The Economic Divide
Both Mary and Peter were all around good students. They consistently maintained their high rankings in their class. However, when they entered Form IV (10th grade), Mary decided she was more interested in Chinese literature than physics and chemistry. In the summer prior to Form IV, she asked her mom for advice on what classes to take come September. Her mom was a pharmacist and together with her dad, they operated a pharmacy called the Bitterly Good Drugs 苦口良藥店. She was the druggist and he was the man who took care of the inventory and finance of the business. The following conversation took place between mother and daughter one night.
Mary: Mom, I’d need your help deciding what to take next year.
Mom: Okay, sweetie, did you decide what you want to be when you grow up?
Mary: I think I want to be a writer of children’s books.
Mom: You’ll starve to death before you sell your first novel, then the publisher will make a lot of money after you die.
Mary: I know, you warned me about that a million times already. So I want to be a school teacher at the same time.
Mom: That may work. Now what do you want to teach?
Mary: Mom, do you mind if I don’t go to pharmacy school?
Mom: Since when did I say that I wanted you to go to pharmacy school?
Mary: You don’t have to say it, Mom. But I could tell that ever since I was a kid, you and Dad wanted me to take over the business some day.
Mom: That did cross our minds. Despite how you help out in the pharmacy and how well you already know the drugs, your dad and I know that you probably don’t want to be a pharmacist. It’s okay, Mary, be what you want to be. We want you to be happy. I still remember how reluctant your grandpa was when I told him I was going to pharmacy school. It’s really ironic: he wanted me to be a school teacher, said a pharmacist’s job was for a man.
Mary: Mom, you are the best!
Mom: Yeah, flattery gets you nowhere. Remember, girl, you still have to pull in the A’s regardless of what classes you take.
Mary: Yes, tiger mom!
So Mary chose a curriculum that was focused on liberal arts, including Chinese literature, Chinese history, English, western History, math, band, art, government and physics. The class in physics was an afterthought because he knew Peter was going to take it and she wanted to have one more class with him.
Peter was definitely the hands-on, science type. His father finished Form III and was a farm-hand. His mother
never went to secondary school and worked as a day-time nanny. One of his mom’s brothers went to one year of
college before he dropped out because his family couldn’t afford it anymore. His name was Jim. Uncle Jim started
as a telephone technician with a big telephone company – you know one of those people who climbed on tall poles to connect telephone cables. But he had brains and he was hard working and in a few years he was promoted to be an engineer although he did not have an engineering degree. Uncle Jim always told Peter that if he really studied his books in secondary school, he should be good enough to learn anything later on his own, and he took the uncle’s advice to heart. Being the second child in a low-income family of six, Peter knew that he was not going to college. But he had the desire to learn and excel, and he hoped someday he would be an engineer like Uncle Jim.
So Peter took all the hard core science subjects: physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, geometry, auto shop, in addition to English and band. He knew he was running out of time at school and he wanted to jam as much as he could before graduation. Although he enjoyed most of his classes, his favorites were band, physics and English. These were the same classes that Mary took and they always sat next to each other.
In band, they received permission from Mrs. Lo to learn and practice The Blue Danube as a duet on their own. After three months of after school practices in the music room by themselves, Mrs. Lo liked it so much that she put them on stage to perform at the school’s open house. After the performance, one of the parents mused to the parents of Mary and Peter: “Seeing your kids play the sax, I think I am in love in school again. Congratulations!”
*** To Be Continued ***
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