I’ve been asked this question quite a few times since the creation of Soupbelly. And I’ve written a few posts in response to the question. But I could never post them, because it’s just too difficult to sum up every reason that led up to this. Things are never so simple.
It’s like asking someone how they got to where they are in life. The answers are always a jumble of unique situations, incidences, and obstacles that led them to where they are, and never as straightforward as it seems. Life is a winding, spiraling road with ups and downs, blocked routes, detours, dead-ends; sometimes you obey the speed limits, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you get pulled over and ticketed for listening to an obnoxious Miley Cyrus song on the radio. Or sometimes you’re completely lost, and you panic, trying to find a route out of where you came from, or you decide to go where the unknown takes you. (Sometimes you make up really cheesy driving analogies.) We don’t use a GPS to navigate through life, well, not yet. So the answer is never quite the same when asked more than once, because sometimes you don’t quite know the answer of how you got where you are, either.
Why did I start this blog?
I have a bunch of reasons. I always do. And I never answer the same way. It might even look like I’m making up the answer sometimes. Or it might look like I’m pretty flaky. And in that sense, life is art. Funny thing about art is, most of us just create, and find purpose within the process of creating. At least, that’s what art is to me. What I’m trying to say is, I’m making this blog up as I go along, and hopefully I find a purpose within it.
But I didn’t answer the question. Why did I start this blog?
When I was 5 years old, I went to kindergarten without knowing any English except how to say my name and address. This was a big, BIG hindrance in my educational career. Was I born in America? Yes. So why didn’t my parents teach me English? Because they thought I would naturally learn in school. You know, school, that building where you learn things, like speaking ENGLISH. I spent 4 years in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, struggling to keep up with my classmates, so I wouldn’t be held back in school. I remember struggling badly. I played the board game ‘Guess Who?’ with other non-English speaking kids (they thought the game would help us). I hated that game. With those stupid faces on those little flipped up plastic squares and those stupid names I was forced to pronounce. And on top of struggling, one of the most frustrating things I can remember was not being able to say what I wanted. I felt like I understood what the teacher was saying, what my classmates were saying, but I couldn’t find the words in which to reply with. My thoughts were there, but I didn’t know how to put my thoughts into those words yet. And when I slipped up and responded in Cantonese, my teacher would get frustrated, since she thought I wasn’t trying hard enough to switch to English already. I didn’t want to speak Cantonese to my teacher. But my thoughts were all in Cantonese. It was my native language at 5 years old. The Cantonese words were pouring out of my 5 year old mouth and I couldn’t help it. So eventually, I didn’t talk much at all. In which case I was told I was too shy. I didn’t want to be shy. I just tried to be really careful, to think in English before I spoke.
*Note to parents: teach your kids English if you live in America. That is, if you know English.
After a few years of struggle and frustration, I noticed that if I just stopped speaking Cantonese in general, and only spoke English, I could master the language even quicker, as I didn’t have to balance two completely different languages as a child. Of course, this irritated my parents to no end. And juggling the two languages, English only in school, and Cantonese only at home, was like juggling relationships with 2 divorced parents. I wasn’t allowed to speak the other language in that other place. I had to give one up in order to express myself in another.
I had to succeed in school, so I chose English. So at a young age, I made that decision to disobey my parents, and that ‘disobedience’ stayed with me forever. I disobeyed because I spoke in English, a lot, to my parents. Sometimes just to spite them. And I was told to be quiet, a lot. Girls, in my family (aka Me) weren’t suppose to be outspoken, or to speak at all until spoken to. When they asked me a question in Cantonese, I would respond in English, in which they would scream “Speak in Cantonese!” In Cantonese, of course.
Luckily, I scraped by in school so I didn’t have to stay back a grade. But I still sucked in my reading and writing classes. Sucked meaning, I didn’t get A’s. I got mostly B’s. In Asian families, that basically means you failed. My head pounded as I attempted to get through simple sentences in books. My head actually throbbed. With pain. Imagine two different languages going through your brain as you’re trying to speak. Filtering out words from one language that didn’t belong in the other. Planning out each sentence carefully. Trying to say them correctly without getting yelled at by a teacher or a parent. Imagine it. For example, the word ‘cat’ in Cantonese is ‘mow’. Once I made the connection in my little 5 year old brain, I had to remember that connection forever. Along with the 16 billion other words I had to learn. I can’t imagine how hard it is for older kids to learn new languages. Actually, I took French for 6 years, and that was cake compared to the transition from Chinese to English. Romance languages are a big fat JOKE to learn, comparatively speaking.
If only there were some compromise, especially at home, then learning English wouldn’t have felt like such a treacherous act. It was always one or the other, and I had to choose. Now I’m proud (and in a way, sad) to say that I have virtually no accent when I speak. I do slip up once in awhile though.
In 3rd grade, I finally read my first book from start to finish. It was Matilda, by Roald Dahl. I remember parts of the story about how Matilda’s teacher gave her bread and butter as a snack, and imagining how tasty that bread and butter would be. Yea, I was obsessed with food then. And lemme tell you, that book was lengthy. I was proud of myself. Two special things about that book: 1) I could relate to Matilda, her obsession with books, and her parents discouragement in her education. 2) I didn’t get a headache reading it.
In 5th grade, I wrote a story about my stuffed animal and won a contest. It was a state writing contest and I was 1 of 3 kids who got the highest score. That was one of the happiest moments in my young life. I could be a writer someday, I thought! I struggled with English for years and finally got recognition for being one of the top writers in my year! Of course, my level of aptitude pretty much plateaued since then, or at least that’s what I joke about now. I still botch the past/present tenses, by shifting back and forth with them as I speak. And I overuse the mighty ‘quotation marks’. Which is probably why I will never successfully write a ‘novel’.
So am I going to continue giving you an extremely lengthy summary of my entire elementary school career? I mean, I almost did, but I won’t torture you anymore. No one wants to relive elementary school.
Now on to middle school. Kidding! We’ll skip that and move right on to high school. The really awkward times.
Kidding again. And I won’t even joke about college.
All I’m really trying to say is, I’ve always had a lot to say. Most people who know me personally would say that I’m shy, or quiet. I hate those descriptions. Because I think that I like to assess people and situations before I get into a conversation with them. In which case, I’m said to be intimidating. I like to feel people out before speaking. Hence my lack of good social skills. But especially for that fact that I’m an Asian in America. And people generally stereotype or judge you based on what you look like before you even speak to them. In which case, I still feel the need to plan my words very carefully.
I will always resent the fact that I wasn’t taught English at home before starting school, because of all the struggles I went through trying to keep up in class, when it could’ve been so much easier to excel in school, and wondering what my life could’ve been like if only I had that chance. I basically started out like an immigrant. Even though I was born an American citizen. Then again, immigrants struggle more than I could possibly imagine, and some lead successful lives by enduring extreme challenges they face in every aspect in society. So I can’t say I had it that bad.
So that, my readers, is one of the many reasons why I started this blog.
And my question to you is, why not?