Serena Lin, a junior trying to obtain her IB diploma at PESH, enjoys analyzing how her Taiwanese culture has shaped her perception of the world she is in.
I remember going to my friend’s house in elementary whose parents spoke Chinese when I greeted them, but as my friend was spoken to in Chinese during the playdate, she only replied in English and I couldn’t understand why. Only when I got home, I realized that not everyone has the same expectations and experiences at home in language, which seemed earth-shattering to me. The idea that some people just naturally spoke to their parents in a different language sounded almost alien.
At first, it was a little disquieting, “how could anyone communicate with their parent in a different language, how did the conversation hold with two languages simultaneously?”, however, I became envious of my friend because the more I thought about it, the more I resented how much my parents pushed for me to dedicate myself to learning Chinese.
How I dreaded every Sunday morning where I had to wake up early to go to Chinese school, the missed birthday parties planned on weekends. How every time before I could have a chance to answer to my mom’s “Nǐ zài gan ma?”, I would be pulled into the kitchen to read, dissect, and parrot back texts upon texts of dusty Chinese epic poetry.
“I would be pulled into the kitchen to read, dissect, and parrot back texts upon texts of dusty Chinese epic poetry.”
Of course, speaking to my mom in any other language always felt foreign on my tongue, but I wished Chinese wasn’t our sole language. I wished I didn’t spend so much time sitting down with my dad in the evenings going over how the Taiwan media viewed American events to get me to familiarize myself with more Chinese characters. How I would pour hours into a textbook, but the words blurring like cold clumped pasta.
I would be relaxing with my ahpo when macrame instructions are pulled out, and her worries “Do you know what they’re describing? Read them to me,”. A build-up of wondering why did I have to dedicate so much of my remaining free time in the week to read a language where no matter how much I tried, the words still could not stick.
All of these differences also gave me opportunities I would have never imagined, all the stories told by my mom, the friends I made in Chinese school, and my appreciation for history. All of these moments would have not existed. All my efforts in studying. My understanding and depth of language allow me to perceive culture for myself, I am able to digest customs and understand differences for myself. Much like the new year knots my ahpo would teach me how to make, there is only one string, like how culture and language are one, and they meld together, with no start or end at the heart of them.