It was December 17, 2004; I peeked out of the cockpit window into the endless ocean of frozen darkness. A wave of disbelief and anxiety rushed over me. Only ten hours ago had I left the United States, the country that I had called home for nine years.
Now, I was riding aboard this monster bird that shall carry me back to my birthplace. China, that sweet mother country of mine shall once again embrace me in her arms after years of distance. The calm collected atmosphere of the airplane quickly dissolved as I emerged onto the busy streets of China’s major port city, Shanghai.
I had expected to feel a sense of property like a queen who had just returned to her estate after a long vacation. But instead, what I felt was the same sense of isolation that any first-time travelers would feel traveling into a new country. I stared intently at the brief faces passing by.
Brown eyes, black jet hair, at last a country in which the majority of the faces mirrored my own physical attributes. However, in my travel wrinkled jeans and hooded sweatshirt, I felt like nothing more than simply a foreigner who was visiting the country for the first time. I searched for signs of familiarity.
Buildings, signs, landmarks, anything that would strike up a memory in my mind of Shanghai as experienced by me nine years ago. It was useless. I was like a fish out of water, unable to comprehend its new surroundings.
I remembered myself as a six- year old girl nine years ago, holding my mother’s hand, I was the one to call out the destinations on our shopping trips. I had known Shanghai backwards and forwards. Now, my eyes could hardly take in all the transformation the city had undergone during the time I spent in the U.S.
New skyscrapers and buildings had seemed to have been erected overnight. New shopping malls carrying the latest chic fashion replaced the once sprawling street markets. Long lines of cars filled the roads instead of the once chains of bicycles.
Where was the Shanghai that I had known as a little kid? The once so familiar country seemed so elusive to me now. As I walked along, my nose searched for that once favorite smell of roasted meat by street vendors. However, my nose only found the exhaust fumes of automobiles.
My ears strained to hear the jingle of bicycle bells and the soft laughter of folks chatting together on sidewalks. But all I could hear was the constant beeping of cars and the quick shuffling footsteps of busy city goers. My nostalgia only increased. Trying my hardest to contain my sense of bewilderment, I made my way towards the home of my relatives. Finally did I find some familiarity as my family members greeted me with outstretched arms. As I entered the guest bedroom of my grandparent’s home, I was once again home. This guest bedroom had once been my bedroom during summer and winter breaks since the day I was born.
The two weeks that I would spend in China was full of cherished moments. Imagine being immersed in such family love that has been condensed from nine years into two weeks. The result almost seemed like a fantasy. If only I could describe the human passion and caring for others that I had experienced during those two weeks in China. I had not seen my relatives for nine years. During this time, they have of course become older, but their characters and their love for me haven’t changed. My grandmother continued to serve my favorite chicken dish. My grandfather continued to tell me the same jokes and chuckled with me in the same way. My cousins and I continued to visit the same stores and we had loved as children.
The physical aspects of Shanghai have changed. But the compassion and the qualities of its people have not. No matter which country one may travel to, one will find that the characteristics of that country’s people stays constant from year to year. In our world of rapid technological change, material things transform perpetually. However, our world of spiritual and abstract concepts is what remains and defines us as human beings.
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