My first memory about money happened in New Zealand when I was around 6. This is a story of how a penny changed my life.
Up until this point, my life was pretty good. I was the only child until my sister came along when I was 3. At first I was very upset but then my father took me to work with him. He gave me “work to help him” and I felt quite grown up. I was rather proud of myself and constantly asked for things to do to “help”. So when my sister went to nursery school which was only a few tram stops from my primary school, quite simple I thought, I could take the tram alone, pick up my sister, and help my parents. What further simplified things was my tram ride was inside a single zone so I just had to carry one penny to pay for my trip.
Then one day the tram was really crowded and I couldn’t push pass the grown ups and get off at my stop. I was really worried trying to see the way the tram was going and remember the path so I could retrace my way back to the nursery. Suddenly I heard a conductor yelling. At first I didn’t know he was yelling at me until I heard “sneaky Chinese.” I froze and realized because I had passed my regular stop, I had crossed into another zone and needed to pay another penny. But I didn’t have any money. I tried to explain what had happened, that I was not cheating, but he keep yelling. Then a very kind lady told the conductor to stop yelling and said, “… listen to what happened. She is is not trying to cheat. Can’t you see she is upset. Here is a penny.” With tears pouring down, I ran to pick up my sister who by then was the only child left at the nursery.
So I saw how Money, Even A Single Penny, Can Spark An Explosion Out of Nowhere! And for me: for the first time, I met injustice and I saw when facing prejudice I was an invisible child, just a Chinese face, in that person’s eyes. But I also met kindness from strangers who stood up for me and took care of me.
Additional material: I wrote this piece as an exercise for the Inner Child Writing Camp (June-July 2017). It turned out to be particularly meaningful. The exercise was to write about our earliest memory related to money. The event I wrote about occurred when I was around 6, living in New Zealand. It was the first time, I saw when facing prejudice I was an invisible child, just a Chinese face. This incident left a deep mark on my psyche. Being invisible as an individual formed a painful image of who I was growing up.
I wrote about this event in our workshop. I looked again at what happened, now as an adult. I remembered the kind stranger who stood up for me and gave the conductor a penny to pay for my fare. To her I was certainly not invisible as a person.