Quofda: To Set Myself Apart

A few days ago the question on Quofda was, “What set you apart from the other kids in school?

I think that for so many of us, not only during school, but our entire lives we are trying to answer this question. That is, we’re providing evidence that are we valued as people – that I should be valued as a person.  And sometimes – let’s be honest – this means proving that above all others, this is what sets me apart and therefore I deserve to stand apart from or even above the crowd.

It extends to what possessions we have. Now in L.A., all you have to do is look at the traffic and half the cars on the road cost as much as it does to buy half a house anywhere in Middle America. But money is money, and having the ability power to attain such possessions is definitely a race we all run in one way or another.

Once time when I was in middle school, we had a family friend who visited from Hong Kong. He gave my mom a watch and she in turn gave it to me as she already had one. I didn’t and it was a pretty attractive watch, so I wore it. I wore it to school, I wore it to violin lessons and piano lessons – I wore it everywhere. I still remember it. It had a metal band and was gold and silver-striped.

Then, my friend asked to look at it. She said, “You have a Gucci watch??” I said, “I dunno.” It’s not as if the name on the face of the watch was one I had recognized. Well, ever since then I did. Eventually, word got around that I had this Gucci watch. When I look back, this was probably my most dramatic introduction to [the conspiracy of] branding. The lesson that some names are worth more than others was an interesting concept in and of itself, but whatever it was I was glad to have something notoriously good spread about me around the school. “Let me see your watch!” people would say. I started to bling it out, show it off. (Okay, “bling” wasn’t in pop vocabulary back then but you get the idea.)

And then came the time when a guy who asked to look at it declared that it was fake. “The second hand doesn’t move smoothly around the dial,” he explained. What was awesome about this in hindsight was that only in Wisconsin in the ’90’s can you get away for three whole weeks showing off a fake Gucci watch in middle school before someone can actually spot that it’s not authentic.

Easy come, easy go.

Not five years later would I meet people at UCLA who spoke of wearing Armani Exchange to high school every day in the affluent neighborhoods and using their parents’ money to pimp out the Audis they also bought with their money. What a complicated adolescence I was spared, in one respect – that is, one subjected to class status wars. But in other respects I had my fair share of issues racially and emotionally.

I wouldn’t trade my past for anything, though. No one ever grew as a person from living posh or comfortably. If you have everything you want, there’s no reason to figure out what’s most important to you. In retrospect, being of Asian descent in a city full of -ski’s (Poles) and -mans (Germans) enabled pushed me to figure out who I am and I’m not. Follow that up with five years at a school that is half-populated with Asians and that theme is ever more honed.

So in the life game of worthiness derived from uniqueness, we all have our own bag of issues. Love ’em, hate ’em or loathe ’em – what do you make of them?