China is a land both familiar and yet mysterious to me. It is the country of my ancestors, of those people whose footsteps have vanished from the earth and yet whose souls still live on in the hearts of their descendents. On the outside, I am, in every aspect, a full-blooded Chinese: the almond-shaped eyes, the straight black hair. And yet, as close as I feel towards China, I have never completely embraced it as my home. To me, home was America, the place where I was born and where I live, not China, a place I only ever go on summers to visit my grandparents. I am fluent in speaking Chinese, but cannot read or write (something which has led to a few mishaps).
In the summer of 2005, my mom and I embarked on a trip to her hometown of Chengdu, located in the Sichuan province. Sleepy and overcast with fog and haze in the day, and glittering with the neon lights and tall skyscrapers of the blossoming economic center at night, Chengdu seemed to combine the leisurely lifestyle of its inhabitants and the fast-paced, cosmopolitan approach of the younger generation.
Hot and humid was the perfect choice of words both for the summer weather and the food. My mom ate the spicy dishes with relish and nostalgic memories of her childhood, while I picked at my plate cautiously and with a cup of water nearby, just in case.
After we had awoken from a good night’s sleep (albeit with a few thirsty mosquitoes for our companions) at the Ibis Hotel, my mom and I set out for the Du Fu Thatched Cottage, a park and museum erected in honor of the Tang Dynasty poet, Du Fu, one of the most influential and prominent poets of China. The thatched cottage had served as a source of inspiration and a place that he had lived for four years and wrote many of his best poems. As I toured the inside of the reconstructed cottage (the original had been destroyed), I saw the stark simplicity of the rooms and could see nothing that seemed worthy of the poet, who had formerly been a successful civil servant.
However, looking outside the window, my eyes beheld a scene of lush greenery. Stalks of bamboo poking out from the earth, ancient trees with glistening leaves, a lake with carp with iridescent scales like pearl-all this I observed from my location in Du Fu’s study, listening to the chirping of cicadas and feeling the breeze on my skin.
In Du Fu’s poems, one can clearly see the deep loyalty he had for his country as well as his concern for the poor. Unlike other poets of his time, his works were not about the lives of the wealthy and upper-class. His poems paint vivid portraits of the common people, allowing their voices and stories to be heard. He had gotten tired of being at court, sickened by all the petty courtiers and corrupted officials. Du Fu had sacrificed luxury and comfort for a simple thatched hut in the countryside. Riches and power were within his grasp, so why did he not reach for them?
While listening to my mom as she told me about his life, I was deeply touched. I realized that I should be content with what I have, and embrace myself for who I am-a Chinese American.
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