Most photos from my instagram
I'm often tempted to change my instagram description from a short bio to one of these statements:
My life, minus the ugly parts.
An aesthetically pleasing but totally inaccurate portrayal of my life.
These blunt alternatives were especially enticing in China. The carefully-edited photos ooze bustling cityscapes, sweeping scenery, exotic food, and carefree vibes, but they fail to account for the dusty developing towns, dingy apartments, allergy-induced sinus infections, and family squabbles.
These are the beautiful moments of my trip--they're far from the whole story.
This visit to China was up against a particularly moving and reflective return three years ago. And to be honest, the recent one paled in comparison. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be high school junior, and I hadn't been to China since third grade. Seven years is a long time, and I had changed immensely. For one, I had picked up running and violin, two redefining activities. Furthermore, I had grown from a kid to a teenager, allowing me to see the culture clash, and prompting me to question my identity as a Chinese-American.
The clash was still present--I still felt self-conscious when I couldn't read menus, I still relied on my parents to translate technical vocab, I still dressed funny (my grandma was amused with my purposely-distressed tee, declaring that it made me look poor). I even had some new challenges: I had difficulty following a mostly plant-based lifestyle (my relatives told me to stop dieting, and I didn't bother to explain that I wasn't trying to lose weight), I was both annoyed and hurt that other relatives dubbed me "fat", and I didn't know what to do when everyone was showering naked in the curtainless swimming pool locker room as if it were no big deal.
But this time, it didn't feel as if my identity were at stake. No matter how hard I try, I will never be completely American or completely Chinese. And I don't want to try--it's a blessing to see the world from two different perspectives. As an American-born Chinese, life in the U.S., infused with Chinese culture, is what I know. I'll always be a little bit different in both countries, and that's okay.
This time, I also realized that I haven't really changed much since my last visit. Plenty has happened--namely, moving over 700 miles away for college--but I'm still the same person. I still run, play the violin, try my hardest in school, embrace challenges and new experiences. I've just run longer, tackled harder pieces, explored deeper material, become more daring. Friends, casual hobbies, my hair, school years--they've all come and gone, but my essence as an imperfect idealist hasn't budged. Unlike snapshots of me up to my early teenage years, in which the girl is like a stranger, or some distant past version of myself, I would recognize the girl in photos from 2012 as me.
And so bears the question: have I made progress on finding myself, or have I simply remained stagnant?
I'll be jetting off again in a few days--this time back to Massachussetts--and I hope to find out. For seven weeks, I'm working at Explo, an enrichment camp for middle schoolers, to teach an indoor cycling workshop (I got my certification over spring break!) and to lead a residential or day group. I've noticed that I learn the most about myself in unfamilar environments, and I look forward to what this summer brings.