It's been two weeks since I've been in China. I was born in Xi'an and spent the first seven years of my life here. I have visited many times since. However, this is the first time that I've been able to independently conduct myself, and the first time that I've returned with the purpose of rediscovering my Chinese identity. I want to do this through a photo project about my grandparents, the house where I spent my first days, and its surrounding area that has been etched so vividly in my memories. Memories of those days don't quite feel like my own; they are snapshots, excerpts of stories, perhaps even dreams.
Two weeks I've been here, and it has been exciting, eyeopening, but challenging. I feel like a child again when I struggle to read maps and menus. I'm not used to carrying toilet paper with me everywhere, and dealing with the endless, chaotic traffic that most people here face on a daily basis. What I find more challenging is the vast differences in values and mindset between myself and many of my family members, and family friends. I am realizing that although I am Chinese, I am very much a foreigner here.
As I re-enter the spaces of my childhood, I start to see that along with my more fond and loving memories, there has always been ugliness, struggle, and pain that I've been protected from as a child. I see the fragility and weakness of people I'd always thought were indestructible. Perhaps this is a universal experience as children grow up.
I have a deep love and respect for my Chinese culture, it is apart of who I am and has offered me much joy, richness, and perspective. But I am now also confronted with its flaws and injustices. My critiques don't feel like ones aimed at an "other", but ones aimed at aspects of myself, my family, people who I do not want to hurt. This makes it very difficult, especially when such big part of creating art is about critique and commentary. I can tell already this process will be emotional, sometimes unsavoury, but necessary, and I'm nevertheless thankful to be here going through it.
I guess I will end on a note of being thankful while family and friends are celebrating Thanksgiving back in Canada. Above all, my experiences have reminded me of how lucky I am. My upbringing, my family, and my society affords me the opportunity to pursue a happy, purposeful, and satisfying life - on my own terms. In this big, broken world, that is hard to come by. So I am sitting here this late evening, fatigue slowly falling over my body, thinking of how very grateful I am.