Disclaimer: Until I come up with my own word, I am borrowing Michelle Obama's brilliant title, Becoming. By the way, if you haven't read the book, you should.
I was born in a small town outside of Taipei, Taiwan. It was a complex guarded by soldiers for families who work for a government-owned National Institute of Science and Technology. My father, in fact, devoted his entire career to this institute.
From what I can remember, the complex was friendly. It was almost like its own city. The soldiers at the gate were always courteous, with kids, especially.
Straight passes the gate is a large green field with lots of trees. I would spend many afternoons running on that field or walk across the field to my ballet classes in the gym.
On the left side of the complex were four-story apartments. Ours was on the ground level. For some reason, my memory is limited to the exterior of each apartment building. Not so much interiorly.
At the end of the complex was a cafeteria for residents to entertain their guests. It used to be a treat when mom would take my brother and me there for dinner. Next to the cafeteria is the motel for short-term stays. I remember we stayed there a couple of times after we moved to Taipei.
My mother has been an elementary school teacher all her life. I do not have much recollection of the elementary school as I only attended kindergarten when we lived there.
For someone who would not refer herself, ever, with a perfect memory, I somehow remember the kindergarten being a big circulated-shaped building.
I wish there was a children's book similar to one of Brené Brown's TED Talk on shame as that is one of the best words summarizes my childhood.
Here is the list of shame I lived with throughout my childhood:
I was born with a mole on the right side of my face, between the nose and upper lip. Similar to the mole seen on Cindy Crawford's face but slightly higher toward the nose. The mole converted me, religiously, to be the laughingstock for years that I did not sign up for. The mole is defined as a female with borderline frivolous and reckless behavior. Boys, plus some evil-minded girls, would make fun of the mole.
If that wasn't enough to make my life a living hell, in addition to that mole, I was also born with very thick lips. Another target to be the laughingstock. Even my own mother would constantly remind me to tuck my lips in. My not-at-all-fondest memory was the day I finally got to wear the white rope and sang at the church choir. I searched for her face and a thumbs-up; but instead, she signaled me to tuck my lips in. She was ashamed of my look.
The Cursed Surname.
If that wasn't enough, my last name, Chang, its pronunciation in Chinese is similar to the word dirty when pronounced in Chinese. Everyone used to call me by my nickname, Meitzi. Meitzi means the baby sister of the family. Except at school, and the big green field where all the kids play, I was called Zhang-Mei-Tzi, which translates to Dirty, filthy baby girl.
One afternoon after my mother got home from school, she heard knocks on the door. There, outside of our small apartment, stood 4 or 5 moms. They did not look happy. Once my mom politely asked their reason for visiting, they complained that I had pulled their sons' hair and pushed them to the ground. Yes, all these moms were boy's mom. Disbelievingly, my mom asked if they know her sweet little angel would do such a thing. One of the moms called her son over to explain, and with his face looking down the ground, he said, "we were calling her zhang-meitzi..."
My mother, being the respectful teacher in the neighborhood, burst out laughing. All she said to the boy was, "now you learned your lesson, I hope," and shut the front door.
I later did the same to those evil girls who mocked me in ballet class.
I was not a feisty girl growing up. In fact, I was known to be shy. My vocabulary was limited to identify a word such as shame to justify the awful feeling I endured back then. I do recall I cried a lot as a child. Perhaps those were tears of frustration. I have no idea.
Unlike my brother, I was not a bright student once I started elementary education. I could barely pass math, and we're talking about additions and subtractions. My second-grade teacher was a dear friend of my mother's. She was the only teacher who would bring the test paper to my mom and let me retake the test at home with some help.
The only two subjects I excelled in were drawing and writing. My writing was published in the Mandarin Daily News--a traditional Chinese children's newspaper in Taiwan--and in the school newspaper. I also represented my school to compete in writing competitions. Yet I would struggle passing subjects such as Math, History, Social Studies, and Physical Education. Ranking-wise, it would be faster to find my name if you started from the bottom of the class. My brother, however, was always in the top ten, if not five.
Not only was he intelligent, but my brother was also a very good-looking boy. He has thick eyebrows, beautiful lips, and eyes. A total opposite of my outward appearance. I grew up with the story that my mother had grabbed the wrong baby and took me home by accident since I did not inherit any of the good looks from my parents as my brother did.
When I was fourteen, my mother found a cream that would remove moles. I begged her to put some on my face, and a week later, the frivolous mole disappeared. No word could describe the joy I had. I would not be surprised to know that I would fall asleep with a big smile on my face the day my mother put the magical cream on that mole.
Decades later, the world introduced a famous supermodel Cindy Crawford with the signature mole. Another decade later, women would spend money to puff up their lips to look "full." All that shame I endured in childhood are now beauty signatures.
Before moving to the States, one of my aunts bestowed me with a new name, Diana. When my meaningful Chinese name pronounced in English, it indeed sounded like eat shit. Around the same time when Cindy Crawford was famous, Michael Jackson came up with a hit song called Dirty Diana while I was in middle school.
Fudge. I just can't get a break on my damn names.