A memory and a photograph

Since I don’t have many favourite photographs, I’d like to choose one of the most memorable photos.

This picture portrays my first day at school in Germany. My mother dressed me like a little sailor girl and braided my hair. Judging by my facial expression, you can tell that I was not happy. Going back in time, I guess, I had figured that school would be a living hell, which it was for many years to come.

Many past sentiments rise to the surface every time I look at this picture taken in August 1991. About 50 school kids had gathered in the main hall with their parents and siblings. We were about to be divided into A, B and C classes.

Either my mum or my dad took this photograph with an 80s version Fuji camera. Even the exact date is shown at the bottom right of the photograph.

My parents used to love capturing moments and took hundreds and hundreds of pictures from each year–many of my sister and me during our childhood.

I used to smile more on family and holiday pictures. But you’ll hardly find happy ones of me in school.

Not even my classmates look particularly thrilled, do they? I must have created a bad vibe in those days, along with my inability to fit in and make friends.

On a sociological level, you see an Asian kid amongst white kids. Northern Germany (or perhaps Germany in general) wasn’t really multicultural back in the early 90s. There were a fair bit of Eastern European kids from Poland, Russia or Romania, but as far as I was concerned, they were white, too.

I have more of this kind of picture depicting my disgruntled face. My parents have them on videotapes too.

Having been a moody, grouchy little girl, I came to a point in school where I began suppressing my thoughts and emotions, which were sparked by alienation. I spoke to nobody, even though I wanted to.

I really wanted to, but I didn’t know how. I was unknowingly tying one knot after the other by merely observing the others play and have fun.

As you can tell, many memories are dangling from this picture, except that I’m viewing it with a more analytical eye now by using psychology and sociology to understand my former self.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a stranger, but in the end, it’s just me – the girl that did not speak in school.

I wouldn’t say the memories sparked by this picture are entirely gloomy. Sure I’ve missed out on making more friends, but in the end, I’d spent a significant amount of time with myself. This is how I got into writing.

This photograph and my memories have become a pair of eyes that help me evaluate my childhood with an optimistic approach.


This writing was inspired by my friend Jackie’s university project, in which she explores the relationship between memories and photographs in terms of how they balance each other out. What does the image show that our memory has forgotten? Or how can our memory strengthen the story behind a particular photograph?

If you have the time, please kindly take Jackie’s survey, and if you’re interested in providing a more in-depth analysis, please leave a message, and I’ll refer you to her. Thanks! (Deadline November 22, 2015)

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