Lost

夜明风静霜万里,蝉鸣绕月声迢递。
年岁二三行,他乡成故乡。
琴书搁寂久,堪复吟秋否。
驻旅忆清愁,绵绵未可休。

This is a poem – in ancient Chinese style – I wrote on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. A rough translation would be this:

The night is bright, wind is quiet;
The moonlight spills over thousands of miles, like frost.
Buzzing of insects surrounds the moon, near and far.
A few years have passed,
When the foreign town has almost become my hometown.
So long have I neglected my Guqin and poetry –
Can they still portray the chant of autumn?
I pause my journey, sinking into the sorrow of nostalgia:
It’s so deep, it never ends.

This is my second year in the United States. I’ve often told people that I seldom feel homesick now – which is true. However, an occasion like the Mid-Autumn Festival, meant for the reunion of family and friends, can still overwhelm me with nostalgia out of nowhere. It’s not all about homesickness – it's a kind of sadness I cannot describe. A kind of sadness I almost enjoy.

Where shall I start in trying to explain this? On the morning of that Mid-Autumn Festival day, I saw a post by China College Daily, saying that the first six students to arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport or Los Angeles International Airport would receive free plane tickets for them to go back to China for the festival. Before I realized, my eyes turned wet.

I asked myself, “do you want to go home now?” My answer is no. Because I thought about what home was really like, and was reminded of my last summer spent in China. After studying in the United States for a year, I found my time in China troubled with so much reverse cultural shock and so much intensified struggles in an environment that does not appreciate my critical thinking, does not appreciate my bold dreams, and has not established values like individual autonomy or gender equality that I’ve gotten used to.

When I wrote in the poem, “the foreign town has almost become my hometown,” I meant it. To me, Duke feels like home now. It makes me happier, releases my potential, and enables me to live my true, amazing self. There will be no other place in my life like Duke that shields off for me so much pressure from the realist world outside, cares about and encourages me to follow my own passions, and provides me with such abundant resources and inspirations to pursue my dreams. What Duke brings me has exceeded any of my prior imaginations.

Yet I can still feel deeply nostalgic at times. Being Chinese doesn’t have to be a defining part of identity for someone, but it is for me. I fell in love with ancient Chinese poetry and literature at the age of 10. I started writing poems soon after that. When I was in middle school, I developed immense interest in Chinese history - some great historical figures having greatly inspired and impacted my life. I've read Dream of the Red Chamber and The Water Margin for countless times. I’ve written tons of historical fan fictions on Three Kingdoms (the period of China from 184 AD to 280 AD). I’ve also picked up Guqin, a Chinese musical instrument that dates back to literally 3,000 years ago (and yes I brought it to Duke)…

Yet college life is so extraordinarily busy. The environment at Duke, along with what occupies my mind from day to day, is so extraordinarily different. “So long have I neglected my Guqin and poetry – can they still portray the chant of autumn?”

Even at this point, I’m still not sure I fully grasp my source of sadness felt during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Something seems lost, in history, in childhood, in my hometown, or somewhere in my mind, and I can’t retrieve it by getting a plane ticket and flying back to China. But when I wrote that poem, when I indulge myself in the kind of sorrow similar to those of ancient poets, I feel closer to it. I feel myself to be a fuller person.