In my family, life as a young child was timetabled, hectic from the moment I awoke to when I was asleep. It’s a whirlwind of memories but there are very few pertinent ones that relate to a significant lesson learned. However, here are fewer memories that allow me to ponder as my ideas develop further with age. ‘Behind Closed Doors’ is an appropriate title for my essay and hopefully entices the reader to find out more.
Behind Closed Doors
You know the saying “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, I had the fortunate opportunity to experience what the quote really meant at the early age of five…
The long-awaited day finally came. The parade of buses honking their horns signaled the arrival of summer break. At the age of five, attending summer classes or preparing for SAT tests didn’t exist in my mind. ‘Summers’ back then, simply put, were like a never-ending road of pure delight. My parents were busy people, so we, my sister and I, were always sent to a summer camp or my Ayi’s hometown to play, but those are stories for another day.
As an overly optimistic child, I loved packing my own little suitcase. I felt just like a grown-up getting ready for a business trip. My special suitcase was bright neon pink and was heaped with overlapping Barbie stickers for decoration. Both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were my favorite princesses of all time. I would bring my box of candy, Barbie doll and my favorite green crocheted blanket. Preparing for a summer camp was always something I looked forward to.
In the summer of 2007, my mother had enrolled my sister and I at the “YuLong Summer Camp” a camp organized by an Orphanage Group, hoping to raise some money. It was located on the north side of Beijing. Unbeknown to me, aside for paying for the camp, our mother had also given a substantial donation to the orphanage, which later on had a greater impact on my experience than I had envisaged. My mother later explained that there is such a thing as jealousy.
The camp was a two-hour drive from our house and we drove over many bumpy roads. My heartbeat was in sync with the hurdling over potholes and graveled roads as the city outline became dusty from a distance. After driving past hundreds of squares of patterned farms and numerous times of me asking “Are we there yet?” we finally arrived at the destination. The camp had a string of triangle colored flags with the letters W-E-L-C-O-M-E, reflecting brightly against the beaming morning sunlight. The administrators glided eagerly toward our car, extending warm handshakes to my parents. One of them peered down upon me, and seemed to be smiling through grinded teeth, though her tone seemed friendly enough. I beamed a huge grin and proudly showed her where my front tooth once belonged.
Curiously walking into my dorm, it smelled of Hualushui*. The room looked like a hotel, simple but clean, comprising of twin beds that were close to each other and were dressed in stark, crisp white sheets with matching pillowcases.
During the week we would commence morning exercises and then have breakfast, which was rather simple, including, an egg, a bun, and a bag of milk*. The first morning, one of the administrators, Li Lao Shi came over to our table.
Favoring me especially, Li Lao Shi asked, “How is the food? It must be plain for someone like you.”
“Ya-” I mouthed.
“No, No. We enjoy these foods very much!” My sister interrupted.
In the afternoon my newest best friend ‘Echo’ and I would chalk the pavement to play hopscotch and we imagined the willow trees were the perfect setting for our secret club. I even learned how to use the traditional wooden washboard, although back then, I still had to stand on one of those plastic stools to reach the sink. I learned how to fold blankets into perfect cubes, just like how they do it in those military movies. However, as the cliché goes, ‘all good things must come to an end.’ I was under the impression that I was leaving because the plan would be to depart after just one week.
Much to my surprise, my Mom’s plans changed, and I had to stay for another week, while my sister had another summer camp to attend. Now that I was re-enrolled, my room arrangements had changed. I was now in a room with twenty people in bunk beds, and we shared a communal bathroom. I mean, I was perfectly fine with it, I was happy to be a part of a huge slumber party and meet even more friends.
The administrator of our dorm room was Li Lao Shi. When she was leaning towards me, it dawned on me that her hair was so incredibly white, just like the walls in the room and I wondered what the color of her hair had been, though I tried not to stare. Li Lao Shi slept right next to my bunk bed, often peering at me through her thick black-rimmed glasses.
Finally, with Li Lao Shi’s undivided attention, I took out all of my cherished items and placed them one by one onto the bed. Holding up a Barbie doll, I would ask her, “Did you know that this is one of a kind? My mom brought it for me for my birthday!” Extending the Barbie Doll closer to her, I asked again, eager to spread my joy with her, “Oh, Oh! And did you know this doll has a special bottom on the back of its neck that makes it sing! Do you want to try?”
Li Lao Shi would respond, “No.” quite harshly.
I would continue showing her my other treasured collections of toys, candies and…, asking whether she wanted to try it or not, but her response was always a cold, “No” or “Oh”. Was I being impolite from the way I was talking to her? Should I have called her Nin* instead of Ni*? Was I annoying her?
Her disgruntled mood was more notable when she began removing my breakfast tray each morning. I used my very best manners to ask for my food to be returned but she would just ignore me. As the next day passed, my voice quieted, as I tried hard not to displease her as to amend for something I must have said or done the night before. Once she even barked, “Just because your mother gave extra money doesn’t entitle you to having so much food on your plate”. My immediate reaction was to search for my sister, but I was alone, isolated. Luckily, I had smuggled in my box of candy to my dorm and that became my sustenance for the morning.
On occasion, I noticed Li Lao Shi in the hallways, talking to the other administrators. Whispering with each other, looking at me as she pointed her finger toward me as if she was casting a spell. It would always make me uncomfortable. With my heart racing that much faster, I kept my gaze low, bending my head and looking at the floor as I passed them.
At night, I reluctantly showered because the water temperature was so unbearably cold. Noticing this, she would accuse me of whining and would then shove me under the center of the shower. I ground my teeth trying to tolerate the piercing cold. Even today, I still have knee problems from that incident. My pillow would be wet from my silent tears. I was consciously disguising my emotions, as I knew she would detest me more. I felt trapped within this confined space so close to her. This camp, once warm and welcoming now felt more like a heartless cold prison. This one-week was starting to feel like months.
I itched with great angst counting down those final two days, hours and minutes until our driver would arrive. Perched on the pavement with my neon pink suitcase, I waited and waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, spotting the black jeep from afar, my heart raced with a huge sense of relief. I could breathe again! I ran up to my Mom, hugging her with all my might, not wanting to release her from my grip. I dared not look over my shoulder at that place ever again.
One might think that this horrible memory had left a ghastly stain on my childhood but it’s actually to the contrary. Always trying to see the glass half-full, I remind my five-year-old self, that actually, she was quite fortunate for this early lesson in life. This was one of those opportunities for growth. Behind the closed doors, not everything is exactly as it seems on the surface; however it is in these situations that the greatest learning takes place.
In my personal narrative, I portrayed myself as an innocent, spoiled little kid that a camp administrator disliked. The idiom used in the hook, and the foreshadowing in the rising action of the story, creates the dramatic question; “How will she learn the complex concept of ‘jealousy’?” This answer to this question is unraveled throughout the story. The setting change is in sync with the beginning of the conflict. For example, the change in dormitories highlights the change of circumstances. The setting change creates anticipation for the reader, thus moving the plot forward. Body language and external dialogue were used to illustrate my complex character, changing from once a talkative child into a more timid one. Internal dialogue was used to develop inner conflict between the appropriateness of my behavior. I used the literary techniques; alliteration, simile, metaphor, to exaggerate my emotions. For example, I used metaphor to describe the summer camp as a heartless cold prison, as it no longer prevailed as loving in my heart. I characterized my visual appearance, by using such phrases as; “I beamed a huge grin and proudly showed her where my front tooth once belonged,” to enhance my innocence. Additionally, the Barbie doll acted as a symbolic motif of my identity, as it symbolized wealth, and how the administrator disapproved of it. Furthermore, words such as “Hualushui” were used to amplify my identity, since it is a symbolization of the old Beijing. The variation in syntax length was used to contrast the levels of maturity. The longer sentences expressed my chattiness, and the short sentences expressed a stricter tone. The narrative is written in first person to invite the readers into my world. The resolution is written in third person to create distance, expressing change, and finally resolve the internal conflict.