Hangzhou, China is beautiful in the spring. The weather is lovely, the trees are in bloom, and if you look above the buildings, the sky is even blue. On the west lies a long, gleaming lake; on the east sit a set of low mountains. Every inch in-between is stuffed, all high rise buildings and cars throwing up a ruckus of honking and trees, crammed into the cracks. Busy, hi-tech, constructed in the last twenty years, Hangzhou is truly a twenty-first century city.
We only stay for a day, to stretch our legs after the plane ride and look in the shops, but by the time we leave I feel like Hangzhou could be my home. It’s the little details—rice for lunch, and sweets that aren’t too sweet, and hair styles that work with my face. When we get on the sleek, gleaming train to Huangyan, I look back once, and then we speed off with a whir at 350 kilometers per hour.
My parents have no past waiting for them when they return to their mother country, no memories preserved in wood or stone, not even the blue sky they used to stare up at. The West Lake, along which my mom walked to school every day as a girl, is the only thing she recognizes in Hangzhou. “At least you have that,” laughs my dad. “Even the little mountain where I herded cows has disappeared.”
Huangyan, my father’s hometown, is the China-under-construction, all newly built houses and railroads being laid. His childhood has been torn down, the pieces arranged in museums for strangers to point and gawk at. We go to Yuhang museum, and he reminisces excitedly as we walk from exhibit to exhibit. Look, he says, eyes sparkling (though with what, it’s hard to say), we used to play those games. My sister died operating a water pump just like that. I used to follow after my brother pushing that plow and pick up small fish to feed to our ducks. It took technical skill to use that plow, so he always did it.
I look at my father under the museum’s dim lighting, as he talks about not having enough food to eat, and I try to imagine him in the place of the fake people. I can’t. (How could I? He exists in my present.)
In the countryside, glimpses remain of days of auld lang syne. A stone basin, where they wash their western style clothes by hand. Doors left open at night, so that neighbors can come in and out, a cigarette in one hand and smartphone in the other. Thick winter school uniforms, thick because the school has no heating and temperatures occasionally drop below freezing. The local dialect, which I resign myself to not being able to understand. Even those will be gone soon, the language dead. It’s strange to say a language everyone in the district grows up speaking is dying. But it is, and they know it, because television shows in the Huangyan dialect have cropped up in recent years.
Thousands of years of history is slipping out of their grasp, and it left so quickly that now that people are beginning to miss it, there is little remaining for them to hold onto. Only a single street has not been torn down, and is now being fixed up for display. Out of the windows, lines hang with drying clothes, where a couple of residents still linger.
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