Part 1 of 2. About nine months ago in the dead of night, I had a conversation that drastically altered the way I viewed the world and its strange ways. To date, it was one of the most illuminating and inspiring conversations I’ve ever had in the trajectory of my short life. I was UTown on a cool rainy February night with a good friend; we just finished our work and wanted some quiet time by the hilly hedge on the UTown green.
It began like this.
“So what do you want to do in the future?”
I hesitated. Up til a couple of months ago, I wanted to become a journalist. I wanted to translate what I was seeing into words I could call my own, and I felt a sense of importance mediating human experiences into touchable, tangible words that held as much meaning as you would ascribe to them. However, things changed, as they all did. I had something new in mind, something largely ludicrous and yet visibly miniscule. Something I could still call my own, but perhaps less probable and more of an impossibility. I sat quiet for a little while and said, “It’s probably never going to happen, but…” This ambition slowly slid out into the open. It was the first time I admitted it.
To my surprise, he simply nodded in a matter-of-fact manner. “Why isn’t it going to happen?”
“Because things like that never happen to people like me.”
“Because… I don’t think I’m in any way… enough?”
It was the first time I’d ever admitted my inferiority so quickly, and in response this is what he told me.
What do you see when you see me now? You see someone going off into the world and accomplishing things. You see someone throwing himself into work over-enthused, and with a resounding determination that permeates from the things I say and what I do. Everyone has the same reaction when I tell them I’m going to Cambridge on a scholarship — awe, shock, pride. But you know I wasn’t always who I was today?
You asked me if I had a rich dad before, right? Because you said I had the face. Actually, he was a gambler, debt-ridden, and gone.
Yes. He ran away when I was younger, and left all the debt to my mother. He quite literally disappeared and left no trace of where he was.
Yeah, I wasn’t a very good kid growing up as well. I failed my English exam when I was primary one.
It’s not that ba– hey, hey. You don’t have to comfort me. It’s pretty bad, and I knew it.
Yeah. It is.
My studies were never really good throughout secondary school too. But those were the least of my concerns.
I didn’t know how to read properly until I was seven. This continued up til secondary school. Then I got involved in gangs. I did the usual fighting, you know. The typical things you hear.
What. You did?
Yep, I went to fight other gangs after school and all that. Once, my “lao da” [gang leader] called us after school to fight, and it was the day they got arrested because one of the guys they fought got trashed really horribly. His mom then called the police and it somehow got traced back to my gang. But luckily, I was sick on that day itself and wasn’t present, so I got away. Haha, why do you look so surprised?
Just look at you now!
This is what I choose to show people. It’s easy to put on a front and leave the past behind — no, I mean, not forget it entirely, but using it as a stepping stone and inspiration to keep moving forward.
What happened after that?
I guess that was my first wake up call of many. I realised how close I was to getting into trouble with the law and I knew once your name got on the book, it never really gets out. And I knew how stupid it would be to get on the book for something inconsequential and let it affect your future.
You sound like the you right now – practical and rational.
Haha, that’s inherent in me. I just didn’t really act on it. Oh, oh, so that’s the gang story. Now to my studies. Anyway, my studies were really horrible. I never studied at all.
So what changed?
I got my results for chemistry in secondary four, and I was the lowest in school. Keeping in mind my school wasn’t a good school at all… it was pretty bad. My girlfriend at that time broke up with me around then as well. But the absolute worst thing was that my mom just looked me straight in the eye and told me she was giving up on me. So, you know, it was a really bad time.
That’s really harsh.
Yeah. But it was the wake up call. It was truly sucky to have someone so close to you give up on you… just like that. But at the time, I was proud and rebellious. I’ve always liked to prove people wrong. I decided that since there was no one left who believed in me and my abilities, the most dignified thing – and the least I could do – was to try to believe in myself.
What did you do after that?
I remember this. After my mom told me that, I just went into my room, shut the door, and sat at my desk. I opened my backpack and rummaged through it and took out all the worksheets and handouts I’ve crushed into paper balls.
Oh my goodness.
Haha, yes. I wasn’t kidding when I said I never studied. It was around July when I was secondary four, and I knew I had O’levels, but I really didn’t care.
Yep. I just unrolled every worksheet and just started studying what I could. It was difficult, but I just tried.
What happened next?
I just started studying all the way until O’levels.
And… how did you do?
Not bad, as you’ll see. Could have done better, but it helped me make the first step to where I was.