Since my dad moved from Boca Raton, Florida to Wuhan, China eight years ago to start his own company, I’ve visited him almost every summer. When he first proposed the move, I remember being on the phone with him, feeling shocked. As I spun a plastic globe from North America to Asia, I thought sadly about how much further away China was than Florida from Ann Arbor. To me, China was foreign. The only time I’d ever visited was when I was eight years old. At the time, I was a petulant, spoiled kid who refused to visit the Forbidden Kingdom because it was more than 100° F out. During the same trip, I was so overwhelmed after meeting what felt like hundreds of relatives I never knew I had that I promptly burst into tears.
I’m not sure what I was feeling when I flew to China for the second time, the summer I turned 12. But I do know that, once I landed in the land of my ancestors, I began to fall in love. For all the reasons that foreigners tended to hate China, I loved it. What others thought was rude, I thought was amusing. What others thought was backwards, I thought was authentic. What others thought was dirty, okay well, I thought was dirty too. But while I avoided public restrooms like the plague, it didn’t spoil the charm of China. Once, I even peed in a hole in the ground next to a rooster, and I thought to myself that I was initiated.
When drivers drove the wrong way up one-way streets, I laughed. This past Christmas, when my carsick siblings complained to me that I drove like a Chinese taxi driver, I beamed. I’ve never been so proud, because damn, Chinese taxi drivers are good. When parents let their toddlers go number one and even number two on the sides of streets, I stared bug-eyed at first. But then I realized that cities, paved roads, and plumbing were all relatively new concepts to many Chinese. Shitting in a bush wasn’t a sign of backwardness, but simply part of a culture that still retained the rawness of its impoverished history. And that was exactly what I loved about China — it was so raw you could look someone in the eye and read his life story through his irises.
Of course, I was not living in poor conditions by any means. I’ll admit that, as a young girl, part of China’s charm was the fact that I was treated as a princess. Food back then was much cheaper than it was now, and I could order anything I wanted at a restaurant. Simply because my dad had more than $40,000 in a Chinese bank, we were considered VIP at airports and waited in lounges while others checked us in. We drank coffee, which was quite an expensive commodity then. When we traveled to Guilin with a tour group, we requested a separate five-star hotel. Even on vacation, my dad and I visited foot massage houses, my guilty pleasure. I still remember one particular place in Guilin. In the dim lighting, one of the masseuses had guessed that my father was only 25 years old, to his great satisfaction.
Every time I’ve returned to China since 2004, I’ve enjoyed it to the fullest. There was the time we visited the old town of Lijiang and went riding in the nearby fields.
There was the time we lived in a house on top of a mountain in the middle of the city that was built long ago for expats. There was we traveled to Dali and I met Knight, the inspiration for and namesake of my company.
After this longwinded background story, I’ll tell you now what I meant to say in the first place. I’ve known China for a while now, and I’ve never been as surprised by her as I was when I visited this summer. China is changing ever so rapidly, in more ways than you can count. The China I knew and loved is dying out quickly and I don’t know yet if its successor is good or bad. All I know is that my experience of China from now on will be vastly different. If you want to know why I believe the future lies in China and how the Chinese government ended up paying for many of my meals, come back for Part Two.
Were you or one of your parents an immigrant? What kind of relationship do you have with your mother country?
À plus tard,