“Attention passengers! We are now boarding Class C on United Airlines flight 126, Honolulu to Los Angeles. All passengers with Class C on their tickets please approach the gate. We thank you for choosing United Airlines and flying the friendly skies.”
“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m finally leaving.” I rushed excitedly to stand in line and joined the throng of fellow passengers to board the airplane. I presented my boarding pass to the attendant in the blue United Airlines uniform and proceeded to enter the plane. As I waded through a sea of people, I finally found my seat, an aisle. The seat was blue and rather small. But when you are riding economy class, what can you do? I watched as the horde of passengers scrambled to their seats, like a herd of cattle being corralled into their pens. As the mass settled down and took their seats, the deep muffled voice of the captain of the plane announced that we would be taking off soon.
In no time, I felt the plane accelerate, and then simply lift off. As I glanced out of the window, I could see the tiny green island, my home, getting smaller and smaller. It was as if the massive mountains, the lush forests, and white sandy beaches, was all suddenly sucked into the intense blue of the ocean. I then saw some of our sister islands passing by, Molokai, Lanai, and finally Maui. All of which looked like tiny dots in the great blue sea. Only then did I come to realize that it was final. That I am actually leaving home, that I wouldn’t be able to see my family for a good four months, that I am starting a whole new chapter of my life.
Beside me, I saw a young couple with a small child that couldn’t be more than a year old. The little boy was wailing like a banshee and the couple desperately struggled to keep him quit. The young woman pulled out a large book from her carry on and began to show her son the pictures within it. The book was a picture book with all of planets in our solar system. She turned to a page that had a large picture of the moon. It reminded me of a story that my grandmother had told me about a Moon Maiden.
A long time ago, when the world was new, there were seven suns in the sky. The rivers were drying up at an enormous rate, plants were shriveling up, animals were dying, and the people were crying in agony. So, the gods asked a great hunter to shoot down six of the seven suns to solve the problems. The hunter got his bow and arrow and successfully shot the six suns down. The gods were overjoyed. To reward the hunter, they presented him a pearl that would grant him everlasting life. He graciously thanked them, packed it into a small wooden box lined with layers of silk, and took it home with him. When he got home, he put it on the highest shelf in his house and told his wife never to touch it. Of course, when the hunter would leave during the day, the wife would take the wooden box down from the shelf, open it, and carefully remove the glimmering pearl within it. She would then take the pearl, lick it, hoping that some of its magical properties might rub off on her. One day, while she was taking her daily lick from the pearl, her husband came in unexpectedly. Startled, she jumped up, and accidentally swallowed the pearl. In terror, she ran from the house with her raging husband running after her. The gods saw this and took pity on the hunter’s wife. To save her from her husband’s wrath, they placed her on the moon, far from her husband’s reach. Now, when there is a full moon, you can see her face, looking down on the earth below.
In August, many Asian countries celebrate moon festival. Moon festival is a time where families and whole communities would come together and celebrate the harvest. The story about the Moon Maiden is a popular tale that is usually told around that time. An important part of the celebration revolves around a pastry called a Mooncake. Mooncake are round in shape and generally symbolize the moon. My mother told me that because the Mooncake is in the form of a circle, that it also represented life. Because in Buddhism, believers believe in reincarnation and how life constantly revolves in a circle.
In Chinatown, my grandparents own and operate a small but very well known pastry shop that specializes in Chinese goods, and is especially known for their Moon Cakes. During Moon Festival, the store is always packed with customers eagerly awaiting the special annual treats that are made. All of the children and grandchildren would come down and help. Usually, the grandchildren would mainly restock goods that were running short or help out in the back where the candies and other goodies would be made. Once, when I was refilling the lotus root candy, one of my older cousins told me what the lotus root symbolized and why it was important. The lotus root is very tough and fibrous root, and when you try to cut it, it is very stringy. The lotus root symbolizes family and how we would always stick together no matter what. We moved down the line of candies to a stack of candied carrots. My cousin told me that carrots represent two things, money and good luck. She said that the carrots looked like the ancient currency that was used long ago and because of its red color, many believed that it would grant the eater good fortune.
Although it was a lot of hard work, working at my grandparents store was always enjoyable. Every time I would go down to help, I knew that I would have a great time, as well as learn a bit about my heritage as well. There was always just one more thing that I would discover when I would go to work there. What some of the different writings and pictures mean, traditions in respecting your elders, and ways a “proper” Chinese boy should behave.
Then, as I looked through the window again, it was nightfall. They started a movie, “Holes” I believe. As the beginning started, I saw the familiar shimmering blue Disney castle that preluded the start of every Disney production. With the brilliant streak of light arching its way above the castle, I thought back upon my last trip to Disneyland. I was about twelve years old and my family and I went to Disneyland for a summer holiday. One night, we were watching the electric light parade pass through Main Street, and we noticed that my younger bother was gone. I could see the fear and panic in my parents’ eyes as we began the search for him. We weaved in and out of the crowd of visitors searching for him. We asked people along the way if they had seen a small Asian boy with a black baseball cap and a Mickey Mouse shirt on. However, no one seemed to know where he was and seemed far too interested with the procession of lights going down the street. With my heart beating frantically, we searched for what had seemed like hours. As we neared the entrance of the park, we saw a building labeled “Lost Boys’ Home” with pictures of Wendy’s parents from Peter Pan. My father rushed in, and a few minutes later emerged with my younger brother in tow. I cannot even start tell you how relieved I was to see that he was ok. The thought of losing him was just too much to handle. Sure, he was a pest, but it was this moment that really made me value my family.
“Attention passengers! We have now arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport. The local time is now 9:00 PM. Thank you for choosing….”
I left the plane, proceded to my next flight that would bring me to Chicago. I passed numerous stores with the flashy displays selling overpriced goods to the wary travelers. I made my way through the ostentatious maze and found my way to the right gate. There, I passed the time waiting for my next flight.
“Attention passengers! We are now boarding United Airlines flight 105….”
As before, I boarded the plane, found my seat, and tried to get some sleep so I wouldn’t be dead when I arrived to my destination. However, while I was trying to venture into the land of slumber, I really began to think. Why did I only start missing my family once I boarded the airplane? Just days prior to leaving, I felt excited. I felt like I was finally going to escape my family and the monotony of living on an island. Over the past few years, I had felt that my parents were holding me back like a leash. I felt as if that by going to the mainland for college, that I would finally be “free” of them. Free of their strict rules, their constant watching stare, and just the overall confinement associated with them. But why was I starting to miss them then when I hadn’t felt an inkling of sadness before?
I started thinking back to when I was ten. I had just started to take up a new martial art, Aikido. I remember that someone had just performed a wrist-twist throw called kotegaeshi on me and I fell wrong. The pain was unbelievable. It was if my entire body was beaten to a pulp. With a great effort, I slowly stood up and started to tear. One of the senseis (teacher in Japanese) walked by and told me to stop crying, and “act like a man.” Immediately, I tried to explain what had happened, but he didn’t care. He just wanted me to stop crying and continue on with practice. I think that it was from that point that I began to bottle up my feelings and not express whatever I was feeling. All of my fears, anxieties, and worries about college had been repressed until that point.
“Attention passengers! We have now arrived at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The local time is now 6:00 AM…”
Disappointed that I didn’t get a wink of sleep, I trudged off the plane and what seemed to be a maze of concession stands rather than an actual airport. Amazingly, I was able to navigate though the confusing web of stores and found the right gate. Because United didn’t have a direct flight to Indianapolis, I had to take a smaller plane. After waiting a few hours, I finally boarded and was on my way to Indianapolis.
Now, I am in my dorm room and finally starting to unpack. With the addition of heat, dehydration, and jetlag, homesickness is starting to really take its course on me. I can’t even remember when the last time that I have cried so much. How am I ever going to make it here? A school in the middle of the continental United States that was so much different from my little Island home in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. How was I going to get along with my roommate? What if we could never get along? With the Boiler Gold Rush starting up in a few days, how would I adjust? Would I be stereotyped because I was Asian from a place where some people don’t even know is a state? How extreme would the culture shock be to me? However, I began to think of the last thing that my father told me before I left home. He told me that going to school is really going to be a test of character. It is going to test my morals, my beliefs, as well as my values. This I really took to heart. This school experience is really going to determine if I was brought up properly or not. All of my experiences, beliefs, and values are a part of me. They modeled me into what I am today. How will I fair at Purdue? Only time will tell. But with my culture, family values, and morals, I am going to meet my challenges head on.