I was in grade four. The Cultural Revolution in China was in full blast and it became common practice to denounce a colleague, a friend or even a family member to the authorities for wrongdoing.
I was playing with my best friend in the park when we found a ten-cent bill on the ground. We naturally agreed that we would hand it in to our home-room teacher Monday morning. I carefully put it in my pocket and we continued playing. After my friend left, I felt that the money started to burn a hole in my pocket. Finally, I could no longer resist the temptation. I ran to the candy store. I treated myself some caramel squares and sweet dry olives. I then spent the rest on a bunch of rubber bands to make a bouncy rope to tie around a tree and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon skipping the rope while singing a sweet rhyme: “Birdie, birdie, jumping around……”
Monday came. My best friend was waiting for me at the gate of the school and expecting the glorious moment of handing in the money to the teacher. We would certainly get some praise from the teacher, perhaps even in front of the whole class. I walked up to my best friend with my head lowered and murmured: “I spent it.” She ran to the teacher’s office.
A teacher’s note came to my father on that day. He read it with a very stern face. He reached for his wallet, put a ten-cent bill in the envelope and handed it to me: “You will give this envelope to your teacher tomorrow together with a self-criticizing essay.” That night, I wrote the essay which started like this: “I spent ten cents that did not belong to me, because I have not studied well Chairman Mao’s Thoughts…”
The next morning, I handed in the envelope and the well-folded paper of my essay to the teacher. The teacher read my note and told me to keep it because she was going to ask me to read it in front of the whole class. The few minutes before the bell rang felt like eternal as I was burning in the hell waiting for the moment. After the bell rang, the teacher walked in the classroom and began: “Today we have an important moment to share before we start the class…” There I was, with my little legs shaking, standing in front of the classroom facing the whole class of fifty kids. They all turned very quiet. Even the noisiest kids shut their mouth for the moment. I unfolded my paper and started reading my self-criticism. My voice was trembling. My face was unbearably hot. I thought my legs would give in and collapse before I could finish my reading, but they didn’t. They held me up through the most embarrassing moment in my life.
My best friend has remained my best friend all these years. I always remember how intensely embarrassing that public moment was, but I don’t remember resenting her at all, then or ever.