The First Snow
[This is the first part of a booklet prepared by Bro. Sid, to introduce our beloved Bro. CJ, who was called to his eternal reward last month.] The first time I saw him was on one of those first days of October in 2007. He was seated on the pew before me in the seminary chapel. What caught my attention was his spiky hairstyle of the Japanese anime, Dragon Ball Z, which made him stand out among the usually more somber and conservative looks of Chinese seminarians. In his white jacket, he exuded an air of confidence, of someone versed with the world. Little did I expect that that punk would be part of my life for the coming six years. His name was Francis.
It was difficult for me to remember the Chinese names of my students, so I preferred to call them by their baptismal names. But there were as many Johns as there were Josephs and Peters. I could not be calling my students Peter 1, Peter 2 or Joseph 3, or John 8. There had to be only one John, one Peter, and one Joseph, and their younger namesakes had to draw lots from the names of my Claretian confreres. So John 2 became Stephen, John 3 Angelo, John 4 Victor.... But there were only two Francises: Francis Xavier and he, named after Francis of Assisi. To distinguish the two was easy—Francis Xavier became Xavier, which was eventually shortened into FX, and the Francis from Assisi kept his baptismal name. So he was known as Francis—Fangjige in Chinese—in the English class.
Unlike most of his classmates who went to the minor seminary either before or after middle school, he had attended university before coming to the seminary. Francis was, then, one of the few students who had the courage to talk in English in class. One day, as I corrected their daily personal 50-word composition, I could not help laughing. The topic I gave was about how to study English, and Francis wrote as the concluding sentence of his short composition, “Good good study, day day up!”
Everyone had a good laugh when I read his composition in class. I asked him what he wanted to say, and he and his classmates told me that they were used to seeing that slogan in their classrooms when they were in elementary: 好好学习，天天向上 (“Hǎo hào xuéxí, tiāntiān xiàngshàng,” which means “Study hard, and improve every day”). Everyone knew that motto, and it seemed that everyone would have liked to use the Chinglish literal translation, which all knew was not correct, but only Francis dared to write it. From then on, I greeted him, “Good good study, day day up,” every time we met.
That “Good good study, day day up” opened the way for him to come and see me, at times to ask some questions about English grammar, at other times to simply talk and practice speaking. One evening, after supper, he came to my room with a cup of instant noodles, and asked me if he could have some hot water and eat his noodles. He was hungry. I asked him why because we had just had supper; he said that he only ate a little since they served pork for supper. He could not eat pork because when he did, he would feel nauseated and, at times, even vomit because of the meat. According to him, except for his father who likes pork, all in his family—his mother, sisters and younger brother—have the same reaction to pork. He ate beef, chicken, or fish, but disliked mutton because of its smell. He enjoyed vegetables and noodles most of all. Since then I kept cups of instant noodles in my room for any hungry seminarians who might come.
I saw in my list of students that his birthday was on October 11, so I asked him to come and see me on that day. I wished him a happy birthday when he came and prepared two cup noodles to celebrate his 21st birthday. I don’t eat instant noodles, but I made an exception that evening and enjoyed his birthday snack with him. He explained to me that his birthday was actually last September 25, but something happened when he was registered after his birth, so October 11 officially became his birthday. I said that having two birthdays was good since he got to celebrate his birthday twice a year. When we finished the noodles, he exclaimed, “Weren’t they delicious!”
I was born and raised a Catholic, so I believe that a guardian angel God has given me follows me all my life. I think that when I was about to be born, the angels were very happy because a new life would be born. They were singing and dancing as they came to my home to celebrate my birth on September 25, 1986. On that day, I was happy because my father and mother loved me as their firstborn son. The angels were happy and they loved me, too.
— Class Composition, 3 December 2007They were 32 students, but many did not have any interest in English. I requested the dean to make English optional, so he asked the students to choose between English and German, and most of them chose to study German, not knowing that it was more difficult than English. I was left with only six students, who chose to continue to study English—Francis was one of them. I began my class with the six students on 3 December 2007 and asked them to write a daily 100-word composition on thought provoking topics until December 22, when their Christmas holiday began.
On December 10, I gave them the title, “My First Girlfriend.” Francis’ classmates wrote the usual stuff about their not having had a girlfriend yet, or how they loved only their mother or the Virgin Mary, but his was different, if not dramatic.
Today is snowing, which makes me remember my first girlfriend because she became my girlfriend on a snowy day. I remember that I wrote to her, “Can you be my girlfriend?” She answered, “On the day when it snows, I will be your girlfriend.”
Three months later, the snow came and my dream came true. How happy I was! She was my first love.
Because she always helped me in my study, and she made me happy whenever I felt sad, and she always brought me my favorite food, I loved her and I knew she loved me, too. With her help, I gave up playing everyday and began to study hard. She also made me love English, which I didn’t like to study before. She changed me.
Although I had given her up, I still miss her, especially on a snowy day like this because she was my first love. I may never forget her. Thanks, Sid, for giving me this good title and making me remember my sweet memory.
It read like a scene straight from a Korean TV series. But more melodrama laid in store for me. As I corrected his composition with him, I asked him about the girlfriend he had written about, and he told me his love story. He and his girlfriend had agreed that they would study in the same university after high school. Francis did go to and enrolled in architecture in the said university in September 2006, but his girlfriend did not come. After some days he received the news that his girlfriend had died of leukemia. So the first snow of every year would remind him of love and loss, of joy and sorrow, of the girl he had loved but lost.
I thought I was hearing a story from a movie or some romance novel, but it was the loss of the only girl he had ever loved that moved him to think about life and what it meant to him. He decided to quit first year college and went home. He began to spend time in the church, and with the help and encouragement of his parish priest, he went to the minor seminary of his diocese.
I still remember the first time I entered the seminary. I was the earliest to arrive. I was alone in a big room, so I regretted having come because there was no one to talk to and the atmosphere was so quiet. I wanted to leave that night. I thought about it, and I could not sleep. Why did I come here, to this place that is so poor? And every morning I would have to wake up very early! I could not accept it at that moment. Later, I thought I should stay because that was my choice and I had to see the life in the seminary.
The following day, other seminarians arrived too. I had a very interesting talk with them, mostly about why they wanted to become seminarians. Maybe it was because of this that I chose to stay then, or maybe because my heart felt so quiet, so I saw I was fit to stay. I stayed there for a year and during that year I was so happy, as if I had already forgotten many things and my life was so simple.
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009
This was when I first entered the seminary and the first time I had my picture taken there. I chose to sit under [the arms] of Mary with her at my back. I have given myself to the Mother of God.
— Personal Journal, 17 August 2009