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"Memoirs of a Teenage Hostess" - Common App Personal Essay


ih8artichokes 6 / 17  
Aug 17, 2010   #1
Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Memoirs of a Teenage Hostess

"Say that again, sweetie?"

Embarrassed, I cleared my throat and repeated the order with a quivering voice. Although I wasn't unsure of my abilities to simply punch in orders on the computer, I still lacked the confidence to speak audibly and enunciate. What if the stranger on the other end of the phone started complaining about our prices if I seemed too outgoing and eager to help? What if she started quizzing me about food preparation if I sounded too certain in what I was trying to sell? I would then have to enlist the help of my restaurant manager, who might fire me for being such a bother. Fortunately, my illogical worries were relieved as I hung up the phone with a clammy palm.

One hour of work down, four hours left to go.

I spent my time at House of Emperor, a Chinese restaurant nestled in a bustling strip mall, averting contact with the customers by tinkering with the cash register and brandishing the soda gun at empty glasses. The storage closet by the bar became my refuge whenever it wasn't busy, and I was its willing recluse. When the hour hand reached nine, counting my cash and clocking out suddenly became imperative - both of which I did with unusual motivation. The first months working there went by this way until a friend recommended Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, to me.

The novel chronicles the life of Sayuri, a retired geisha living in New York. As a young girl, she is sold into servitude at the Nitta okiya, a prominent geisha house. Though Sayuri originally wishes to escape the okiya, her chance encounter with the kind Chairman causes her to instantly fall in love with him, despite the thirty year age gap, and motivates her to become a geisha by whatever means necessary. She eventually perfects the Japanese art of entertainment and becomes a prominent geisha in Kyoto. However, Sayuri faces and overcomes various misfortunes, such as war and betrayal, before she is finally reunited with the Chairman.

Upon finishing the novel, I childishly identified with Sayuri, just as I had done after watching Mulan ten years ago. Of course, we were both Asian - which was, to my dismay, the only similarity I shared with Mulan - but I made another connection with this refined geisha. She entertained in teahouses; I worked in a restaurant. However, she was wildly popular; I could barely collect a measly tip. Hence, with the initial purpose of earning a couple bucks, I sometimes "pretended" to be Sayuri while on the job. I should note here that "pretended" is enclosed in quotations to lessen my personal embarrassment, for I, at fifteen, should have long outgrown the days when kids ran around and cried for justice in makeshift capes.

With a newfound role model, I sought to emulate Sayuri's charm and femininity as I scanned credit cards and wiped countertops. I poured drinks with delicacy, preventing even one drop of Coke from spilling over the top. Fresh applications of mascara and lip gloss became my new pastimes. While I expected the clatter of coins to smother the swanky jazz music as my not-so-obvious elegance was noticed, it was not until I became talkative that customers responded with warmth as well. To overcome the discomfort, I pictured Sayuri, learned in the art of conversation, chatting with men of importance on tatami mats. She was not beset with worry as she spoke, and the judgments of others were the least of her concerns. Simple conversations about the weather, the football game on TV, and the food soon arose, and chuckles were exchanged as I mirrored her courage and peace of mind.

Although my original mission of earning tips was largely fruitless, I gained far more than a few dollars from my make-believe. The connection I made, despite being superficial at best, unintentionally drove me to model Sayuri's self-confidence and resolve - attributes which I had fiercely admired but desperately lacked. Just as Sayuri won the Chairman's favor through discovering purpose and perfecting her art, I couldn't charm the customers until I overcame my qualms and shyness. Doing so wasn't beneficial to only my job; I shared my ideas more frequently during classroom discussions, asked to intern at a national laboratory, and even led serving team meetings at church as well. As my self-doubts vanished, so did my role as a spectator. An eagerness to learn and motivation to help replaced my insecurity and fueled active participation, which eventually turned into leadership, in my undertakings.

i have a few specific questions:
- i dislike the way the third paragraph is written. how can i better blend the summary of the novel with what i learned from sayuri? or should i leave it as it is even though its nothing but summary?

- i feel like my last sentence is anticlimatic. should i tie it back to my intro/memoirs of a geisha? suggestions?

thanks for editing :)

also, i'm applying ED to wharton so i need a LOT of help...haha
frankeinsteinz 1 / 9  
Aug 17, 2010   #2
Did you work in America? If so I wonder how can you work as a hostess at the age of 15?
If you really did, I don't think AO will appreciate this type of job, I mean no offense here. But for a kid at the age of 15, there are much more different things for him/her to work on. If you still stick to this topic, I suggest you show more the art of your work (the art side, how you entertain people, how you interact with customers, how you increase the profits of the restaurants), perhaps include several conversation? That will impress readers more.

Just my 2 c.
ishterz 2 / 7  
Aug 17, 2010   #3
Try to run an essay into a cycle by perhaps linking it back to sayuri or saying something you just did so that you can connect it back to the beginning.
khushbakht - / 4  
Aug 17, 2010   #4
The opening sentence catches the attention of the reader, but the first paragraph seems a bit grammatically awkward, so you might want to re-write that.

Other than that, the essay is well written and the role model you chose is certainly not a conventional one, which could work to your favor.

Try to tie the ending lines back to Sayuri, I agree with Isha

Good luck and good job, it was an intriguing read!
OP ih8artichokes 6 / 17  
Aug 17, 2010   #5
Thanks everyone for the advice :)
I wrote my conclusion!

If you ever find yourself in Naperville, Illinois on a Sunday night craving some Chinese takeout, feel free to call our restaurant at (630) 983-8234. Though I don't know the number of calories in Mongolian Beef from the top of my head or whether Kung Pao Chicken is made with plum sauce or oyster sauce, you can guarantee that when I pick up, I'll say, "House of Emperor! Can I help you?" cheerfully and willingly.

Can anyone tell me how well this works? Does it tie back to my intro?

Also, a few technical questions.
- Should I leave out the phone number?
- Is my punctuation correct for the phrase? Do I indent and start a new paragraph since it's a quotation or is that unnecessary?

in reply to frankensteinz,
yes I do live in america and there's something called a work permit. i'm aware that there are more academic things i did when i was 15 that i couldve written about, but this ordeal made a big impact on my character that i would like the admissions officer to know about.
ivyeyesediting - / 85  
Aug 18, 2010   #6
Hi Claire!!!

I'm going to counter some of the perspectives here a little bit and just say: I think your essay is effortlessly brilliant. It comes off as so authentic, which, for me, is one of the markers of a truly phenomenal admissions essay. Take this for example:

"I spent my time at House of Emperor, a Chinese restaurant nestled in a bustling strip mall, averting contact with the customers by tinkering with the cash register and brandishing the soda gun at empty glasses. The storage closet by the bar became my refuge whenever it wasn't busy, and I was its willing recluse."

It's raw, funny, and interesting all at the same time. At first, I was unconvinced (and a little put off) by your emulating Sayuri's behavior (be careful that it doesn't sound subtly anti-feminist!)--but you eventually won me over there too:

"With a newfound role model, I sought to emulate Sayuri's charm and femininity as I scanned credit cards and wiped countertops. I poured drinks with delicacy, preventing even one drop of Coke from spilling over the top. Fresh applications of mascara and lip gloss became my new pastimes."

How many of us have read about a character and then found that person literally living through us in some way?

I still think the conclusion could use some work. Your theme is deep and complex--you're essentially talking about the synchronicity and connection between 2 people from different eras. Sayuri was very real to you, so much so that she helped you evolve into a different person: more confident, more sophisticated, more intuitive.

Is there anything you might have rewritten about Sayuri's story, or her character? Anything you might have taught HER?

Avoid rushing to create a conclusion just yet. You have the ability to write the perfect ending--but something 'cute' or tangential doesn't feel just right. I'd like you to continue the narrative and build another layer w/ your relationship with Sayuri.

Just my two cents!

Best,
Janson
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Aug 19, 2010   #7
If you really did, I don't think AO will appreciate this type of job,

Nah, the AO can appreciate this, for sure. The title is really cool, too.

...hung up the phone with a clammy palm. --- hahahah, nice! I'm afraid I need to have you critique my writing instead of you having me critique your writing.

I gained far more than a few dollars from my make-believe. --- this sounds almost like you mean you got $$ for your make believe... maybe it should say:

...from my make believe I gained something far more valuable than a few dollars in gratuities.

Here is my idea:
Chinese takeout, feel free to call our restaurant. at (630) 983-8234 . Though I don't know the number of calories in Mongolian Beef from the top of my head or whether Kung Pao Chicken is made with plum sauce or oyster sauce, you can guarantee that when I pick up, I'll cheerfully and willingly say, "House of Emperor! Can I help you?"
OP ih8artichokes 6 / 17  
Aug 29, 2010   #8
Thanks everyone for your input!! I truly appreciate it :)

I had a question, though.
Do you guys think I could take out the paragraph that's summarizing the novel ("The novel chronicles the life...") so I can have more room to further develop my connection with Sayuri?

However, I'm afraid that there wouldn't be enough description of the character in fiction (which is part of the prompt) and that the reader may not understand the connection as well.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Aug 31, 2010   #9
I challenge you to condense them! I think your idea is good, and it is possible to give intense sentences that express all that needs to be said. This can be a "nutrageous" essay. That is what I call essays that are packed with meaningful content, and not a lot of fluff. You are good at this, so I think you can take this in that direction and still include char. description.
OP ih8artichokes 6 / 17  
Sep 15, 2010   #10
Here's my new conclusion!

If you ever find yourself in Naperville, Illinois on a Sunday night craving some Chinese takeout, feel free to stop by our humble restaurant. Walking in, you will not be greeted by a stunning white-skinned red-lipped geisha, gliding about with poise and serenity. Instead, you will find a teenage hostess, who may not know the number of calories in Mongolian Beef or whether Kung Pao Chicken is made with plum sauce or oyster sauce from the top of her head. I can guarantee this, though; when you're ready to order, she will warmly smile and confidently say, "House of Emperor! Can I help you?".

While it still isn't very deep, I tried making it less "cute" and more genuine. Hopefully, it will leave the essay reader with a good impression of who I am!

What do you guys think?
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Sep 18, 2010   #11
Nice! I'll just try a different arrangement here:

Instead, you will find a teenage hostess, who may not know from the top of her head the number of calories in Mongolian Beef or whether Kung Pao Chicken is made with plum sauce or oyster sauce.


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