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Bianjing – Frontier – Grace Sun '23

That January night was quiet, except in one household. At 11:49 pm, the fluorescent lamp flickered as the cold light blurred the movements of my parents and I hunching over a computer, looking over my application details for my new private high school. “Ni zen me hui shir a? Bu zhi dao hao lai ma? Wo men gei ni zhe ge ji hui ni hai bu xin shang, What’s wrong with you? You don’t know what’s best for you? We found this opportunity for you and you’re acting so ungrateful!” My mom’s shrill screaming pierced both ears, cold and hard. Her eyebrows furrowed into sharp creases on her forehead. She dropped her head in her hands, exasperated. She rumpled her hair and said, “I don’t know what I should do with you.” The waterworks started again. I screamed back in Chinese: “You never ask me how I feel, have you ever even cared about whether I want to go there or not?” 13-year old me had dry tear marks on my cheeks and a lump in my throat because my parents, without even asking me, had applied me into a totally different school where none of my friends went and where I knew nothing about.

“Embrace change, bianhua,” my mother wisely shared to me while I was doing homework, out of the blue, “you never know what type of good things you might encounter.” Taken by surprise, I hesitantly replied: “That’s not always true, there’s so much you could lose, like everything you’ve built up and all the relationships you’ve grown...” My mom looked up from her phone into my eyes, her glasses reflecting the blue glow on her face. “You won’t believe me now, but you’ll understand later.”

As I sat in front of the computer, her message came back to me, echoing inside of my head. I felt indignant and betrayed. Is this what my mother meant about change? Wasn’t I right all along, that I would lose everything for something that I didn’t even have a choice over? Change is a frontier. Frontier as Bianjing in Chinese - the word in English is as vague as it is in Chinese. It could mean edge, boundary, borderland, or even as to the likes of Lewis and Clark: you arrive in a place you may never be able to return from. You can see your old life in the distance, but you must push into the wilderness towards the unknown light shimmering between the spaces in the trees.


They say follow the love of your life. Everything should be like a fairytale when you

know your soulmate, right? A city girl and a country boy run off together in the sunset, swooning like a lovesick dove, swept up by their vigorous passions and ... “happily ever after.” But when you finally come to your senses after being blinded by the sun, where are you? What have you become?

My mother thought her life could be like a fantasy after she followed her then-fiánce to America. “There’s not much you have to do when you have love in America,” the TV commercials used to say, showing happy couples walking hand in hand in the metropolis of New York, “your life is perfect here.” And my mother bought into it. Leaving her successful and well-paying job as a journalist as a Chinese foreign correspondent for BBC News, my mother came to America to accompany my father in his medical school journey at Johns Hopkins University. She once thought: “What’s so hard about finding a job in a foreign country? Wo zai zher zhe me cheng gong, you shen me you yu de, I was so successful back in China, there’s really nothing to worry about.”

2 months passed, rejection letter after rejection letter flew from companies to her mailbox, shredded into floating tendrils like flurries of feathers. “Wo na shi hou zhen de tai diu lian le, at that time I lost my entire family’s face, I never wanted this to happen.” As hard as it was to accept, being a Chinese journalist in an English dominated society would not work out. She had to find an alternative. So, she decided to change majors into business, although she knew nothing whatsoever about business at all.

“Love could not save me now,” she reflected despondently, “when I couldn’t even get a steady income to place food on the table for two. We would have watery potato and noodle soup and pour some MSG in it to flavor it, and every time we drooled when we smelled the fragrance of the fried chive pancakes from our neighbors downstairs.” She paused, reminiscing of the neighbors, secretly jealous of their unseen riches. “We shared a small apartment with paper thin walls that blocked absolutely zero city noise. Wan shang zhi shui si ge xiao shi I would only sleep for four hours. It’s like the “hard knock life,” you know what I mean?” Her eyes turned curved upwards and she chuckled. “I’m joking right now but you have to understand that I hated this life. It was a 180 degree turnaround from my life in China.” Although she despised this change, she knew she had no choice but to put her head through it. Toiling day and night, taking supplemental classes overnight and doubling down on the coursework that business school gave her, my mother fought the uphill battle to grasp the fruits of her hard work. “I had so many problems: “My teacher’s Indian accent yin du ko yin was so thick, plus the coursework I barely understood, plus the students who were so mean, so selfish zhen zi si ya (tsk tsk!) was there any time to fret over petty things like my plight? Of course not! That would be such a lang fei shi jian, a waste of time.” The vision of my mother’s eventual success pulled her closer and closer to where she is now. She worked another job with her school, and she helped my dad get through medical school. “Wo cong lai mei bao yuan I never complained,” she said. By putting her head down and beating back the odds of her professors berating her, the tough coursework and the seemingly endless amount of projects. With this attitude, my mother made it through business school, earning an MBA at the University of Baltimore. Looking back, while visiting the University of Baltimore with me, she told me that she still remembered the days she studied all night in her dormitory, translator in one hand and homework papers stacked up next to her during the long winters in Maryland. The more that I think about it, the more I realize that perhaps it was a change in herself that caused her to trust in the impossible.

Eventually, my mother landed herself in a highly sought-after position in a company dealing with business relations and marketing years after finishing her degree. She paused, after telling me her account, and quietly said: “wan wu jie bian, wu ren yi dang yi bian ying zhi (万物 皆变,吾人亦当以变应之), everything changes, and we must change with it.” Change is a witness to growth, and growth stems from knowing the best from yourself.”

My mother made her personal decision to turn her life around and change everything from what she knew before. Like facing a bianjing, she pressed onward like a pioneer, slashed by the bitter winds and harsh weather. “See, one day you are going to have to go through this too, mark my words!” she remarked. She wasn’t lying: it did really happen to me, just much earlier than her. And I’m still not sure if I can completely accept change like she came to understand.


I look back at my computer and take a deep breath. As I think about everything that my mother has gone through, to working hard in high school, to securing a journalist position, to traveling halfway across the world, and starting anew, I think about knowing change to know oneself. In a way, I envy how easy she made it sound to change - to completely turn her life around and be okay with it.

As I type up my application, I can’t completely say that I was convinced by her advice, yet something within me was altered. I may have lashed out rebelliously against my Chinese parents like a “dishonorable” child, but I felt like I still had a valid point. Although I may not like my mother’s decision now, something was bound to change and I would come to know that change will bring opportunities - for better or for worse. Bianjing is clearer to me now. It’s about embracing the unknown and putting trust into the free fall of life. Certainly, my mother was not the first to come to America and start fresh with a new major and experience the tide of changing times, and I am certainly not the first to have their parents force them to apply to a private high school, but there are times—despite my stubbornness—when I am truly amazed by how much she’s done for me.

Art: "My Renaissance Awakening,"Ellen Wang '25


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