On my street lives Aaron Siu whom I met four years ago.
When running into each other recently, we talked again about school that was always on Aaron’s mind.
“This time it’s for real”, he announced with a straight face.
“Must be a new year resolution”. I remembered his plan a year ago to upgrade math.
“More like Chinese new year resolution. Isn’t that next week, February 19?”. Aaron eyes sparkled.
I thought, wow, that’s swell.
“Architecture, George Brown College. Computer drafting first, and then getting my math in order”, Aaron added, cheeks glowing in the icy dusk.
I first saw Aaron when he was a new hire at a supermarket on my street. That afternoon, a jar of relish tumbled from its shelf, spewing green froth and glass shards everywhere.
When the loudspeaker bellowed, “Spill, aisle 5”, a boy in uniform appeared with paper towel, broom, mop, bucket. Within minutes, the aisle was restored to its pre-spill order.
Wow, I thought. Fast worker.
Half an hour later, the boy and I were both walking toward the subway. “Are you new? I have never seen you before”, I ventured.
“Yeah, it was my second day”. With that remark came a broad smile that had already forgotten aisle 5.
I remembered Aaron well the next time I saw him.
When asked about work, he was direct. “Good. It’s okay being a cleaner, stock-clerk, and pest control assistant”.
I thought, wow, multi-tasker, even though “pest control” made me a bit queasy.
Since then, we would run into each other often, especially after Aaron’s move to my street where his landlady had a store, and rented out apartments and rooms on other floors of her house.
Earlier that year, when public housing down-sized his parents to a two-person unit for no longer having dependent minors, Aaron took the opportunity to live on his own.
“I’m twenty, but my brother and sister are thirteen, fourteen years older. Joe and Linda were already working and married when I was like, ten”, Aaron remembered having grown up almost as a latch-key, only child.
“Mom had me when she was forty-six. She and dad have always worked in Chinatown. They don’t speak much English. I used to get mad at them for calling me ‘Alan’ or ‘Awon’ because they couldn’t say
my name”. Aaron revealed unspoken cultural gaps within the family.
“My parents didn’t know I had low marks. I also had zero purpose after high school. I asked Joe how to be an auto-glass technician like him, but he said I should try something better. How could I tell him I had 50% in math and a C minus average?”. He felt deep inertia even with sincere advice.
“I stared at an iPad all day at Balzac’s Café…. you know, at the reference library. Then I went home and watched my parents get older every day. Whenever they asked me about college, I would make excuses -- after Christmas, after getting a job…”. He harbored enormous guilt for disappointing his family.
“So, I finally applied for a job at the supermarket. With 30 hours a week at $12 an hour, I could rent a basement room close to work”. Aaron summed up how we ended up as neighbours on the same street.
Finally, after talking about school for four years, Aaron seems ready for a diploma program in architecture that needs several years of school, beginning with upgrading his math.
He has also shared new personal information with me.
“I’ve been seeing counselors at George Brown. They tell me nothing is guaranteed, but I should apply anyway”. He appreciated the gentle push.
His aptitude scores also show above average visual and spatial skills, as well as an excellent attention to detail.
Things may be looking up for Aaron in 2015, the Chinese Year of the Ram. While saving for tuition and writing pre-admission math tests, Aaron learned recently that the top-floor in his house would become available. He has since persuaded the landlady to let him have it for no extra rent if he would shovel the snow.
When celebrating Chinese New Year on February 19, Aaron most certainly embraced tradition by devoting his entire day to family, including the nieces and nephews who looked up to him.
Beginning with a new apartment, Aaron’s life will now have a view – in more ways than one.
Mina Wong is a teacher of adult education and social sciences, Mina enjoys celebrating the lives and achievements of learners using their own stories.