Amelea Kim '12: "What Do You Want to Eat Today"
Amelea Kim was one of the 2012-2014 Shansi Fellows at Shanxi Agricultural University. This is her second year narrative.
This question is one of utmost importance in my life as my actions and decisions are often dictated by the demands of my stomach. In the past few weeks, however, it has taken on new significance and new meaning because my plane ticket leaving China has been bought. This plane ticket has put a definite end date to my two-year stint in Taigu, and now I feel a sort of panic when I think about all the food that I will no longer have access to. As such, now whenever V, my co-fellow, asks me, “What do you want to eat today?” I am always tempted to say, “EVERYTHING. LET’S GO EAT EVERYTHING FOR EVERY MEAL.”
This is what I want. All the time.
This feeling of “I can’t believe I’m leaving” comes over me more and more frequently as the days inexorably march towards my Beijing departure. It’s a rather complicated bundle of emotions – part excitement, part nervousness, part desperation. I am excited because I am going home for the first time in two years and I can’t wait to see my family, plus I will have full unfettered access to burritos, bagels, and cheese when I arrive in the States. I am nervous because my experience with Shansi has so totally eclipsed my life to the point that I can’t actually remember what it feels like to live in America, or what it feels like to be culturally, linguistically, and socially in-the-know. I am desperate because I already know how much I am going to miss China – the people, the culture, the food, the experience of living in this crazy, magnificent country. I find myself wishing more and more that I could just bottle everything up and package it into a precious reserve that I can open up and relive when I am gone.
This desire to “capture” moments comes over me most strongly when I am in the midst of all my friends here in Taigu. Whether it is us eating dinner, taking a walk, playing games, or just sitting and talking, the people here are what have made my experience so meaningful. Especially considering that I arrived in China knowing practically nobody, I feel so lucky to have found such a caring, warm, and welcoming community. Every day, when I walk out of my house, I am guaranteed to run into somebody that I know – a student, a fellow teacher, a food friend from the snack street. Whoever it is, I am always greeted with a wide smile and friendly inquiries.
“你去哪儿？”(Where are you going?)
“你吃了没？”(Have you eaten yet?)
“今天的天气真热，是吧！”(Today is really hot, isn’t it?)
Entrance to Bei Yuanr, the snack street on campus
Even with strangers, there is a sense of familiarity that is present in the conversation. A few days ago, I struck up a conversation with an old man at a store. He asked me about what I was buying, what I thought of the weather, and whether or not he should buy apricots or grapes. I told him that I was buying sugar, that I thought the weather was very hot, and that grapes were a much better buy than the apricots. He grunted his approval in that special I’m-an-old-Chinese-man way, told me not to get sick, and shuffled slowly out of the store. These types of interactions happen all the time, and every time I think, “I love living here. How can I leave? How will I be able to leave?”
My Taigu home, Foreign Expert House No. 13
I keep on asking myself these questions as I pack up my surprisingly few belongings. While packing up has been a good way to clean up and organize everything, it’s also been a rather poignant walk down memory lane as I keep on unearthing mementos and keepsakes from the past two years. Letters from students, old homework that I decided to keep, ticket stubs from places that I traveled to, etc. – I have a bunch of memorabilia from my time here, and all of these things are just further confirmations of how much China has grown to mean to me.
I’m not the only person asking myself these questions, either. Everyone else – my students, teachers, and friends – they are also asking me why I am leaving, when am I coming back to China, don’t I want to stay here. Sometimes, I don’t know how to answer these questions; it’s hard enough answering them when it’s me talking to myself. And on those special China days, where you have an absolutely amazing day and everything goes right and you understand everything around you and everyone understands you and you finally feel like you KNOW how to live in China, you get this feeling of, “Well, I can’t leave NOW. I just figured out how to do things!”
But I am leaving. And I know that when I arrive in America, I will be happy to see my family, happy to be back in my home country, happy to be moving onto other exciting things in my life. But part of me will always be back in China – sitting around and lounging on the couches in Foreign Expert House No. 13, walking around campus after a particularly big meal, enjoying an icy cold milk tea, or hanging with students after class. And part of me will always miss China – I will miss the changing of seasons, the annual blossoming of flowers on campus, the amazing food, the incredibly sweet and eager students, the preciously plump babies that are always tottering around, the dancing old women in the parks, and the triumphant yells of old men playing Chinese chess on street corners. Although I cannot “bottle” China up and save it for later, I will never forget my time here – the people I have met, the memories I have lived, and the wonderful experiences I have had.