Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Well-to-do vs. the Grass-root

People say school reunions are nothing but a time and place where people gather to "show off" the few years of work, money, beautiful wife/girlfriend or handsome husband/boyfriend that they've managed to gather since graduation day.

I think to some extent, I'd have to agree with that.

I attended 2 reunions over the past 2 nights. The first one was a gathering with a bunch of junior high school friends, and the 2nd was with a few girls from 5th and 6th grade back in elementary school.

Let me start with the first one.

Most of the guys in the crowd have just finished serving their 2-year mandatory military duties over the past year or two and begun their first job in the market. During their 2-year terms of service, about half of the guys were stationed outside the Taiwan main island and spent each day looking at mainland China through a telescope (or naked eye if the weather was nice). Most of the guys are in steady relationships, but none are married or have any immediate plans for marriage. Two guys who didn't come just celebrated the arrival of their first babies; one guy in the states got married and was divorced within a year. 2 out of 5 guys work as software engineers in the Xin-zhu science park, and more than half are in long-distance relationships.

For the ladies, one is going to walk down the red carpet in less than 2 months and another one got married 3 years ago. Everyone is working, and only myself and another girl have decided to try out for the academic track. One girl just broke up with her boyfriend, but the rest who are single are all in steady relationships. No one plans to quit her job after marriage for the reason of wanting to develop their careers and simply not being able to afford living off one salary (I think).

Typical 26/27-year-old's.

For the whole night we reminisced about the good old days of pulling tricks on the teachers we loathed, playing fortune-telling game during evening study time, and writing love letters albeit the one-sided nature. We helped each other remember the names of the teachers whom some of us have forgotten, and we talked about how little all of us have changed. Except for one girl who shocked us with her beautiful wavy hair now, there were no major surprises. Traces of everyone's past could still be found on his or her face now; we all just looked slightly older and more mature than 12 years ago.

And we laughed and blushed and laughed again when we each saw what we wrote in the yearbook. "Oh gosh I can't believe I had such horrible handwriting ..."; "I can't believe he openly confessed his love on the yearbook"; "Whose nickname was 'little turtle,' 'mother of the bear,' 'F.C.'?!?" ...

It was so genuine.

During 15 years of living in Taipei, my family has moved twice. One occurred at the age of 6 right before I entered elementary school, and the other at the age of 12 the summer before junior high school started.

The neighborhood that I lived in throughout elementary school years was, at the time, a rising commercial and shopping district. My elementary school was thus known to be one of the prestigious ones due to a lot of parents of well-to-do families. In 5th and 6th grade, I passed the audition and joined the school choir. In order for daily practices to be done easily, the school decided to put all the kids who got into the choir into one special class. B/c most boys at the time had issues with changing voices, our class ended up having 58 girls and 3 guys.

Oh the poor 3 guys who were bullied and lived under the women's shadow for 2 years.

B/c of most parents' well-to-do background, our class enjoyed a lot of additional privileges other than being the already elite class at school. The majority of the parents were able to generously offer money for our additional performances in the city; those who had wide social connections managed to pull us into a few shows on TV; and on sports day, our class always hosted the best class parties that attracted many envious eyes from kids of other classes.

Today, I believe half (if not more) of the kids in my class are studying or living abroad. For those who remain in Taipei or return after their overseas education is complete, they are usually back to take over their parents' businesses, work in fashion/design industries, or run their own free-lance companies.

When I graduated from elementary school, my family moved to another neighborhood in Taipei that is known to be the "university" district. No more overwhelming number of well-to-do families, but a lot of parents try hard to change their residency on paper in order to send their kids to our school for better academic quality. In comparison, my junior high school life wasn't so much of an elite experience but a very a grass-root one. I spent three years with kids coming from a variety of backgrounds all over Taipei.

Woe to the main teacher in charge for our class who lacked experiences in leadership and wisdom, our class - though started with a lot of potentials - didn't end up excelling as well as other classes academically. By the 3rd year, we were sort of known as the "fallen" class. Each time the mock exam took place, our class-wide average fell greater and greater behind neighboring classes as time went on. Soon, some teachers began to slack in teaching, and even our own teacher in charge decided to go through the last few months simply counting the number of days till graduation.

In the 3rd year we were angry, we were furious, and we were - certainly - just a bunch of kids dealing with a lot of difficult issues surrounding puberty. The fact that other classes mocked us as the "fallen one" and some teachers decided to give up on us further enraged us. Strangely, it was this shared sense of anger and frustration that bonded us closer together. Thus there came the rebellious act of playing fortune-telling game (錢仙) in the evening at school even though the discipline master was just walking by our classroom. Thus too came the heroic act of hiding comic books behind the head-portrait of Dr. Sun Yat-sen or bombarding the most-hated teachers with well-thought-out questions before the school bell rang.

Unfortunately our adolescent sense of justice wasn't enough to help us overcome the ills of the system. By the time July passed by, only a handful of people made it into decent public high schools. The rest had to choose among vocational schools, 2nd-rate private schools, or 12 months of cram school in order to take the high school entrance exam all over again the next year.

I lost touch with most of the people during high school and college. In fact, almost all of us lost touch during high school. Perhaps the reality of a class of comrades just yesterday suddenly classified into "good" and "bad" (or "smart" and "dumb", "promising" and "failure") students according to the ranking level of respective high school/vocational school was just too hard to bear. We were only 15. And in our 15-year-old minds, we couldn't figure out why old-time buddies had now ascended or descended into different classes of citizens based upon a simple test score. When the reality was too hard to bear, to ignore seemed like the easiest solution.

Somehow, contacts began to emerge in college. One by one, more people were found, and relationships reestablished. Perhaps we've figured out the hard reality that we never understood 12 years ago. Perhaps we've understood that that simple test score wasn't the end of the world or the beginning of a promised future forever. Today, everyone seems to have found something that he/she likes and has committed to it. No one is well-to-do (yet), but everyone is committed to go forward and see where the current is going to lead.

Still a bunch of hard-working folks.

Tonight, meeting up with friends from elementary school, however, I felt strangely out of place. Honestly, I didn't know what else I could say or should add. I didn't know what to tell my friend when she said that someone in her in-law family (whose only 24) could get so drunk after a night of partying that he couldn't remember who took off his ring from his pinky finger and forced it into his wedding finger. Nor did I know how to respond when I heard that so-and-so's wedding ran so long b/c there were 1000+ people attending and each dish took an hour to arrive. Same feeling when I heard that so-and-so's parents are opposing a relationship b/c the guy doesn't come from a well-being background or own advanced degrees.

"You can't stand staying in anything below a 4-star hotel while visiting Tokyo for a week? Well, perhaps you don't want to hear about how I went through my summer days living in a 6-tatami-big studio for 5 weeks," I was thinking to myself.

And when one of the girls who's working in a PR firm was complaining about how elaborate it is and how much money a company would spend on PR-ing a cosmetic product, I was thinking - how great if such PR skills and investments could be used towards raising social awareness on social inequality and income gap between the rich and the poor.

Or perhaps such fabulous PR skills, investments, proposals, and media exposure should be used directly on talking to the rich about social inequality and income gap.

Who's the one that needs to be educated?

In the second to the last month of my 26th year of life, I have nothing to show off for. I have no saving, no car, no house, no advanced degree (yet I guess), no business, no job, no concrete professional experience. My graduation date remains a speculation, my relationship isn't steady, and I have to count every single dollar that I spend.

Fortunately I don't have that many dollars to count each month so even that doesn't require much work.

If there's one thing that I can show off for ... It'd perhaps be the very fact that I have nothing now - at least according to the worldly standards. Having nothing at this early age in life could, in fact, be a blessing. Have I already gained the whole world, I really don't know what else would be left for me to work hard for, to look forward, and to feel excited about when I wake up the next day.

Being content is one of the key lessons in life that I'm still learning.

梅ちゃん at 2:10:00 AM

3comments

3 Comments

at 9/5/06, 5:06 PM Blogger Evergreen said...

Being God's child, wonderfully and fearfully made. Being able to travel all over the world. Having a cute dog...... have family and friends who watches over and love you..... that's pretty good.

 
at 9/6/06, 3:53 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

iN MY MIND, YOU ARE THE LUCKIEST OF ALL OF YOUR SCHOOLMATES. yOU HAVE HAD ONE OF THE BEST EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES IN THE WORLD. bESIDES, YOU HAVE SEEN THE WORLD AND THE VISION YOU HAVE DEVELOPED IS BEYOND THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR SCHOOLMATES. kEEP THE GOOD WORK AND ALSO THE GOOD SPIRIT. i AM ALWAYS PROUD OF YOU. YMS

 
at 9/8/06, 12:21 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of your 26th, you have... WISDOM. This is greater riches than any relationship, status or possession. Blessings to you! ES

 

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