Welcome to Paradise


     Jesse stumbled across a road clouded over with dirty-faced children and drunken youth. They called out to him. Silently with vacant eyes or with speech drenched with sweat and drink. He closed his ears to the noise, but the same wet raw sounds were already in his head; they had always been. He made his gait clipped and short. His breath became careless.

     The parking lot of the 7-Eleven was waiting for him. It had always been waiting, quiet and wavering, wasting away when no one was watching. He always visited, because the store had an aura of paleness and hollow eyes and cigarettes, which summed up Jesse’s existence.

     Jesse leaned against a wall splattered with black graffiti and lit a cigarette. Humid air played with his skin. His sweaty black shirt clung against his torso, making him want to shove a lighter down his shirt and watch it burn.

     He hid and watched the children on the sidewalk. They were playing in puddles of mud or sitting aimlessly on the crumbly red earth. He had half a mind to offer them a cigarette. He rummaged in his pocket for one; he’d run out.

     Jesse turned towards the convenience store. A patchwork of corrugated neon lights and zinc roof looked back down at him wearily. He’d never actually been inside. He figured he’d go in and stock up on smoke, so he started padding towards the entrance, earth and trash crumpling under his raw feet.

     The old man that ran the 7-Eleven was well-known. People had visited the store, noticed the man and decided he was a nice object to spread rumors about. His face was a slab of pallid glass with two sunken eyes staring wildly at things no one else could see. There was a permanent crooked grin on his lips which reminded Jesse of crawling insects as he stepped inside, feeling somewhat self-conscious.

     His eyes were glinting like beetles as they followed Jesse’s movement.

     Jesse’s voice came out a distant croak. He cleared it awkwardly and tried again. “Can I have some…uh…”

     The man shook his head disapprovingly. Then he opened his mouth. His lips crawled up his face.

     “You kids’er all such rednecks.”

      Jesse’s back straightened as if tied to a board. “Careful who yer talkin to, gramps.” He sized up the man. Frail and fragile. Not hard to fight off.

     The man’s mouth abruptly closed. His forehead knotted in a scowl.

     Then he burst out laughing. At least, he thought it was laughing, because it was more like giant hiccups being peeled off his throat.

     “You kids,” he gasped. “Born and raised by hy-po-crites.” Enunciating the last word, each syllable much too precise.

     He hiccuped gleefully for another minute. Jesse didn’t know whether to be offended or not.

     He finally stopped giggling and said, “You kids, you’re—you kids’er fulla lies. They plugged. Plugged it into you. Like force feedin’!” He slapped his knee and gave a guffaw. “Force feedin’ a baby!

     “Hey, uh, I’m just here to smoke,” said Jesse, bemused by the man’s words.

     The man’s face suddenly became sober. “Apologies. I shouldn’t laugh bout somethin’ like this.” He sighed. “Cigarettes’er 5 cents and a few minutes of conversation.”

     “I don’t get you.”

     “You got five cents?”

     “Yeah.” Jesse dug out a nickel and slid it across the counter.

     “You got a few minutes to spare?”

     Jesse shrugged. “Bored to death.”

     The man sat forward and cupped his cheeks in his hands. “It’s been a while since anyone talked to me. Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t lonely. I just know somethings a lot of you slum goers don’t. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one in this hellhole of a planet that knows. So listen here.”

     Jesse remained silent and confused.

     “There are some people out there who want it in for you.”
     “That’s not new,” Jesse smirked.

     “They ain’t them boys you pick fights with on the streets, kid.” The man chuckled sardonically. “They’re the people who wanna keep this slum a slum and they wanna make you stay here forever. They’re the people who drive around smelling like money in fancy ass cars dishing out propaganda about helping those in poverty. They don’t care about your well being. Politics is just crazy rednecks who just want to raise you kids as rednecks and rule the world with redneck agendas.” The man paused to let this sink in, then said in a majestically bitter air: “Welcome to paradise, kid.”

     Hollow faces that Jesse had long tried to suppress appeared in his mind. Stoned mother. Starving sisters. Careless brother shot dead by teen gangs he refused to comply with. Father shot dead when trying to avenge his son’s death. The song of clicked bullets fired oh so cold and straight, like beer bottles breaking against pavement, back and forth between police and gangs and police and gangs and—

     He put a sweaty hand to his forehead. The image of his brother’s bullet-ridden body on the ground had never really gone away.

     ‘So what’re you gonna do?”

     “What-what d’ya mean?” he stammered, thoughts spinning into directions he didn’t want them to go.

     The man leaned closer. “What’re you gonna do bout them rednecks?” His hot breath licked his neck. “You ain’t just gonna let them be there, ain’tcha? They’re the ones recycling our minds and using them to churn out civil society for them filthy rich up there. They’re choking you. You ain’t just gonna…let them.” He hesitated when he noticed Jesse’s incredulous face. “Are you?”

     In a sudden fit of devastated fury, the old man flung himself away from Jesse and threw himself on the counter, sobbing uncontrollably. “Insane,” he choked out between gasps. “They’ve made you insane already. Too late. Nothing’s gonna change.”

     Jesse stared down at the old man’s hot tears. It was too much.

     He stumbled inside the bathroom stall of the 7-11, feeling as if he were about to vomit. The smell of cheap perfume and staleness smothered his nostrils.

     A cracked mirror clung to the wall. He stared at his reflection. His lips were chapped, eyes faded. The fragments pointed directly at his face like knives, making himself seem broken. Shattered. Fitting in nicely with his crippled surroundings.

    He felt the wall for a bare section and leaned against it, hands shoved in pockets. A drift of light fell into the stall. It created more shadows than it lit places.

     The old man’s words flitted around in his mind. He closed his eyes, making a tired attempt to shut them out. The man was senile. He had no need to listen to his radical and pessimistic ideas. No need at all.

     He tilted his head back, vision blurred. Fingers dragged against the wall desperately. Traces of graffiti burned under his fingertips. He turned and stared. Webs of faded color spread across the wall. Black and blue and green and red. Messy and cracked and tarnished.

     In the middle of it all, a crisp bold word, written just at his eye level: Welcome.

     The letters were tinged with sharp sarcasm. Who would welcome anyone here?

     More words: SUCk It

     and a profusion of profanity

     and countless names and signatures of countless Chicago citizens.

     He leaned back and stared at each name. Each held a living breathing person. Living a slum life. Dirty and ragged life. Losing family, businesses, minds.

     He heard the names screaming. Sobbing. Brusque rapid ragged breaths. Their pain, only heard through walls of graffiti.

     And no one cared.

     They’re choking you.

     He wasn’t breathing. It dawned on him that he hadn’t been breathing his whole life.

     His eyes fell on a final name. A guttural scream ripped from the scrawled letters. He sank to the floor, fingers clawing at the words written on the wall, body taut, clenched. Then he fell apart.

     Hours later, morning came. An amber glow rose gloriously. It illuminated his still body.

     Jesse quietly stood back up, left the bathroom and vowed never to return. The old man was seated again silently at the counter, as if nothing had happened, the twisted smile still crawling over his face.

     He stood uncertain under the shadow of the old man. After a few moments where a silent exchange passed between the two, he turned to leave.

     “You forgot your cigarettes.” A cracked sound escaped the man’s lips.

     Jesse turned.

     “Keep ‘em.”

     “Good luck, kid.”

     “Thank you.”

Inspired by Green Day’s City of the Damned

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I Know All About War


Poem inspired by the Portable War Memorial, a 33-feet long installation by Edward Kienholz

I know all about war!
I learned from picture books and TV

It’s adults standing resolute

Undaunted against the enemy.

My daddy went to war!
He learned to shoot a gun

Came back in a shiny hearse

and said we won, we won.

Gee, Ma, a drink machine!

Can I have my pick?

I’d like to pretend it’s whiskey

The kind real soldiers drink.

Daddy din’t drink whiskey, you say?

Then I’ll pretend it’s beer

And just like Daddy used to do

I’ll drink away my fear.

Ma, I’m a grown soldier now

Grand things are in store for me!

Just you wait, no one lays a hand

on My Country ’Tis of Thee.

Hey, Ma, I haven’t washed in weeks

The water by my cot keeps freezin’

I keep meaning to read that bulletproof Bible

but some days I kinda stop believin’.

But the belief comes back eventually:

Rest easy, Ma, I just take some prozac

for some borrowed brass, y’know? It’s

alright—say, did Alice marry that poor sap?

Sorry Ma, I haven’t written you for a while

I’ve been busy reading this new pamphlet

It’s called “Why We Fight”. Sometimes I read and think

If fighting’s so grand, why does nothing go as planned?

The sky’s about to explode, Ma,

It’s holding so much bullets

Nothing went as planned, Ma, I’m so sorry

I’m so sorry

Is this how Daddy—

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Small But Mean (Humanities DEAW Story)


Being the oldest of five siblings, Caiman had certain responsibilities. Being the big, strong daddy dude was one of them. He pondered this term: Daddy dude. That was what he was now, a daddy to the four kids living on ten squares of cement on Rue des Miracles, Port au Prince, Haiti. But he was also just a dude, living like anyone else did: to survive.
It was a little easier for everyone else to survive, though. He trudged through streets, passing people wearing fancy watches and the like. They didn’t just survive. They enjoyed. Caiman and his four siblings didn’t really get to enjoy things.
A caiman is a type of alligator-like animal, with powerful jaws and teeth. Smaller, but very aggressive when compared to crocodiles or alligators. That’s what Caiman wanted to be: small, but mean.
It was nine in the evening. Caiman, Kaira, Adrian, and Domevlo all skipped supper. Femi, as she was just under one year old, needed food, however. The rest knew that.
Caiman could smell something. It smelled like dirt, rotten fruit. Like garlic. Caiman had had his share of bad smells; he’d been through garbage cans more than a few times since he started living on the streets. But this smelled like nothing he had ever smelled on his life. It was almost inhuman.
He was almost afraid to go on, but he knew Femi’s dinner was more important than some smell. He put one foot in front of another, trying to breathe through his mouth. Then he stopped. That was because the source of the stench was standing right in front of him.
“You must be really dumb.”
Caiman’s eyes traveled up to a boy. It was impossible to see him clearly in the dark, but he could see enough so that the boy’s muscles and bulldog figure were glaring at him in the face.
“I said, you must be really dumb.”
Caiman said nothing.
“You deaf or somethin’?” the boy said.
Still Caiman said nothing.
Suddenly, the boy let out a loud laugh. “Dudes, look what I found on the street.”
Instantly, several more kids appeared out of the darkness. “You found a runt.”
“Yeah, but he’s funny. Look. Hey, runt, whatcha doin’ in our territory?”
Caiman stayed silent, trying to calculate how he would handle all of them in a fight.
“See, he’s like a statue or somethin’,” the boy commented.
“A runty one,” crowed someone else, and bursts of laughter rose from the rest.
“Lookee here, runty statue,” the boy drawled. “If you wanna get to wherever you’re going, you gonna have to say somethin’, y’know?”
“Stupid, statues can’t talk!” yelled one of them in glee, causing more laughter.
The boy ignored them. He leaned in closer and said in a menacing whisper, “What are you doing in my territory, runt?”
Caiman couldn’t help himself. “What are you, a dog?”
The boy’s face contorted in anger for a moment. Then he bust out laughing. “Dudes! He’s the funniest runt I ever met in my life! What are you, a dog? I’ll show you some dog, runt.” He started rolling up his sleeves and advancing towards him. Caiman backed up and slammed into a wall, immediately knowing he’d made a mistake. The boy was smiling, but his eyes were close enough so that he could see they were as black as lead and stone-hard. He closed his eyes as the first punch connected with his stomach.
Caiman doubled over, about to vomit. The boy smirked as he held Caiman off the ground. “Don’t you go throwing up on me, runt.” Then he brought him closer to his face and said, “By the way, I’m Invincible Muscle. I was named that. Swear on my mother’s kneecap. Was brought up with that name all my life.” He sounded proud of it, but Caiman was getting tired. “Come on,” he groaned. “Punch me and get it over with.”
Invincible Muscle chortled. “Whatever you say, runt.” He brought his arm back, his muscles rippling, and crunched his fist into Caiman’s jaw. Caiman’s hands immediately went up to clutch his chin. “Come on, you lazy baboon faces, I ain’t about to beat him up alone.”
Caiman got up and tried to run, but someone grabbed his collar and jerked him back to Invincible Muscle. A swing to his temple caught him off guard,but he ducked just in time, just to find a sandaled foot smash into his chest and knock him to the road
“Hey, Muscle, we better leave before the cops come,” one of the kids said.
Invincible’s eyes were alight with hostility. “No. He gotta pay.” With those words, he swung his fist at Caiman’s left eye. The pain was excruciating. “Kick’im some more. Then we leave.”
Feet rained down on Caiman as he crumpled once more to the ground. His eyes were clouded, but he could hear laughter and Invincible sniggering, “That oughta teach that runt.”
Caiman lay on the road, aching everywhere. He was too tired and in pain to think.

“Caiman’s back!” called Domevlo, the second youngest. “And he got blood all over him!”
“Never mind about my blood,” snapped Caiman. “Where’s Femi?”
“She’s over there. Behind that cart,” answered Kaira, the second oldest.
“Who put her there?” hissed Caiman.
“Some lady’s putting medicine in her eye. At least, that’s what the lady said,” said Kaira.
“She’s pretty.” Domevlo grinned.
“Shut up, Mev.” Caiman tromped over to the cart and looked. What he saw was far more agonizing than any black eye. A woman with long, dark hair was muttering soft endearments to Femi while she unscrewed the top of a tobasco bottle. As Caiman watched, the woman tipped the bottle over Femi’s face. A drop of liquid ran into her eye, and she began to cry.
As soon as the drop left the tobasco bottle, Caiman lunged towards the woman, pried her away from Femi, and knocked her to the ground. “What are you doing?” he growled as he pinned her to the cement.
“No, no, you don’t understand-” the woman sputtered.
“What do I not understand about you putting tobasco sauce into my sister’s eyes?” Caiman began to pull the woman’s hair in outrage.
“It’s a mistake. . .” The woman yelped in pain. “Not. . . tobasco. . . sauce. . .”
“You better think of a better excuse. I just saw with my own eyes what you were doing.”
“Stop tugging at my hair and I’ll tell you!”
Surprised, Caiman let go of her hair.
“That isn’t tobasco sauce; that’s medicine for your sister,” the woman said breathlessly.
Caiman punched her stomach. He didn’t believe her in a second.
“Your sister is extremely sick,” the woman pleaded. “I’m here to help her-”
“Get lost,” Caiman screamed at her.
“Don’t you dare lay a finger on one of us again!”
Obeying, the woman clutched the bottle of tobasco to her chest as she ran out of sight.
Not wanting to get Femi bloody, he carefully picked her up and set her on a sheet they had found in the trash a few days earlier. “Sorry, Femi. No supper. Got beat up on the way there.”
Somehow, Femi seemed to understand.
“Get some sleep,” sighed Caiman.
“G’night,” Kaira, Domevlo, and Adrian replied. Femi answered with a snore.

Caiman woke up early next morning and went to buy their breakfast with the little money they had begged last light, but he could only afford 3 mud cookies made of dirt, oil, and salt.
As he made his way back to Rue des Miracles, he sampled one of the cookies. It was an unpleasant sensation. All the moisture was immediately sucked out of his mouth, but he was accustomed to it. They were food, and they filled you up.
After breakfast, they went to beg in front of a church. It was huge, adorned with beautiful designs, and many people went in and out smiling.
Kaira held Femi in her arms as the boys begged earnestly. Caiman hated looking so poor and dirty, but it couldn’t be helped; he needed the money.
An hour passed. All they got was looks of pity.
Then Caiman saw something in the corner of his eye. A woman with long, dark hair was pointing towards them and saying something to a man in a suit. With a jolt, Caiman realized that the woman was the same person who had tried to put tobasco sauce into Femi’s eye.
“We have to go,” Caiman said urgently.
“Why? There’s plenty of rich people here,” Adrian, a thoughtful six year old, replied.
“Just go.” Out of the corner of his eye he could see the woman approaching. “Come on,” he urged.
The woman was even closer,
“Hey!” Domevlo suddenly broke into a run towards the woman.
“Domevlo! What are you doing?” yelled Caiman.
“Hey lady!” Domevlo hollered. “I’m Domevlo! Gimme a dollar!”
The woman kneeled down at looked up at Domevlo. “You’re the brother of Femi, aren’t you?”
Domevlo quickly realized who the woman was, and that he’d made a terrible mistake. “Um, no.”
“Could you please take me to your oldest brother?” the woman asked
“Um, no,” said Domevlo.
“Why not?”
“Um, I’m not Caiman’s brother.”
“Hey!” She brightened up. “Isn’t that your brother, Domevlo?” Before Domevlo could protest, the woman began to approach Caiman. She smiled and said, “I believe we got off the wrong foot yesterday. I’m Claire-”
“You’ll have a wrong foot and a wrong hand if you don’t get lost,” snarled Caiman.
She quickly got to the subject. “Your sister Femi is very sick. I would have thought you noticed already.”
Caiman had, in fact, noticed.
“You have to let me take care of her. The sickness could be fatal.”
“I don’t trust you,” squeaked Caiman.
“How about this,” said Claire. “I’ll take you inside the church and take care of you, but I’ll leave the door open so if you think there’s any danger, you can run.”
“Will you cure Femi?” asked Caiman in a little voice.
“I’ll try my best.” Claire’s eyes were kind; he could see.
. . .
“Can’t you see I’m doing my homework?” Femi snapped. “I got this math test tomorrow. Leave me alone.”
Domevlo laughed. “I’m your fourteen year old brother. I can annoy you all I want.”
Claire sang from the kitchen, “Hey fourteen year old! Help me with the dishes, won’t ya?”
Domevlo groaned as he lumbered into the kitchen.
“And Mr. Couch Potato, go and help Femi with her math test.”
Adrian mumbled something incoherent and kept watching TV.
Caiman grinned. They had come a long way from the Haitian street kids they used to be. Small, but mean. That was Caiman.

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Chinese New Year Reflection







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Going Up to New Heights


When I looked down, I realized I wasn’t afraid at all. Hanging by a rope with my fists clenched against the wall, dirt gathering under my fingernails, feet grappling for support that the rock was reluctant to give them. But I wasn’t afraid.

It was one of the most exhilarating things I ever did.

I admit it, I was horrible at rock climbing. But the feeling! Struggling to get reach of the goal, muscles tensing as the fingers give a tap to the bell, too tired to ring it louder, too tired to gloat about getting to the goal. But tiredness didn’t matter, because all the climbers who reached Everest’s summit were tired. They still got to the top. Fatigue didn’t deter them for a minute.

I know it’s bizarre to compare the highest peak in the world with a little rock climb for students, but in my mind, they’re not all that different. Tying your shoelaces all by yourself is the greatest feat in the world when you’re two, or being able to memorize a huge fancy violin piece and play it perfectly, or shooting and making your first ever basket when you’re little, or reaching the top of Mount Everest. They’re all great feats. They all require practice to make them work.

“Who wants to climb first?” called our tour guide. Not me, I thought. After watching a few people climb, I made my way towards the shade to find some climbing shoes my size. Turns out, I had to wait a very long time for a shoe that wasn’t either big and floppy, or too small to fit my big toe in. Were they supposed to be pinched this much?

When I finally laced them up, I stepped into my harness with the help of some other guides, and strapped on my helmet. Ready to go.

I was planning to climb one of the easier routes first when a teacher walked up to us and noticed the huge line in front of the route I was planning to take.
“Come on, you guys can’t wait that long. Anyone want to try the pink route?”
The pink route was one of the hardest ones, with not a lot of places to put your feet. Of course, I was the one who had to step up and try the pink route, because no one else dared to try it. Why does it always have to be me?

The climbing guide tied the rope to my harness. I was pretty sure he could hear my heart beat in anticipation. Then I placed my climbing shoe-choked foot on the rock. I could hardly feel the pinching now.

The climb had begun.

I hoisted myself up ledge after step after hole until my throat was so thirsty and aching for water I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to give up, when I glanced down and noticed I wasn’t even close to being high enough. I was feeling so pathetic, I wanted to laugh, but I was stuck. I couldn’t see any decent food holes to haul myself up. The guide noticed my predicament and pointed out a few places I could advance to, but I just couldn’t.

Then I felt a tug at my harness. The climbing guide was pulling me upwards just a little so that I could reach the little crevices taunting me from so far away. At this, I felt so relieved that I smiled, not with my lips but my eyes because I didn’t feel like lip-smiling, and kept going.

After what seemed like an eternity of slipping because of my sweaty palms, the bell was finally in my reach. But my tired arms weren’t long enough, and my tired legs couldn’t hold my weight long enough to let my hand stretch up and still be able to keep my balance. One step away from my goal. Just one more foothold, one more extension of the finger…

Then I discovered it. The perfect step that would give me total satisfaction and would let me reach the goal. Right there, just inches away from my right leg.

So I lifted myself up and rang the bell.

Cheering sounds from underneath reached my ears. I was so overjoyed now that all I had to do was get some water to quench my thirst. I boinged my way down, which was probably the most fun part of the climbing, and—finally—grabbed my water bottle and unscrewed the top. Shoving the water into my throat felt like the best thing in the world.
And then it hit me. If the guide hadn’t helped me, if we hadn’t collaborated, I would still be stuck on that hard hollow spot on the wall, and I would never have had the chance to ring the bell. I never thanked him, though. So I’m doing it here.


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Made in Asia…or is it America?


Allison Lee.

Or rather, Hui-Yun Lee.

I was born with two names: one that represented my Korean descent, the other my American descent. My blood is American. My appearance is Korean. My personality lies between the middle. So does my heart.

Yes, I am Asian American.

I hate that term. Why do people have to have a name for each and every race there is? If they’re all so passionate about every human being equal, why can’t they actually make us equal? Why does there have to be an “us” and a “them” so distinctively?

Questions – these questions – linger inside my head all the time. No matter how hard I try to push them to the back of my brain, they always come back, like a magnet attracted to my mind. And when I’m especially bored, these questions are all I think about.

Everyone is equal. But no one realizes that, as usual.

“You’re late, Allison,” a voice nags at the back of my mind. But the voice doesn’t say that. It says, “이희연! 빨리 안 일어나면 지각이야!”

Oh, my mother.

“Five more minutes,” I grumble. But I don’t say that. Instead, I say, “오분만 더요…” in Korean.
Then I feel the blankets whisk off of me, and the cold hits my bare legs like a full-on snowstorm. I must have left the air conditioner on last night.

“How many times have I told you, Hui-Yun? Tardiness doesn’t help you later in the future when you go to college.” I could hear my mother’s teeth gritting.

“Yes, mother,” I grumble. She nods in satisfaction and stalks out the door.

I pull on a bright yellow shirt that’s slightly small for me, and a pair of ratty jeans with the frayed holes and flecks of paint. If I had been more awake then, I’d have payed more attention, probably. But I was too tired to care.

Stomach half-full, hair half-combed, dark eyes even darker with dark circles encircling my glasses, I stumble to school.

The bell rings as soon as I step into my first period class.

“Tardy!” crows a girl named Madigan, who goes to the nail salon at least twice a week and thinks she knows everything. I frown at her.

“No, she’s not tardy,” says Ms. Tarbet from behind me. I shoot a small but noticeable smirk Madigan’s way. This time, she’s the one frowning. And then I turn and face Ms. Tarbet. Her eyes are soft with pity.

My eyes harden like a stone. Ms. Tarbet looks like this every time she lands her gaze on me. I know why. Of course I know why. It’s because I have Asian descent.

I turn away and stroll to my seat.

We have reading first. It’s always first. My eyes droop, despite my brain commanding otherwise.
“Now, would anyone care to read this paragraph aloud?” Ms. Tarbet’s voice snaps me back to reality. Of course, no one raises their hand. Not even Madigan. “No one? Well, I guess I better pick someone. Someone that hasn’t read a single time this semester. Oh, I guess that would be Allison.”

While she’s saying this, I drift off again.


I wake.

“Come on, honey, it’s okay if you have poor reading skills. I mean, you just learned how to speak English, now you have to read too! I don’t want to put any more weight on your shoulders. Just try. Trying is good enough for me.”

Those are her words. Exact sentences. Word for word. I can’t believe it.

My face flares red. I’ve been living and breathing English all my life. I want to prove this. I so want to…

But I can’t. I can’t stand up in front of everyone and have all eyes on me, waiting for me to make a mistake, lips pursed to ready themselves for mean laughter.

“Allison…? No? Okay, then I’ll pick someone else. How about Madigan? You’re a great reader.”

Madigan juts out her chin towards me and reads the paragraph with perfect pronounciation, no mistakes, no stumbling, words flowing beautifully from one to another.

“Very nice, Madigan. Your skills have impressed me since kindergarten. And for that reason, why don’t you pair up with Allison for the class project? You can help her improve.”

What she means is that I need improvement. I let this sink in for a moment, and my inner voice was yelling, I DON’T NEED IMPROVEMENT! ESPECIALLY FROM MADIGAN!

But I can’t yell it out loud, so I drag myself towards Madigan and sit next to her. I see her friends rolling their eyes and shooting looks of pity in her direction, and roll my own in disgust.

Ms. Tarbet assigns Jenna, a girl who always wears miniskirts that barely hide her long, skinny legs, to our group as well. She tells us to pick a book to read from the library for all of us.

Madigan picks a book off a shelf with her newly manicured petal-pink fingernails. “What about this one?” she asks. The cover has a picture of a perfect couple on a park bench, and the title is Boy Meets Girl.

“Ooh, that looks great, Mads!” Jenna glitters. She turns towards me. “But don’t you think it’ll have a bad influence on Allison here? You know, she doesn’t really get this kind of stuff.”

My face flares again like an embarrassed traffic light. I’ve been reading “this kind of stuff” for as long as I can remember.

“Good point, Jenna. I think it’s too hard for her anyway,” Madigan says innocently, and fake-smiles at me.

They’re doing this on purpose.

“Maybe we should read a picture book. You know, like the ones kindergarten teachers read to babies in a storytime circle. I think Allison can understand We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, right?”

I read that book in kindergarten.

“Sure, Mads. I mean, we read that book in second grade, but Allison needs to read something her level.”

I’m absolutely positive they’re doing this on purpose.

They keep throwing insults, sounding so innocent and caring, like a baby throwing a dodgeball. But it hurts. It hurts real bad.

Next is PE. We’re playing Gaga ball.

Coach Beeler explains the game in the ever-so-demanding and ear-ringing voice of his. And then he says (or more like screams), “Can anyone translate this to Allison?”

No one volunteers. I don’t need anyone to volunteer. I cope perfectly well on my own.

“How about Josh? You’re Chinese, right? Please translate for Allison.”

I’m Korean, not Chinese. There’s a difference.

Josh’s full name is Joshua Ying-Wei Marcello. His mother was born in Missouri, and she kept her maiden name when she married his father, a pure Asian. I guess that’s why Josh’s last name is Marcello.

Josh comes over and eyes me warily. I catch a whiff of sweet, sharp citrus as he comes closer. “Why can’t you just tell him that you understand English?” he asks finally.

“You know I understand English?” I say in surprise.

“Well, yeah. I saw you reading The Maze Runner the other day, and I asked you what it was about, remember?” he replies. “You explained it really clearly, like you were really getting the book. Plus, your English was perfect.”

“Oh.” I feel my face go red again, the third time today.

He sighs. “Come on, let’s go play.”

I’m horrible at Gaga ball. It’s like the ball’s a little monster, and I’m its main target. The coach keeps asking Josh if I get how to play. Yes, I do know how to play! I’m just terrible! I want to wail this out loud, but I can’t. I know I never would.

It’s lunchtime. I stand at my locker, gathering my things.

“Hi, Alli!” says an overenthusiastic girly voice from behind me. I recognize it immediately. It’s Madigan, along with a few other girls with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I have raven-black hair and dark-as-death eyes.

“What’s up, Alli!!! Ooh, is that your lunch?” Madigan grabs the lunchbox from my hand in one swift move. “Omigosh! Your lunchbox is sooo cute! I mean, is this like an Asian celebrity? Looks more like some kind of Teletubby. I never thought you were so into something like Asian Teletubbies!”

I hear the dripping sarcasm, loud and clear.

“Hey, smells like…what was the name?…the icky cabbage thing with the red stuff on it? Oh yeah, kimchi.” Madigan says kimchi like someone would say the word dirty diaper. The girls titter, rose-pink lip gloss shimmering on their lips.

“Okay, I’ll stop pretending. It’s getting sooo tiring,” Madigan says, like she’s about to faint or something. “Let’s get on with the stuff. Okay, girls?”

They titter again in response. The scent of Givenchy perfume floods my nostrils. In fact, the smell is so strong, it nearly knocks me off my feet.

Madigan smiles icily, like a snake just before it sinks its fangs into its prey.

“Eww, kimchi. I mean like, Korean food is sooo gross. Everything’s…”

“Untasty?” pipes up a girl whose eyeliner outlined her eyes like a little kid’s black marker.

“Yeah, untasty,” snickers Madigan. I want to tell her that untasty isn’t a word, but somehow the words don’t form in my mouth right.

“Or are you Chinese? I’ve seen you hang out with Josh a lot, you know.” She winks at me. “Is it because he’s the only Chinese guy in the school? Or do you just think he’s cute or whatever?”
I tasted bile in my mouth; the suggestion was so ridiculous.

“You know, Chinese people – or Asian people, whatever you call ‘em – are sooo unsocial. I mean like, they don’t have any fashion sense at all. It’s sooo pathetic, watching all these Asians go around in Little Mermaid shirts or something. Like, what in the world are you wearing?” She says it like I’m doomed for the rest of my life.

I look down at my canary yellow shirt and ratty old jeans. I wish I had the alertness this morning to pay attention to my clothing. I have better clothes than this, I swear.

“They’re so, like, dirty, too. I mean like, they have dandruff and stuff. They don’t even try and wash properly. Like, your hair’s always sooo unnaturally rough. Don’t try to hide it with a ponytail like you always do. Everyone can see.”

Just because we look different, we’re unsanitary? And I do so shower every day. This is so unfair that I want to punch her in the makeup-filled eye when suddenly, I smell citruses. Josh appears in front of me.

“Josh?” I squeaked.

“Hey, Alli,” he says, smiling. Then he looks at Madigan, and the smile turns into a hard, stony scowl.
“What did I just hear you say, Madigan?”

Her smile never leaves her face. “Oh, so now you’re protecting her. What are you now, a couple?”

“No, I just “translate” for her,” says Josh. He wiggles his fingers in a quote around the word translate. “Not that you were observant enough to notice.”

Madigan looks confused for a second. I bet you everything it was because she didn’t know what observant meant. “Yeah, well, what I just said was that Asians are all pathetic, slimy, dirty little slugs that should be THROWN INTO JAIL FOREVER AND EVER UNTIL THEIR LITTLE CORPSES ROT AND DECOMPOSE!!!”

She manages to get up in Josh’s face as she yells this, her fists clenched and her brow furrowing.
This ticks Josh off so much that he grabs Madigan’s arm and pins it to the locker. The sudden SLAM startles everyone in the hallway. They start to gather around us, watching with eagle eyes. “We’re not Asians, Madigan. We. Are. Asian. Americans. It’s sooo unfair how people are sooo racist,” says Josh, imitating Madigan’s voice perfectly. “Furthermore, Allison speaks English perfectly well. Come on, Alli. Prove to them that you speak English.”

“W-what do I say?” I whispered, not quite sure where this was going.

“See, there you go!” Josh smiles broadly. “Allison speaks English, doesn’t she? And she’s probably read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in kindergarten. She’s read The Maze Runner, like, five times.”
Madigan’s eyes boggle. Josh must have been listening when Madigan and Jenna were oh-so-innocently taunting me about reading.

“Not that you’re smart enough actually to think about anything else besides makeup and clothes.”
I smiled. That summed them up perfectly.

“Oh, and what’s that in your hair? Looks like a little piece of…what’s that?…dandruff.”

The other girls gasp and back away from Madigan. Her eyes boggle even more.

“Come on, Alli. Let’s go.” Josh grins at me while Madigan flies to the bathroom in a frenzy to check her hair. He holds out his hand, and I take it like I’ve been doing it all my life.

It feels soft and smooth, like he just put lotion on it. Maybe it was citrus-scented lotion.

We walk off. Away from all the injustice, discrimination, racism, stereotyping, rudeness, unfairness, meanness of the world.

It feels better than Josh’s hand.

It feels so good.

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Master Agent


It all happened so suddenly.
One minute I was in bed, all tucked in and ready to sleep the night away, when a little girl in a frilly dress appeared out of nowhere, like a flickering shadow, and grabbed my arm.
I opened my mouth to scream when the girl clamped her hand over my mouth. My mind was whirling in a carousel of confusion, but my first instinct was to escape. I tried to writhe free, but she was incredibly strong – too strong for a girl her age. The one glimpse I caught of her arm was enough notice her bulging muscles marching up her skinny limbs.
“Help-” I tried to yell, but it came out choked and muffled, because by then the girl was tying up the sack with a rope as thick as my waist and punching holes in them with her bare fist so I could breathe. Then she hoisted me over her shoulder like a mini Santa—surely I was too heavy for her—but she made no sign of effort as she nimbly leapt clear out of my my window and galloped away.
After a long, long course of jerking and moaning, she finally came to a stop. And then I heard her say, “This is your test.”
It was a man’s voice, deep and gruff,
“What-” I stammered, panicking.
“Get your butt out of the bag, idiot,” she—or he—said. I could almost hear her (or was it him?) rolling her (or was it his?) eyes.
“No, not but as in B-U-T. Get your butt out of the bag. Honestly, I didn’t think you were this stupid.”
“No time for waiting, girl! You gotta learn how to escape!”
“But I’m just a regular person! Not a secret agent or anything!”
I guessed that she (or was it he?) was smirking. “Oh, you have no idea.” She (or was it he?) paused. “Well, you’re one now, in the Tersec Intelligence Agency. Whatcha gotta say for yourself, huh?”
“What?” I checked my ears to make sure they weren’t playing tricks on me.
“Oh, just get out of the bag.”
I decided that as soon as I was free, I would run for my life from this insanity. The problem was, how?
That was when I happened to glance at a hole that the girl (or was it a man?) had made with her (or was it his?) fist. The threads surrounding the hole were barely holding together.
“Well, you on to something yet?” came the voice.
“I think so,” I muttered. I poked a finger into the hole, and with my sharpest fingernail, I tore some of the threads encircling the puncture.
“Get a move on, slowpoke,” came the voice again. “We don’t have all night.”
I ignored her (or was it him?), and taking as long as I could just to annoy the unknown being outside of my prison taunting me to the edge of my patience, I wriggled the finger like a worm and continued ripping threads. When the hole was large enough to fit both my hands, I inserted them in and began to pull with the last of my patience and strength.
The sack tore in half. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I climbed out of the sack clumsily, like a cumbersome elephant, and dusted myself off.
Instantly, I knew I shouldn’t have. Because in those little seconds, the girl’s muscled fingers shot out like a bullet and gripped my shoulder to keep me from escaping. I started to squirm in her grasp, and the girl with the man’s voice whispered in my ear, “No, don’t struggle, you’ll only make it worse.”
I turned around and my eyes went wide.
In the place of the adorable toddler was a towering man with cold, hard eyes and a scar on his cheek. Most of his face was shadowed by his navy-colored cap, but the furious bloodred injury stood out unmistakably and seemed to naturally draw eyes to itself. I noticed that the muscles were the same. In fact, I could see some resemblance between this ghastly man and the kindergartener. The way they both turned their noses up like they ruled the world…
“What are you?” I whispered.
He let go of my arm, but I was too stunned to think rationally, let alone run away.
The man smiled and swept his arms in a bow. “Handy disguise trick, huh? It’s called the Disguiser 2000. Take one sip and you’ll become whatever you want to be.”
“You’re not a girl in a frilly dress,” I breathed.
“No. I’m Agent Rex. At your service, Master Agent.”
“What? You must have mistaken me for someone else.”
“Oh no, I’m definitely not.” He beckoned for me to follow him. “You’ve passed the test, haven’t you? That Sack was an Undefeatable Object. Nobody can escape form it’s trap, except the being destined to be a leader.”
Again, I was too stunned to answer, and my legs moved of their own accord as I followed Rex into a dark, ancient, crumbling building that appeared to be abandoned. It had paint peeling off the walls and disheveled wooden boards barely holding together the windows. The door creaked, barely staying on its hinges as we went in.
What I saw?
I saw a room. Not just a room, a huge, grand room that made the White House look like a dirty shack. Sleek white tiles everywhere, people in the strangest outfits I had ever seen. An orange jumpsuit, like they just escaped from prison. Black tights and leopard-print fur vests. People dripping in jewels. Factory worker uniforms. Men in suits, women in thin, formfitting dresses that clung to their knees. All with their hands busy and working away at unknown experiments that made a small explosion once in a while. On top of it all, it smelled like metal. Not the rusty, icky kind. It smelled like gold.
And in the middle of it all was a huge glossy desk made of what looked like marble, and a huge black leather chair that rolled around on a million wheels like a panther waiting to pounce.
“Tersec Intelligence Agency, all yours, Master Agent—um, you never told me your name,” said Agent Rex. “And Tersec is Secret rearranged.”
I smiled as I scanned my surroundings. “It’s Clara. Clara Monique.”
“I haven’t heard a beautiful name like that in twenty years,” said Agent Rex, grinning. “Rex is my code name. My real name—well, I’m supposed to tell the Master Agent, but I usually don’t tell anyone. It’s, uh, Yahoo.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. Rex-Yahoo did too. “I despise my name,” he chuckled. “I’d prefer to be called Rex.”
“Okay, Rex,” I said.
“Now, Master Agent, we need to name you a code name.” said Rex, looking down on me. His height should have been alarming, if not at least uncomfortable, but instead, I felt nothing except for the sense of belonging. “Can I pick one? I don’t want to get stuck with a stupid code name for the rest of my life.”
It was strange. I should have been stunned, dazzled, not able to say a word. But instead, I felt right at home, with all these white tiles and the smell of gold.
Here was my chance. I could be anything I wanted, become a whole new identity. I could be anything.
“I’ve always liked the name Lia.”
“There you go, Master Agent Lia.” He smiled. “People will call you MA Lia for short.”
“So now I command the whole entire Tersec Intelligence Agency.” I said it strongly, firmly, not letting anything deter me from stating that powerful sentence sharp and crisp like an autumn breeze.
“Yes ma’am.” Rex saluted me like a soldier.
Everyone in the room heard me and Rex. They turned around and stared in wonder. “Our new MA.” “Goodness, she’s just a girl!” “What’s her name?”
I smiled broadly. “Yeah, I’m the new MA. I escaped from the Undefeatable Object.”
At this, everyone turned their attention to me at full.
“Therefore, I am the new Master Agent, and my name is Lia.”
“MA LIA!” Someone called out. Everyone else started to cheer my name. “MA Lia! MA Lia!”
A dark-haired woman in a lacy blouse took my arm. “Come with me, MA Lia. Let me have the honor to escort you to your new position.”
I let the woman lead me to the marble desk and the leather chair with the million wheels. When I turned around, I saw Rex was gone.
As soon as I sat down on the leather chair, I felt powerful. Undefeatable. Countless Master Agents had sat down on this chair before, I could feel it. I felt the energy buzz around me, always constant, always leading me. I knew the problems the Tersec Intelligence Agency was facing, the missions needing to be accomplished, the information needed to protect what they called “The Country” from what they called “The Enemy”.
Most of all, I felt more confident than I had ever been in a long time.
I picked up the phone on my desk, ready to assign my first ever mission. And then, taking a deep breath, letting my voice ring over the speakers, something I had never had the courage to before, I spoke.
“Agent Rex. Please report to MA Lia’s desk. Over.”

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Humanities: Silk Road Scenario Project Reflection


The task that was completed in the Silk Road Scenario project was that if you were a merchant on the Silk Road and you wanted to get the best deal, you had to find out where to set your trading shop. My partner and I together faced this challenging project. We first planned our steps, resources, listed things we knew and didn’t know that would help us on the project, and decided how we would present the city of our decision. We did some research to help us find what we didn’t know, and when we found what we didn’t know, we organized the information and drew conclusions from it. An example of one of our drawn conclusions is that we decided not to set our shop in a Buddhist city, and we had reasonable reasons for the conclusion. And from the drawn conclusions we eliminated some cities we were considering and finally decided our city. Then we made boxes and bullets, the box being “Why we chose Merv as our city” and the bullets being the reasons. Finally we made an iMovie explaining why we chose Merv as our city.

There was a lot of skills we used in the completion of our project. Some were as follows: most of the student ESLRs, such as collaboration, communication, and complex thinking, organizing information and what we needed to know, listing things, quoting lines from text, researching information effectively, note taking in the style of Cornell notes, using cause and effect to draw conclusions, citing our resources correctly in MLA format, and designing our iMovie by storyboarding. There were lots more skills we needed. We needed a lot of skills to complete this project, and we learned most of these skills in our classes. Almost everything we learned in our classes were applied to this project.

Something that I would do differently in the project is that I would use more expanded thinking. We decided our city based on two things: location and religion. Most of the other groups looked at cities from many different perspectives, like the climate, culture, isolation of the city, etc. I think we focused too much on only the two things and we should have expanded our way of thinking and thought of other things as well.

Doing the Silk Road Scenario project was like a 10000 piece jigsaw puzzle. In the Silk Road scenario project, organization was a very, very important skill to have. Without organization, which we practiced in almost every class, our project would have been based off of entirely unsatisfactory research, note taking, and iMovie creating. Also, the Silk Road scenario project was challenging. We needed a lot of complex thinking to solve the problem we were presented with and it brought us to new levels of knowledge. In addition, the project was rewarding. It was one of the few projects in Humanities class that I was actually satisfied with when we were done with the whole creating, designing, and presenting of the project. It was also rewarding when we had finished all this exercising of the brain, and we could look upon our project in peace and satisfaction, unlike when we had to look upon our project in frustration and thinking that we could never finish it in time. Our hard work was worth it. This is similar to matching a 10000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Organization is also needed in completing a jigsaw puzzle. One has to organize the pieces into their matching squares, and think about what they already know that can help them match the puzzle, for example the fact that two pieces have almost the same shade of blue, so they will be matched near each other. Matching a 10000 piece puzzle is also very challenging. It forces the brain to think in complexity, because matching a puzzle with this many pieces can only be done with hard labor. It teases the brain and makes it think harder. The 10000 piece puzzle is also rewarding, just like the Silk Road scenario project. When you have finally matched the last puzzle piece, all the tiny pieces fit to make a huge, glorious picture. Looking upon this picture and knowing that you have created this wonder, isn’t it it impossible to be proud of yourself, to know that your hard work is worth it? This feeling was the same when we were looking upon our finished presentation. In these ways, the Silk Road scenario project was similar to completing a 10000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

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Middle School Concert Reflection


The Tiger was the most fun song, in my opinion, because it was so much more different from all the other songs we sang. I love the tune of the song and the rhythm is really intense and fun. The whole intensity of that song, the lyrics, tune, rhythm, everything was so intense, and the feeling I felt when we were singing the song was something similar to “this is so fun!!! This song is cool!” Actually, The Tiger was the best song I ever sang with a choir in school in my whole life. The parts were also well written and they blended together very nicely.

Hine Ma Tov was a song that we sang. I played the violin accompaniment part. When we were rehearsing, I made a lot of strange mistakes that didn’t fit quite right with the song (I got the rhythm wrong a lot of times), and I was nervous at the concert when I was playing, that I might make strange mistakes. It turned out not so bad as I thought.

I have grown much in the time that I’ve been here in my collaboration skills. In both choir and the string quartet, I had to collaborate with the group and make us be one group, not separate people singing or playing instruments, all of us together in one group. In choir, I learned ensemble skills, to go with the flow of the group, and cooperate. In the string quartet, we had to collaborate to pick out the music that we were going to play at the concert and after picking it out, we had to collaborate in rehearsals so that we didn’t get distracted, or so that one person didn’t find the piece too hard (when this happened, we solved our problem by picking out a new piece that was slightly easier but still grandiose). Performing and getting ready for this concert took a lot of collaboration.

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5 Culture Similarities and Differences between The Han and Qin Dynasty


The Han dynasty (202 B.C. – 220 A.D) and the Qin dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.) were two of the many dynasties in Ancient China. There are many comparisons and contrasts that can be made of these two dynasties’ culture.

1. Belief Systems


The Qin dynasty’s belief system was a strict legalism, which limited the power of the citizens.You wouldn’t want to disobey the rules of legalism, because the whole idea of legalism is that people should be rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad behavior. On the other hand, the Han dynasty’s belief system was Confucianism because they needed educated people to work in the government in order for the government to be stable, which was a key feature of the Han dynasty.

2. Cultural Advances


The Qin dynasty was strongest in military matters, but definitely not in culture. The Qin was a period in which many new warfare technologies were invented, like the cavalry, but its culture was not very advanced. In contrast, the Han dynasty’s culture, science, and technology were more advanced than that of others.

3. Dynasty Delicacies

Planting the Rice
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: ♥siebe © via Compfight

The Han and the Qin dynasty both commonly ate rice, noodles, bread, vegetables, etc. but the people of higher ranks, for example, emperors and nobilities, ate more expensive and tasty meals than those of the poorer people, such as the peasants. Meat was expensive, and Buddhists didn’t eat meat; as a result, people did not eat it much.

4. Music to My Ears


Qin Shi Huangdi, the emperor of the Qin dynasty, had ordered the burning of musical instruments and writings because he thought they were unnecessary to Chinese culture. But the Han dynasty, when the Qin dynasty had been overthrown, brought the old music back to life because Confucianism considered music helpful to life.

5. Communication and Language


Because Qin Shi Huangdi standardized the language and writing of the country in the time period of the Qin dynasty, China could communicate much better than when they had in the Warring States Period, the time when China was divided into seven warring kingdoms. The Han dynasty kept the standardized language going.

There are similarities and differences between these two mighty dynasties of Ancient China, but this is a major one: they will both be remembered by their power and bloodline of the Chinese. China has an important history – important enough that without China today, life would be very, very hard.

Resources “9c Han Dynasty – Cultural Heights.” “Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook.” Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook. 2 May. 2014

Social studies textbook p154-155

Social studies textbook p152-153

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