Year of the Mole (1st Prize - 16-18 years)
Year of the Mole
It is to the credit of my useless mind that upon hearing the phrase “2012”, my first thought is that of a particularly repugnant mole.
To be fair though, the mole was more than repugnant. In fact, I would say that it was spectacularly repugnant; thoughtfully offensive in the way Lady Gaga could only wish to be.
My fateful meeting with this mole occurred around the spring break of 2012. Just weeks earlier, my parents had broken the news of an impending move to Shanghai in December. Even though we were in Hawaii, the entire break I could only worry about the consequences and cultural implications the move meant. How could I live in such a foreign place? How would I communicate when I couldn’t even speak Chinese? It was in this stressful mindset that I was able to meet one of the most life changing facial protuberances in my life. I was waiting in a long line of people at a supermarket, when an elderly Asian gentleman unashamedly cut me just as I had reached the register. Being the kind and courteous (read: gummy and spineless) person I am, I let him by without issue. The entire incident should have been unmemorable, had he not then proceeded to turn toward me.
When I saw his face, it was all I could do to suppress a gasp. In the lower right quadrant of his cheek there sat what appeared to be the holy moly of all moles. To scientifically quantify the mass of his mole I would estimate that it equaled about a mole of moles—about 6.022 x 1023 ordinary moles into his one massive mole. From the mole hung one comically long strand of white hair. It seemed to me the intrepid hair had decided to leave his tedious life on the scalp to pursue the uncharted expanses of face. As much as I was happy for the hair and his journey for self-discovery, I was less than enthused with the elderly man. Did he not see this sovereign creature he was cultivating on the side of his face? Did he not care what other people thought of him? How could he be so confident?
“Hwoaodokssrsok?” the man suddenly asked me in rapid fire Chinese.
I gaped, shocked that the mole had gained the ability to talk.
“HWOAODOKSSROK?” the man shouted, apparently believing Chinese became easier to understand at a louder volume.
I desperately looked around for some help. I was in a tough position. The old man was irritated because I wouldn’t respond to his question. The people behind and the cashier were irritated because I was holding up the line. Their collective glares spoke volumes. “You’re Chinese too, why can’t you fix this?” They were right. I was indeed Chinese, and by heritage I should have been able to speak it. I had once even been fluent. But I could not make up for years of missed opportunities in that one moment. So I did what I do best: absolutely nothing. This went on until another customer entered the store and helped translate. I fled the scene, grabbing the broccoli, the yogurt, and the few remains of my dignity.
I suppose I most clearly remember this event because it managed to encapsulate my year in 2012. In terms of defining the year, the majority of it was spent preparing for a move to Shanghai. Instead of December 21st 2012 ending the world, it ended my last day of school in America and started a new era in Shanghai. With a new era came creating a new identity. Having spent my entire life in the U.S, I used to identify myself as an “Asian American.” I now realize that this was not accurate. In reality I had spent the majority of my life trying to trade away any tokens of my Asian culture in favor of cool new nuggets of the American life. I had taken Chinese lessons at the insistence of my parents, only to quit when I found it boring. I ate separate dinners from my family instead of the traditional Chinese food. I immersed myself in American media, dressed in cool overpriced clothing, and watched the same movies and television as my peers. I did everything to change myself, to cleanse myself. That’s why it always concerned me when a friend would make an offhand comment referring to me as “the Asian girl.” I thought I had done everything to purify myself of the blemish of that culture, yet they still defined me by my Asian appearance? In hindsight I realize I took such offense because I saw my Asian ethnicity as not an integrated part of me, but rather a separate and cancerous being. I had seen my Asian culture as one gigantic mole. Instead of being proud that my face and culture held something unique, I hoped desperately that I could remove it so I could fit in. When people noticed my “mole” and made comments about it, I could only feel shame. Unlike the old man who wore his furry facial mark proudly, I saw no value in what it had to offer.
With my move to Shanghai, I hope that I can learn to find a better balance in incorporating both aspects of my Asian and American culture together. It is a learning experience to go to an international school and see such a diverse group of people from all over the world. In this kind of environment I’d like to think that I might change. Maybe one day, I might find a clearer self-identity, reconciling the different cultures to use them as an advantage. Maybe one day I’ll see my mole not as a blemish but as a beauty mark. Maybe one day I’ll be just like the old man, walking proudly out into the streets with the mole in all its offensive glory.
But the hair? I’m going to have to pass.
By Tiffany Wang