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How can a caterpillar reach the other end of the sea

  • Author:Hopely Li
  • Release on:2017-01-22

“Will a caterpillar ever be able to reach the other side of the sea?”

“Yes, if metamorphosis turns it into a butterfly.”

But from the moment the iron bird landed in the roaring noise of Logan Airport with its wings proudly spread, my wings withered quietly in this unfamiliar country.

“I think...I don’t know...I just want to say...” My voice trailed off into the clamor of the grand dining hall of Deerfield Academy, my face paralyzed from smiling, nobody listening.

“Time is up!” Soft as it was, the firm voice of my English teacher exploded in my head. My hands trembling, sweaty and cold fingers could hardly hold the pen in position, under which lay an unfinished in essay about the significance of a passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Bewildered and frustrated, I found myself able to raise my head, like most of the Asian students, only in math class.

“Helen, what is your name in Chinese?” Rosie, a girl with pink cheeks, asked me one morning as I dropped my back pack onto the seat next to her.

“Gao Yuxin”, I pronounced clearly in standard Chinese, slightly startled by the spontaneity of the question. “Why?”

“Just interested. Can you write it there?” She pointed at the board.

I printed my name in Chinese characters “高雨莘” in the center of the board.

The class fell into silence. I turned and faced the questioning eyes, which reminded me of an American idiom I had learned in English class in China: “It’s all Dutch to me.”

“Yuxin (雨莘) is my first name. Yu (雨) means ‘to rain’ or ‘to give rain’ and ‘xin’ means ‘many’. ‘To give rain to the many’ stands for my parents’ hope that I can nourish and...and bring joy to the many people around me.”

Mild laughter, even one or two whistles rose from the silence. “Wow.” “Cool!”

“But I am new.” I murmured, “I think I need your help more than you need mine...” intimidated by the stillness in the air and the amusement in my classmates’ eyes.

“So, what are the four little dots in the character ‘rain’?” Rosie asked.

“They are rain drops.”

“What if I put eight dots in it?”

“Hmm...Big rain, then.” I answered, suppressing the laugh jumping into my throat.

“Really! That’s funny!”

“Just kidding!” escaped my lips.

A slight trace of puzzlement clouded Rosie’s face.

“Hahahaha!” No longer could I restrain the laughter. Three seconds later the whole class joined in.

Now, Rosie, reddened with embarrassment, indeed resembled a peony in full bloom.

For the first time since my arrival to the school, I laughed with such abandon, and my old ease, as Grandma said, with which fish swims in water. The Deerfield river, not the Yangtze River, but the same fish.

Helen Keller, after whom I named myself in English—a privilege reserved for most Asian students coming West—miraculously managed to communicate with the world and “nourished the many” despite her loss of vision and hearing. From the moment she learned her first word—“water”— by feeling the flow of the cold stream running from a tap across her fingers, she had taken her first step into the human river.

More than a century later, a little golden fish, who used to imagine herself as a butterfly that had flown across the ocean, is just starting her journey across the real Pacific Ocean.

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