Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gratitude experiment, part 1.

I decided to do a little experiment, wherein I write a post to people throughout my life that I'm grateful to, whom I never got to thank. We'll see if turns out to be boring.

The first person I'm grateful to is a boy from Salt Lake City, who was my second-grade classmate. It was a year after my family moved to the US, and I was still learning English. This proved aggravating on a daily basis. I didn't know the right words to protest when another student stole my dessert at lunch, I failed an assignment because I couldn't understand the instructions, etc.

One day the teacher announced that we were going to play the game of telephone. The other American students got excited and moved to sit in a big circle on the carpet. I convinced one of them to slowly explain the rules to me. Needless to say, when I learned that the goal is to comprehend a English sentence and repeat it back to the next person, I became filled with apprehension.

I sat a third of the way down the circle, and watched as the teacher whispered for several seconds into the first student's ear. Her face lit up, and she chuckled as she repeated it to the next student. The sentence moved rapidly around the circle, and within a couple minutes, the girl to my right was whispering a long string of syllables into my ear.

To my horror, I could not decipher any meaning out of what she said.

I made her repeat it.

I still didn't understand it. At my insistence, she repeated it two more times, with growing exasperation. Finally, I turned with dread to the boy to my left, and regurgitated the first few syllables which I had blindly memorized.

They were "super california."

The boy to my left heard my accented syllables, and immediately said, "Don't worry. I know what it is." He was so reassuring.

He turned to the kid to his left, and by the muffled whispering, I knew that somehow he actually got the phrase out of what I said. And the phrase kept going around the circle.

Years later, I watched "Mary Poppins" for the first time, and realized that the teacher -- in her infinite wisdom -- had chosen the phrase "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".

I still remember the exact expression and tone of voice when that boy said, "I know what it is." He was really kind. Thank you, boy of unknown name from Salt Lake City.


ArC said...

What hypothesis are you testing?

Niniane said...

The hypothesis that writing these posts will bring me happiness. So far so good.

N.B. said...

Awww, so cute. Reminds me of my days back in 5th grade when I too was a fresh immigrant learning English in an American school. Still the worst year of my life.

Strider Aragorn said...

If you don't mind random questions, where at in SLC? It's my hometown.

Pedro said...

Nice post!
Instead of taking the stupidity of the teacher you take a good experience and give thanks to that boy

In Want of Being Me said...

It's beautiful, it brought me happiness too :)

pokai said...

I actually feel it in almost all your posts that I've read....the therapy. I realize that your posts are like the grunge angst filled songs of Nirvana, but for Niniane. I too had a traumatic childhood--growing up Asian in the deep South. It is very interesting--the idea of growing up different.

John K. Lin said...

Nice story.

My mother emigrated from Taiwan over 30+ years ago, who is fluent in English, probably could not remember or properly say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"

I don't recall being in 2nd grade, but that might be difficult for a native English speaker as well at that age. Hell, I have a hard time saying that now!

Anonymous said...

Maybe he grew up with yellow fever cuz of you =P

Niniane said...

> If you don't mind random questions, where at in SLC?

Approximately here.

Philipp Lenssen said...

This was very touching and well written.

Adam Sweet said...

Is this a new Google experiment? If so, I would love to see the results...maybe Google plans to buy Classmates.Com or Facebook?

John said...

Great idea and sweet story! Thanks.

last 5c from netherlands said...

Heh, it reminds me of the very first zen buddhism lessons, and about the relatively small sorrows that we get everyday, or that bother us for longer time and learning to dissolve them in never-ending sea of the internal happiness and hope.

I am sure that might be one of many ways to bring back the long lost and nearly forgotten.

John K. Lin said...

Hmmm... I wonder if my friend's parents knew your parents. Not a whole lot of Taiwanese and Chinese people in SLC. They mostly live in Moab, but have a place in SLC.

Definitely not a whole lot of Asians in Moab!

Anonymous said...

That was lovely.
I teared up a little. (I may need a nap.)
It is amazing to me that a 7-year-old can be more kind and aware of the needs of others than an adult dedicated to nurturing children.

Then again, we all make stupid unthinking mistakes on occasion.

Joanna said...

Wow what a touching and poetic story.
I came to the US when I was 11. To the first asian student that I sat across from in class (I thought she spoke my language) I said hi in mandarin, and in disgust and shock, she looked me like I was an alien. Her name was Josephine. I was so traumatized.

Throughout that awful 6th grade, the person who showed me the most grace and kindness was a red-haired American girl with frackles called Jennifer. She was so cool, popular and cute. She helped me feel special and welcomed. So in her honor, 26 years later, here I just want to say a sincere thanks to Jennifer from Queens NY in Mr. Black's 6th grade class!

Anonymous said...

You're lucky. I got this:

baker betty lou bought some butter. but her butter was too bitter. so baker betty lou bought some better butter, blended it in her bitter batter, to make her bitter batter better.

I did not study in English medium back in India. And the kids, most of whom were from a Jesuit school, ended up making fun of me.

Anonymous said...

while it wouldn't compare to your story, which was wonderful -- I too am blown away by the crystal-clear memories of kind things that classmates did for me during elementary school; I should mention also that one reason I love your blog is that it's so diverse & unpredictable -- but always so well written!

randell said...

Keep on blogging Niniane!

LeGreg said...

What is interesting (or not..) is that the game of telephone (in France we call it "téléphone arabe" probably in a subtly racist way) is typically a proof that a message repeated through enough ears and mouths will get distorted beyond recognition.

So did your friend really help you by reguessing what was the original word ? Or was he just cheating at the "game".

But anyway it sounds better that way and you were probably terrified :).

trudy said...

Perhaps you want to share you Gratitude Experiment results with Doug Vermeeren who is the creator of a brand new film called The Gratitude Experiment. (www.Gratitude-experiment.com) He is also the producer of the film The Opus. This will be an interesting film as it will tackle many of the questions left behind by the law of attraction presentations that have come thus far. Many of them have hinted at science, but scientific people have dismissed these claims as bogus. I think this will be a really interesting film to finally answer the question once and for all.