Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chapter Two: For What it's Worth

The namesake song below. Despite my constant belittlement of hippies, I actually liked many of those stoned songs from the 60s. (♫~ We are taking large amounts of pills, large amounts of pills ~♫ ---------------------The Beatles)
And I have discovered a pattern: I only write about my past when I am somewhat moody, probably because my past is not all roses.

So, my kindergarten days were done and I started going to school, and it felt like dreaming. For a long time life was unreal for me, things would happen so quickly that I always have a hard time to catch up with what is going on. Anyway back to topic.

For readers with no experience of primary education in the old country, I must explain the context: Primary school was deadly serious and tedious business. Piles of textbooks were issued, homework that last well beyond the midnight was to be completed, and your marks at school was paramount. The first day at school was not unlike a bootcamp: sitting upright with your hands on your back for an entire hour, and another hour after 10min break. Bygone are the old merry-go-round days, there was actually some competitions, malice and bullying from both alove and below.

My school is tiny and overcrowded. 2000+ kids and staff share one tiny year with three buildings. Each class had over 50 students, certainly not for the claustrophobic. The overcrowding is so bad, that for assemblies we have to close the road in front of school gate and make do with a little extra space. On the bright side, they had all the facilities except a tuck shop, and its absence is nearly compensated by hawkers and candy stores scattered in the neighborhood.

Across the street is a provincial hospital, with their boiler room directly facing our front gate. So all the kids can view the magnificent achievements of industrial revolution as they come and go. I remember once they had to replce some boilers and they literally demolished the wall facing the street in order to do that, awwwwww wonders of boilers. Further down the road there is a wet market which I was never fond of, a constantly chaotic rounabout, a couple of motorcycle chopshops, district traffic police headquarters, shacks occupied by old beneficieries and, after the road turning a gradual 120 degrees after the bus depot, a grey two storey house built in the 20s, complete with garden and annex. However the place is to be shared by 5 families, all of them rubbing shoulders in what was the old residence of a senior bureaucrat from the last government.

In case I have not yet mentioned, another change for me is that because the school is in a different part of the city, I had to board with my grandparents, this time the couple on my mother's side. Their place was a convenient 10 minute walk from school. My poor mom, on the other hand, had to travel across town every night to make sure that I am okay and then travel all the way to our home again. Dad is still working thousands of miles away in a southern metropolis, and I see him every 6 months on average. This is to go on for quite a few years, until Dad moved in and my folks deemed their son old enough to commute by bus. There is another downside to this option though, and I will get back to it.

My marks at school were mediocre at best, except natural sciences which I did really well at. And for most of the time I was well liked, the storyteller's aura is still protecting me to some extent. I did, however, commit a few cases of petty vandalism. Most of them went undetected but the last of them caused me to fall out with my room teacher, and as far as I can rememebr it involved some broken furnitures which I tore to pieces following some frustration. Not counting that, I still a good time.

And my biggest woes? You guessed it right, PE and Art classes. The former was not a big deal since our PE teacher was also the (underqualified) school groundsman who is not bothered by a cowardly student who cannot run, tackle or do back flips. Art, on the other hand, does make me a little concerned because I was basically clueless when it comes to drawing, let alone real objects and people. I could have found some extra help however I did not: 1. Art is "not my type of things", 2. It is not considered important, 3. I am not willing to let other people know that I needed help with things, that is not allowed to happen. In the end, I think I barely scraped through all of those. Therefore to this day I cannot draw any shape more complex than cubes, and I am more than grateful to have been born in the world with cameras and computers.

You see, if you are used to find your own answers, it is a pretty alien experience to ask other people for their take on various things. Even my parents don't understand my reluctance to make any appeal for simple aid, e.g. asking for directions, to me it is far more natural to consult a map and signs first, then make educated guesses. The same goes for everything else, where I'd rather figure out things myself rather than having to learn then from some other people; and in principle forcing someone to do things while they are not ready is counterproductive. For a long time, mainstream science saw walking is a learned function, and greedy capitalist have made various gadgets to help babies(remmeber those circular trolleys with wheels in all directions? that probably did more harm than any help) learn faster. Yet as it turns out, walking is instinctive, babies can walk once the leg muscles are strong enough to support the body.

One good personal example is learning to ride a bike: I failed to learn for a long time despite much strife, yet I learned it by myself at the age of 11 when I stayed at my uncle's for the weekend. Swimming class is another traumatic experience which I'd rather not go into, but suffice to say that I'd probably had it sorted if I were older, without all the blood and tears shed.

Music, on the other hand, deserves some special mention. As you were probably aware, I do not play any instrument, nor do I sing alot. Sending your kids to music lessons is the fad in parenting back then, to which I sternly refused to commit myself to. Despite spending some good cash in getting me a keyboard set, myfolks backed off and never mentioned it. I did go to the odd choir and vocal classes, however nothing really become of it and they were dropped as I got progressively tied down by schoolwork. (8am-3pm days eventually stretched to 7am-5pm) Oh admittedly everyone had to learn the recorder for Music, but to me it was some mechanical movement of fingers over this holey thingy while blowing into it rather than actually playing music.

Do I regret? Well somewhat, especially as it appears that everybody knows more about music than I do, and I always had more respect for people with the rthymic talents. My resentment to those things almost put me off music for years, and I grew entirely without aural cues to the world. Nevertheless, I would not have enjoyed it had I folded to their wishes, and I'd probably be very different today.

As in every dream that you don't wake up from, it ended without warning. When I was in first year, I'd look up at the senior classes and wonder how can I get through all that, well you were there yourself before you knew it.

A few years back I organised a reunion for a buch of old school mates. I asked a female with whom I shared one desk for two years:

"So what did you folks really think of me back then?"

"You were the most random and eccentric person I have met, and no, I did not have a clue what's on your mind or what you were doing."

So that concludes the six bland years of my life that I cannot forget nor cherish. My cousin went to the same school and I visited a few times while I could, and it largely remained the way it was. The story after my last day at that place is going to be in the next chapter, stay tuned and I shall keep writing.