China, 再见

Till we meet again

Today I am leaving China after almost two years here. As a teacher in Changsha and then as a PR consultant in Beijing, I’ve passed both by villages in the heart of Hunan and the gleaming campuses of the country’s new tech giants. In such a short time, I cannot claim to understand this giant country. At most I take with me some scattered images, moments in the life of this complicated place.

For me, China is…

…my students clapping on my first day of class, some of them meeting a foreigner for the first time in their lives.

…a student coming to me about his low midterm grade, because coming from rural Hunan his grades are his validation with his urban classmates.

…my students evenly divided during an in-class debate on internet censorship.

…students walking out of the school, exhausted, at 11pm on a Tuesday.

…those same students’ parents waiting for them with a warm hug and a snack outside the school gate in the cold.

…a student I bumped into in Beijing, who had just bought “War & Peace” to practice her English.

…camping on a small town square in a village in western Hunan, waking up to the sound of old ladies doing the Chinese square dance around my tent at 6 AM.

…a group of old men and women in a town plaza in Xiangxi, singing songs and playing instruments.

…an isolated village in western Hunan trying to improve its economic lot by marketing its corn liquor.

…and the Tsinghua graduates who moved to that village for two years to help them succeed.

…a crowd gathered at the P8 social innovation hub in Changsha on a Friday night, to hear new ideas and share their own.

…the middle-aged lady near our school who upgrades her milk tea store after years of hard work, and suddenly has employees of her own.

…eating spicy stinky tofu by the Xiang river in Changsha, watching the fireworks on a warm summer night, surrounded by hundreds of other people doing the same.

…an afternoon hiking up Yuelu mountain.

…burning firecrackers after midnight on Chinese New Years in the Beijing cold.

…an old man proudly telling me about the history of his neighborhood in western Beijing.

…the baozi and jianbing ladies in the hutong in Beijing who always know what I will order.

…a quiet hutong morning, seeing the markets open, the neighborhood hum to life.

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