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"Two Kinds" by Amy Tan [Mar. 23rd, 2009|07:47 pm]
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[cakewaltz]
TWO KINDS
AMY TAN

The narrator is a young Asian girl who has a culture issue with her Chinese mother. I did fairly well with this piece, but it's pushing 10:30 depending on how you read it.


My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.

"Of course, you can be a prodigy, too," my mother told me. "You can be best anything.“

America was where all my mother's hopes lay. She had come here after losing everything in China: her home, her husband, and her twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret. Things could get better in so many ways.

At first my mother thought I could be a Chinese Shirley Temple. We’d watch her old movies and I would see Shirley tapping her feet or pursing her lips while saying “Oh, my goodness.” My mother even took me to a beauty salon, but instead of getting curls, I emerged with a mess.

“You look like a Negro Chinese,” she lamented. Though my hair was eventually fixed.

Still, in the beginning I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so. In all of my imaginings I believed I would become perfect. But sometimes the prodigy in me became impatient. "If you don't hurry up and get me out of here, I'm disappearing for good," it warned. “And then you'll always be nothing."

Every night my mother would present new tests. The first night she showed me a story about a young boy who knew the capitals of all the European countries.

"What's the capital of Finland?” my mother asked.

"Nairobi!" I guessed, saying the most foreign word I could think of. She checked to see if that might be one way to pronounce Helsinki before showing me the answer.

The tests got harder - multiplying numbers in my head, predicting the city’s daily temperature, standing on my head without using my arms.

Again and again I saw my mother's disappointed face and something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. So then when my mother presented her tests, I performed listlessly. I pretended to be bored. The tests began to grow shorter. She was beginning to give up hope.

And then one day my mother was watching TV - silence. She seemed entranced by the music, a mesmerizing piano piece.

I could see why my mother was fascinated by the music. It was being pounded out by a little Chinese girl, about my age.

In spite of these warning signs, I wasn't worried. Our family had no piano and we couldn't afford to buy one, let alone reams of sheet music and lessons. But three days later my mother told me my schedule for piano lessons. My teacher would be Mr. Chong from upstairs. Mother had traded housecleaning services for lessons and a piano.

When my mother told me this, I felt as though I had been sent to hell.

"Why don't you like me the way I am? I'm not a genius! I can't play the piano!"

My mother slapped me. "Who ask you to be genius? Only ask you be your best. For your sake. You think I want you to be genius? Hnnh! What for?"

I soon found out Mr. Chong was deaf and his eyes were too slow to keep up with the wrong notes I was playing. So I also learned I could be lazy and get away with mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

So maybe I never really gave myself a fair chance. But I was just so determined not to try. Not to be anybody different.

So I practiced like this, dutifully in my own way. Then one day I heard my mother and Auntie Lindo talking. Her daughter, Waverly was my age, and we hated each other. Waverly Jong had gained a certain amount of fame as "Chinatown's Littlest Chess Champion."

"She bring home too many trophy." Auntie Lindo lamented. "All day I have no time do nothing but dust off her winnings. You lucky you don't have this problem.”

And my mother squared her shoulders and bragged: "Our problem worser than yours. If we ask Jing-mei wash dish, she hear nothing but music. It's like you can't stop this natural talent." And right then I was determined to put a stop to her foolish pride.

A few weeks later Mr. Chong and my mother conspired to have me play in a talent show with a piece called "Pleading Child.” It was a simple piece that sounded more difficult than it was. I dawdled over it. I never really listened to what I was playing. I daydreamed about being somewhere else, about being someone else.

My parents invited everyone to witness my debut. When my turn came, I was confident. I had no fear whatsoever.

Then I started to play. I was so caught up in how lovely I looked that I wasn't worried about how I would sound. So I was surprised when I hit the first wrong note. And then I hit another and another. Yet I couldn't stop playing. I played it all through to the end, the sour notes staying with me all the way.

When I looked up the room was quiet. The audience clapped weakly, and I sat down, with my whole face quivering as I tried not to cry.

And now I realized how many people were in the audience - the whole world, it seemed. We could have escaped during intermission but pride must have anchored my parents to their chairs. After the show everyone came up to us.

"Lots of talented kids," Auntie Lindo said.

Waverly shrugged. "You aren't a genius like me." And if I hadn't felt so bad, I would have punched her stomach.

But my mother's expression was what devastated me: a blank look that said she had lost everything. I thought she’d wait until we got home before shouting at me. But when we arrived, she walked straight in. No accusations, No blame. In a way, I felt disappointed.

I had assumed that my talent-show fiasco meant that I would never have to play the piano again. But two days later, my mother saw me watching TV.

"Four clock," she reminded me, as if it were any other day. I was stunned. And then I decided, I didn't have to do what mother said anymore. I wasn't her slave. This wasn't China. I had listened to her before, and look what happened. She was the stupid one.

"Four clock," she said once again.

"I'm not going to play anymore. Why should I? I'm not a genius." I now felt stronger, as if my true self had finally emerged. So this was what had been inside me all along.

"No! I won't!" She yanked me onto the hard bench. I was sobbing by now.

"You want me to be something that I'm not! I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!"

"Only two kinds of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

"Then I wish I weren't your daughter, I wish you weren't my mother.” As I said these things I got scared. It felt like worms and other slimy things crawling out of my chest, but it also felt good.

"Too late to change this!"

And I could sense her anger rising to its breaking point. I wanted see it spill over. And that's when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about. "Then I wish I'd never been born! I wish I were dead! Like them."

It was as if I had said magic words. Her face went blank, her mouth closed, and she backed out of the room, stunned, as if she were blowing away like a small brown leaf, brittle, lifeless.

It was not the only disappointment my mother felt in me. In the years that followed, I failed her many times, each time asserting my right to fall short of expectations. I didn't get straight As. I didn’t become class president. I didn't get into Stanford.

Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be, I could only be me.

And for all those years we never talked about that disaster as if it were a betrayal that was now unspeakable. So I never got to ask her what frightened me the most: Why had she given up hope? For after our struggle, she never mentioned my playing again. The lessons stopped. The lid to the piano was closed…shutting out the dust, my misery, and her dreams.
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