“Why are there so many black people in China?” she asked in Chinese.
“Why do you ask?”
Translation: “I don’t like it.”
For a second, I stared at her in wide eyed shock. This loud, sprightly little child, my English student, was spouting hints of prejudice at five years old.
The first thing that rolled off of my tongue is, “Different people make life more interesting.” I struggled to find the words to explain to her in terms she would understand and hoped that my statement would l somehow resonate with her, but the way she began to sing indicated that it had not.
That day, when I had headed home on the subway, my host brother coincidentally popped up next to me on the subway randomly. Honestly, it was just a weird day overall.
And the next day arrived, stepping foot out of my home station, adventure struck. I glanced to my left, the opposite of the route home, and a McDonalds caught my eye. In the spirit of study abroad and widening my boundaries, I turned left. After walking a bit, I came across the McDonald’s. It was unimpressive, basically what you’d expect an American McDonald’s to be like. I was about to turn back, unamused, until the sun glinted in my eye for a second and the world beyond unfolded as if it were from a story book. A bustling city center full of commerce and color, tall buildings with the sunset glinting off the windows, a tall clock tower that resembled something you’d see in a Europified anime cartoon, and the beep beep of crazy motorcycles and scooters ringing everywhere. I headed to an adorable little bakery and bought a green tea macaron bun (with red bean inside!) that was absolutely incredible, and walked around outside for a little bit. I was stunned. For the past two weeks, I had been under the impression that my district of Nanjing, QiXia, was a run down, desolate little dump with a bunch of really beautiful apartments on the side. How wrong I was – it was a run down dump with a really beautiful side to it, if you walked a little farther.
It was getting late, and I checked my watch. 6:30 – I decided that I’d better start home for dinner, but then realized that in a few days, I’d be switching host families. Three weeks in this place, and I had just now discovered what seemed like a fantasy. For the next few days afterwards, I went to this little bakery and had a bun and coffee before walking around a new part of the commercial district. Here laid Nanjing International School, as well as a little underground barter market, and a large supermarket complex. Walking back home from this fantasyland for the first time, everything looked different. The pine trees I had walked past 20 times in the past weeks were pine trees – I’d never realized that. The sun seemed brighter and the city seemed bigger. I flashed back to standing there in the middle of all of this, and remembered how I had thought, This is the China I had imagined. In my adjustment to this new land, I had passed up the opportunity to become familiar with the small niches of this amazing place, and I think that is something I will regret for sometime. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this, it’s that everything (and everyone) deserves some time to prove itself. And sometimes, you just have to take the initiative to look for it.