Saturday, January 17, 2009


When I was about nine or ten, our school had a little play called “The Mixed-Up Chameleon.” It’s about a chameleon who was unhappy with himself and wanted to be like the other animals. He meets with many different animals and tries on their greatest attributes. After some time, he realizes that he’s lost his identity and that he no longer knew who he was. In the end, he learns that everyone’s unique and that he doesn’t have to be like the other animals to fit in.

Even then, I was a little ambitious and I wanted the title role. We were too young to have any form of acting edge over each other so our English and Chinese teachers decided on who would play who. The richest kid in school got to play the chameleon and I played his shadow. I had it coming, though. Everyone else was at least three shades whiter than me.

I convinced myself that playing Shadow was way better. Throughout the play, I would serve as the voice of reason and I would help that ignorant little lizard find his way home. Pretty soon, everybody wanted to play Shadow. Dressed in an all black jumpsuit and black face paint, I felt oh so cool.

As I got older, I told myself I should always be like the Shadow, unfazed by circumstances alien to me. I would be responsible, logical and true to myself. There was room for diversity in the jungle and I should always be aware that I don’t need to change for people to like me. Lately though, I see that the foundations of my childish philosophy have been slowly crumbling.

Over coffee, a friend of mine briefly commented on her latest impression of me. She meant well but she basically said I had the tendency of becoming like the people I hung out with. It was tantamount to me lacking a personality of my own and so I had to borrow from people around me. I was no longer Shadow. I had become the mixed-up chameleon.

I’ve got a lot of goals in my life. I suppose I didn’t realize that where ambition rises, a person can fall. It wasn’t an active effort- that much I can say. Looking at myself in the mirror, I’m not the same person I was when I first got here. Did I change to get ahead? Maybe. Did I change for the better? Your guess is as good as mine.

Lately, I find myself surrounded by people who I feel I can be myself with and the thought that I no longer know who I am terrifies me. It’s good to have ambitions. It’s lovely to have great friends. It’s wonderful to be at peace. Sometimes though, there’s just that lingering feeling that I didn’t do it in my own terms. There’s still plenty of time. If I start today, maybe I can start taking things into my own hands. My own personality. My own career path. My own me.

Just like the chameleon, I slowly disrobe in front of a waiting audience. I do not need the polar bear’s hide or the elephant's trunk. I can draw from the strength that is within me. I do not need the fish’s scales or the fox's wit. I do not need to look a certain way for people to like me. I do not need the bird’s wings because there are many ways to fly. Lastly, I do not need my Shadow’s gaze. I can find my way back on my own just fine. All it takes is a little time, a little patience, and a lot of good friends.

Postscript: Years later, I learned that there was no Shadow in the original book and that the chameleon found his way back on his own. Oh well.