June 16, 2015

Snapshots + Reflections : My Trip to Southern China

Nanjing Road, Shanghai
authentic chinese food
gingham and stripes
daqi mountains, tonglu
shallow depth of field
chinese birthday cake
peter pan collar, short curly permed hair
bubble tea
Park Six, West Lake
West Lake, Leifeng Pagoda
shanghai airport food
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.

post signature

Join the conversation!

  1. Your photos are stunning! I would love to see China someday, especially after seeing these. Even if it's far from the whole story, I think it's so important to capture the small details of your journeys and appreciate the little pleasures around you.
    PS: I adore the way your styled that striped skirt- it looks like a perfect outfit for traveling! And your hair is gorgeous! You're rocking that headband. :)

  2. waaaa! the photos are so fun and pretty! I totally understand though~ It's hard to go to China--as a Chinese American--but be unable to fully comprehend the culture and language. However, China is still one of my favorite places to visit, because of its culture, history, and food!

    XOXO Jo | Opal & Opal

  3. Before I go into the philosophical stuff can I just say I am DROOOLING over the pak choi! Seriously. WANT. TO. GET. INTO. THE. PICTURE!

    I love your reflections on yourself- it's good to know your identify and to feel that you haven't changed since that last minute. I like steadiness or continuity rather than change. You are doing many great things and this is why they don't change. Also good to know that yes,it isn't all rose-tinted- very important to acknowledge that in blogging. I think we are all aware of it but it is very helpful that we all point it out at some point.

    Hope you are well lovely.


    Kezzie AG

  4. And also. DRAGON FRUIT! I love that stuff!x

  5. Hi Lily!! You're so lucky to head to China every few years- it's also a great time to do some shopping, haha! I only went to China once, and it was a really enjoyable month for me! :)

    I totally understand what you mean about identities clashing- people in North America may feel you're too "asian/Chinese", but put yourself in the middle of China and people think you're too "western"! High-five for embracing the two perspectives and I agree with you on that! :) Don't worry about what others think- I think you look just fabulous! I also think those two outfits are too cute haha :P mmMM, I also miss bubble tea!! There are bubble tea stands almost everywhere and they are so cheap too!

    I am so envious of you because China looks so gorgeous and I'm just sitting my butt everyday for work, haha.. boy, I'm excited for you- Explo camp sounds super fun! Let us know how it goes ! ;)

    Take care and keep in touch!!
    -Nicole <3


  6. Love all your photos- the fog makes for such great pictures! I definitely feel the same way about trying to figure out my identity as someone who wasn't born in my country. I hope your summer is full of fun and unexpected adventures!

    Angelina Is

  7. Teaching an indoor cycling workshop... Lily, that sounds amazing! You're always doing so many incredible things and I love being able to see the world through your lens. It's interesting how we always post the best of the best but admit to the ugliness in the world, isn't it? I admire that you wrote that. I believe you're progressing in who you are, definitely. I think we always feel the same because we're the same person, but as we expose ourselves to more and more different situations and have more experiences, we do become changed over time.

  8. I really like that last thought, Ali. I think that especially if we look back on recent years, it seems as if little has happened. But in the end, it's the cumulative new experiences that lead to the most growth.

  9. Whaaa, indoor cycling workshop? Congrats girl! I'm definitely interested in hearing how that goes for you! Your continual search in developing and evolving as a person never fails to inspire me. Keep being you Lily, your imperfect idealist self is one I love! <3

    Ahh man, I know...traveling to another country, especially one you have roots to, can be a blessing and a trial. Its difficult when you don't completely fit in. And they called you fat!?!? Ouch. Also, they're crazy, cause you are most definitely not overweight. You are one healthy, strong, and in my personal opinion, skinny woman! Haha, I get the same comments too, so it can take a toll if you let it get to you mentally. Just brush it off and know you're doing your best!

    Anyway, hope your summer is going well, I'll be tagging along with every update you give us! :)

    The Dragonfruit Diaries
    Check out my YouTube channel too!


the 'gram

© imperfect idealist.