To say I’m uncomfortable would be an understatement. With a cold sweat, I wake up from a dream where I’m running. It’s about 4:00 in the morning. I’m nauseous. I’m about to suffocate from the humidity. I’m being tortured by insomniac mosquitoes. The squeaky old fan in my room is neither competent nor reliable. I have visions of the rusty hub giving in to years of use, the fan ricocheting off the ceiling, and the rotating paddles cutting up the room. The list goes on.
I can’t believe that I have food poisoning. I can’t fathom what cosmological force brought me to such an obscure farm – with no air conditioning or running water for that matter. Why am I here and not in my comfortable suburban house in Gaithersburg, Maryland?
Here’s the twist: I should know this small farm in Quesan County, China. I spent the first months of my life here on Lao Lao’s* farm. My parents took me away from China when I was two, and I chose not to look back. In America, I gradually reinvented myself. I surreptitiously transformed into an American. It’s hard to notice the small changes – until they agglomerate like a blood clot. My parents took a good look at me in the spring of 2009 and decided something must be done.
They booked plane tickets for the summer and convinced me to trust them. They claimed I would become Chinese. How could that be? I profusely proclaimed my identity to anyone who would listen. I am American. Needless to say, I was wary and skeptical of the trip.
When we arrived, I immediately realized Lao Lao’s farm is part of a different world. The clock ticks at a slower pace. Lao Lao would sit with other elderly women for hours cracking sunflower seeds, drinking hot tea during summer, and gossiping about granddaughters. Barefoot kids run around on the dusty roads, engulfed in a place only kids can go. There’s no Internet and no cable here. Instead of Facebook, there is human interaction. Instead of soap operas, there are retellings of classic stories like “Lady White Snake”.
I’ve experienced so many amazing moments at Lao Lao’s home. I remember walking barefoot in the cornfield and looking at the bluest sky I’ve ever seen. The grass tickled my feet. The breeze swirled around me. I remember going on an exhilarating hike up Bo Shan Mountain. After an exhausting journey, I burned incense in an obscure pagoda squeezed between the mountains.
I remember driving to the city, Zhu Ma Dian, in Jiu Jiu’s well-worn wagon. We go after night’s cool cloak envelopes the city. I really enjoyed people-watching. Children greedily devour spicy lamb kabobs. Restaurant customers play cards after meals, enjoying the mesmerizing city lights. Window shoppers walk arm in arm, throwing their heads back laughing. People really come to life at night.
Looking back, I realize why I was so cynical when my parents suggested the trip. I was scared of finding the culturally Chinese young woman I was supposed to be. I knew I couldn’t live up to her. Thank God for one of my favorite authors, George Bernard Shaw. He said. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” That’s just what I did. My trip to China gave me a new sense of self identity. I would not trade this experience for the world.
And just between you and me, I didn’t really mind the food poisoning. It gave me more time to spend with Lao Lao.
*Lao Lao – grandmother
Jiu Jiu- uncle
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