[This piece won First Prize in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - Middle School]
BY LINDA KONG
Beijing, a bustling airport, impenetrable traffic & honking horns, the humid heat of summer, car exhaust, bus stops & the slight smell of cigarette smoke, taxi rides, feet hitting the sidewalk, hats that shield my eyes from the brightly burning sun, subways, crowds & neighbors & people everywhere, Peking University & buildings that are nostalgic to people I know but not to me, shopping malls & food stalls & restaurants, kao ya & kao yu & the McDonald’s a few blocks away because my tastebuds are too American for this foreign place.
wai gong & wai po’s apartment: my grandparents’ home, toast with peanut butter & jam & marmalade & hard boiled eggs & milk that seems a bit different from the milk back home & that yogurt that I love, walks to the supermarket 5 minutes away, mini ice cream cones, fresh fruit from the market: mango & lychee & grapes with seeds & blueberries & apples & peaches so much sweeter than what we have at home, grandma’s cooking & takeout, laying under the AC trying to get as much of the cold air as I can until they notice & say I’ll get sick, hours of watching TV until my brother & I know the advertisements by heart.
ye ye & nai nai’s apartment, cramped & full of family, the sound of the TV always on, you tiao & jiao zi & mian tiao & my dad’s favorite foods, red envelopes & trips to the supermarket where ye ye insists on getting snacks for my brother & me, walks around the neighborhood & more bus stops & cigarette smoke & the sense of half-home I get everywhere in this country.
Bullet trains & planes, hours spent at the station before they call our number, sitting on benches with backpacks & suitcases, my brother leaning on my shoulder, hours spent on my tablet, sliding suitcases into place, the bustle of everyone trying to get somewhere, sometime, looking out the window, headphones, traveling faster than I could ever imagine, seeing cities from above, watching the earth from oh so far away, the feeling of having so much time & yet not being able to use it.
Book stores, finding a spot on the stairs to cuddle up with a book in the English section, reading for hours & movie theaters, looking for the newest release & watching something like I would back home & yet millions of miles away & fast food restaurants, burgers & fries & soda & the food we have back home & it tastes just the same & smoothies, cold & refreshing, a blissful break from the summer heat.
The waterfall of a language that’s not my native tongue spilling around the streets & filling my ears, the joy of being one with the crowd & conversing in the same music as everyone else does & them not noticing the slight accent of my voice, looking around at the signs & wishing I could read them as fluently as I do English & being immersed in a language so beautiful that’s not my own but also is.
Museums & historical sites & old gardens & so much history that I can’t fully understand, so many places to visit & so many places to go, the smell of Chinese food everywhere & ticket stands & new cities & the wonderful unfamiliarity of exploring any new place.
The feeling of exhaustion after a long flight & drive back home, where it’s past midnight & the night has settled gently onto the earth & home awaits you with a warm embrace.