Exhausted after fourteen hours of flight time I looked at my new surroundings, the Beijing airport. I realized my journey across the world had just ended, but at the same time freshly begun. Thinking about the next two weeks filled with many possibilities, I felt a rush of excitement; I was ready to be whisked away from the other delegates to my host home.
At the exit we saw our host students holding inviting signs with our names written across in bold letters and decorated with stickers. I saw my name and started to sprint to my new friend while frantically thinking about the Chinese phrases I had learned from the internet. I met my host parents and Guo Hai Nian, my Chinese host student. Apparently, Guo Hai Nian preferred to have the Americans call her Harry Potter (no joke). I quickly forgot about my jet lag and felt exhilarated to see the city that hosted the 2008 Olympics racing past the car window; it was just the beginning.
Harry Potter couldn’t have been more inviting and her family cared for me as if I were her sister. We spent the first weekend visiting museums and exploring the basic lifestyle of a Chinese teenager. Surprisingly, some museums allowed pictures to be taken and Chinese grocery stores have elevators that can transport shopping carts! We also used public transportation which consisted of buses and subways filled with people. Unlike America, there was an abundance of pedestrians and bikes. Regarding the Chinese household, I enjoyed making dumplings with Nai Nai, her grandmother, and watching the sunrise at five in the morning from her neat, sixth story condo window alongside Father, who sat smoking peacefully while speaking in gruff Beijing Mandarin.
During the weekdays I followed Harry Potter to her school where I could meet her friends and teach several English classes. The elementary students were ecstatic about an Asian American who could speak English and a few short Chinese phrases. All the students worked earnestly in reading the English paragraphs and exercises. They also gave me small presents consisting of origami paper stars and postcards featuring Chinese singers. They would shout “Lai!”, meaning come, as they took me to see their different classrooms and dormitories. I always felt humbled by their kindness and interest in foreigners.
Throughout the week, the school organized excursions to Beihai Park, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, The Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square. Each site featured breath-taking architecture that reflected the ancient history of China. Every site made me think of the ingenuity in creating the monuments that have stood for many centuries. Staring at the colossal plazas of the Forbidden City made me think of China’s grand imperial past. Even the exotic, intricate carvings in the walkways of the Summer Palace alluded to the rich culture and ancient tradition. The Chinese incorporate a serene interpretation of nature into their architecture and art.
I will never forget Harry Potter’s hospitality, the elderly man who let me paint characters with his paintbrush on a sidewalk, and the jovial teachers who laughed and teased when I messed up Tai Chi. The hospitality, landmarks, and memories tempt me to daydream about China. Most importantly, China has taught me the simplicity of friendship, a kind that does not need much verbal communication or cultural familiarity. After two weeks on the trip, I now have a Chinese family, caring friends, and a welcoming home.
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