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My So-Called Pen Pal
by Grace Lu

This year, my parents made the brave decision to uproot from a predominately Asian neighborhood in town to another predominately Asian neighborhood in town that is farther away from Walmart. As a result, I’ve spent hours sorting through papers and undelivered letters, each one more depressing than the next. Maybe that melancholy stems from the pang of unspoken sentiment. Or maybe it stems from the fact that most of the letters looked like this:

Regardless, I did find one letter that truly set the bar.

Backstory: My friend Catherine and I went on a vacation tour with our families the summer before third grade. We met a girl named Chen Yao, but instead of telling me her actual name, she simply said it was Chinese. I thought her name was “Chinese” for the rest of the tour. and she didn’t correct me until the last day. We later wrote this letter, intending to email Chen Yao whenever “I grow up and get an email account”.

Dear Chen Yao (Chinese),

Hi! Well, just telling us who we are, Grace is the girl with a stuffed animal (bunny) who was friends. Catherine is the girl who had a stuffed animal, too (bear). You met us on August 5, 2006 and last saw us on Aug 10. or 11, 2006. Well, I am Grace (and Catherine). I wonder how you’re doing, we’re doing fine (and buisy) but what about you? We hope you can answer this question of mine’s: Is Santa Claus real? Please mail us back with the answer of this quest on Also, have a Happy Holidays!

Your “So Called Pen Pals” !

Grace and Catherine !

P.S. If you don’t remember us, you can just write us back and say this = Stranger

I started to wonder why I don’t recall sending the email when I remembered that I had lost Chen Yao’s address by the time I created my account in sixth grade. Although in hindsight, that was probably for the best. We did say “I wonder how you’ve been doing” as a general pleasantry, but it seems as if the purpose of the entire letter was to ask if Santa Claus is real. We were using email correspondence for a question that is Googleable. The best-case scenario would’ve been:

What amuses me even more than this hypothetical situation is that third grade me was undecided about Santa’s existence in the first place. After all, I stopped believing in Santa in second grade during Bible study. I know this because I remember the experience like yesterday:

But now that I think about it, I do remember watching The Polar Express in third grade and realizing that grown-ups are the wrong ones, which explains a few other Christmases. You see, I told my parents I no longer believed in Santa in second grade. Unfortunately, I never told them I started believing again in third. So, every Christmas from third to fifth grade, I woke up to zero presents from Santa and thought:

Anyways, if you happen to know a Chen Yao who is Chinese — though I’m not sure why someone named Chen Yao wouldn’t be Chinese — feel free to hit me up with her email address. I’m hoping to reconnect with my so-called pen pal.