I have been in the process of finding myself all my life, beginning consciously at the age of nine. At nine, I asked myself why I didn’t enjoy playing with the other children. And then, why I couldn’t talk to them and enjoy fun conversations?
Instead, I spent time by myself drawing.
‘Tang Lu Wee,’ I remember one of my classmates saying, ‘What is it that you are drawing?’
I looked at my notebook and I too wondered what I was drawing. I never drew things that were easily recognisable. Even subconsciously, I didn’t like to be ‘normal’ that way.
So for a full minute, I didn’t answer her. I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t human, it wasn’t animal… what was it?
‘Oh! I know!’ she said, ‘It’s a kind of dinosaur!’
Before I could say anything, she sped off.
The Odd One Out
Unsurprisingly my preferences as a child meant that I did not have many friends. If you ask my primary school classmates how I was in class, they would tell you that I was quiet and kept to myself most of them… and nothing else.
I wasn’t particularly a good student. I was unmotivated by the school curriculum and waited each day for classes to end. I copied homework off my friends and if not, I didn’t do them.
I was not athletic. At the time, I tried my best to be sick during sports day. It was an embarrassing day of the year when I needed to be outside doing something I knew I would fail at.
‘You are always number 3…. out of 3… you should lose some weight,’ I remember my teacher telling me, ‘stop eating your sister’s share of food!’
For many years until I was 15 I felt all alone in this world. Even my family couldn’t understand me. At 15, everything changed.
It was at 15 years old that I met my high school best friend Maisarah. She was a new transfer student from Kuala Belait. While carrying her desk into the classroom, she accidentally hit me with it.
‘Ouch!’ I shouted. It was really painful to be poked by a desk leg.
She apologised profusely and we introduced ourselves.
We became inseparable after that.
I found out very quickly that she loved everything I loved. She loved drawing patterns nobody could understand, she loved writing, she loved reading, she loved looking at the stars…
For the first time in my life, I found someone who could understand most of the things I did.
She was also the first person who told me I was beautiful. ‘Lu Wee,’ she said one day, ‘you are the most beautiful Chinese girl I know.’
It seemed weird at the time but I learned that too from Sarah: to be willing to unashamedly give away praise.
At 15, I found myself through Sarah. I became OK with my own quirkiness. I became OK with wanting to be quiet sometimes (we often sat with each other without speaking for a few hours).
I became more motivated to be a better person. She always encouraged me and was always there for me.
We wrote each other letters and she often commissioned drawings for me. I still have that one drawing that she gave me from 2005.
We shared very good memories together. For the first time in my life, I was OK to be an introvert.
I always thought I was unathletic but a very hurtful comment made my father one day triggered me to question the assumptions made by myself.
I was 17 when my father told me, one day while I was lying on the sofa, ‘When you lie down, your fats roll out your clothes. You are so fat! You’re fat because you’re lazy. Can you really live this way?’
I said nothing in reply. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I asked myself, Is it true that I am lazy and unathletic? In my head it was true, but I didn’t want it to be. I thought about the options I had. I could go on being this way – fat and unathletic… or I could do something about it.
The next week, I signed up for my school’s karate club. I did it because karate seemed the most challenging compared to the other sports clubs in school.
In my first class I couldn’t run for more than 3 minutes. By the end of my first term, I could run 15 minutes. I went on to pick up sprinting, swimming and hiking.
Through karate, I learned that I really loved sports and I had a thing for outdoor adventures. My assumption that I was unathletic was wrong.
To be continued.