Tuesday, March 13, 2012


When my room was full of boxes of pencils and new packs of socks, and I was up to my elbows in travel-size shampoo bottles and stacks of jeans, and the phone kept ringing all day long with good-byes, I told my sister I felt like I was about to drop off the face of the earth. 

“Well,  you are,” she said.

There was a lot of rice, when I got to China. There were busloads of people packed into buses with sacks of groceries, people with skinny earphone strings running out their ears, muting the noise. Street vendors rolled greasy dumplings from big vats of oil into styrofoam boxes with chopsticks. People stared—grandmas would wave their grandbabies’ hands at us and grin big smiles when we waved back. Everyone talked in sounds that clinked together and ended as if they had stopped halfway through their sentence.

This was home for all of my little Chinese students, who would yell “Panda” when I would show them pictures of zoo animals. They would yell Chinese cities, “Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai” when we talked about travel or their favorite treats, “milk cake, plum suckers.” “Teacha,” they would say, “you home in America.” Sophie pulled out a card with a line of flags down the side one day and pointed to the American flag. “Teacha, you mei guo de?” With my freckles, my brown hair, I didn’t blend in. Yes, America was far away - until they started singing “baby, baby, baby” like Justin Bieber and cradling an imaginary baby.  

I saw China in their eyes. A place with ordinary streets, a life of buses, of trains, of electric scooters.  Rice porridge for breakfast and long trays of rice with lunch.The line of Chinese tourists wanting to take a picture with me at the Forbidden City. The funny old man who made faces every time his wife snapped a photo so we had to keep trying again. The grandma who laughed at the picture on my camera of her granddaughter trying to ride the exercise bikes in park. The dirty side streets, the elaborate summer palaces, the skillets of sticky noodles and snake on a stick. Those were the pictures I wanted—the experiences I wanted—of seeing life just how it was in China. 

Before I left, China was a postcard of the Great Wall. It was straw dome peasant hats, it was fortune cookies, it was rice plantations. It was the weathered paper scroll in my grandma’s dining room, smudged with strange black ink characters that were somehow words and not pictures. 

But China wasn’t a place of pieces. It wasn’t a single Chinese recipe or a strip of silk. I will talk about China, think about China, read about China, and remember my experiences of China, for the rest of my life because a little piece of China got caught inside me.

- Ashley Brocious
(photo from flickr)


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