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I can still remember that afternoon. It was so quiet that I could hear mosquitoes buzzing in the air. My nose itched, so I used my finger to relieve it. When I pulled out my finger, however, I couldn’t help staring at that thing, as if it had some sort of magic that controlled my eye. Slowly, it floated towards me...
“Ha! YOU ARE EATING BOOGER!” someone shouted while my finger was still in my mouth.
All of my classmates were staring at me, as if something horrific just happened.
My face turned red, and I realized that no girl would ever come to me again.
Really, I held a grudge against him since then. Until one day during a class break, I noticed his finger was moving towards his nose, and then his mouth....
“Ha! YOU ARE EATING BOOGER!” I shouted out loud so that everyone could hear.
“You are no longer my friend!” he yelled at me after school.
“Nor are you!” I shouted back.
We officially renounced our friendship, but several days after both of us decided to forget what had happened. However, ever since then, we had become extremely sensitive to the word “booger” as well as any behaviors associated with it. As a result, we used the phrase “that thing” to refer to it. Whenever we saw “that thing” appeared on one of our faces, we would somehow turn agitated and speak in that person’s ear, “GROSS! THAT THING!” For us back then, anything related to “that thing” was a grave crime. Whenever anyone put the hand around his/her nose, I would suddenly become alert, as if a crime was going to be committed. I guess that’s why I nearly freaked out one day, when I read the scientific essay, “Eating Booger May Improve Your Health.”
As I grew older, I realized that there were many “that things” in the adult world, and one of them was death. Whenever I asked my mom questions such as “What is death?”, she would start off by showing me the terrified face and then continue with the customary “Pei! Pei! Pei!”, as if I had just swallowed some poisonous chemicals that must be spat out.
Probably because I was too young, I was not good at memorizing adults’ rules, which resulted in a total disaster one day.
It was my grandma’s birthday, and the whole family gathered to celebrate it. During dinner, everyone was so happy chatting with others. Probably infected by the laughter, I decided to play a funny game with everyone.
“Let’s guess when will grandma die!” I shouted.
Suddenly, the air was frozen.
Everyone was so terrified just as my mother was, as if I had just transformed into a huge vermin or something. “Pei! Pei! Pei!” “Pei! Pei! Pei!” The spells were emitted from everyone’s mouth to dispel the evil monster. After dinner, I received the maximum punishment: I was forbidden from my favorite red-cooked pork for a month. As I begged for a commuted sentence, I realized that death was another “that thing,” which must not be spoken out. Since then, I had learned to show the terrified face whenever other children spoke of “that thing,” but unfortunately, I have never received a red-cooked pork as a reward for such conducts.
In fact, I did not really understand death by then, as I only knew that it was terrible. Until one chilly evening while I was in bed, for no good reason, I suddenly thought of death in the darkness. I realized that one day I might close my eyes and lose everything, leaving my sweet home and parents and curling up in a dark corner forever. The fear pierced through my body from the darkness. I cried. Rushing into my mother’s bedroom, I rousted my mom up and cried,
“Mom, I don’t want to die.”
“Pei Pei Pei,” she said, “don’t think about that, you will be fine, now go to bed and have a sweet dream.”
When I returned to my bedroom, I was again folded by fear. I could not fall asleep.
Later, though I realized that death is just natural and inevitable, “that thing” still haunted me for a long time.
I guess I am not that afraid of death now, but unfortunately, there are many other “that things” in the society. This year, I have become the chief editor of our school magazine. The name of the magazine is VOICE, meaning that it would give students the opportunity to speak out. When I met with the school adviser to learn the rules, he told me, “Put whatever you want in this magazine, except for those that are too political.” I did not pay particular attention to the “except” at first. However, I gradually learned that it also included many other sensitive topics such as homosexuality and feminism.
“Em, you know, there is censorship,” the school adviser said to me one day, “and these topics may make some people uncomfortable.”
“Students used to include these things in the past, and em, somehow the education department found out and talked to the principal.”
“Just try to avoid these things,” he gave me his final words.
Would people be naturally sensitive to these topics? I was thinking about this question. People are certainly not born carrying these taboos: I have never seen a baby being terrified by gay couples. If people are not born with them... Ah! Then it’s the taboos that come to people themselves! I imagine heterosexuality would be a “that thing” for me if I were to born into a world where everyone is expected to be a gay.
“That thing” is not really complicated after all. It is not different from my aversion for booger and fear for death. There are always things that may render some people uncomfortable, which they try to avoid talking about. Whenever overhearing other people talk about these things, they may feel offended. Thus, they would collectively punish the offender by certain means. Gradually, when no one dares to talk about “that thing,” it would be internalized as a taboo. At this stage, people would even stop thinking about “that thing.” Instead, they could only feel the excessive fear and aversion associated with it.
But the problem is that we can never get rid of “that thing” in this way, as it would only continue to haunt us like ghosts. Avoid speaking the word “booger” never helps me get rid of it every morning, except for rendering myself disgusted over and over again. Avoid speaking the word “death” never helps my family members overcome their fear for death. Certainly, avoiding speaking the word “homosexuality” never helps the government address the issue that there are millions of Chinese homosexuals discriminated by the society. We should speak out “that thing” in its names: booger, death, homosexuality, incest, KKK, masturbation.... If they are problems, solve them; if they are not, why not embrace them?
When I was reading the Harry Potter series, I was really scared of Mr. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Name, since everyone in the magic world was so terrified when mentioning him.
However, as I googled him tonight, I was amused by his appearance.
“Stupid, it’s Voldemort,” I laughed, “that pig-face’s name is Voldemort.”