Cheat Not, Steal Not

ESSAYS are a pain. I hate writing them. Last year, we used to have essay assignments every week. Imagine that, every week! I could hardly keep up with them, and I was not alone. This year, thank goodness, we get an assignment whenever the teacher gives us one. But still, I can’t stand them, call it writing trauma if you will.

So when this teacher, Madam Hoon, gave us an assignment late last month, I was so upset. It didn’t help that the very assignment itself was, shall I be honest, quite quite stupid. Fine, I’m not supposed to use the “S” word, so let’s just say the assignment was rotten and odious.

Dumb topic, dumb pictures!

Using someone’s idea without permission. That’s the dumb topic. And the dumb pictures we were supposed to write to? Picture one: some kid copying from an exercise book, someone else’s, presumably. Picture two: someone receiving an award. And the last picture: a woman with arms akimbo and brows furrowed in anger.

I really didn’t feel like doing this. The rebel voice in me was so strong that I was taken aback. I was all the more surprised by this: I had plans not to do it, but I’d still submit it. How, pray tell, was I going to do that? Simple, I was going to use someone’s idea without permission. And that someone would be Kammy. It was my idea of a neat revenge. You give me this, I’ll give you the same thing back.

I was going to be a copycat, a ninja copycat—agile, nimble, and hard to catch. Kammy was going to be the victim because she’s the star writer in class, always scoring 31 or more for her essays. And she is one of those weirdos who would complete an assignment on the very day it’s given. She’d do it in one quick spurt and then stick it under her school desk. They never go home because she’s a very untidy girl, and she just can’t bear to have more crap going into her school bag.

All I had to do was to get on recess duty on the eve of our submission deadline, and then offer to sweep and sweep and dust and dust so that I could shoo the other two duty girls away. Over the 30-minute recess, I did some diligent cleaning while the other two flitted about, and after, plenty of ninja copying when they trickled away to the canteen.

By the time I was done, my plan was to destroy Kammy’s essay, destroy all evidence of my crime. And to make this whole deed look even more professional, I was going to shred it all at home instead of simply tossing it into the classroom bin.

I saw through my whole plan. Success!

Alas, when the next day came along, I couldn’t bring myself to submit the essay. As we stood in front of the classroom, Kammy and I, getting an earful from Madam Hoon for not having our assignments in on time, I felt I did the right thing. It’s the best thing I could do, and possibly the best thing I’ve ever done.

To right that wrong that Kammy had to suffer, I couldn’t have done any better.

(547 words)


Therese Lee, Primary Six
April 2018

For more essays by Therese, visit Therese Writes.

This essay was written in response to the theme, “Using someone’s idea without permission,” and two pictures: (1) a kid copying from an exercise book, (2) a woman with arms akimbo and brows furrowed in anger

When Love Conquers Spite

Image: Pinterest

EDIE, my younger sister, has amazing friends. Not that my friends aren’t amazing, but hers feel more amazing than mine. And whenever I think about it, I get really mad. I get particularly mad at the sound of Jen, one of her closest of friends. Jen is a rich kid, who also happens to be very generous. Lucky are those who are close to her. She would shower you with gifts—pencils, erasers, markers, highlighters, all the cool kinds of stationery every kid wants.

Why don’t I have friends like Jen? Why Edie, and why not me?

One day, Edie came home with two mechanical pencils, one red and the other yellow. They were the expensive Japanese kind, the kind I liked. And when she showed them off to me with great excitement, all I saw was a smug look that drove me mad. If I couldn’t have those mechanical pencils, she needs to suffer! I contemplated cutting off Emmy’s hair, all that thick, long hair on her favorite brunette doll. But wait! Mommy had taken a long time to stitch and sew and put Emmy together, so I really shouldn’t, and I just couldn’t. Besides, I liked Emmy too.

So I went for the lesser evil. I took Edie’s new mechanical pencils, and tossed them into the bin—not the trash, but the recycle bin outside our front door. Even in my wickedness, I was kind. The rationale was this: if I had tossed the pencils in the garbage where all that end-of-dinner junk would go in—the unfinished chicken gravy, the chilli sauce, and the chewed up slices of orange—there would be no way Edie could retrieve them. In the recycle bin, at least there was some hope.

When Edie couldn’t find her pencils that very day, she was heartbroken. “Where are my pencils?” she cried. Guilt began to gnaw at my soul. To make things worse, I pretended to be a valuable member of her search team, which included poor Grandma and my innocent little brother, who is always the prime suspect when things get lost in the house. Knowing that I was the sorry, lousy culprit made me feel horrible.

By the time evening came, and all that after-dinner rubbish had gone into the trash can, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I owned up to my awful deed, a deed filled with jealousy, envy, spite, incomprehensible unkindness, all woven into Ugly Me. And to think that I had owned up in such a lame and rotten way: “I accidentally threw it in the bin.”

Edie broke into tears, without a single word of reproach. She looked so broken that I broke down too. I hugged her, and she hugged me back. But why, why wasn’t she angry with me?

Her heart was so much bigger than mine, yet it didn’t make mine any smaller, it just lifted it up.

(487 words)


Therese Lee, Primary Six
March 2018

For more essays by Therese, visit Therese Writes.

This essay was written in response to the theme of “jealousy,” and two pictures: (1) a pair of scissors and (2) two girls bawling away, hugging each other

The Big Tumble

Down, down, ka-boing, bump, thump, ahhh! (Image: Scott Adams)

I have been told this a million times before: Don’t read while you’re walking. But there’s such a thing as turning a deaf ear, a fault I’m famous for, a fault I don’t feel particularly bad about. After all, every other kid does it. Even teens and adults are guilty of it—WhatsApping while walking, or just fiddling with Snapchat, fixing whiskers or rabbit ears on a friend’s face. You won’t find me doing such things, but books? That’s so me.

So the other day last week, I was deep in this scene in Percy Jackson, the part where Piper stabbed the Cyclops in the back, turning it into a cloud of ashes. The recess bell had just gone off, and my plan was to spend the entire half hour tucking into the Nutella sandwich in my lunchbox and my Percy Jackson. I never made it to the canteen, unfortunately. I had tumbled down a flight of stairs—from the third level to the mid-way landing, a good twelve steps.

You know how the cartoon characters would fall in a spinning roll or a bouncing boing boing boing, mine was neither. It was more like a slip-sliding tumble, a momentary blackout, and that weird feeling that you’ve lost all control of your limbs. While I didn’t hear any boing boing boing, the journey down the stairs was filled with a series of painful thuds before it stopped in a bubble of silence. There at the landing, half-dazed, with my right cheek on the ground, and my arms like cactus, I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle.

A student from Primary Three Ixora was the first to spot me. Her name was Irene. Like a buzzing bee, she spread the word so quickly. By the end of the day, I was home, feeling dreary that I had spent most of the day at the hospital, taking X-rays, and having a cast immobilizing my right foot. This clunky piece of clay-like boot came half-way up the calf. I had fractured my ankle—just a hair-line fracture, the doctor said, not to worry. 

This stupid accident meant that I couldn’t run my race the day after, the 100 meters, the one race at Sports Day that I had a chance to win. The prospect of gimping along in that cast for at least a month or more was dreadful. Will my foot smell? Will my toes go limb from lack of movement? What if there was an itch there? Even if the cast came off, I’m sure I would have lost my sprinting groove.

Mommy tried her best to be cheery, even though she was totally heartbroken. But I pretended not to know she felt that way. We are both great pretenders, masters of the poker face. The next afternoon, after lunch, our silly game of poker and pretense gave way to a moment of giddy joy.

Mommy walked right into my bedroom with a gift box decked out with a turquoise bow. I tugged at the bow, and peeled the wrapper carefully, half-guessing it was a bunch of books—assessment books, to be precise, and study guides, knowing Mommy! My guess was only half-right. How I had underestimated her! My goodness, Percy Jackson! The entire collection.

“Happy now?” Mommy said, beaming. “At least, you don’t have to borrow your Percy Jacksons anymore.” 

(571 words)


Therese Lee, Primary Five
August 2017

For more essays by Therese, visit Therese Writes.

This essay was written in response to two boxed pictures: (1) a gift box, and (2) a foot in a cast

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My Daddy, My Everything!


MY father is a man of simple tastes. He wouldn’t spend too much money on himself. His style of spending tends to be more cautious than carefree. He’s the checks and balances guy, the person who keeps Mommy and I reined in when it comes to purse matters. When it comes to many other things in the house, he’s got his eagle eyes roving around as well.

Oven not working, he’s the fix-it guy. Kid brother throwing his weight around, Daddy will take care of that. Don’t know how many more chocolate donuts were sold versus berry-glazed ones? Just ask the math whiz. Not sure whether there’s going to be replacement English tuition on Sunday, ask the Man. Of course, you can go ask Mommy, but she’ll say, “Go check the calendar.” But who’s the person behind the calendar?   

Daddy is so many things, gifted in math and DIY things, and blessed with a strong sense of justice. Just last week, when we were at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, a group of men tried to cut the queue at the bumper car ride. Tough luck! Daddy scolded them: “Don’t cut the queue!” I was terrified. Would they turn violent and sock a punch to his face? But Daddy didn’t care.

If only I were half as brave as him. But I’m a girl, too girlie, and still too young. Perhaps my sense of justice would grow with the years. In times like this, when I feel timid, afraid, even daunted, I like to play in my mind Daddy’s voice. “Do your best,” he likes to say, before the exams or a singing audition. All it takes is just those three words, and confidence just pops up and says hello.

Soon, I’ll be brave enough. Daddy’s girl, forever in admiration of my Daddy, my everything!

(306 words)


Therese Lee, Primary Five
June 2017

For more essays by Therese, visit Therese Writes.

This is a special feature essay celebrating Father’s Day.

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The Mother of All Cakes

The Ultra-Fudgy, Full-Of-Frosting Dream Cake (Photo: Therese Lee)

CAKES are mysterious and totally fascinating. Why does a cake rise even though it has no yeast? And what makes a cake smell so nice? Is it the vanilla essence, or the butter, or the cocoa powder, or everything, including the eggs, which don’t smell nice on their own? Continue reading