Oliver’s Silver Flask
December 31, 2013

This December, five days before Christmas I was invited to a friend’s annual winter party. Oliver and I have known each other since January, so it was his first party that I attended, and I felt very honoured to be a guest. Not only is he a very good friend, knowing Oliver has been a very positive experience for me. Personally, I have learned a great deal from him. From his personality and perspective, from his knowledge and attitude towards other people, I felt that my personal being has improved positively, and I would like to honour our friendship and show my gratitude with a gift. Although I’ve set aside a certain amount of budget, yet a sudden change of plan forced me to weigh whether I’m willing to spend more, and after considering the great significance of his role to me, I decided that a higher price should not matter. I ordered a silver flask that was small enough to fit into his bag of books, knowing his affectation for sneaking in some vodka. Since I didn’t want the gift to be a seasonal object – “Christmas 2013” or “Merry Christmas” is too season-specific and gets boring after a while – I decided that the flask would be beautifully adorned simply with his engraved full name.

Coming an hour late to the party after picking up the flask and getting a bit lost, I obscurely pulled out the grey gift box from my bag and handed it to Oliver. He immediately opened it on the coffee table, and I was really glad to see his joyfulness when he unwrapped the thin white paper and saw the flask. It was quickly passed around the room from hand to hand along with his continual remark, “Look at what Tempe got me!” I suggested that he washed it first, but he wouldn’t hear me and filled it with Jack Daniels straight away. Throughout the party Oliver kept thanking me for the gift, and, not knowing how to respond properly, I only replied, “I’m really glad you like it.” His last acknowledgment, however, touched me the most. He called me and said, “When I’m 83 years old I would show this flask and say Tempe got this for me.” Hearing that put a warm feeling in my chest. One of my consideration in getting a flask with his name was that he would be able to use it for a long time, and that it would hold an long-lasting significance, yet to hear those words verbally from him touched me very deeply.

Sadly, I couldn’t find the words that in my mind would be appropriate. I was never taught that saying how I feel, whether positive or negative, is acceptable. The courtesy is to give a neutral comment, completely detached of my feeling, to show politeness. Sometimes I believe this moulds my tongue so that I do not say what I don’t genuinely mean. Giving a compliment is the biggest appreciation I could do for someone, and those words will contain the truest meaning of my feelings. However, after that moment when I was too tongue-tied to reply to him with equally meaningful words, I analyzed my reserved reaction and found that my lack of self-expression also caused me to keep myself from showing my emotions to the world outside. I found that I have always been afraid to tell the world how I feel because it’s like giving a hint of my mind. I don’t want to be offensive, and actively reacting to the world is offensive for me. I’m used to standing back, just barely at the edge of the circle, and observe how people interact with each other. When someone takes note of me, I see it as the person making an effort to know me based on my still, outer appearance, just as if the person is observing a lifeless statue and forms opinions about it. I’m not upset, because I know that’s what I consciously intend. By not making any active effort to let my mind be read by other people, I feel that I’m not being offensive to the world.

However, I also realize that perhaps being emotionally passive is my parallel response to the emotional passiveness of my parents. I could hardly remember them saying positive remarks about me that is filled with emotion. If what they said were compliments, those compliments sounded like statements instead, unattached to a sense of pride or joy. “You have high marks” doesn’t sound as beautiful as “you did great,” and “she does well in English” is not nearly as direct as “you do well in English.” Sometimes I felt as if my parents were showing me off, not appreciating me. They were always quick, however, to point out my mistakes and how I disappointed or angered them. In time, I learned to speak in the same detached tone, stating rather than expressing, and kept whatever positive remarks I had to myself only.

In reality, when Oliver said those words, I did have something that instantly came up in my mind: I hope when you’re 83 we will still be friends. Instead of saying it out loud, I politely smiled and turned my face so that he wouldn’t see my hesitation on what I should say. Confusion swept over me for a minute, and afterward it was already too late to bring up the matter again for me to say just that one sentence, a response that I convinced myself wouldn’t be of any significant to him anyway.

Two weeks after the party, I was still in regret that I didn’t say that sentence right away. It was my genuine feeling that I had intentionally brushed aside because I made the presumption myself that it wouldn’t matter to him. I realized then that it mattered at least to me, to directly tell people how grateful I am to have them in my life. I had that one chance before, and I let it go due to my fear, and I kept looking back and said, “I wish I’ve done that.”

Today, I saw a notification on my Facebook wall: “Your christmas present was really nice.” From Oliver. Although I hesitated for five minutes, this time I’ve learned my mistake and replied, “I’m glad you like it! And I hope we’ll still be friends when you’re 83 and showing off the flask,” followed with a grinning face.

He replied, “WE WILL.”

3.17 a.m., December 31st, 2013.

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In Debt to Parents
April 1, 2013

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a friend from China, a fellow international student. She told me that, being a lesbian, someday she would like to come out to her parents. Five minutes later, I got a rough idea about how strict her parents were – in making sure she followed their “life guidelines.” Having read quite a few opinions about coming out to the family, a friend and I tried to advise her that she should come out when she is financially independent. She laughed and said that even if she has her own place, her mom would come and drag her back and lock her up in the house for three months (of course, this was a hyperbolic joke on how restrictive her mom is). Finally, she said that she hated how her parents controlled her life with money.

At this statement, I shut my mouth up. This was exactly how I felt several years ago, and I still do occasionally. The culture in which I grow up is different than the one here. Children don’t have to get part-time jobs to get pocket money or save up for college. Parents would make sure they have enough money to pay their children’s education and lifestyle fees, even to support the children after they have their own jobs, buying their first cars or houses. In turn, children should be obedient to what their parents say.

For international students like me and my Chinese friend, the matter is taken way worse. My parents told me that the fee for a year of my education equals to the amount it took for my sister for her four-year schooling in one of the country’s most expensive universities. I need four years too – at least (of course, I could take courses in summer, but it doesn’t contribute to reducing the fees). That doesn’t include other fees for rent, groceries, etc.

I’ll have to confess: I dislike getting in contact with my parents. Whenever we Skyped each other, my mom would ask, in her intentionally-innocent tone, “So, have you thought about your future?” I would tell her my plans for the fifth time, then she would say, “Are you sure you’ll get a decent payment?” Afterwards, I would be reminded – and evoked to feel guilty – on how the fees for me to study abroad is not cheap, that I should at least take a major that promises definite future. Then she would ask – again, with the innocent tone – why I didn’t choose to take Psychology instead, because “You like it, don’t you?” Every time this question rose up, I had the strong temptation to remind her that three years ago she told me I wouldn’t fit into Psychology, that I didn’t have what it takes. Now that I have decided on a major that, I hope, would support me in reaching a future I have always dreamed of, she would rather opt for the better-than-nothing unfitting major. But no, I shut myself up to avoid an argument. Only by God’s miracle – and Dad’s compassionate intervention – that I’m still studying what I’m passionate in. But it’s not over yet. My parents – yes, Dad included – would like me to stay here, find a job, and get myself a Permanent Resident card. Because it would be useless to pay for my extraordinary university fees if I don’t get one. What I want is to get a job somewhere abroad because I want to see the world, not to get privileges for later years. Also, I’ve read a lot of news about people who abuse their newly acquired Permanent Resident status – and I’d hate to be one of the jerks.

On the other hand, I dare not say what my friend stated. I feel that children do have responsibilities to listen to their parents who obviously want only the best for them, even if what they define as “the best” is different from ours. Contrary to how it may seem, parents are not being controlling just because they like to. They have the good intention of making sure we live comfortably, and, due to our young age and lack of experience, feel that it is their job to guide – or perhaps lead – us. And to control with money… Well, they work hard for their children and give what they have to their children. The good intention comes even without the extra amount of money. They are two different subjects that happen to come together – and can be used to support each other.

Knowing this, yes, I would be in debt to my parents for all the fees they paid during my whole life. This is the downside of not getting a government loan, with signed legal contracts and exact amount to pay. What makes my debt indefinite and innumerable is because it comes with the good intention and care, which will always be priceless no matter how much I pay them in money or obedience. Coming out or not coming out, it’s hard enough for me to turn from them and say, “No.”