Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To Begin Again

So we left - the unmovable high rises, the corner deli packed with Italian men with mustaches, strong accents, and leering eyes, the pizzeria down the street with its stacks of steel plates that had been reused year after year. We packed all of our belongings and left behind that city where lonely trees were confined to two cubic feet squares of growing spaces in slabs of concrete, where we children were confined to handball courts and paved inner city blocks devoid of grass or flowers.

We left behind the elevator that took us up to our fourth floor apartment, where we had once been mugged at the point of a dinner knife by two scrawny teenage boys who looked so daunting to my eight year old eyes. After my mother hurriedly handed over the $48 in cash, the thugs skipped out of the elevator on the third floor. When we reached our floor, how madly we had rushed from the elevator to our apartment at the end of the hall across from the fire escape. And to prevent those thugs from running up the stairs and overtaking us, my eleven year old brother held the fire escape door shut with all of his strength while my mother nervously fumbled with the keys. How quickly we had locked all three of our deadbolts once we jumped inside our apartment and breathed a sigh of relief that we weren't tied up in our bathtub waiting to be found as Mr. Kim on the second floor had been the month before.

To begin again. That is what I wanted. To begin again, in a new world, where our sense of security didn't shatter at the point of a dinner knife, where we didn't have to look over our shoulders wary of teenage thugs. Leaving NYC was to begin again. I dreamed of living the life of a character in a Judy Blume tale, where inner city worries faded as you drove deeper into the suburbs, where summers were meant to be spent poolside - at a real pool, not the indoor pool of a YMCA where the sun didn't reach, where kids had pets and real playgrounds with sand boxes and swing sets, where families lived in houses with lawns.

For this new life, I began my preparation.

A new beginning meant a new wardrobe, a new look, and most importantly, a new name. So I announced at dinner shortly before the move.

- When we move to Houston, I'm going to change my name to Christine.

My startled parents stared at me.

- You're what?

- I'm changing my name.

- What's wrong with the name we gave you? Shinyung is a beautiful name.

- My teachers call me Shin - and I'm not a shin. I want an American name.

I had thought about my new name for weeks. I picked one that sounded the best with my last name. I wasn't going to have a funny name anymore.

From then on, I enforced my new rule with a heavy hand. I only responded to Christine going forward because beginning anew required determination. No one said it would be easy.


  1. I was 10 years old when we immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada. My parents had given me an English name at birth so my English name was used since we first arrived in Canada. However, I can still remember the phase I went through when I felt the need to be a "Christine" rather than a "Shinyung."