Home. After 369 days in Asia, it is time to conclude the raison-d’être of this blog which has been an awesome tool of communication between my Asian self and my loved ones abroad. Here, in a place where the tap-water is good and potable, a beer at a relatively tired place costs at least 50 yuan/ kr, and people whisper along the streets I can look back and account for all the happenings of that extraordinary year under willows and red lanterns, but words will probably not suffice to explain what it all meant to me.
I had high hopes for my year abroad. I chose an international high school- education and to start undergraduate studies in Scotland because the international community always appealed tremendously to me, and when I looked at Swedish universities Lund’s exchange programs were definitely a big part of my final choice for an alma mater. Three years’ studies led up to my going to China and I was itching to experience as much as I possibly could. Nevertheless, I could never imagine what I would find in the golden Far East: I certainly didn’t expect to work for my country’s embassy; I didn’t expect to see Macao, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines or the remarkable winter city of Harbin; I never thought I’d live with three other dudes in a shared space of 13 square meters; I didn’t think I’d work as an English teacher or a model; I didn’t think I’d push myself the way I pushed myself and I didn’t expect to fall absolutely in love with the place and culture which seemed to grant me everything I asked for.
Upon coming to China, I had to revise a lot of prejudices: the West is often very quick to point fingers at China and condemning breaches of rights and freedoms. I’m not saying I’m condoning China’s way of controlling certain issues, but I do say that I have a different understanding of it now. China is booming at an unimaginable rate to outsiders and you can literally see the landscape of cities change before your eyes. China has gone from a poor state crippled by communist doctrine to the world’s second economy in only 20 years. With that come new problems which require quick fixes. And there are different kinds of freedoms in China compared to the West. We think it’s crazy that the movement of citizens is limited to what kind of hu-kou they have, but my friends were flabbergasted by the fact that it’s illegal in Sweden to bike at night without a light, or to give someone a ride on your bike. They had never heard of such micro managing state- control and thought Sweden sounded like a semi- fascist state! It puts things in perspective. (And actually, the thing I probably find most unattractive about Swedish life is that there are rules about fucking e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.).
I learned a lot about that beautiful ancient culture which held a surprising spirituality to it. I learned that the small bon-fires on the street corners in August were not an effective way for the people of China to burn trash, but actually a ritual where they burnt paper money at night to commemorate their dead; I learned that the reason why you shouldn’t put your chop-sticks vertically in your rice is because it resembles sticks of incense which you place on your forefathers graves (thus connoting death); and I learned that in 4 cases out of 5, the looker behind the wheel of that Lamborghini in Sanlitun is a young girl rather than an old businessman.
Of course, the backbone of every good experience is the people you meet, and I met truly amazing people. Things which struck me about basically every expat I met at CUPL were their eagerness to see and experience things they normally never would, their wanderlust, their openness and a certain cynicism with the West; the East had become the new Promised Land. We were all a part of a young and truly global community. One person whom I’ve often thought of dedicating an entry to is Marco Sichirollo, the fantastic Italian whom I shared the Wudaokou – apartment with and who taught me so many things about Asian culture. Marco might be the most genuinely unprejudiced and open person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and I hope he’ll use his standing invitation to Lund liberally and soon!
It was time for me to go home; I had been away for more than a year and I wanted and needed to wrap up my degree here back home. I had grand reunions with friends and family here, and I now go by the epithet of proud godfather to my brand new striking baby- niece, Cornelia! Still, homecoming has both been nice and hard. I have never before felt lonely in Lund, but the first night I slept in the apartment marked the first night I slept alone in over one year which was pretty rough, and there was one specific good- bye back in Beijing which has been much on my mind… It is obvious when you come from a place like China, that people here live much more isolated lives and everything feels comparatively very small; but there are of course sweet perks to this life as well. I just need more time to acclimatize and set new goals. Until that happens, I hope to control my eagerness when I see an Asian at school and not think ‘xie-xie’ when the woman hands me coffee in the cafeteria.
Thank you, China. You gave me everything I asked for and more. I can’t wait to come back for a stay which won’t be quite so accidental, but very intentional. You had me at ‘ni hao’!
Respectfully and forever yours,
Xiao Long / Little Dragon