The number 8 has a very special meaning for Cantonese Chinese. As the sound of this number rhymes with the word “prosperity”, Cantonese people love to have this number in their phone number, license plate, house number or anything important. Who doesn’t want to be reminded of wealth and prosperity? The more you hear it, the better. J
The number 8 also has a very special meaning for me. I first learned about this number when I was three years old. Growing up in Hong Kong, I started kindergarten when I was three. We would learn how to count and how to write in English and Chinese. I would go to school in the morning and in the afternoon my mom would pick me up and help me with my homework.
In kindergarten, I received my first math homework ever. We learned how to count one day and I was supposed to write the number 8 ten times and turned it in the next day. I remember my mom was helping me and she noticed that my number 8 wasn’t shaped right. She asked me to write it in front of her and she discovered the root cause of my problem immediately.
Instead of writing out the number 8 with one line looping back from the beginning. I drew 2 circles, one on top of the other. “This is not the right way to write the number 8” my mom said to me in Chinese. “You should write the number in one stroke, not two circles.” Mom wrote the number 8 her way. I watched.
“Now you do it,” my mom said. I tried to follow my mom’s instruction and mimic what she just demonstrated, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t comprehend how it was done. I tried again, but I just couldn’t get the line to twist and turn. I failed.
“Can I just write the number 8 using 2 circles?” I asked, figuring the result was the same.
“How come you can’t just write the number like normal kids?,” my mom said in a tone of disappointment. I didn’t know what to say. I felt inadequate. I started to cry. I started to question myself, wondering why I couldn’t live up to my mom’s expectation.
Why couldn’t I be like other kids? Why couldn’t I be more normal?
I tried again, but just couldn’t close the loop for the number 8. It was very hard for me. I didn’t know why, but it just was.
I am not sure why this little story stuck with me all these years. And I bet my mom wasn’t really that upset with me. But the feeling of inadequacy stuck with me. The feeling of stuck with me.
Chinese parents can be harsh. Not because they don’t love their kids. I know my parents love me dearly, but most Chinese parents seem to motivate their kids in a very negative and unhealthy way.
Sayings like or “How come you can’t be like your cousin?” or “I will be very disappointed if you don’t get straight As” are very common.
I really believe all parents’ intentions are good, but their strategy and delivery can be questionable. All parents want their kids to do better than they did. And somehow many Chinese parents think negative motivation is the best way to go without knowing the emotional scars they can leave on their children.
I lived many years of my life with this scar always feeling that I was not good enough and I should be more like the other “bright” kids.
It took me years to understand this. Really, there was nothing wrong with the way I wrote the number 8. Sure mom’s way was the common way and the best way that she knew. That was how she was taught by her parents and teachers. Her belief system for the number 8 was set for decades before she met me. My mom always wanted the best for me. She was upset because I couldn’t have the best she got.
You see, it doesn’t matter if you are Chinese or not. We all have something within us that makes us want to live up to our parents’ expectations. We want their approval. We want their blessings.
It also took me years to understand that my parents did the best they could at that point in their lives. They taught me everything they knew. They gave me everything they had. And their way of teaching was merely a reflection of how they were taught by their parents and teachers. They just were not aware the negative comments could leave emotional scars. It was unintentional.
So, if you had parents that were verbally harsh on you, you should not be angry nor blame them for what they may have said to you growing up. What’s important is for you to understand that it is okay not to be “perfect” for your parents. You can accept and respect who you are. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the things you have accomplished. Acknowledge where your parents came from and understand they were doing their best. Your parents will not love you any less just because you are not the “perfect” kid next door.
After all, this is your life. Live your life for you and no one else.