A piece of graphite

When we were little my sister stabbed me in the knee with a pencil. The lead is still embedded in my knee. There’s a little blue dot where it is. I guess it broke off and the teachers had too much trouble getting it out.

She claims it was an accident. That somehow her freshly sharpened pencil ended up in my knee. I maintain that if you’re going to impale someone you should own up to it.

This all happened at Chinese school, a place we should never have been. My mother got the idea that since there are so many Mandarin speakers in the world it would be nice for us to learn Mandarin. A similar impulse motivated her to put us in French immersion.

Immersion was designed for kids whose parents spoke no French. Chinese class was the opposite. We were the only kids who hadn’t grown up speaking Mandarin with Chinese parents. As I said we shouldn’t have been there.

It was very traditional and we couldn’t keep up from the beginning. My mother refused to accept that it was a huge waste of money and our precious childhood Saturdays. Instead she found us a tutor. It didn’t really help.

Aside from being stabbed by my sister my main memories from Chinese school are of a sense of immense hopelessness and these huge assemblies they would have. I had no idea what was going on because I understood zero Chinese. Everyone would crowd into the gym at the Chinese Cultural Centre and I would stare at my hands.

The only thing I could pick out was when “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion was performed. It was the ’90s and Titanic had just come out. At least one group and sometimes two picked the song. As they started singing I was relieved that something familiar was happening even if it was a song that I didn’t really like that much for a movie I hadn’t seen. Somehow I managed to avoid seeing Titanic throughout my entire childhood. The entire premise seemed depressing and I didn’t find the ’90s floppy hair look that attractive. Sorry Leo.

At a party in high school I watched five minutes of Titanic, which happened to be the hand on the steamed up carriage window scene, entirely by accident. We were wandering around the house looking for someone and hoping to go to a different party. We stopped to watch after entering the room and then left again when the message telling us to change discs appeared on the screen.

The lyrics were in Chinese but I could pick out the melody. If you grew up in the ’90s you probably can too. It was everywhere for such a long time that no matter what you heard it enough to know it. Once I was out for karaoke and “My Heart Will Go On” came up. Every single one of my friends knew it from top to bottom. We’d never purchased the tape or CD but it was there in our brains, embedded like the piece of graphite in my knee.


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