It is one of those times again; time to reflect in another’s glory. A good buddy of mine, Reto Winkler, has just moved from Xi’an to Hong Kong. He has also just started off his own personal blog (superbly named chilling in the pressure cooker) which, if his early posts are anything to go by, is going to be a good read. I asked Reto if he wouldn’t mind me re-producing his most recent post here, as it says a great deal about Shaanxi life (Xi’an is the Capital of Shaanxi Province), but is also a nicely positive twist on the living in China story. In my last Note, I was referring to the fact that no matter how long we live here in China it is difficult for us foreigners to be seen by the Chinese as being locals, we are always simply “the laowai” – even if we foreigners do actually feel quite at home. Reto celebrates this latter point in a resounding manner. I will let him speak for himself:
1. We just had an enormously epic meal. Indeed, it was more than epic: It was transcendent.
It brought me home in an instant. It made me see the yellow clay of Shaanxi stretching in endless layers towards the horizon, made me smell the dust again, hear the voices of yelling peasants in restaurants filled with plastic chars and smoke and laughter, feel the frosty winds on rocky Qinling mountain passes, that taste of pork fat and rough bread and cold noodles and sprouts and garlic, topped with a can of the inimitable ice peak orange lemonade, sweet as sin. Almost too good to be true.
Relishing it, I saw it all passing by again, these faces that looked like they were made of the very earth underneath their cotton shoes, in the eternal dust, these faces altogether impossible to forget, the faces of friends and family. I could see down all the generations gone by, working the dust in this most inhospitable of places – home. I could see my old friend He Si throwing his hands up high when he saw me trudging up his mountain again, laughing, yelling my name in his funny way, letting me know that just as I was about to say goodbye I had truly arrived at this place, since I had moved it, and it had moved me.
2. It’s been about four weeks since we arrived here in Hong Kong, and we people from Xi’an have finally gotten together for our first meal.
We’ve chose a restaurant that serves authentic Chinese food, since the food here is weird for us Northerners. We dig into our noodles and braised pork slices and dumplings as if we hadn’t eaten anything for weeks. The conversation is all about the oddities of Hong Kong: What do people here actually eat? No idea! Why do the girls wear heavy boots in the scorching heat? Why do people cue everywhere? Have you already learned some Cantonese, it’s so weird! It’s great to hear and speak some normal Chinese again, after weeks of not being sure how to talk to regular people on the street: Should I speak Mandarin? Maybe they don’t get it! And I heard many people here don’t like people from Mainland China… English then? Well, most people’s English isn’t that great either… We can finally be ourselves again, and we spend three hours chatting, joking and reminiscing. I feel like I am home again.
Am I allowed to feel this way? As a person who was born in Germany, who is teaching English, who has lived in Xi’an in Northern China for four years and is now living in Hong Kong, am I allowed to feel that Shaanxi Province is my home?
Yes, I am allowed to feel this way, because it’s an amazingly beautiful and true feeling. My heart has grown. I have embraced that place and it’s people, I have opened and thereby widened my heart to accommodate not only the feelings of belonging I have to the endless green fields and forests and thatched brick houses of Northern Germany, but also this new sense of being at home I find in there now, at home with the clay and the corn husks hung out to dry and the ancient temples on the mountaintops.
It is a gift that we are free to grow. Let’s make good use of it. If anywhere, identity is to be found in our own heart.
________Thanks to Reto.