I had two best friends

I was cleaning up my email inbox and I found this piece of writing from two years ago. Ever critical and self-conscious about my latest work, this is chilling to read because it is so apt. What’s interesting is I don’t think I’ve ever really had a “best friend” since, at least not in the common sense. I’ve had very close friends whom I might have called my best friend in middle school, but now I feel like that’s not how I would describe my dearest. Anyway, here’s the story from my childhood, unedited.

I had two best friends

In Kindergarten and Grade 1, I had two best friends: Nicholas Dhaliwal and Jesse Jacobson. Every recess and lunch hour we would hang out by the school’s boundary and collect chestnuts or play soccer on the field with the big boys. We would discuss pressing issues like if you ran faster with karate-chop hands or with boxer fists – I think Jesse won because he pointed out that he saw an Olympic sprinter run with karate-chop hands.

Out of the two, I had met Nicholas first. He was in the same morning class as me in the first half of Kindergarten and continued with me when we switched to the afternoon class. We were the fastest runners in our grade. He wore Nike shoes like me and was taller and skinnier than most of the class. Best of all, his nickname was Nick.

Every gym class, Nick and I competed for first place. If we were skipping rope, I had to skip longer than Nick. If we were playing basketball, Nick had to get to the basketball bin first.

Later into Kindergarten, Jesse joined the class. He was the new kid and had long blonde hair that he slicked back behind his ears. Imagine a childhood version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. That was Jesse. He was of Irish descent and the first kid I knew to wear cologne to school. And damn proud of it.

All through Kindergarten the three of us forged a friendship made of steel. Or titanium. Always the greatest and strongest metal we could think of. We maintained our cameraderie with code names and top secret missions. If we were assigned to form groups in class for math or pick members for a team, we always schemed to end up together – sometimes by chance, mostly by choice.

After our first school year together, Jesse had his birthday in the summer. His party was at his house. There was a clown who made balloon animals and a magician who performed magic tricks. We ate rectangular Domino’s Pizza and shared a cake with quarters baked into it.

From birthday parties with clowns to Power Ranger play fights, we shared everything with each other: stories, secrets, and even first kisses (we were five and it made the girls at school laugh).

One day, in the middle of Grade 1, Jesse said he was moving. He was leaving for Mexico with his Mom. Jesse was excited and talked about going surfing; I was confused and sad. Here was one of my best friends about to leave. He said that he might move back in a few years. He didn’t.

Shortly afterward, I found out that I was leaving, too. My family was moving from Vancouver to Coquitlam, a forty-five-minute drive away.

That summer brought on mixed feelings: I was excited to live in a new house and sad to leave my remaining best friend Nick behind. I was going to leave my co-op where I had lots of friends and learned how to ride a bike.

For many, Kindergarten and Grade 1 are a long time ago but at age six everything is a first and time has a relative feel to it where there are few experiences to base your choices from; childhood is a time when you live through experiences that you do not know how to live through.

Being in a different school district, I had professional days off at my new school when my old school had class. Because my mom worked nearby, my brother and I took the opportunity to go back to our old school to visit our old teachers and friends for the day.

The first few times I went back, I even knew which class to go to see Nick, but I started to lose track of which room he was in and during some visits I didn’t even see him. Soon, he was more of a memory than a friend.

The last time I did see Nick was when I went to visit my old school on a professional day in Grade 6. I was walking out to the soccer field at the start of lunch hour when I ran into him on the way there.

He was with his friends, whom I did not recognize. “Hey Nick. How’s it going? Have you heard from Jesse?” His friends did not recognize me either.

Nick recoiled, saying spitefully, “No. Don’t you get it? He’s gone for good. He’s never coming back. Get over it”

Hurt, I pushed Nick down and walked away. I don’t know what was more painful: that I had to accept Jesse was gone or that so was my friendship with Nick.

Moving to a new city was like transplanting a tree. All the deep connections I made uprooted and planted somewhere new, the old roots severed and left behind. Though the tree is in its new plot with fresh soil covering the roots, it still takes some time for the ground around it to become solid and firm.

(What) Beauty is

Found this on (yet again) Tamarack Song’s blog Mongrel Scratchings:

I just read about a man who had a flower garden that he continually improved by pulling out the plain-looking specimens and throwing them in the garbage. One day while he was out walking, he passed by a flower garden more beautiful than is. Wracked with jealousy, he asked the gardener were she got her plants. She told him she was his garbage collector.

There’s more to the post that is very worth reading, but the power and the accuracy of these words are so overwhelming that I needed to share it.

You are not a wave

From Paulo Coelho’s blog, a story from Serdar Ozkan’s, The Missing Rose.

There was once a wave in the ocean, rolling along, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the swiftness of the breeze.
It smiled at everything around it as it made its way toward the shore.

But then, it suddenly noticed that the waves in front of it, one by one, were striking against the cliff face, being savagely broken to pieces.

‘Oh God!’ it cried. ‘My end will be just like theirs. Soon I, too, will crash and disappear!’

Just then another wave passing by saw the first wave’s panic and asked:
‘Why are you so anxious? Look how beautiful the weather is, see the sun, feel the breeze…’

The first wave replied:
‘Don’t you see? See how violently those waves before us strike against the cliff, look at the terrible way they disappear. We’ll soon become nothing just like them.’

‘Oh, but you don’t understand,’ the second wave said. ‘You’re not a wave. You’re a part of the ocean.’

The best true story on beauty I’ve ever heard

Posted from Tamarack Song’s new blog.

The small size of villages means that girls approaching puberty have few, if any, peers to compare themselves to. Thus they do not develop to maturity in a context of intense comparison and competition. Each young girl is likely to be the center of attention for a number of years. As a girl begins to mature, the men of the village offer running commentaries on the changes in her body—obvious in a culture where the breasts are not covered—and joke about wanting to marry her or to run away with her. It is unlikely that the attention will have to be shared.

This experience seems to inspire self-esteem, as shown in the following sharing I had with a twelve-year-old girl. Her breasts were just starting to develop, and I saw her admiring herself. She was a lovely girl, although not outstanding in any way except by being in the full health and beauty of youth. She saw me watching. I teased in the !Kung manner I had by then thoroughly learned, “So ugly! How is such a young girl already so ugly?” She laughed. I asked, “You don’t agree?” She beamed, “No, not at all. I’m beautiful!” I said, “Beautiful? Perhaps my eyes have become broken with age that I can’t see where it is?” She said, “Everywhere—my face, my body. There’s no ugliness at all.” These remarks were said easily, with a broad smile, but without arrogance. The pleasure she felt in her changing body was as evident as the absence of conflict about it.

From pages 269-70 of Nisa, The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (NY: Random House, 1983) by Marjorie Shostak.

a story

"The end of a path" by jimmedia

According to Islam: A wise man became a object of irony for the inhabitants of the city. One day he was walking down the main street with some of his disciples when a group of men and women began to insult him. The wise man went up to them and blessed them.

When they left, one of the disciples remarked: “They say terrible things, and you answer them with nice words.”
And the wise man replied: “Each one of us can only offer what he has.”


Excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s blog post: Wisdom

Getting ‘it’: a bus ride, a memory, a reflection

The other day I got on the bus at the station ready to go home as any other, when behind me sat a couple of high school kids. They must have been fifteen. They were talking about the usual boy subjects, trying out their newly deepened voices as most fifteen-year-old boys. They lived along the same bus route as me, but as I noticed from their conversation, they did not go to the same high school I went to. One went the the private school and one went to the French immersion school. A topic of conversation between the kids that came up was that the school district was considering adopting a new program called Mandarin Immersion, for the growing Mandarin speaking population. This was seen as a negative as they said that those Mandarin kids already speak their language at school anyways and they will only talk to other people from behind their electronic dictionaries. The boys said that if they (Mandarin people) didn’t know English, then they should not be allowed to live here. There were intonations surety in their voices as both seemed to come to an agreement on their views of a possible new program. The subject changed and they were building good feelings between each other; I could feel the warmth of their conversation as they were kindling a friendship. Meanwhile I felt hot from what I’d just heard.

Not finding a right time to interject to the two, they continued talking as the bus passed the high school I went to. Almost home, I thought, almost home.

Like the start of most friendships, they started talking about common interests. Gym class came up as one complained about doing a Military week at his school where they trained like soldiers. Today they had to crawl through the grass after each time they ran around the track. He liked his teacher. His name sounded familiar, but being in my own thoughts I wasn’t sure I heard properly. As chance had it, the other had this teacher before and that’s when I caught it, “Yeah, I really like him, too. Mr. Le’s my favourite teacher.”

In Grade 7, our teacher hurt her knee rollerblading over the weekend when at a teacher development day, doing a team building exercise. As a result, we were given a substitute teacher. In Science, we were in the middle of studying tectonic plates and the geological events that happen because of them: earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Our main assignment for Science was to make a storybook of how natural disasters affect cities.

My substitute teacher’s name was Mr. Le. He grew up in Vancouver and was Chinese like me.

Testing my identity and my newly deepened voice, I chose to make a panel about a tsunami off the shores of a West Coast city called Hongcouver, nation capital of Japanada. I thought it was hilarious. I was confident in my choice and the laughter and recognition I would get from my peers.

Mr. Le didn’t think it was so funny. He said those terms were derogatory. He took obvious offense to it.

I was confused, I’d really liked Mr. Le. I thought out of all the times we’d laughed in class, that this joke he would get.

Racism does not commonly manifest itself as overt discrimination in Canada these days. It is internalized, subtle and often invisible. Racism hovers around the fuzzy border of a private joke between friends and the misunderstanding and ignorance of well-intentioned colleagues or acquaintances. It is systemic and personal. But even though it is not always identifiable, it is no less real. Our challenge is to remember that it exists, and to act when we see it happen, by speaking up when we hear someone say something racist because we take offense to what they said, not who they are. Racism exists and the danger is when we pretend to be small and shrink from it, letting it go unseen and unheard.

The shortest day of the year

In my wallet is a gift card for a local coffee shop so I make my way there, I deserve a coffee. Walking up to the place, I notice it isn’t too busy. The shop radiates with a happy kind of busyness as the baristas freely give that extra touch of customer service to their senior patrons. Everybody meets me with a cheerful smile.

I order my Mocha and go.

Rain today and without a hat or an umbrella, my glasses catch water droplets – each one sticking to the lens, too minuscule to be affected by gravity. I get back into the car.

The coffee shop shares the square with a big name grocery store. I know by memory that there is a homeless man who usually sits by the doors there, collecting whatever generosity he can.

I remember that I have a couple of bananas I brought to work to last me until lunch. One, a ripe banana I put in my bag this morning, the other – also ripe – with a small tear in the skin from getting tossed around in my back pack last week. The smell of banana peel lingers slightly in the plastic, disposable bag.

A quick glance tells me the homeless man is there today.

I pull into the grocery store parking lot and find the first space I see in the middle of the lot. I take the bag of bananas and start trekking towards the man.

I usually give to homeless people what I can. I don’t break the bank but everybody is in need in some shape or form and when I am in the position to help I do. I know that $10 doesn’t buy them a steady life but if I have some food it’s better off in their empty stomach than becoming clutter in the fridge.

Other times it’s too painful to even chat, but today I can afford to.

His name is Mark. His nails are long and jagged and yellow. His beard is voluminous but not thick, each facial hair curls into a puffy spiral. His eyes are large and blue with a sadness that somehow makes him look younger than he must be. He wears a thick jacket, which is warm, tattered and grey, and has a gaze that momentarily meets yours, then drifts back to the low horizon. He sits leaning back on the brick wall of the grocery store, probably more out of convenience than comfort. Although he is tall, he walks with a slouch. His fingers are thick and calloused, his handshake soft and tender. He grips limply with the melancholy of a man who, like his community, has given up on himself.

I wonder how many years on the street it took to look like him. I wonder what he knows about our culture that I don’t. I wonder how painful it is to be here, one of the few, sparse homeless people in a suburban town. I wonder how often he thinks about ending his life and how often he is lonely. I wonder if he has a family and if they care about him or know if he’s still alive.

I give him the bag and say it isn’t much, but think inside that two bananas are better than fast food, and better than nothing.

I walk back and as I get into the car, I wonder if he sees the silver in my ring glimmer beneath my thick leather glove as I wave to him staring into nothing, and drive home.