Andante con moto


A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

-Henry David Thoreau


The breeze was the perfect kind of nippy.  The kind of circular air that spins the hairs on your back up straight like little keratin needles.  It tugged on the water ever so slightly, rippling millions of miniature chasms into the once still lake.  I too left my own interruptions on the lake that day.


Two months ago, I received an email from a family friend: “Free Kayaks”.  For a teenage boy who has been locked up in his home for the past two months, being able to get out and kayak seemed like the liberating opportunity of a lifetime. On an impulse, I replied yes. So this year, I got two kayaks.

My kayaks, or “the ‘yaks ” (which is what I like to call them)

“Haha.. did you know that kayak backwards is kayak…”  Being able to kayak actually required a lot more work than my preliminary analysis determined.  I had to buy equipment for my car to haul the kayaks along with the paddles and the life jackets.  All of the equipment ended up costing more than the kayaks themselves were worth.  Getting the kayaks for free required me to get equipment, but getting the equipment cost the same as getting the kayaks. I think that is the real palindrome.


Growing up in nature, living and just being outside is instinctive to me.  As a cub scout, I would go on camping trips and kayaking journeys with my friends and family.  I grew up going to the Drumlin Farms summer camp every summer, coming home lathered in dirt and dust, smelling like your neighbor’s mulch.  One of the greatest experiences of my young life is that I had the opportunity to go on an overnight kayaking trip.  A few years back, my friends and I packed everything we needed into waterproof bags and stuffed them into kayaks as we headed to wherever the river took us.  For four nights we paddled, docked, and camped, and I was the happiest a kid could ever be. For the first trip out with my own new kayaks, I knew exactly where my destination was: Horn Pond. Every weekend when I was younger, I used to walk around the pond with my family and my dog Petey. Now every Sunday morning, I get up at 7am and head down to count herring running up the spillway of the pond connecting it with the upper Mystic river. Not much has changed from my old memories of Horn Pond.  Much like its water, the pond has stayed still throughout the years.  It is a place that is surrounded by busy commercial streets and crowded sidewalks, yet on the inside it remains untouched.  It is the single place where my dog Petey does not bark.  I think he is also too busy reminiscing on the eternal nature of this place.


My dog Petey at Horn Pond.  He’s a pretty funny guy.


There is something so charming about breaking the stillness that covered the lake like a sheet, splashing the clear water into a flurry of bubbles and mud.  It is acting out the will of motion to create a disturbance and progress entropy.  The ripples of water bouncing off my paddle with such purpose and vitality.  Andante con moto.  Watching it all even back it is inevitable, the soft chirps of birds return and the water is flat. Watching the natural equilibrium ultimately pull what motion I create to rest, everything settles.  It is a calm sense of conclusion, a finale that repeats the past.


Sitting out there on the lake by myself, I began to feel very introspective.  I began to feel what Thoreau meant when he said, to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” or when London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”   In the beginning of this year, we discussed “Into the Wild” together in class, and at the time, I thought McCandless was a crazy man, that his goals are reckless and idealist.  To quote my summer reading essay, I said the “motivations and the actions he [McCandless] pursued in achieving them were neither noble nor cautious.”  And yes, his actions were extreme, but now I understand that his goals are far from being so.  


This year has been a hecticly productive year for me.  I have reached a vast majority of goals that I set for myself and have even accomplished things that I would have never thought possible.  Awards, recognition, sports, companies, clubs — I have been so caught up in work, and as cliche as it may sound, I really lost track of who I am working for.  Being alone, paddling myself forward for the sole task of moving me where I wanted to go in a body of water is all I needed to do, to clear my head and to ponder things I truly want to accomplish with the actions and the ripples I create in this world.


When we understand string theory, we will know how the universe began. It won’t have much effect on how we live, but it is important to understand where we come from and what we can expect to find as we explore.

-Stephen Hawking


In 1867, Sir William Thomson proposed that all matter was fundamentally made up of vortex rings.  He claimed that strings broke down our molecular model of particulate matter.   I enjoy the idea of a rubber band, full of potential energy.  The thing about potential is that it is a really precarious state of existence.  If you pull on a rubber band too hard it snaps.  If you pull and let it go, it shimmers and echoes and resolves, much like any other waves.


Could we just be our own kayak on the lake, breaking waves upon an unknown plane? There is rippling occurring all around us, waves of matter and light and gravity and sound. Pluck at them. Create the music of the universe.  Andante con moto.


I am proud and grateful to have accomplished a lot this year.  But, I think that the biggest accomplishment I took away this year outweighs any award, any outer recognition.  Through this covid-19 crisis, through these social pressures, through getting a kayak, I found myself.  I learned that my purpose in life is not to keep dwelling over finding a purpose.  It is to sometimes be the log carried downstream, and to sometimes be herring pushing upstream.  It is to reach for fulfillment and settle for peace.  But all in all, it is to never forget that the only person sitting in the kayak is you, and no matter where you want to go, you are the only one that can paddle it forward.


This year, I have tested out the waters.  I have broken the plane and created waves larger than myself, a tsunami from a mere kayak.  I have played the strings around me and torqued them and spun them.  Created sound — some resonated and some were hollow. But most importantly, I have sat and watched the ripples form and even out, slowly but evenly, with movement and with life.  Andante con moto.

The Concord River.


What is Your Nationality?

Scholastic Gold Key


The name is Matt Masahiro Tengtrakool, male, 16 years old, Massachusetts, USA. The definition of nationality is, “the status of belonging to a particular nation.” Belonging is a broad term. Yes, one can belong to a place. Nevertheless, one can also belong to a multitude of nouns: a person, idea, or thing. Based on the given information, please choose the following answer that fits his nationality the best. 


First and foremost, his name is Matt, a very run-of-the-mill name — almost boring.   Matt is short for Matthew, meaning “gift from God” in Hebrew, and referencing Matthew the Apostle in Christianity. Now, his father had an interesting path through religion, growing up training to be a monk at a local temple. In his teenage years, he was sent to a Christian private school in his town. Nowadays, he lives an almost agnostic life. However, often he will say, “Matt, I swear to god! Did you just spend $15 on Clash of Clans?” Matt does not know what god he would swear to. On the other hand, Matt’s mother is a misguided woman.  At times, she denounces religion, yet continues to watch old men preach sermons on “How to find your spiritual guide” videos on Youtube. Matt would characterize his parents as confused.

His father chose the name Matthew. “It will help him fit into American society better,” he argued to Matt’s mother, “an easy name will help him make friends.” His father’s name is Danai Tengtrakool. Get Danai-ed, is one of Matt’s favorite phrases. Danai immigrated from Thailand at 16 years old and spent his high school years in Malden, Massachusetts.  

Matthew was the fourth most popular boys name the year Matt was born. There were three other Matthews in Matt’s fourth grade English class: Matt P, Matt C, and Matt D. All of whom were white. Additionally, there are many famous Matthews: Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford. However, Matt T. is none of the above.  

Matt is American, not necessarily Anglo-Saxon. “What is your nationality?” asks his history teacher. Internally, he replies American, for he was born in Newton, Massachusetts, USA, and has lived in Burlington, Massachusetts, USA, his whole life. Yet, externally he is wary if this answer fits the prompt.  


Middle names are often overlooked and underappreciated. Many people do not even have a middle name. In many cases, middle names represent the marginalized side of one’s ancestry or the oppressed peoples in history. 

Masahiro (真広) is a Japanese name. When Matt was younger, he concealed his middle name. He subconsciously believed that this name was something that should be hidden, that it should be kept as one’s personal identity but not one’s external expression. “What is your middle name?” his friends would ask him, as kids do in elementary school. His friend Kevin would reply for him, “it’s Ma-sa-hiro.” They all would be exclaim, “Wow! You’re like a massive superhero.” Yet, Matt did not feel like one. 

Originally, his mother wanted him to have the first name Masahiro. She was always trying to infuse as much Japanese culture into him as she could. According to her, Matt’s family is from a long line of noble Samurai Warriors. The closest Matt’s felt to having Samurai blood was when he karate chopped a wooden plank in the third grade. Matt’s mother is an unwavering full-blooded Japanese. She forced Matt to go to Japanese school for 9 years and, as a consequence, Matt is fluent in the language. It is quite possible that this strong presence of Japanese culture in Matt’s life stems from the pride she takes in her last name.  His mother’s name is Hiromi Mino. She kept her last name through marriage. At a young age, both of Matt’s grandparents on his mother’s side died. His assumption is that his mother felt the obligation to shoulder their culture in order to continue her parents’ legacy.

Matt’s usual answer to the query “What is your ethnicity?” is Japanese. 

They always respond, “Do you mean like California rolls and anime and Naruto and those Chinese letters and hibachi and instant ramen?”

Matt responds, “Sure,”  for he likes cherry blossoms, torii gates, the politeness of the country, the cleanliness, the architecture, and yes the instant ramen.  


Tengtrakool (teng-tra-cool) is like a rambutan, daunting at first sight but turning out to be sweet and leaving a tangy aftertaste. Yes! it is like that Pokemon, Tentacool, and just in case Matt forgot, his 10th-grade Chemistry teacher reminded him of this every day during attendance for the first week of school. Tengtrakool is a mouthful. Matt’s swim coach created the alternative of “techtron.”  

Matt’s grandparents on his father’s side were born and raised in Laos. Matt made a presentation in history last year called “The covert war in Laos, America’s Secret War,”  which included a panel on his relation to this subject area. His grandparents were alive in the middle of this covert theater of America’s war on communism, along with the Laotian civil war.  

“I never knew you were Lotion” one of Matt’s friends exclaimed.  

Matt’s grandpa was a rich businessman who had a monopoly on ice. The business model was simple: hot climate, people need ice. Matt has seen pictures of his grandpa in his prime: driving fancy cars, living a luxurious lifestyle, and basking in his youth. At this time, their last name was Teng, indicating further ancestry tracing back to China.

This Teng lifestyle came to a swift end as the Laotian civil war struck and the communists took power.  Needless to say, the family packed up the kids and as much as they could take in one suitcase and headed to Thailand. The communists set limits on money that could be taken out of the country, so his grandparents made a difficult decision: they buried their money in hopes of returning to retrieve their lives’ savings. 

To quote Matt’s grandfather, “I no like communist, they come an take yo mony, you business you know. Then they gonna come an getcha you.”   

The family lived a life of destitution in Thailand, and to cover their Laotian past, they changed their last name to Tengtrakool. “Trakool” was an added flare that reflected his grandfather’s enjoyment of being excessive. What they did not consider was that MatthewTengtrakool does not fit the Twitter username length, or the sheer panic Tengtrakool would cause in substitute teachers staring at it on the attendance sheet.

“My nationality is Thai,” Matt will tell people. They will usually respond with, “Oh yea I support you 100%, China has no right claiming authority over your people.” When he corrects them and tells them it is Thailand, not Taiwan, they proceed “Oh! like Bangkok haha, do you get it?” 


Matt Masahiro Tengtrakool is a name like an eighth, quarter, half. It has an interesting imbalance: an imbalance of heritage perhaps. It is a reflection of the strain between one culture and another. Or, it is also an illustration of a meshing. A cultural melting pot that consists of sushi, Pad Thai, and McDonalds. Matt looks down at the bubbles on his standardized test. He thinks to himself: What does it mean to be American? Can one be foreign, yet not born abroad? Should nationality be as relative as identity? What are the boundaries between ancestry and nationality? For if nationality was a multiple-choice question, he believes the best answer is all of the above.