China. proper noun. A country in Asia that I have actually visited.
On this blog. In my hometown. At the same summer job I’ve done for forever. And, oh yes. From China.
Golly. I still can’t quite believe that I went there.
And after being back for about a week, I still don’t know exactly what to say about it.
I’ve got the thirty-second recap of the trip down: It was a two-week tour of cultural sites and the church in China and international education. I went with a group from my university’s education department. We saw cool touristy stuff. We talked to real live Chinese people. The food was good. I did not get married or sick.
But you can’t summarize two weeks in China in thirty seconds. You miss so much.
You miss the rich red and gold and blue and green staining all of the buildings. Those colors covered everything, from the Forbidden City, the gigantic, show-offy imperial complex, to the Summer Palace, the royal resort with canals and covered walkways and dragon boats.
You miss the intricacies of traditional tea-making. We tasted so many kinds, smelling and sipping green tea and oolong tea and red tea. As the tea master refilled our tiny blue and white china cups with tea steeped within seconds of perfection, we tapped our fingers twice on the table in thanks.
You miss the swarm of students at the college English class party we attended. In self-conscious English, they taught us to roll thin circles of dough for steamed dumpling wrappers and to nimbly fold stiff leaves into triangles over rice dumplings. They made small talk in their second language and snapped so many selfies.
You miss the adrenaline of bargaining while shopping. Just asking the price of a scarf or picking up a scroll signals a potential purchase, causing aggressive debating over rip-off prices or a pouting salesperson asking “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” as you run away. As a deal-hunter and an okay negotiator, this was simultaneously fun and the most stressful shopping I have ever done.
You miss the crowds of people, and my blonde head blazing above their dark ones. Our rather vanilla group attracted many stares, Kodak moments with strangers, and not-so-subtle paparazzi pictures from the soy-sauce people of China.
You miss the sensory ambush. China hits hard and strong, with the red pepper and garlic taste of spicy green beans and the heat trapped in Beijing by encircling mountains and the aroma of public toilets and the stretching views of the Great Wall and the honks of jammed cars and motorcycles and tuktuks.
You miss the language, the bubbling of unknown words that rarely sort themselves into meaning. I took Chinese last year, but being immersed in the language jabbered at 100 miles an hour made me realize the limits of my communication abilities. Throughout the weeks, forgotten words from my one-year foray into the language came floating back, but never before have I wanted so much to know and understand more.
You miss the crazy kiddos in the fourth grade international school class I visited for a week, who grooved to the YMCA and chattered way too much in both Chinese and English. They reminded me that no matter where I teach, I do it for the students, for the kids who capture my heart with Rainbow Loom bracelets and answer when I ask them questions and tell me they don’t want me to leave.
You miss out on the feeling that you should book your plane ticket to China as soon as possible, because it is swell. And because I would rather like to tag along in your suitcase.