Sunday, September 5, 2010
I have been back in the US for about a month now. Thinking back to my time in China, the place, the people and my memories are already fading fast. I think the main reason is that these two worlds are so different so when I step into one country, the other takes on a dreamlike quality.
I think of China as a list of contradictions. Industrial wasteland + lush countryside. Frustrations with a student who has given up on learning English + joy over one who has broken out of her shell. Mostly, it was the feeling of being part of and distinct from something at the same time.
In America, I must answer the annoying question, “How was China?” There is no way to answer it, to list what it is and is not, to describe what I thought then and what I think now. I cop out with the answer, “It was a good experience.”
And it was. But I have a difficult time telling you how.
Let me try with this memory: In my last days in China, I went to a Senior 3 student’s hometown in the countryside. Daniel was a gregarious, handsome 17-year-old who had insisted for weeks that I meet his entire family. So I did. I met mother and father, younger brother, grandmother and grandfather.
Grandpa Lu was the first traditional Chinese doctor in the town. He had his own practice on the first floor of the family's large house. Grandpa Lu intrigued me. He was a self-made man, putting himself through school, eventually becoming a kind of local celebrity. I had so many questions for him, but he only spoke in the dialect of the town, different from any Hunanese dialect I had heard and very different from Mandarin. Daniel translated for me.
We talked about Grandpa Lu's childhood, how the village has changed over the years, how the country has changed. He and his wife had seen the changes together. As little kids growing up together, they were friends first. I wanted to hear about their childhoods.
That's how Grandpa and Grandma Lu ended up singing a song. It was the song they sang every morning before class began, and this was the first time they had sung it in more than fifty years.
To be honest, I don't understand a word of the song. I just know -- and I feel this way even now when I listen to the clip -- the audio somehow captures the essence of my experience -- incomprehensible, nostalgic, strange, beautiful.
Posted by Jolie at 5:17 PM