AATA: China (Part One)

Asian American Takes AsiaThis post is part of the Asian American Takes Asia series, in which I chronicle my three-weeks-long journey to the motherland (Taiwan) and the fatherland (China). Hilarity ensues. 

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.

Chinese Princess Rebecca

My dad paid five RMB to have this photo taken of me on the Great Wall.

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.

One of my most memorable experiences on horseback.

One of my most memorable experiences on horseback.

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,



10 thoughts on “AATA: China (Part One)

  1. My most recent ancestor to come across the pond was something like my great-great grandmother (I’m not entirely certain on the number of “greats”), so I’m basically as corn-fed as you can get. I’m always so jealous of people who have ties to other countries–you get so much more culture that way, and a better-rounded view of the world as a whole. I can’t wait to hear more about your trip. 🙂

    • Has your family been in Michigan for a long time? Haha well, there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides. I’m always jealous of “American” kids who have giant family reunions and whose grandparents buy them Christmas gifts. 😀 Hope you’re having a good summer so far! Keep us updated on your novel.

      • I’m the third generation in Michigan–before that we were Indiana and New Jersey. And yeah, I guess the Christmas gifts make it worth it. 😉

        I’m still in the querying game right now–I’ve got three partials and two fulls out at the moment, along with a few queries. Hopefully I’ll know whether or not I’m going to get an agent with this one by the end of the summer, because the waiting is killing me (although I’m sure you’ve got it worse, being on subs!).

  2. This is going to sound really strange, but I think I would love living in a place where I could pee on the side of the street and not have anyone gawk. My bladder is too small and the line in women’s restrooms kill me.

    My dad is an english immigrant, and every time he goes back to his hometown he looks sad or angry because the place he grew up has been mostly taken over by immigrants to England…I never thought of England and America as being too different, but there’s a lot of subtle things about them that make a big difference.

    • Haha honestly I’m jealous of dudes because they can easily do that. I went camping the other weekend and the outhouse started smelling really bad by the end of it…so I went in the bushes.

      Hmm does he not like the immigrants because they’re disrespectful? I guess Americans tend to be more accepting of immigrants because we’re all sort of immigrants. 😀

      • I know, guys have it so easy!

        I don’t think it’s that he doesn’t like the immigrants. It’s more he’s upset because they pushed his culture out and now his hometown isn’t really his hometown anymore :/

  3. Well maybe you enjoyed Chine because as you say, you where treated as a princess…and also because you was only in quality of turist.. but come on you know taht it’s avery big country, and there is a lot of places where people don’t think is the great place to live in… I have a lot of relatives (uncles and aunts) living in US, they say Mexico is a shit and so… but their sons, my cousins, when coming here have a lot of fun and thinks is the best place on earth… because as visitors they just see the “nice” part of the thing, they are here just a couple of weeks and spend their dollars because here dollars have more value than in US… Maybe it’s obvious, but I must point out that impressions of someone living in certain place, is not the same than that of someone that is just visiting…

    • I definitely agree with you that tourists often only see the good and ignore the bad. But I’ve spent in all more than 12 months in China, so I’ve definitely experienced the “bad” side of the country as well. I never meant to say that I thought China was perfect or better than the United States, where I live. I only meant that I enjoy being in China and, to me, there’s nowhere else like it.

  4. Pingback: I Broke Up with My Agent | Rebecca Cao

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