Miles we’ve crossed,
through the bare white snow stretched to the horizon;
Some single tress,
bore fruits of Chione dwell tenaciously in distant isolation;
The engines rumble,
as if we are a unstoppable storm coming from the west to Asia;
It’s acrid smoke purvey,
Smolder a layer of cloudy frame around the spotted windows.
The enormous sun,
dipped under the open horizon and disappeared in purple haze;
We watched in silences,
the moment when life and darkness meet should not be disturbed;
Friends we’ve made,
after every clink of glasses filled with sparkling moonshine;
Unlike our bodies,
our thoughts were free and wild as they slipped away from the train.
But still time dragged and routines became chaotic;
We no longer lived as one but as many;
We hardly recognized ourselves but of each other;
Never trust the reflection from stained windows.
The hours that delayed in our minds,
Those are moments that only belong to us.
For just that fleeting hours,
We yearned for one more breath together.
After nearly 72 hours off the adventurous trip through the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing, I still struggle to grasp the very words that could even describe 1% of my overflowing emotions and amazement in the past two weeks. This trip through Eurasia on trains has changed my conceptualization of time as well as my surroundings. When days become hours, there is simply no bad moment on this trip but new experience in every minute of the time. When one traveler becomes twenty, there could be no dullness but endless multiplier of joy. I am glad to only have known one person prior to this program, because I was able to engage with everyone else without any assumption of his or her personality and life story. We were strangers; strangers who opened up quickly even without the help of vodka. My mind was refreshed at any given minute, and I felt alive when a new language stimulates my thoughts or an unknown cultural landscape unveils its beauty in front of me. We moved through time and spaces in various types of vehicle, and I was stunned by the world both through my eyes and the dirty windows. The beauty of massive landscapes we traveled across, the train culture, and our motion through time and history were irreplaceable pieces in my story.
To me, Russia has always been this mysterious northern comrade of China that I did not imagine myself to visit during my early 20s. I did not know much about this neighboring country before this January, and it was also the first country that I had traveled to without having any supposition in my mind. In all honesty, it turned out to be the most suitable way for Russia to keep growing on me. My hours long video footage remind me of times on the train and how we were moving through a massive landscape in a man made container closest to human civilization compared to everything else outside of the train. I remember the breathtaking moments when I looked out the windows and saw only endless of untouched snow. For hours, my friend and I just observed the immeasurable landscape uncontaminated by human, and I found a kind of peacefulness in my mind that I seldom experience when I am living in spaces full of people. I was speechless when all my senses and thoughts were filled with awe to the beauty of nature. The richness of life in Lake Baikal precisely detailed the power and complexity of nature, and the kindness of the local people warmed both my heart and body. To be frank, I don’t think this trip would have been this memorable without the sheer friendliness of the many people we met.
In most cases, people immersed in the train culture were vastly different from that when we exit the train. When most of us are forced to live without the Internet and other toxic human entertainment devices from the developed world, we become closer to one another. People on the train were ready to interact with strangers with engaging conversations, and the constant curiosity lit up the train life for us. For instance, Olek, the Russian boy that Sydney and I met on the first Russian train was a pleasant personal encounter in Russia. Just like our moving train, our all-night long conversations moved from one topic to another and we talked without any sign of weariness. I remember vividly that I wrote down somewhere saying that travel is my language. Cliché as it sound, this trip reinforces how I think about travel and how it opens my mind through both shock therapy and gradual exposure. To awaken in a strange town is truly one of the pleasantest sensations that I have experienced. I absorbed new knowledge through sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch every single moment, and I was this greedy person want to remember everything I sensed.
This trip progressed in a very unique way for me in terms of moving from unfamiliarity to some places where I recognize by heart. Despite how much I have grown and learned from China, I have always disliked my experience growing up in Beijing. Nevertheless, this trip showed me that my vain stubbornness is eventually carried away by age. My heart shivered with joy when I first heard the train conductor spoke Mandarin to me after nearly ten days of me attempting to understand some Russian. I was more than excited to show my new friends around Beijing, where I am too amazed by how much it has changed over the period of three years. Many Russian cities had their charm of historical marks on them, but they don’t seem to be moving forward with the current of globalization. Contrast to the many cities we passed by in Russia and Ulan Bator, Beijing was lively and it was constantly in motion even when we were not moving. Needless to say, seeing my parents at our last stop only added additional joy and comfort to this trip, and I was thrilled to tell them about the so many new experiences I have had with a group of people whom they will meet again in May. I counted my time with them by hours, just like the rest of the trip, and this made me realize how precise it is to be able to live through every minute in joy and a sense of fulfillment.
If I could even attempt to summarize this experience in one sentence, perhaps it would be that “today is a miracle, and tomorrow is a surprise that you cannot miss”. It was a truly eye-opening and incredible trip, and I hope that you will also have a spectacular time like I did, if not more.
Paris is noisy, but not loud
That clamorous background noise on the métro somehow calms your racing heart
Paris is busy, but always time for a cig or café
The smell of swirling cigarette smoke from a Parisian woman always matches her perfume
Paris is functioning, but always on the edge
Aging cracks on the pavement are such minor flaws compared to the marvelous façades
Paris is musical, where you dance from dawn to dusk
Les ponts and La Seine are your Parisien getaway right around the corner at any hour
Paris is old, but vibrant and youthful
For the old and the young, you wouldn’t exchange a day in Paris with anything
Paris is romantic, in all possible ways
A single lingerer is enchanted with the city like every affectionate amoureux passing by
The flaws, the affections, the kisses, the drunks, and other excesses
It is never enough
Avant toi, je ne connaissais pas bien l’amour.
Alfred de Musset a un jour prononcé la célèbre phrase: “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve. Et vous aurez vécu, si vous avez aimé.”
Je pense à toi. Paris est toujours une bonne idée.
If you do not know the correlation between the two numbers above, cherish that ignorance.
Sometimes these numbers vary depending on the time of the year, but they all come automatically into my head.
They represent, only visually, the distance between me and my beloved family. Don’t be fooled, because they don’t actually tell you much about the feelings of finally realizing every fleeting moment that I am actively away from my family. It is exciting, sad, joyful, relieving…it is complicated and cannot be condensed or summarized.
Today is the most important reunion celebration back home, but we are exactly 13 hours and 12,576 kilometers apart. A tremendous thank you to the powerful 4th generation wireless network, so I could at least pretend to be celebrating with my family.
5:50am, the world on the East Coast is mostly asleep, but I run out into the hallway to pick up my sister’s video call.
“Hello? Can you hear me?”
“AHH SHE PICKED IT UP. SAY HI! HAPPY NEW YEAR WOOHOO!”
The joyous noise from the other side of the screen compares to my almost-soundless side at 6am is always overwhelming. The jumping electrical dots on the screen penetrate through my mind and magnifies the distance between me and my family. Screenshots of my drowsy eyes and their bright-dazzling smiles become our annual family photo on the Lunar New Year’s Eve. A bunch of silliness and a light touch of melancholy. My grandma couldn’t hear me so well, and I joking ask for my red envelopes know that they only wish I was there with them. The call ends abruptly because they need to start the first dinner of the year. Silence returns to my room and the day is just slowly waking up. No matter how many years gone by, it never gets easier but only becomes more routine-like. I used to not dare telling them I miss them on the New Year, because, well , some kind of teenage timid and stubbornness.
Of course, it is not all regrets. I have found many other families scattered around this wide wild world. The only difference is that I cherish my new families knowing the strength of kindness, and I stutter when I want to profess love and gratitude to My Family. How ironic.
I couldn’t say this enough, shyly, loudly, whichever touches your heart.
I love you. May joy and health fills our year!
We are not the same person in different cities
The noise in the city; the pace of the city
The what’s there and what’s not there in the city
change our perception and influence how we act.
Or perhaps, we are indeed the same person
but we reveal different sides of ourselves
and enjoy being ourselves with incomplete stories
wide and free; calm and controlled.
A kiss that speaks more than words
A glass of fine wine with a hint of tipsiness
An evening with friends who hide nothing
What are the moments that bring out the best version of you?
It wouldn’t be fun if you knew all my secrets.
Thank to our initial ignorance, unsuspecting of its desirable nature, so that we had the incroyable luxury to have île Saint Louis as our first home in Paris. We were unaware of the ardent love that we soon devoted to this petit île that has everything we need to live in both dreams and reality. Little did we know that it is the island that every Parisian, or tout le monde, dreams to go home to every night after several glasses of wine by La Seine. Little did we know that luxury of having Notre Dame as our guardian angel soon became the most irreplaceable view both leaving and coming home. Little did we know the addictive sinful pleasure to walk out of our apartment under the envious gaze of the tourists on our island.
Needless to say, we fell in love with this island immediately. It was too easy, and we felt no shame of the cheapness of our love, because no one could have resisted it.
Île Saint Louis is the heart of Paris, but it stands perfectly by itself as a floating recluse from urban pollution. People take une promenade on the island to escape the noises and crowds but still get to enjoy the enchanting murmur of La Seine. We indulged ourselves in this endless promenade every single day. The choice to stroll through our island is often an end of itself, and we didn’t need to use our desire for the sinful pleasure of Berthillon as an excuse. We found ourselves trapped in the melody of the guitarists singing on our favorite pont Saint Louis, almost too often. Pont Saint Louis connects our lives and souls with our Parisian home and obsessions, and we rest our soul and love in one of those love locks whenever we passed by the sidewalks. We spoke to teenagers playing football with our broken French, and we sit in the cold chatting with a Colombian musician who was, too, falling for the beauty of Paris and struggling to obtain it as part of his real life. As if, love for Paris is our language to connect our souls with the rest of the world.
You and I. You and I, how many times had we listened to the chattering of La Seine and wished the nights will never end and the days will continue.
Ma tiny Chérie, tu me manques et notre vie sur notre île me manque toujours, comme toi.
This city tosses worries into the Mediterranean Sea
and delights strangers with music under the silver moonshine
Where everyone has voices louder than my drunken self
and smiles brighter than the glazing sun
We climb up stairs that lead to nowhere
but somehow we reach the top of the ruins
I wake from the sound of popping wine crock
and it is not too long until our drunken voices hover above the city
Frankly, wine isn’t the only thing that creates magic here
So is the nakedness of our honesty
We continue to laugh hours after the bottle is emptied
until the city is covered in layers of honey
Even the morning is pleasant here
the sun rises just like in every other city
I wake up just like in every other day
it just doesn’t feel the same
I am not sure if I miss the tireless waves
or I miss the gentle kisses of darkness
Aren’t they virtually the same after all.
I was unprepared
unprepared for the sudden lost of joy
unprepared for the feeling of lost
unprepared for the feeling of being misplaced
I was prepared
prepared for my departure
prepared to return elsewhere
prepared to leave a piece of me here
I am not whom I thought I would be after all these preparations and unexpectedness, at least I am not thinking the way I thought I would be thinking. I am not acting too differently, though, but that is just when I am occupying myself with drives to go somewhere else. I feel misplaced, but I am not sure anymore if I am in denial or indulgence.
Many emotions in my head are reverse from what I thought I would be having. Piles of paper scrambled on my desk and I stare at them, motionless. This is only a few minutes of my day, but significant enough for me to notice my changes. I don’t even know where to start on finding myself back, because I was unprepared for losing myself in the process of returning to where I was quite happy to be. What went wrong? I love changes, and I love how they stimulate my thoughts and joy. So what went wrong?
Nothing, nothing went wrong. I am still myself.
I still look for the first beam of sunrise
I still move hidden nuts of squirrels as a prank
I still look forward to the first snow in this beautiful town
I discover surprises on my way home
I capture fleeting moments that catch my eyes
I write, I draw, I film, I run, I laugh
I am here for a little while, and every living moment is a miracle.
I am ready for my next venture, to see somewhere, somewhere in this beautiful world.
I wrote this several months ago, thought of keeping it to myself only, but the feelings and the situation constantly repeats as time goes on. This may be a shared feeling for many international students living far away from home, and I hope that you know you are not alone in this vicious cycle of struggling to diminish the cultural shocks between your roots and your grown up experience that is unique to your family.
I knew that she had an early flight, because I had definitely checked for more than however many times just few days before her departure. On 23rd of June, I carried her heavy luggage full of winter clothes that I could not take away with me, and we squeezed our way into the RER B train. I was aimlessly reading people’s face in the metro trying not to think about the next time I take the metro with my own luggage. She sat in the crowd and held our breakfast in her hands: our favorite quinoa salad from Eric Kayser, which is one thing she likes from here and could not find it back home. I knew that she wouldn’t get used to the taste of my favorite wine and cheese only after twenty days, but after all I was glad that we had something that we both like to have for breakfast.
The metro ride was humid and nearly suffocating, and the sticky air full of human scents distracted me from thinking of a proper goodbye to her. When we finally entered the check-in counter at the lobby of Charles du Guelle Airport, I felt a shiver in my back that reminded me of her departure and I did not know when would be the next time I get to spend time like this with her. She looked even sadder, just like how she had been telling me in the past few days when we travelled together that she only wants to spend more time with me because she has missed me so much in the past years when I was not by her side.
We sat down by the custom entrance and took our breakfast out of the paper bags. She opened the cover of the salad, looking at it but she did not move her spoon. I put down my spoon and stopped eating to look at her because I knew that she had something to say.
“Do you know when will you come home next time?”
“I am not sure, maybe this winter?” I paused a little and felt like I need to explain my answer, “ You know that it is so hot in Taiwan during the summer, and besides, I think I am going to have quite a fulfilling summer in Paris.”
“You sure are having a great time here, but just let us know what you decide. Come back when you can or whenever you want to come home.”
“Of course. I always do that.” I meant it, I always try to go home when I get a vacation, and I didn’t want to make this into another unpleasant conversation.
We then went on some small talks, mostly about family members whom I seldom see. We talked about my grandmas, cousins, uncles, and other relatives. People I always hear updates about, but never any live information. I told her about my summer plan in Paris and she nodded without responding to details, then took a big bite of the salad and asked:
“Do you remember the three tasks that I gave you when I am gone?”
“Um…yeah. You want me to find the path of my future that will make me happy and fulfilling. The second one is to take care of my health and relationships and to find the balance between my Asian roots and the western culture. Right? ”
“Good. I really meant it when I say do not forget about your Asian roots. We understand that we have sent you abroad and your views of the world have become wider and different from us, but we want you to remember that you are one of us.”
I felt a hard squeeze in my heart. It is a kind of feeling you get when you see your puppy being taken away to another family and you are so helpless and vulnerable to change anything.
“I know. I am glad that we finally talked this through this time, about our different points of view and your culture shock from me.” I did not want to continue on this topic, so I tried to distract her but only achieved short-term success. The clock was ticking, so she returned to what she needed to know.
“Have you thought about where you want to be after you graduate?”
“I am not sure…but I think I will look into all these places, the U.S, Europe and Asia.” I wanted to tell her again how much I adore my life in Europe and how has living in Paris has inspired me on how to live my life, but I couldn’t finalize my thought soon enough until she told me about hers.
“Well, mom wants you close to home, and the Chinese economy is thriving! But you will let us know.”
Just like that, she took away my voice and stuffed my mind with her thoughts. I felt like a newborn baby who could not articulate what is in her head, and in exchange I can only be fed with food coming from love and care. I also felt like an angry teenager, even words couldn’t validate my confusion and exacerbating self-esteem. The truth is, I did not want to throw words that will hurt her, because it has done enough damage in the past five years and beyond that I want her to know more than just her rebellious child. But how selfish is it that, for her, to ask me to return to the place that I find the least of myself in? Having to live so freely and independently from the chitchat at home for five years, I have become so adapted to this life that I trust my own judgment with great confidence and even more so I have discovered more of myself, which is perhaps the self that my family never knew about me.
I took a sip of the sparkling water to cool down my inflaming exasperation towards the nonsense I heard. The gazing spring water streamed down my dry throat and soothed my provoked mind. I was calmer, but how could she, how could she expects me to leave all that I have known and built up in the past five years just to return to somewhere against my will and wishes? I began to reflect, have I gone too wild for her? What is she worrying about, because there should be absolutely nothing to worry about after my adaption of culture in the past five year. I even made friends of lifetime, and I see great opportunities ahead of me… how could she … my mother… but wait, it was never her intention to send me further and further away until I never want to return to home. I am on the edge of making the decision that she has been afraid of hearing the most, which is to settle away and far away from home. What a classic western decision that deviates from all knowledge and upbringing in my Asian root, and what a horrifying suggestion it must be to my parents that I am leaving them indefinitely ever since I was sixteen.
I used to hold on to her
So tightly and stubbornly
Where have I gone?
There is a traditional saying in Chinese that goes “as the wings get fuller, the more eager the youngster wants to fly far away”, and adults at home always say this phrase with a bittersweet tone. I have always found independency a natural desire, but perhaps I have fast-forwarded this coming of age process slightly too quickly for my loving family. Ever since sixteen, every family dinnertime has become ‘family facetime date’, but I have never thought of it as sometimes unfortunate or regretting. It was a decision that I have made with great desire, and I was too young to understand the struggles went through my parents’ heads.
I swallowed my rebellious words and instead I told her:
“Yeah, China is where the opportunities are and of course I will consider it.”
She smiled with approval and began to eat. Her smile was so comforting and it assured me that I had said the right thing.
It wasn’t a lie. What was more important at that moment was not what I wanted, but what she wanted for me. We are family, and maybe she will never understand what has changed and shaped me other than home, but she will always know that part of me from the family.
There are so much more to tell
My thoughts were as vast as the open ocean
I looked out from the window
Lost in my stream of thoughts
Twenty days, it was too little time for me to compress my life and lessons learned in the past five years when I was absorbing everything else that was nowhere to be learned from home.
Fourteen hours, it is more than enough for my parents to ever imagine being the distance between my family and myself.
I gave her a long hug and told her to text me when she lands. Even more so I also promised her to remember the three reminders she gave me without her bringing them up again. I sent her to the security line and watched her slowly blended into the busy crowd. I still did not know how she felt every time when she sent me away, because I don’t have a child, I don’t know how it feels to let go of my child.
The reason why we won’t tell you about the hardest thing as a student abroad and leaving home during your prime time to grow and learn is not because we are too bitter to share our experience. We are sometimes incapable of finding words that could articulate this cultural shock between our family and ourselves. When you have become a new person whom your family can no longer predict your next step. You need to share your next steps and steps you have already taken, or else the gap only deepens. You will always want to run away, because neither do you want to hurt your family or to get hurt by them. But hold on, be patient, always give it a try and then maybe run away again. Not too far where they can no longer reach you, but not to close where they can always find you.
We are constantly leaving, staying, returning to home, or to a brand new world that could eventually become our home. We are always exploring, and our family is the pure reason of why we have such privileged opportunity to see and to experience this beautiful world.
And now, I am on another flight that takes off from home, to where I feel both lost and belonged.
I looked out to the window as the plane embarked, my falling teardrops were the immediate reaction to the sudden shock of seeing myself leaving this city.
The city that seizes my heart indefinitely.
I remembered his promise to watch my flight leaves, and my nose felt the sourness of my unwillingness to leave him behind the security bar.
My most desirable reflection in my Dearing eyes.
No one could tell you for certain that leaving for the second time is easier than the first.
The next time only makes us feel certain that there could be more prochain fois.
Paris in fall is the most golden of all.
As the waves kiss the riverbanks gently and tirelessly, the shimmering of La Seine reflects the entire city of Paris exactly as a moveable feast. The moving bodies in the bateux mouches and silhouettes passing by La Seine were amazed by the astounding beauty of this city completely revealed in the sun. The gentle sheen of the light allows us to see our reflection in each other’s admiring eyes and glowing rosy cheeks. Curled up besides the water, we wallowed in ourselves in this seldom warmth and the closeness of our hearts. We indulged ourselves in this improbable Paris sunshine in the fall as the cliché pair of les amoureux by La Seine.
I finally let go of my stubbornness several tensome minutes before my flight, but reluctantly.
I blended into passing strangers until he could no longer identify the sound of my dragging luggage. I looked for my destination on the blinking board with thousands pairs of other eyes, knowing that my heart remains in the beginning of this story.
Trapped in a plane.
The engine of the plane hovered in my ears and drummed inside the deepest part of my heart, and the noise disrupted my complex feelings and I was unable to think. I closed my eyes to welcome darkness, but all I could see was the beaming sunshine that invited only joy and laughter onto the streets of Paris. Along the gleaming water, I could only hear the whispering of my lover and see my radiant smile in his eyes. I remember the laughter of the kids playing football with a playful elderly and how we captured the moment with joy. There were so many irreplaceable moments in this city, and they filled me with joy, and only joy I remember.
I could feel my heart tightened a little when the wheels of the plane untouched the ground. I glanced outside of the window and pulled myself back from my silly imaginations and wishes. I disregarded the pitiful glances of strangers and let my tears streamed down my cheeks freely to leave visible traces of sorrow for leaving my one and only. I closed my eyes again, and this time, I only hear whispers in my ears “Tu dois retourner, toute suite”.
Mein Spaßvogel, ce n’était pas mon dernier jour.