For there really is precious little time for you to paint as you get older. Fully exploit all the time and opportunities you have now to stretch your abilities and horizons.

I may as well tell you now: you may not end up being able to study the two subjects that you're absolutely passionate about. And indeed, you may have to bow to your parents' wishes in your undergraduate degree choice. But don't worry, you will manage to pick a combination that satisfies both your parents' ambitions for you as well as your own insatiable curiosity about the wider world. And oh, uni is everything you dreamed of and more, you will have absolutely the best time of your life there, I promise.

Just make sure you hold on to your friends okay, no matter what happens afterwards. Don't fall out over a silly row which in retrospect is really not such a big deal after all. It will take years -- I really mean years -- for you to cross paths and learn to accept each other again and try to pick up where you left off... Learn to be forgiving of others and do make time for your friends, always.

At home, don't fret about the relationships with your parents and your brother. Those arguments at home shall come to pass. But you should feel very proud to have learnt to stand up for yourself and not be cowed by anybody, even when they threaten you with physical violence. Even though a lot of times it feels as though you're totally isolated in your despair now, you're really not alone in having a dysfunctional family. Believe me, home life will dramatically improve as you ALL get older (and, it has to be said, when you eventually managed to strike out on your own, and you will). Just hang in there for a (long) while more, okay? I know how very hard it is, and indeed, things will get worse before they get better. But believe me too when I say that soon you will be warmly surprised by the arrival of younger siblings, who will become the loves of your life like you never knew before. And you will even come to some mutual understanding with your mother, learning to support each other rather than just loathe each other. No, this is not merely a fantasy.

However, please cherish your time with your grandparents -- both sets of them. You should go and look up your grandparents and your young aunt in NT when you go back to Hong Kong. And you must remember to bring a camera (even better, a video camera, if you manage to get your hands on one) with you when you and your brother accompany your maternal grandpa on that sunrise walkabout (you will be out the door by 5am!) around Kowloon. You will meet so many of his old friends on this extremely early morning tour, who will all be so surprised to see your grandpa (for his medical condition prevented him from taking regular morning walks), who will all say such nice things about him, that it will be a real shame not to have recorded his moments with them with something more concrete and tangible than just your memory. This is especially true when you realise later -- and alas, only too late -- that that would the last time you would ever get to see your normally stern and even habitually grumpy grandpa being this relaxed old gentleman, shooting the breeze with his friends and showing off his grandkids to his old colleagues with (dare I say it?) evident pride. (And you will have this strange fuzzy warm feeling inside when you realise this, and it will be one of the happiest moments of your life.)

I know you often wonder what life would have been like had you remained in Hong Kong, that you sometimes yearn for the presence of your childhood friends, your cousins, your old classmates, even your old school teachers (though not as often as you did a few years ago). You sometimes entertain the idea that you parents should have brought you here when you were much younger, or not to have brought you over at all, especially when you are struggling to retort to your peers with the kind of wit and eloquence that would have come easily to you had you been speaking in your native tongue; or when you are flummoxed by some cultural reference that are apparently well understood by those around you, but which remain obscure because you were not born and raised here. Believe it or not, in later years you will be extremely grateful that you have had this bi-cultural upbringing, and will reap the rewards for all the efforts -- nothing short of blood, sweat and tears will do -- that you put in now to learn all about this cultural environment, one that still feels unfamiliar to you now even though half a decade has elapsed since you first set foot on this green, green soil.

However, be warned that the level of your fluency in Chinese will steadily lower with each passing year, to the extent that you will one day suddenly find yourself unable to speak to your parents without resorting back to English (it is unthinkable, but it is true). As you still have relatively good command of written and spoken Chinese now, please please please read, write, and speak more. I can't stress this enough. (And yes, try to hold on to all your Chinese books for as long as you can -- beware of sabotage though by your mother -- they will remain a cherished source of comfort to you even decades later.)

Above all though, don't you worry about me. Somehow I managed to land on my feet in some fashion, and am getting the hang of learning to become accepting of who I am (including being accepting of my vanity -- and believe it or not, I actually look better now than when I was your age!) As a bonus, I am even working in your dream job and in your dream workplace, although the reality is, as always, a bit different from rose-tinted fantasies.

On the other hand, sorry, but I haven't gotten married by age 27. In fact, you'd be horrified to know that I am still not married by age 30. Whilst I can well imagine the look of shock and disappointment on your face on hearing such an unpalateable fact, believe me when I say that this really isn't a failure, and I am (and you are, of course) actually a very, very lucky girl. In matters of the heart, you will do quite fine, in fact, so don't you fret.

Last bit of advice: just remember, the regret for not doing something is far, far worse than actually having done something and made a mistake. If in doubt, err on the side of action.

Take care now, lotsa hugs,

Snowdrops at 31

More "Dear me at 16" letters here and here.

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