Growing up I never truly felt Chinese. This is probably because my family is far from the stereotypical Asian Family. I am only half-Chinese, on my father’s side. Due to this, I never really felt fully connected to my Chinese roots. Until my trip to China at age 13, everything regarding the country seemed more distant than the other side of the globe.
I’m not going to say my eyes were opened on arrival either, because a 16-hour flight in claustrophobic-insensitive seats left my sister and I too mentally exhausted and jet-lagged to contemplate the fact, “Oh, we’re as far as physically possible from home.” Also, we arrived in Hong Kong, which, ironically, was an exact replica of New York City, save for road signs with Chinese calligraphy. Hong Kong is practically a separate country from Mainland China. The two differ from each other so much that they speak different Chinese dialects, have separate flags, and, which I consider makes it official, have separate homepages on ITunes.
Therefore, Beijing was an entirely new world to me. Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, which, of course, led us to the Forbidden City, everyone’s primary destination. I still remember the detail of the Meridian Gate: the hundreds of golden stubs covering the scarlet red wooden doors, top to bottom, left to right, and front to back. The inside of the castle was no less impressive, but this time I was breathless. The expanse to the outer court appeared to be 5 miles wide. My attention was immediately directed to a massive shrine in the middle of the “city”, which was embellished in elaborate art.
To my surprise, a Chinese boy around my age suddenly pulled me from my family to his, and snapped a picture. The destitute populace of Beijing holds westerners, even completely ordinary ones like myself, in high esteem. Yet, what bothered me was how the boy was immediately able to identify me as a foreigner. Apparently I didn’t appear as Asian as I thought I did to others.
These events, which already redefined how I thought of China, were only at the beginning of the trip. My family also took a tour bus to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Army, and the Badaling Hills to walk along the Great Wall. I remember on the trip back, my grandfather, who lives in Shanghai, sharing personal experiences about his life in China. This was one of the most heartwarming memories I have of my grandfather, because I have never heard him talk so passionately about such a personal, fascinating topic.
Next, on a cruise, The Viking Emerald, we stopped at multiple destinations, two of which I remember vividly. The first was a small village among one of the Lesser Three Gorges. The people here lived on the canyon side of a river, without any technology, but the way they welcomed outside visitors touched me. The second stop was the Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam in the world. Its mechanical complexity and its immense size demonstrated China’s mindboggling technological growth. I also noticed its great contrast with the village, despite the small distance between the two.
I must admit that I still don’t consider myself to be exceptionally Chinese, but the simple fact that such a connection between myself and this country exists makes me proud of my multicultural identity. I now know that China is not the stereotypical country that most Americans believe it to be. It turned out to be a country much more dynamic and diverse than I could have ever imagined.
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