Thinking in Chinese
November 3, 2015
As the sun rises over California’s golden hills, a young girl sits in a sedan, fidgeting with a little black box. Usually she looks out the window at the palm trees and fast food restaurants. Today is different.
She perches in a wooden desk covered in pencil marks and scribblings. Another fourth grader has written a declaration of their love, encircled by a lead heart, but she can’t read it to know who’s dating who. She’s perfectly healthy, a little fatigued maybe from a fever she’s just getting over.
A tall Caucasian, woman crouches down next to her. She says, “you name Amy. Me name Ms. Tucker. What this name?” Ms. Tucker points to Amy’s black box. In Chinese it’s 翻译者. In English, it’s a translator. She thinks to herself, “I want to tell you but I don’t know how to say it”.
To freshman Amy Wu, everyone seems like blond hair and blue eyed Americans. To them, she’s a foreigner from a strange place called Zhongshan.
Among the sea of fourth graders chatting, slouching, and passing notes, Wu sits up straight, her hands folded across each other, back straight as an arrow. She raises her hand in a strict, straight move, her arm folded at a perfect 90° angle. It’s fitting, she’s in math class.
She’s up until 1 a.m. doing homework yet when she drags herself to bed, only a few questions are completed. Over the months, Wu picks up more English words. She watches cartoons and converses with friends at school, picking up advanced vocabulary and learning to conjugate verbs.
On the last day of school, Wu sits at her desk, tracing the wood with her finger. She feels a strange curve and looks down- it’s the heart from her first day of school. But now she can finally read that “Johnny loves Sally.”