Mei’s Cultural Dilemma

Mei placed one shaky hand into the blue  velvet pouch and whispered over and over, “Please don’t let it be culture! Please don’t let it be culture! Please don’t let it be…….”

“CULTURE!” she shouted as she read the little piece of paper in her trembling hand. Everybody in the class jumped and then dissolved into hysterical laughter. 

“Children, settle please,” Mrs Mallory, her Year 4 teacher said, clapping her hands together to get everyone’s attention back on task. “I love an  enthusiastic student,” she continued. “I’m sure that Mei will have some rich cultural experiences to share with us.”

 “Great!” Mei muttered under her breath, walking away.

“What was that Mei?”

“Nothing Mrs Mallory,” Mei answered sweetly as she plopped onto her seat.

“I love culture,” Isabel, her best friend said, leaning over to take a peek at the small piece of paper in Mei’s hand.

“What did you get?” Mei asked, a little idea forming in her mind.

“I got food,” Isabel answered excitedly. “This project is going to be so much fun!”

“Do you want to swap?” Mei looked at her friend hopefully.

“No, I love what I got. I really want to do food.”

Mei’s shoulders sagged. “I will pay you $5 to swap.”

Isabel laughed . “Oh Mei, you are hilarious!” She bounced in her seat, her beautiful wild brown curls bouncing happily as well. “Mei, this is going to be the best project ever!”

Mei wasn’t too sure about that! She opened her mouth to speak when the bell rang.

“Class,” Mrs Mallory said before dismissing them, “please remember that your presentations are due the first week after the holidays. Each one needs to be at least five minutes long, with a 350 word report on what you’ve learned. Have a great and safe break and I’ll see you back in three weeks. Good afternoon, 4M.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs Mallory,” the choir of children answered in unison.


Everyone raced for the door except for Mei.   What a crummy way to finish the school term, it was bad enough that they had a project, but what made it absolutely horrible was the fact that she had to talk about why she was…different! Her holidays were ruined! 


During dinner, Mei was unusually quiet, especially since she was officially on holidays. Normally she’d be bursting with excitement; chatting with Ginger who would be lying on a fluffy cushion in the corner of the dining room, telling her parents all the cool things they had  done on her last day, and eating all the delicious food in front of her.

Tonight however was very different. Ginger  purred softly from the corner, looking at Mei longingly; she barely spoke a word to her parents; and she played with the food on her plate. Her heart was heavy, but no one would understand.

“Mei honey, are you all right? You’ve been awfully quiet,” her mother asked, frowning.

“Very quiet, Blossom,” her father agreed, using his pet name for her. “What’s the matter? Did something happen at school?”

Mei looked down at her fingers; she put down the fork and nervously bit her lip. Ginger purred from the corner as if agreeing with her parents. She looked at him and he got up coming to rub his furry body on her leg. She leaned over and touched him softly. Maybe Ginger did understand how she was feeling.

“No, nothing happened,” she whispered. “It was OK.”


Not hearing a response, Mei looked up to find two sets of eyes staring at her. Sighing deeply, she continued. “It’s just that we have a class project to do and there were five different topics we could pick. So to make it fair, Mrs Mallory got us to draw a topic out of the blue pouch and well…well, I got…” Her voice trailed off as she choked back the tears, “I got culture!”

“Oh Mei, that’s great!” her mum exclaimed, clapping her hands excitedly.

“I don’t see the problem blossom,” her father added.

Mei’s teary eyes lifted towards her parents. “The problem is that I don’t have a culture! I don’t belong anywhere!” Pushing her chair back from the table, Mei ran up to her room, Ginger close behind, his bell jiggling as he trotted up the stairs behind his owner.

Mrs Carter began to rise up from her seat, but her husband grabbed her hand. “Honey, let’s give her a few minutes, then we’ll both go up.”

Reluctantly, Mrs Carter sat back down and tried to eat, but it was useless, she couldn’t concentrate. She got up from the table and started picking up the dishes, all the while praying to God to help her little girl find happiness in who  she was. Suddenly her thoughts were broken by a sudden outburst by Mr Carter.

“I’ve got it!” he exclaimed excitedly. “I know what to do. Let me make a few calls and then I’ll tell you my idea.”

After the phone calls, Mei’s parents headed to her room. Excitement tickled their stomachs, and they both prayed that this news would excite Mei too.

“I really hope your plan works,” Mrs Carter said, knocking softly on Mei’s door .

 “Come in,” Mei squeaked.

Opening the door, they saw Mei sitting in her book corner with Ginger curled in her arms, tears streaming down her face. Mrs Carter rushed to Mei’s side and hugged her daughter, whispering soothing words. Mei only sobbed harder until she had no more tears left and all she could do was sniffle.

“Oh darling,” Mrs Carter said, “I don’t want to see you cry any more. You’ll be ok.

Through sniffles she whimpered, “Can you talk to Mrs Mallory and…and tell her to give me another topic?” Mei’s eyes, wet with tears, looked pleadingly at her parents.

Looking at each other, they moved to sit on the bed and called Mei over to sit between them.

“Mei honey,” her mother began, “you know we can’t.”

“But you can,” Mei jumped in. “When Hannah couldn’t do swimming her mum sent a note and Mrs Mallory let her sit out; she didn’t have to do it!”

Stroking Mei’s hair her mother continued. “What I mean to say is that I don’t want you to run away from your fears or problems, even though it might be hard.”

Mei opened her mouth to protest but her mother put up her hand and stopped her. “I don’t want you to be ashamed of you are.”

Looking down and sulking, Mei thought it was unfair. Why couldn’t she have big blue eyes like her dad or blonde hair like her mum? Instead, her dark eyes were the shape of almonds and her hair was straight, dark, and cut into a bob. She looked different and she hated it!

“Your mother’s right, Blossom, and that’s why we have a very special surprise for you!” her dad said.

Mei couldn’t resist a surprise. Her head shot up! “What? What kind of surprise?” Her heart started thumping in her chest.

“Oh Daddy, what surprise?” She bounced on her bed and looked from her mum to her dad and back again.

“Hmmm, well… I can’t actually give it to you until Tuesday, so you will have to wait a few sleeps. What I can say, however, is that you’ll need to pack!”

“Pack?” she squeaked.

“Yes, we are going on a little trip.” Mrs Carter’s blue eyes danced with excitement.

That night in bed Mei could only think of was the trip. Her thoughts danced all over the place until finally exhausted, she fell asleep with Ginger curled at her feet.


Tuesday couldn’t come soon enough for Mei. She was so excited she could hardly contain herself.

“Daddy, can you tell me the surprise? Where are we going?”

Her father laughed. “I’ll give you another clue; we need to go to the airport.”

“The airport? The AIRPORT!!!” Mei squealed loudly as she started jumping around in excitement until she abruptly stopped and remembered one very important detail.

“GINGER!!” she gasped, “Oh Daddy, I can’t leave Ginger, I just can’t,” she panicked.

Her father smiled and looked past Mei as her mother rounded the corner with Ginger in one arm and his cage in another.

“We wouldn’t leave him!” she exclaimed. “But…”

“But,” her father continued, grabbing the cage from Mrs Carter’s hand, we have to check him in and they will put him with all the other animals travelling on the plane.

Mei looked at Ginger and rubbed him softly “sorry you have to be alone with the other animals, but it’s better than leaving you behind.”

Ginger only purred and licked her hand.

A few hours later, the Carters were sitting on the plane buckling seat belts and getting comfortable. The flight attendant gave some really cool  instructions on what to do in case of an emergency, and Mei sat still, fascinated.

When that was over, she heard the captain’s voice come over the speaker welcoming all the passengers on board; but it was his last sentence that caught her attention – “and we hope you have a smooth and enjoyable flight to Japan.”

Mei blinked a few times and stared at her parents. “Japan?” she whispered.

Her parents nodded and smiled.

“We think it’s time for you to visit the country you were born in,” her mother said, patting her hand.

Mei nodded, still in shock. She was going to her birth country? Her stomach danced with nervous and excited butterflies. What would Japan be like?


 “Please turn off your mobile devices or put them in aeroplane mode until…..” the flight attendants voice spoke but Mei’s mind still couldn’t concentrate.

Turning to her parents she finally had to ask “Japan?”

“We always knew we would bring you and now seems like the perfect time” her mother started.

“And we want you to be proud of where you come from” her father continued as he patted her hand.

“I don’t understand” Mei admitted.

Her mother took a breath and looked into her eyes “We want you to know that you have 2 cultures Mei, and that you belong to both. You are Japanese because of your parents and Australian because we adopted you!”

“Is that why you have Sensei Asato teach me Japanese every week?” Mei asked as if the puzzle was coming together.

“Yes, that’s right. We want you to learn your native language so we found Sensei to tutor you” her mother answered ” now sit back, and chew this gum it will help your ears not get blocked when the plan takes off”

Mei stuffed the grape flavoured Hubba-Bubba in her mouth. Mmmm her favourite.

It didn’t take long for Mei to get restless, but thinking of poor ginger in his cage put an end to any complaining she might have done.

“Mei honey, wake up” she heard her mother say, she sounded so far away “we’re about to land and  look, down there it’s Tokyo, Japan’s capital city”

Land? Where were they? Suddenly remembering she was on a plane and she was in Japan, Mei quickly awoke and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She  pushed her face against the plane window and looked down at the place she had come from. A dash of excitement began to form in her stomach.

Before she knew it they had landed, collected their luggage and poor ginger who was still a little drowsy from the special tablet they gave him so he wouldn’t be scared during the journey.

“Ok” her father said energetically, not feeling tired at all, he was used to flying all the time for business trips but she and mum felt exhausted.

“Tomorrow I want us to head out at 9:00am after breakfast, we can start at Harmony Adoption Centre so you can see where we first saw you and then go on a tour around the city! Sound like a plan?” he said happily.

Mrs Carter and Mei only nodded and yawned “ok”.

They knew tomorrow as going to be a big day.


The next afternoon three very exhausted Carters walked through the door of their hotel room!! What a day it had been, Mei couldn’t remember when they had walked so much. She couldn’t believe how different everything was. But oh how wonderful.

Although Mei felt tired she couldn’t go to sleep just yet, she had to document first, she didn’t want to forget her first days adventure. Flopping down on the bed she took out her journal and pencil case and began to write down and draw all she had seen.

“Hmmm let’s see” Mei mumbled to herself “oh I know” she said remembering what she’d seen first.

The gigantic skyscraper buildings in the city, she’d felt like an ant amongst the giant buildings, not to mention how crowded it was. She could barely move around. Mei suddenly looked down at her hand remembering how tightly she held on to mums hand. She did NOT want to get lost here.

“What’s next?” She said looking over at Ginger as if he would know; he’d been tucked up safely in the kitty day care!

Then she remembered their snack break, how could she forget! They had had a morning tea stop at a side restaurant and it was funny because Mei couldn’t eat with the chop sticks, she ended up using her fingers and even stabbing the sushi right through the middle, Mei giggled remembering the look of horror on the lady’s face sitting at the table next to them as she’d held the sushi like a lolly pop and kept eating.

But the best part she could remember was the, the…….”What was it?” she asked herself trying to remember. Running to get her little red backpack she pulled out a small paper where dad had written down the name then raced back to write it down, ‘Kure i pu’ she repeated “Crepes”.

Mei licked her lips as she drew the delicious crêpe filled with fresh cream, chocolate drizzle and strawberries folded into one amazingly tasty treat!

“I wonder if I’ll be allowed to have one every day that were here” Mei wondered already thinking of the other flavours…yummy.

Closing her journal she rolled over onto her back. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

 The rest of the week went by just as fast and exhausting; before Mei knew it, it was time to go home.

As the plane took flight Mei looked out the window until Japan disappeared beneath the clouds. What an amazing adventure.

Finally sitting back in her seat Mei reached for her journal and began flipping through the pages reminiscing about the last few days.

She stopped at the page where she’d drawn about Hanami Festival (Cherry Blossom Festival) and smiled. She had decided that although she loved the Kure i pu’ (crepes) visiting the blossom trees were her favourite.

Closing her eyes to remember the day, Mei could still feel the cool breeze as she and her parents had sat beneath a blossom tree for the special picnic.

They had listened to people perform karaoke, tasted different foods from the market stalls around, and watched the families spending time together cooking on the BBQ. There had been so many people that day. But one she wouldn’t soon forget.

Mei opened her eyes and kept looking through her journal until she reached the special photo dad had taken of Mei at the Geisha house wearing the traditional kimono. Ginger had come with her that day and had happily stood next to her!

Both the Carters looked at Mei and smiled as they saw her looking at the photograph.

She really liked seeing photos with people that looked just like her with beautiful almond eyes, dark shinning hair and smooth skin.

Mei looked at her parents and whispered, “I love having two cultures. And I love that you are my parents!”

She leaned over and planted big loud kisses on her parent’s cheeks.

Everyone laughed but Mei laughed the loudest. She felt so happy inside – her heart was jumping with joy.

She couldn’t wait to go back to school and do a huge presentation of her two cultures. Her friends were going to LOVE it!


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