Teenage Years

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Three months before I finished sixth grade, my dad’s work was not doing well and didn’t make enough money to feed many mouths. I was asked to stop going to school and started working in a factory.

My dad took me to a factory a quarter mile from home. He signed a paper. I started working the next day and walked to and from the factory.

It was a factory that made the plastic flowers and Barbie dolls. All the workers were female. They were from young teenagers to older adults. The factory supervisor assigned tables to the workers according to their ages and skills. The older women were assigned to easier tasks such as cutting. The younger girls were assigned to tasks that required fine dexterity coordination. They all sat on the picnic-style benches around a rectangular work table.

When I started working in the factory, my first assignment was to assemble the clusters of flowers. A few months later I was assigned to paint Barbie’s faces and glue Barbie’s hair on the headpieces. I started to make some friends with the factory workers who were about my age.

I missed school very much. My dad had never explained to me why I had to stop school and worked in the factory. My younger brother eventually told me that my teacher came to visit my parents and expressed that I did well at school and would like to see me finish sixth grade.





Early Education

I was six years old when I started first grade. Both of my parents worked, so I took care of one younger sister during the day. I went to night school until 4th grade. From home to school was one-third of a mile walk. I walked by myself in the first grade, the following year my sister #8 reached school age, we walked to school together.

The teachers liked me, and I liked the teachers. The best thing was that when I was in first grade, my teacher Mrs. Leung said I was bright, and that made a big impact on me. The confident in me about learning has been evident throughout the rest of my life. I am so grateful for Mrs. Leung. When I became a teacher, I naturally made positive comments to my students and encouraged them to do the best. I was keen to notice the strength of the students and praised them in the class. Many students excelled because of my encouragement.

During the first grade, we had a school field trip to Shatin to visit the rice field. My mom packed the picnic lunch for me. She warned me to be careful when walking on the mud paths. When we arrived Shatin, each class formed a line following the teacher. We walked on the soft mud path between the rice fields from one end to the other. I was overcautious because of my mom’s warning. The young growth in the rice field was waving the heads to attract my attention. My foot stepped on the soft edge of the mud path and went right into the water. My shoe got soaked wet. My mom didn’t say anything when she saw my wet shoe.

My dad wanted me to memorize certain lessons in Chinese literature. There was one week when I couldn’t recite the lesson, my dad gave me a good spanking. My mom tried to block the paddle and got one strike on her hand. When looking back, I gave credit to my dad for my good grades. He checked my homework every night and quizzed me every week. It was a blessing to have a dad who cared so much about my education.

All the subjects were taught in Chinese. English was taught as a literature subject. Hong Kong was a British Colony and English was the official language. My dad wanted me to learn English, so he sent me to English tutoring when I was in fourth grade.

I was nine years old when the ninth brother Albert was born. After my mom fed him, I carried him on my back to walk around in the neighborhood. There were no televisions, not even black and white ones. People listened to radios. Not everyone had a radio either. I carried my brother and stood outside of the store downstairs to listen to the radio. On our flat, one of the occupants had a radio placed on a little wooden shelf on the wall midway from the ceiling. I liked to listen to the news broadcast. I remembered the theme music for the noontime news. Years later, I identified it as the Overture of Bizet’s opera Carmen. The music started from the beginning of the Overture, after about thirty seconds, the music faded as a female voice came in to announce the news. I also remembered staying up until 11:00 p.m. listening to “Midnight Mysteries” which were ghost stories.

My mom gave birth to three more siblings. With so many babies and toddlers, my mom quitted working and stayed home to take care of the kid. Since my mom was home, my dad decided to send me to day school. It was in Wan Chai, half an hour tram ride from home. We had school five and a half days a week.

There were forty students in the class. At each grade level, there was a master teacher who taught Chinese literature. All the other subjects were taught by single subject teachers. There was a President for each class. When the teacher walked into the classroom, the class President called out, “Stand up.” The students arose and said, “Good morning, Teacher.” The teacher responded, “Good morning.” The class President commanded, “Sit down” to direct the class to sit.

I enjoyed the music lessons from Mrs. Cheung. I learned and memorized many songs. In 5th grade, there was a singing contest at the end of the school year. I entered the contest and won 4th place. The song I chose to sing was “What a Beautiful Waterlily.” I later recognized that the song was a tune in Puccini’s opera Turandot.

I made friend with the music teacher’s daughter, Shirley. Shirley had been taking piano lessons from her mom and practiced piano every day. I loved to visit her and listened to her piano practice. We became good friends and carried our friendship through adulthood.

She was married and moved to London. We continued to correspond throughout the years. When we traveled to London on a tour in 2006, we arrived in London prior to the tour group. Shirley and her husband took us sightseeing for five days.