This is weird, I know. It’s weird because I can’t find the right words to fully and eloquently express the important things I want to say when I’m right in front of you. It’s weird because you probably have never seen me this serious or have ever witnessed a time when I’m not making light of a situation or roasting you.

This is weird but bear with me.

You’re a young adolescent now so things are changing. Your body’s changing, your philosophies, your relationships with loved ones, and quite possibly the ways others treat you are changing as well. I write this letter to pass on a few things I’ve learned when I was a young, antsy, teenager with anxiously charged particles running through my veins. I don’t mean to be patronizing or anything, but let’s be real, I’ve been there and probably have done a lot of that.

Lesson 1.

Our culture is different. We’re brought up with Western ideals and thoughts (much gratitude to our more privileged education and our family’s constant reminder of it) but don’t forget, we’re still very much immersed, molded, and sculpted by our conventional culture. Our family won’t always understand our retaliations and reasonings, and yes, they will disregard it as angst-y teen behavior, and may even regret their own decision to give us Western education. Likewise, we will be confounded by their rebukes. It won’t ever make sense to us why girls aren’t allowed to whistle, or why men are supposed to be textbook heroes and romantics every second of their life (don’t worry, I’ll write another letter to our brother too). The reason why we can’t clip our nails at night or why our people would rather start a conversation by commenting on your body than by a simple, “How are you?” (see Lesson 2) won’t ever resonate with us. So, be patient. If there’s anything I learned from my childhood years is that there’s no upside in heated arguments. Trains of thoughts will collide, diction choices will be lost in translation, confused yells will be exchanged, all for what? Sometimes, there’s really no convincing the other party if both participants fail to understand the other side of the pond. Listen, calmly defend yourself, absorb in good rebukes, and listen some more.

Lesson 2.

Aunties and uncles will comment on your body. You’ve experienced this even before you started growing. The remarks they’ll make are just coin tosses, really- there will be a 50-50 chance of them either ruining your day or making not much of a difference to it. I’ve been told that they come from good intentions but I doubt they see the scars their comparisons to our thinner, conventionally prettier friends or family members leave on us. They won’t ever see your skipped meals but they will spazz on how hollow your collarbones look. Your confidence is a pyramid of Legos they will knock down over and over again, until the words ‘building blocks’ turn meaningless and numb. To them, the comments are innocent. They are simply ‘facts’ about your body that are just conversation starters, nothing more.

Fuck them. Seriously. Thin and fat are all relative. Beauty is subjective. Uniqueness, however, is for yours to keep. It’ll take a while for you to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers but trust me, once you manage to build yourself a good foundation, your wall of self-esteem can reflect all kinds of bull.

Lesson 3.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that intellectual insecurity takes precedence above all else. And if you’re as competitive as I am, life won’t be as relaxing as you would’ve hoped. This is important- every time you feel as though you are constantly a few miles behind even though you’ve been sprinting as fast as your limbs allow, remind yourself that not everyone started at the same place and that not every blank was shot in the air at the same time. Some of your friends and colleagues may have had a better education, more attentive parents, and/or money than us and some, less so (this will become even more apparent in college). However, this does not mean that you should coax yourself into lethargy. Being from a third world country means you’ll have to work that much harder to be on the same level as most of your first world counterparts. Prepare to make strides but remember to treat yourself kindly.

Lesson 4.

The lesson I’ve been dreading to write about. I’ll be quick.

Okay, we can talk about love. As we both know, mom is super strict, just like any other stereotypical Asian parent, about dating. I personally don’t care. Why? Because I see dating through a scientific lens. It is human nature to mate and breed, and dating is nothing but a simple social construct to speed up the process. You may not see it the same way as I do (which is perfectly fine) but I hope that my point of view will help deconstruct the seemingly mystical aura of this forbidden fruit. If and when you do find a boy or girl whom you deem lucky enough to be with you, don’t forget to remind yourself of your priorities. Always think about the long run, always set goals, and act accordingly. I trust that you will be responsible in your decisions.

Lesson 5.

Be kind. Smile at strangers. Help someone bring their groceries to their car. Donate. Compliment someone. Root for a cause. Smile at strangers.

That’s all, really. I genuinely hope that these lessons will be of help to you (I would have done so much better in life if I had me as an older sister, seriously). I see so much potential for your goodness to be great one day. Never drop that paintbrush, never stop crafting. I love you.

From Ma Chaw