“What happens in China stays in China.” “What happens in China?” “I don’t know! That’s why I have to go!” My mother and I were having another argument about whether I could go to Beijing to visit my cousin Sophia over the summer. My mother and I rarely saw things eye to eye, so bickering on the car ride to school every morning was just the norm. After two months of pleading and debating, mom and pops finally caved in one night. I was taken by surprise, since my parents generally held their ground until the bitter end. With the prospect of traveling to what I then assumed was the land of oriental ecstasy, the last two months for school completely flew by me. AP testing and finals came and went, as if in a blur.
The next thing I knew, I was on a twelve hour nonstop flight to Beijing, with a window seat and my small suitcase in the overhead compartment. Two movies and three Joseph Conrad stories later, the pilot announced that the plane would be landing in half an hour. I pressed my nose up to the glass and squinted for a glimpse of land underneath the thick, nebulous blanket of clouds. Right when I got off the plane, my glasses fogged up. Beijing is a giant rice steamer! I thought. I was fanning myself vigorously by the time I got to baggage claim. When I caught my first sight of Sophia, I quickly forgot about my sweat stained blouse. We had the typical reunion of two closer-than-sisters cousins who had been separated for four years.
The fact that I was now on the opposite side of the world kicked in about three hours later at dinner. To celebrate my arrival, Sophia took me to her favorite Beijing duck restaurant, which she swore would change my life. After wiping sweet sauce and duck off my face, I looked around and noticed that my once distinctive almond eyes, olive skin, and straight black hair were now ubiquitous. On the contrary, there was only one table of white Americans in the entire eatery, and they were the evident focus of interest. Sophia was not one to waste time. I had seen every major monument in Beijing within two weeks. The gilded roofs of antediluvian walls inspired intense awe within me, and I felt truly proud of my heritage for the first time in my entire life.
I was also teased mercilessly because of my occasional failure to speak fluent Mandarin, which all my relatives all agreed was my hamartia. My aunt would frequently exaggerate a cry of anguish and say “We have lost her to the Western world!” followed by “I think her hair’s turning blonde!” from my uncle. Even though these silly outbursts made me laugh, I could not help but admit that there was some truth in those statements.
I felt torn between two worlds when I thought about my parents’ unyieldingly Asian ways and how they were reflected so clearly through the rest of my family. I felt a twinge of guilt when I reflected upon how assimilated I was into American pop culture with all of its Pinkberrys and malls and dollar menus at fast food restaurants. Even though I was sobbing profusely when I boarded the flight back to SFO on August 8, unwilling to leave my cousins and now-favorite city Beijing, I could not help but smile in anticipation when I thought of beach trips and Great America and thirty two ounce sweet tea from McDonald’s when I got off the airplane.
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