Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. In this episode, you will hear about a moment of adversity called No Place to Go, a moment of an encounter called Encountering that Farmer, and a moment of a perspective called Just History.
Comments or questions are welcomed on Twitter @emilykaytan OR on my website.
Hello and welcome to Episode #32 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. These are real-life stories that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about No Place To Go, Encountering that Farmer, and Just History.
A moment of an adversity called: No Place to Go
College life was wonderful because it was my first taste of freedom. I was away from relatives who told me I didn’t belong all my life. Mom sent me to live with my grandparents, aunties, and uncles from a young age because having kids as a teenager was too much for her. Lucky for her, Grandma offered to take one off her hands, and it was me. Though Grandma took care of me and I learned many things from her, I was not free from the negative comments from my uncles. In college, I got to escape the emotional abuse and enjoy many moments of joy in between.
When it was vacation time, however, it was trying. Where was I going to go? I didn’t want to go home to any relatives. Where was I going to go? I’d ask myself again. Trying to answer the question was dispiriting. With little money and resources, vacation time was more challenging than college classes.
I’d often do some research and find a place to go. It would be somewhere a few hours or many hours away from where I could get to by car. I would have to find a ride from somebody, check hotel prices and the average cost of food. I would have to see where I could go to pass the time, too. Planning what to do during vacation was stressful when things cost money and being alone was no fun.
In my first year of college, I was lucky. My long-distance boyfriend in California invited me to visit, and I got to stay with him. Being seven years older than me, he took care of me a little. I didn’t continue visiting in my second year as it was a stretch for me to pay the airfare again. Dorms were closed during vacations, so I had to find a place to go.
Sometimes, I’d find a cheap hotel to stay in, and the vacation time would seem to pass by ever so slowly with me just watching TV and walking around nearby.
One time, a friend named Abby invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her family. On the one hand, I was thrilled to have somewhere to go and be with other people. On the other hand, I felt pathetic to spend it with a family that was not mine. And I was reminded that I didn’t have a family I wanted to see.
Another time, I hitchhiked, met some older ladies, and vacationed with them. It was nice to be taken care of a bit. Yet another time, I got a cheap hotel and roamed around all day exploring places. Instead of it being fun, it was lonely and exhausting to walk around all day. This occurrence happened many times, so I would stay at a hotel and not go anywhere on other vacations. It wasn’t just being tired from walking all day. Seeing places and tasty food would increase my appetite and entice me to want something but couldn’t get for lack of money.
One winter vacation was memorable. A good friend named Evan was going to travel with me to Los Angeles, but then he had to back out of it and go home to Hong Kong. He knew I needed to go somewhere and that I was alone. Amazingly, he got a friend from Hong Kong to come to America to go on vacation with me! Her name was Rhea. She was an interesting lady. From the beginning, everything was like a mix-up. It took a while before we found each other at the airport. I was a little late because the person driving me to Los Angeles got a little lost. Rhea was even later because she got so confused at the big airport with so many people around. And we had never met before. Anyway, she laughed and laughed about it. Everywhere we went, she would ask me how we were getting there and what the place was like. I repeatedly told her that it was also my first time going to each place. I never seemed to get through to her because she kept on asking. I was her tour guide; it was the blind leading the blind. Though it was frustrating vacationing with her at times, she was also hilarious. We’d get lost, and she’d laugh about it.
I didn’t eat much as I was saving money, and she’d laugh about it. But she’d give me half her sandwich sometimes. We’d see expensive hotel shopping, and she’d say we needed to stay at the fancy hotels we couldn’t afford. So, we’d sleep on the oversized lounge chairs with the lights on 24/7. We’d brush our teeth, wash our faces, and comb our hair in front of gold-plated faucets and marble counters. Even though I could not stay in one of the hotel rooms, I still found a little joy in between. We had places to go, and I had a new friend in Rhea.
During college, traveling was done out of necessity in that I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t see traveling as something fun to do; it was just an escape from relatives. Even though I did have some fun, it was more of a hardship to experience and an emotional drain to feel like I had no place to go or no place to call a warm home.
It wasn’t until many years later that I began to travel and enjoy it when I moved abroad. For one thing, as a mature woman with much more savings and no constraints, I traveled all over Asia. The more I traveled, the more I wanted to travel. In travel, I found experiences that I could not learn in school. I saw and felt things that I could not get from afar. I interacted with people of vastly different cultures that I could not grasp by remote learning. Most importantly, the broadened perspectives of the world couldn’t be more eye-opening and enriching.
Aside from an invaluable education, even having fun in different countries yielded different kinds of enjoyment that were indescribable and precious!
A moment of an encounter called: Encountering That Farmer
After seeing the many incredible clay terracotta warriors in Xi’an, China, decades ago, I learned that a small group of farmers accidentally discovered the life-size clay figures in 1974 while digging a well to find water. I further learned that they were made thousands of years ago because the Qin emperor ordered them. He wanted to live forever; he believed that if he had the clay soldiers and horses made, they would come alive in the next life to continue to protect and serve him. Findings of belongings to the Qin emperor and things of his period in history were monumental. After all, this was the emperor that unified China. I found the details of the story or the events in history fascinating. It led me to the gift shop to look for a souvenir.
I was hoping to purchase a souvenir to commemorate my trip to discover a great find of ancient China. Though I only bought a few things, I spent a substantial amount of time in the shop looking at everything in detail as I found them intriguing. Soon I saw people in a line quietly chatting. I wondered what the line was for and went over to look. I asked someone what was happening. I couldn’t believe my ears. People were lining up to get a photo or an autograph from the farmer Yang Zhifa, one of the farmers who discovered the Qin emperor’s tomb. Though the line was long, I decided I couldn’t miss this opportunity to make this encounter.
With patience, I finally stood before the farmer and got a photo with him. He was an older man with white hair and many wrinkles on his face. He didn’t say much or show much expression. His movements were slow. Standing next to him, I quivered in disbelief that I was standing next to the man who first found the terracotta soldiers. I felt the tingling sensation as if I was going back in history or touching a significant part of history.
I saw others ask for his autograph and I watched him slowly write his name a number of times. I later learned that because people wanted his signature, he had to learn to write his name. He was a farmer and did not get a chance to go to school in his past. Writing his name for tourists appeared to be a painstaking task for him. He didn’t seem to care for the attention he was getting and seemed unaffected by the respect people showed him.
If you saw him on the street, you would probably not even notice him; he did not look like anybody unusual. He wore a gray, loose-fitting, drabby, and wrinkled outfit that was typical attire for his time. It looked like what I often saw people wear in old kung fu fighting movies. He was a poor farmer with a humble demeanor.
My encounter with this person was an eye-opening moment. Even though he was poor and appeared poor, I admired his unassuming disposition. Even though he accidentally discovered the terracotta soldiers while digging a well for water, he inspired me to believe that one person can make a difference in the world.
Because Yang Zhifa discovered a significant piece of China’s history, he brought wealth to Xi’an. His discovery created new job opportunities and brought thousands of tourists to Xi’an. It made the area famous. If not for his discovery, Xi’an could still be a little-known poor province. Who says one can’t make a difference in the world? Sometimes, you can even do it by accident!
A moment of a perspective called: Just History?
When I took an informal survey with fifth-grade students, they told me history was their least favorite subject. Like them, I told them I didn't care for history in fifth grade either, but I said that they would love history as I do now by the end of the year. They didn't believe me, but I was so enthusiastic about it that I was confident they would like it.
I proceeded to say, "You probably think who cares about all these old people? Who cares about all these things that happened in the past?" The students agreed. "But did you know that everything today has something to do with what happened in the past?" Hmmm.
As I was teaching history, I needed to connect it to the lives of today; I needed to explain that the origins of something today have something to do with something in the past. History explains to us why things are the way they are today! By tuning in to children's natural curiosity, I'd ask, "Why do you suppose …." "What do you think might have happened in the past that made it this way now?" They seemed to love to guess. At least the guessing engaged them, and they wanted to know. Their reading had a purpose: To find out the reasons for why something happened, to find out what led to what we have today, and so on.
Before teaching U.S. history, I asked, "Do you know why we speak English in America?" Nobody knew; it was just a fact to them. I said, "We could be speaking some other language instead of English. But because of something that happened before, that's why we speak English. Let's find out!" After learning about the early explorers and settlers to America, they were just stories to my students. I had to bring back the question, "Why do we speak English in America?" Some students discovered the connection and brought it to everyone else's attention, and it was an Ah-ha moment. When we proceeded to act out and debate some of the issues early colonists faced, history came alive for students, and they discovered that they too have problems today, just like the early colonists did.
By the end of the school year, I asked, "Who likes history? The majority of the students said they did! Only one student didn't raise his hand. I said, "Remember at the beginning of the school year, none of you said you liked it?" They remembered and agreed that they indeed had changed their minds!
Here I am with another schoolyear of teaching new students history. The students say they dislike history or thought it was not enjoyable. Before I proceed to do what I do to make history enjoyable to them, I thought I'd revisit my evolving interest in history.
Many years ago, I took many trips to China. It was before China became so modernized with high rises, big stores, and technology. People asked me what was so interesting about China. I said, "You go there, and you can step back in time without going in a time machine." You can see things of the past in the present day. There was so much that was left as is. Some things sat there for 100s of years without anybody fixing them up. They looked so old; they felt so old; I could feel the history. Most remarkable is like I read about some ancient heroes or philosophers, and then I go to the place where they have been and see their hometown, their tombstone, and feel like the history I read about is natural. Many architecture, land, and structures remain as they were 100s of years ago. They look just like the pictures I had seen in books. What was learned in books was seen in real life before my eyes.
I recently started teaching in a new history book, and at the beginning of the book, I saw a picture of terracotta soldiers. I remember my excitement in learning the history behind it. My students recognized the soldiers and thought nothing of it. They knew it was from China, and they didn't care for it. I said, have you ever been there? Have you ever seen it for real? None of them did. I proceeded to tell them what I learned before I saw it, what I felt when I saw them, what more I knew about them after I saw them. I was telling a story, and it was a true story because it was history. I explained why they existed. As I shared the story, I was fascinated, and my students began to show that it was a bit interesting even though I suspect they didn't want to admit it.
After a year of teaching history to another group of students, I asked them for their favorite subject, and the majority said it was history. My enthusiasm and interest in the subject have spilled over to them.
Perceptions can change with age or experience. But perceptions can also change when provided the opportunities to see things differently or peek into different windows. Learning about something in history is an example of how perceptions can change about a subject, but importantly, how our perceptions of anything can affect our view of the world and impact our lives.
Key Takeaways: Though traveling during my college days was no fun because I was short on money, I grew up being able to travel to many countries and have fun. I also caught the travel bug and enjoy the gems of a travel education.
Though I only met one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta soldiers, I was touched by the magic of how one person could make a difference for a whole country.
Though I didn't care for history as a child, I grew up appreciating history during my travels. Further, I can impart its intrigue and develop enthusiastic students on the subject.
Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Going Hungry, Butterfly Lovers, and From A Deserted Island.
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