1st Prize: Half of a Tomato
A fruit that is particularly special to me is called the tomato. It is so common that you can find it everywhere. For most of the people it is a vegetable, but it is botanically a fruit, because it forms from a flower and contains seeds. Today let me tell you a story about half of a tomato from my childhood.
I was born in the late 1960s, years after The Great Chinese Famine. My parents were both doctors then; they voluntarily went to a remote village and worked there for years. People in the village lived in poverty, they didn’t have enough food to eat, let alone fruits. Even if you had money, there was nothing in the markets you could buy. To make sure we could take enough vitamin C, my mother grew a lot of tomatoes in our yard and let us eat tomatoes as fruits. That’s why I have considered the tomato as a fruit since I was a little child. Not because I knew more about it botanically, but because we had been eating it as a fruit.
One day after lunch, I took a tomato with me and went out to play with the children in the village. I ate a half of it and threw the other half away, because that half was still a little bit green and was not very tasty. Then a little boy who was about my age picked it up from the ground and started to eat it! I was so shocked, and I would never forget what I saw. He was kind of embarrassed, but he didn’t stop eating the tomato with mud on it. While he was eating it,he looked at me, and he faked a smile to cover his embarrassment. I felt so bad, and I realized that even tomatoes were luxury food to some people. I forgot what had happened afterwards, but that moment was deeply rooted in my mind.
Now I still regret that I didn’t take the little boy home and didn’t give him something to eat. Maybe because I was only five or six years old and I didn’t know what to do. Since then, whenever I eat tomatoes, that little boy and the half of a tomato will come to my mind. This is why tomatoes are particularly special to me. They contain the sad memory of children who do not have enough to eat and make me mindful to not waste food.
2nd Prize: University Dream
Chinese cultural revolution ended in 1976 after Chairman Mao died
China restarted Gaokao (college entrance exam ) in 1977
China started Open Up and Reform policy in 1978
One child policy was adopted in 1978, and implemented in 1979
This story starts in 1980.
I was in my last year of middle school when I ran into a horse pulling a cart, as I rode our family bicycle with my younger sister sitting behind me. I landed badly, breaking my ankle. This kept me from attending school for a month. I was so worried while staying at home because I was afraid I could not get into high school, which could give me a chance to get into university. I was eager to escape the village at that time because I could not see any hope of my future in that village.
I talked with my fifth sister, who is 3 years older than me, about my dream (going to university) and my worry that I would fall behind because I could not attend classes, which affected my marks a lot. She told me that my father could not and would not support me. “Look,” she said, “how much would it cost if you go to high school? Our family could not even afford our brother’s marriage!” “What? Why is he more important than me?” I responded. She stared at me for a little while and said, “You are crazy!”
I am crazy? I did not really understand why my sister thought that way. But this word was spinning in my mind all the time. Going to a university was the only way I could see to help me live a better life. What else could I do? Later, I worried more, not only my marks but also the words my sister said “You are crazy!” “Am I really crazy?” I often asked myself. “What should I do?”
One day, I got a chance to talk with my mother alone. There were 10 people in my family at that time and only two rooms in the house. My mother was so busy every day.
“Mom, I want to go to university,” I said lightly and looked at her nervously. She looked at me for a little while and then she nodded her head and said, “Good idea.” “Do you support me?” I asked with confusion. “I would like to be with you”. She took my hands in her hands and continued “But I cannot make the decision. I have to ask others.” Her eyes seemed to become wet after she spoke. “Mom, would you really like me to go to university?” I pressed her a little. “Yes,” she confirmed.
I could not relax after the conversation. I noticed that my mother went out many times in the next few days. Her words became less and less, and she looked heavily laden. “Should I give up?” I asked myself. My heart felt broken whenever I thought about my future life.
One afternoon, my mother became happy when she came home. She walked to me directly and told me “You do not need to worry anymore. You can go to university!” “Really?” I asked,”Where does the money come from?” “You only need to focus on your marks .” She told me.
I was still confused. But I was so eager to escape the village. I continued to study very hard. A few years later, I really went to a university (Liaoning Technical University).
My oldest sister visited me when I was in my second year at university. We talked a lot, and we mentioned the time I was struggling when I stayed home because of my ankle problem. My sister told me that my mother felt such pain at that time. She knew that my father would not allow me to go to school if that cost money, but she knew my determination. Also, she felt that education was very important, for whatever reasons. So she asked friends to help persuade my father to pay my high school expenses. Most of them thought I was crazy and that my mom had become crazy along with me. But she still thought she should help me. My mom cried when she talked with my oldest sister about my dream and her inability to help me. My mother was a strong woman. My sister felt scared when my mom looked hopeless in front of her. So my sister was determined that she would help me and my mom. She gave all her money to my mom and promised she would help more.
The day that my oldest sister visited me at university, I recalled my life in high school. My sister often gave me money to pay for school meals, 10 Yuan (equal to 2 dollars) for a month at that time. I thought my sister was rich and I admired her. Suddenly, I understood the situation. Money was a big problem at that time. Moreover, the fact that no one from my village had gone to university before was a huge challenge. It was thought strange that I would even consider going to university. In addition, my father was so careful with money and valued my brother so much. Fortunately, the government paid my life cost at university (21 yuan a month ) so that I was not a big burden for my family anymore. I could make decisions about my own life.
I do not know where my mother’s intelligence and courage came from, but I really think that she was a great woman and I was so lucky to have a such wonderful mom. As for my sister, I think that I owe her my life.
2nd Prize: A Long Journey
I can vividly remember the day when I left behind many priceless things like my lovely family, job, and friendly neighborhood in my country and started a new journey. I decided to leave our historic, and beautiful city where I lived for more than 40 years. It was certainly a tough situation to choose to stay with your precious memories and belongings or following your dreams. However, I decided to move regarding my children’s future and also my dreams. It’s a long story since I was born in a religious family in an extremely religious city where girls were not supposed to study as well as boys at that time. However, I had a chance to study and follow my dreams because of my lovely and unique parents. They strongly supported and encouraged me to study. Although they were not highly educated, they worked hard to provide their kids with education.
Since my childhood, I have been interested in reading a variety of books and I really got enjoyment from reading books. As a result of reading so much, I have had many goals and dreams. Honestly, living in a dream world fired my enthusiasm to study hard. In fact, I was really into studying at school and then university, so I got high marks and my responsible teachers helped me to be more desirable. It opened a new door to be successful and being accepted in other job opportunities. My parents have thought me how to be determined and hardworking to achieve my important goals. I am grateful for their support, especially my mom who is a real gem in my life. With her support, I was able to pursue my education and working at the same time and won many rewards regarding my studying and working during my education and job. She played a vital role in my progress.
I was so elated to achieve my goal which was my first dream, working at university to teach students and also helping people who suffer from pain or limitations. I worked as a physiotherapist and instructor and have a great experience in physiotherapy and teaching. I also have had a dream about studying at a well-known university to improve my knowledge in the human body and neuroscience. Although I was very successful in my job in my country, I faced many challenges as a woman. In addition, my mind was busy with my dreams, problems and kids. My husband and I were thinking to provide our kids with better life opportunities. In fact, based on our challenges and difficulties, we were worried for our kids especially my daughter. In my previous country, like numerous women, I experienced a huge amount of discrimination and I didn’t want that to happen to my daughter. We decided to do something special for our kids. I faced the dilemma of staying in my country or moving to a new country and starting new challenges.
Eventually, I decided to move and my husband accompanied me to provide our family with the hope of better life. I started going on a long cross-country journey with my lovely family to follow my dreams for my family and myself. All of us have struggled to build a new life in Canada, a multi-cultural country. Higher standards of living, safety, equality, and freedom are the most important reasons that attracted us to move here. As a woman, my expectation is to live freely in an equal situation and do my best to build an ideal world for my family and all women. Obviously, freedom of speech and freedom of thoughts which deny under the dictatorship was part of my dreams.
3rd Prize: Taking a Calculated Risk with Calculation
At first, I must admit that I’m not exactly a risk-taker. But I’m proud to say that I am a person who had a near-drowning experience, yet fearlessly took a risk and went diving. So how did it happen?
It was a summer break when I was eight years old. I went to see my grandma who lived in a small village. In the front of her house, there was a small pond and many wildflowers near the pond. One of the flowers is very special that we nicknamed it as shower flower because it only blossoms after sundown when people start taking showers. As an eight-year-old, I didn’t know why it was named shower flower so I thought I could bathe my grandma’s cat with it and then I took him to the pond. How naïve of young me! It didn’t go well – It turned out that cats didn’t like taking showers. I was splashing water at him but he just sprung away. Trying to grab him, I lost my balance and fell into the bond.
I can’t recall what happened exactly afterwards, but obviously, I was saved at the end of that story. From that time on, I grew a fear of going anywhere near water, even after I became an adult. I tried to overcome this fear and learn how to swim, but every time my nose touched the water, I can’t breathe properly. After several attempts, I simply gave up.
In 2016, my friend and I travelled to a resort in Boracay, Philippines. We were on an island that was surrounded by a beautiful sea. My friend suggested we go diving. I immediately said no without even thinking. Then I told her about my fear and why. I have never forgotten what she said at that time – “Life is too short to be ruled by fears. If you can’t overcome your fears, you’ll lose lots of chances to enjoy this amazing and mysterious world. Sometimes we just need to take some calculated risks”.
I took her advice and decided to give it go. We chose a diving club and learned some basic skills such as how to breathe with the mouth when I was wearing a diving mask and how to solve tinnitus problems when I faced with pressure, as well as some underwater interactive gestures with our coach who accompanied us to finish our diving trip and watched out for our safety.
When I carried the oxygen tank and followed my coach deep under the sea, I knew I had made the right decision. The underwater world was amazing, with so many vivid colors surrounding me. I saw many colorful fish that were swimming on my hand, and many corals shaped like mushrooms, the horn of deer, and tree branches, etc.
This fantastic experience of the diving trip has been imprinted in my mind. It would be the perfect ending if I can swim now – but what does it matter if I can’t? I have realized now that I don’t need to force myself to overcome my fears completely, as I just need to give myself more chances when I was met with a new challenge. I just need to think out of the box and take more calculated risks which will empower me in my journey of life. On that note, taking COVID-19 vaccination, yes, there’s a chance it won’t work or even bring side effects as reported; but the pandemic will never be contained if no one in society takes this small risk. Compared to getting the COVID-19, I’d say vaccination is a much smaller and calculated risk. Fight instead of flight!