Onwards and Beyond
BY VICKY NGUYEN
One corner turn. A bump. The tantalizing scent of grilled ribs intertwines with musky petrichor.
“School is in 200 more meters, isn’t it?” I yelled to my father over the deafening cacophony of motorbike honks and thunder from afar.
“Correct!” he nodded.
I was sitting behind my father on our motorcycle on the way to school, covered under the flap of the poncho extended from my father’s back. My memories of elementary school were marked with mornings sitting half-asleep behind my father, moped among the endlessly winding alleys of Saigon. With a bánh mì on hand, I would observe the city’s pulses: pupils with freshly ironed white uniforms walking to school, sidewalk vendors chock-full of vegetables, and ramrod-tall electric lines in front of moss-covered houses. I grew to remember every detail of my road to school so much that on rainy days, even under my father’s poncho, I could sense the turns and the surface of the road underneath to know my location. However, no matter rain or shine, I could always see my father’s figure in the front of the motorcycle, navigating through the immense flow of traffic to bring me to school on time. My father — my ever-reassuring vision on my way to school — was there for me to share my stories, hopes, and dreams as I grew up.
The carefree days of elementary school slid into the dusty, laughter-filled bubbles of middle school. Every weekday, I woke up at 5:40 AM for the 6:10 AM school bus, where I began the 1-hour commute to school. To relieve the morning fatigue, my friends on the bus would blast pop songs, from Martin Garrix to Taylor Swift, under the peach-tinted clouds over Thi Nghe Creek at dawn. When Saigon’s fickle downpours covered the wheels in thick mud, we took solace in Werewolf cards and fried yam. The bus, the capsule for our youth, was where we munched greasy Tupperware breakfasts, reviewed yesterday’s notes, and sang at the top of our lungs to the lyrics of Despacito, not realizing that we were making lifelong memories. The front vision of my father on my journey to school was gradually replaced by my zesty friends, who shaped my outlook on life as a monsoon downpour. We may catch a cold from wallowing in the rain, yet not without refining our perspectives of the world.
When I moved to Canada, the SkyTrain became an integral part of the commute to my high school. With my mother’s lunchbox in hand, I rejoiced in Vancouver’s breathtaking landscape of snow-capped mountains, lush coniferous forests, and lofty skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Sometimes, my fingers would shiver from the frigid breezes, but I still held onto the handrail tightly while listening to the mesmerizing symphony of languages from other passengers. I rejoiced in decoding snapshots into their lives through various conversations in Spanish and French, which further fueled my passion for linguistics. Seeing the SkyTrain advancing through the roaring Fraser River left an unforgettable impression on me as I fixed my vision of the airport yonder, where I cherished my dream of traveling the world.
Right before senior year, I moved to an idyllic suburb of Richmond. My journey to school consisted of morning walks past a railway teeming with wildlife. In winter, icicles dangled on thick blackberry bushes, while the barren arms of weeping birches were dusted with pristine snow. When spring came, the chickadees chanted behind the cascades of cherry blossom, which left a trail of fuschia petals alongside the dandelion-dotted lawn. Spring slowly faded into summer, when the sun now lingers on the velvet horizon. Wandering under the ramrod maple trees, I have been feeling the lightness of my backpack on my way to school, for schoolwork has dwindled towards summer in exchange for the deepening appreciation for the last weeks of high school.
As I write these words with high school graduation approaching, memories of my journeys to school flood back like flashes of a Polaroid camera. A realization dawns upon me: that change is not the ultimate goal, but is embedded in every step taken. Whether I am navigating the streets under the petrichor, watching the sun rise over the skyscrapers, rocking to the tracks of the SkyTrain, or ambling past clean-cut lawns, there will be speed bumps on my road. However, the vision of my future will remain unfazed.
Because on my road, red means go.