Sunday, March 28, 2010


I've been back in Beijing from our trip to Tianjin for about a week now (pictures are up!), and it's been busy. Our semester is broken up into three 'blocks,' and we're coming to the end of one of those blocks in just a couple of days. This means papers and tests are due, and stress is high.

I'm fortunate, then, that Tianjin was such a relaxing and fun mini-vacation from Beijing. Lili and I got to explore a couple of the museums and traditional streets around Tianjin (albeit, at one point, in the middle of one of North China's famous sandstorms), ate some fantastic food, saw this, and had time to hang about and chat. Every day I got to know her a bit better, and I'm ever more conscious of how special she is. Despite having a really modest background in a small town in the dusty plains of northern Anhui, she's always been a bookworm, spending her money as a kid on translated works of Jane Austen instead of buying toys or snacks. Despite going to high school with a mixed urban-rural student body whose city-dweller classmates looked down on those from the countryside, she was elected president of her class. She got her tourism license in a record-setting one month, and is looking forward to finding work as soon as possible.

I learned quite a bit about her family background as well. When I asked her about why she had a problem with Japanese people, despite having a generally liberal and fair worldview of everyone else, she told me how her family was deeply affected by the Japanese invasion during WWII. But despite this, she's tasked me with introducing her to a couple of my Japanese friends in order to get past what she knows is a deeply-ingrained prejudice on her part.

It's clear, too, that she's an anomaly among her peers. She's not planning on getting married until her late twenties or later, valuing her career and life plans over finding a husband. In contrast, her younger brother, nineteen years old, just found a fiancée and will be getting married next Spring Festival. While I put no judgement either way, it does speak to the fact that she's already set out on a very different path from those back home.

And on a more personal note, during this trip together I learned that not only was I her first foreign boyfriend, I was actually the first foreigner she ever met.

But good things, as they say, must come to an end. She's decided that Beijing isn't the place to look for work right now, and she's decided to head south to Guangdong to try her luck there. I'm guessing that part of the reason she sprung this trip to Tianjin on me so suddenly was that she knew she'd be leaving in not too long. While it's too bad we won't be spending my last month or two in Beijing together, I'm excited for her prospects in southern China. In a way, I think she's making this move to go exploring; she still feels that she hasn't seen nearly enough of her mother country. I can't speak to the state of the job market down south, but I can only wish her the best, knowing she'll succeed by sheer force of will and her cheerful, good spirit.

And while I'm going to be seeing much less of Lili in not too long, I'm already starting to find other ways to fill the social vacuum that will open up when she's gone. I spent the last two evenings hanging out with a couple Chinese buddies of mine that I met last semester, Will and Tony. Hanging out in a locally-run pizza bar on the edge of campus, we talked about what is only natural given our age and gender: American gun laws, beer, and World of Warcraft. Some things, it seems, transcend cultural differences entirely.

As for what else has been running through my mind lately, the biggest concern floating about is, not surprisingly, about going home. Just over two months remain in my time here, and my feelings are really mixed. On one hand, going home is going to give me the opportunity to let me pick life back up where it left off back in Fort Collins; I'll see old friends that I haven't see for nine months or more, I may have a nice spot lined up in the CSU dorms as an RA, and I'll get to take some great classes back at CSU. But on the other hand, my identity has been become deeply tied up in my experience in China. Here, I can wake up each day and answer the question, "Why am I here?" with the simple and satisfying answer, "To learn Chinese." (I usually avoid the natural extension of that question, "Why are you learning Chinese?" Answer: TBA). But, really, having that sense of purpose each day, and reaping immediate, tangible rewards from learning each new character is extremely gratifying.

When I go back to the United States, I fear that in some way, I'll return to that same feeling of disorientation I dealt with my freshman year. But another part of me assures me that my experience here will stick, that I'll find a way to intergrate it into my new life back at CSU, and I'll be all the more prepared for graduation looming just over a year away.


  1. She does indeed sound like an unbelievable girl. I'm really glad you found someone like that during your exchange, I only wish I could meet her myself! Your lovely parents sure are lucky.

    I think I know the feeling that you're describing... It takes a lot of work to live in another country, but each day feels full of purpose. Even during my short exchange I had that feeling, so I'm sure it must be strong for you. It becomes part of your identity.

    As always though I have faith that you will achieve the utmost in life. I'm sure returning to FoCo will be different, but I think you will find a way to make it amazing and integrate both experiences.

    Much Love <3

  2. I'm really sorry that Lili is moving away. She sounds like the best person you could've met to experience China with. To be honest, I think that you'll probably find it perfectly easy to fit back into the scene at CSU, but you'll probably realize how it's only one aspect of your life now. I think you'll also have it as a strong basis for the growth of your identity too, because no matter what you'll have this strong experience of going out and learning a new language in a foreign country and adapting to the customs. That alone will be a great strength to you. :) (Not only that, but you'll be able to relate to Chinese students much better!) No matter what we'll be here with an open ear, happy to hear all about it!

  3. As for the mixed feelings about coming home, Charlie, the good thing is you can always return, or do another travel adventure elsewhere. You're walking away with confidence that you can go anywhere in the world and survive -- and thrive! A few years from now I think you'll look back and see how formative it was in your life. Uncle Brian