Yesterday during a conversation, my brother said to me: “You made a few good decisions at a young age that changed your life for the better.”
Comparing to my brother, I had a lot more good luck than he did in all aspects of life. The more I think about his words, the more I have to say: “You are right.”
I changed my first name from Zhen-Fang to Qin. I don’t remember exactly why and when it happened, probably when I was in elementary or middle school.
Chinese first names usually consist of one or two characters. In the old days, they were two characters. The first character was pre-determined by the ancestors. So every male or female in the same generation in the extended family had the same first character in the first name. Only the second character was different for everyone.
For example, all my father’s five brothers have the same first character “Fa” in their first name. All my mother’s five brothers and sisters have the same first character “Xue” in their first name.
In my generation, all the male children from my father’s generation (my male cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Guang,” and all the female children (my female cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Zhen.” I have over 20 cousins from my father’s side.
So my given name at birth was “Zhen-Fang” (means treasure & fragrant).
Apparently, I didn’t like my given name “Zhen-Fang.” It was too common and worldly. I wanted a different and more modern name which was a one-character name. So I asked my mom to changed my name.
According to my brother, I was a lay back person. My mom wanted me to be more diligent and hard working, so she or I picked “Qin” as my new first name, only one character.
I indeed was, or became, a very diligent and hardworking person. I studied really hard in school and at the universities.
I remember I lived in a very crowded and noisy home environment. My family with my parents, my brother and I had only one small room as our living and bedroom. We shared a kitchen and dining room with several other families. There were families living above and around us.
There were no privacy and quiet moment for study. During my last year at high school, I usually got home and slept for a few hours, and got up to study when everyone else went to bed. Then I slept for a few hours before going to school in the morning. That’s how I found quiet time so I could concentrate.
One year before I graduated from high school, I asked to transfer from the high school in my neighborhood to a better one farhter away from my home, because I heard about a good English teacher there.
My mom was a math teacher in my neighborhood high school. She talked to the administrators at the two high schools and helped me transfer to the new one.
The school transfer was a turning point in my life. Had I stayed in the same old high school, I won’t be able to go to college, at least not the top level one I went to.
I spent only one year in the new high school. Because I had a more competitive environment and better teachers who were very focused on preparing students for college, and I had the best English teacher ever, I was able to do well in the college entrance exam.
My English teacher encouraged me to apply for the best foreign language university in China which is now the Beijing Foreign Studies University. I did apply and was accepted.
I studied German at the BFSU. After graduation, I got a job at CCTV (Central Chinese Television). Shortly after I started on the job, another German major graduate from Shanghai came on board.
Chinese and German governments had scholarship exchanges. The scholarships were distributed by the Chinese Education Ministry to different government agencies according to needs.
CCTV received one spot. I was the lucky winner without contestant, probably because I was the first one on the job at CCTV who knew German.
I got the scholarship and went to Germany to study without any effort on my part. I received my passport with visa handed over to me, and a quite large amount of money (at that time) to buy clothes and other necessities for the trip.
Like my brother said, I was lucky.
It might have all started with a name change. Who knows.
I will write about my brother someday.