Being a Chinese fly on the American Wall

A smell mixed of pretzel, coffee and deodorant.

Took a deep breath,I’m back at the birthplace of America. The country I lived for 3 years before moving back to China.

I set feet in the country when I was 22, not a young age they say, to be fully adapted into a new culture. I never felt that way though. Maybe I’m too familiar with being in a new place (I had been constantly moving since 13 years old), maybe I never saw fitting in as a pressing need.

My 3 years in the US was generally very comfortable. I enjoyed the nation’s obsession with food, sports, shopping and holidays,was amazed and spoiled by all the disposable goods. I evolved to a sophisticated consumer, knowing what kind of cheese to put on my sandwich and which brand of organic yogurt taste good.

Beyond what food to eat and when I take shower, the country transformed me in a deeper way. My once definitive view on “success” was expanded; I learnt to be assertive and unapologetic when expressing different opinions; and finally started a journey of establishing my own identity free from my parents’ expectation.

“Stay or go back” is a classic choice oversee students have to make. I made mine when a great career opportunity opened up. I didn’t think much when moved back to China, seeing it as a simple career chice.

During this 2 years in Beijing, however, there’s always this voice at the back of my mind. What if I never moved back? What if I stayed in the US, worked my way into citizenship, or marrying a country boy from the Midwest, what would life be like?

I got a taste of this un-turned stone in October, when I had the chance to visit US for 2 weeks, I went to all the places I lived 2 years ago, Philadelphia, Jersey, Queens and Manhattan.

I stayed with 4 different group of friends whose lives are very different yet could have been mine if I had stayed. I ate with them, went grocery shopping with them, drove around town and talked about the election. I didn’t feel the slightest sense of estrangement.I felt like I’ve always been there. Strange.

I am born and raised in China, never left the country before 22.Yet I constantly have people telling me I am very Americanized.I bet I look like an American wanna-be for some people, judging from my obsession with bagels, my Presbyterian beliefs and my comfort of living in the country. Yet deep down, I know I have a very Chinese soul,that identity I’m trying to establish will never able to break away from my parents expectation, not 100%.

What makes a person American, and what makes a person Chinese then? The answers are of course not static or mutually exclusive, especially during this time of the American history, when the nation’s identity is being challenged.

How to describe my relationship with American then? My friend, who is an ESL teacher, gave me an answer.

A fly on the wall.

Quiet, hardly noticeable, find herself a comfortable spot, blend in well with the background, yet never part of the party.

It’s a very accurate depiction of how I relate to the country.No matter how comfortable I am with the culture and how much I love its people, there’s always this distance. The distance that keeps me from being truly engaged with the society, but also protects me from being depressed about its current situation.

Will that distance ever disappear? Do I want to fly away from the wall and join the party? Is it really possible to become truly global and truly Chinese?

The answers are still evolving.