I splash water on my face as I stand before the bathroom mirror. In its reflection, I see the familiar image of my grandfather, a marketplace butcher in Taipei. Hanging on the wall, the clock reads 4:30 AM. I know it is this time, on an island across the world, that my grandfather rises from his bamboo mat also to begin his day.
In the tranquil silence, I review my calculus notes for the upcoming test and cook the morning’s white rice for my family. After arriving at school, I walk to the orchestra room with my backpack in hand, lugging my cello strapped across my back.
In the peaceful quiet, my grandfather places requests with his meat suppliers and prepares for another day at the butcher stand. After purchasing his supplies, he heads to the marketplace with bags of meat in hand, carrying a half pig slung over his shoulder.
As the school bells ring, I progress through my usual classes, with a pencil between my fingers. In Physics C, I explore the effects of electrostatic forces, examining how charged particles interact. During a literature discussion, I analyze rhetorical devices in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, acknowledging themes within his novella. Instead of eating in the cafeteria, I rehearse with the orchestra during my lunch period, the only time music fits in my schedule. In spite of my fatigue and occasional frustration, a terrible pun or a clever joke that I levy here and there always manages to lift the mood.
As the chatter of the marketplace heightens, my grandfather holds the cleaver and awaits his familiar customers. To the young motorcyclist, he presents the pork chops. For the elderly woman, he saves the coveted pig legs. It’s a busy day, so he skips lunch to continue filling his customer’s orders. Even with sweat down his back and callouses covering his hands, a joyful smile always crosses his face after each order.
My schedule’s intricacies continue beyond school. After setting the dinner table and wiping it down post-meal, I travel to the evening rehearsal with my youth orchestra, annotating with my pencil every detail the conductor discusses.
His day’s work doesn’t end in the marketplace. After helping with dinner and folding laundry, my grandfather steps toward his personal cutting board, carving beef for the following day. Like his father before him, he wields the cleaver — with it he has prospered in the marketplace during his five decades as a butcher.
Unlike those before me, however, I hold no cleaver to stand in his stead. In its place, a pencil rests between my fingers, fingers that will never experience the same raw nature of his manual labor.
Yet, in spite of our differences, we share a striking similarity: the virtue of working hard.
As my pencil moves across the page, my grandfather’s cleaver runs against the cutting board. I don’t know how to swing a cleaver like him. Perhaps I may never learn. But coursing through my fingers runs the same resolve behind the swing of his cleaver.
While my grandfather has provided for his local community, I hope to make my own impact, for myself and others. Whether this includes completing chores to help out my family, solving problem sets to learn more as a student, or someday developing an industrial application for the world as a promising chemist, I will make my hard work count, just as my grandfather has done.
Washing my face before the mirror in the evening, I still see the reflection of my grandfather. Tomorrow, I will rise from my bed, arrive at school, and sharpen my pencil. Tomorrow, he will rise from his bamboo mat, arrive at the marketplace, and sharpen his cleaver. Even amidst our generational and cultural differences, we are very much the same. My pencil resembles his cleaver, and we wield our tools the same way: with discipline and hard work.