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A Vacation to Home

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The morning is just light enough to distinguish blurred human figures already bustling through the streets of China. I sit in my room listening as the voices outside grow louder, the air inside laced with mosquito repellent. In contrast to the life stirring six floors below me, the only sound within my grandmother's apartment is the slow, deep breathing issuing from my sleeping family. The 15-hour time difference between Beijing and San Diego seems to affect only me.

Just one month after turning 16, I am sorry to say that my trips to Beijing, where all of my family (besides my parents and sister) reside, have totaled to four in my lifetime.

Looking back, I marvel at the fact that I have only seen these people–my extended family–four times in my existence. Change their last names and I would call them strangers. But what is it that makes this foreign group that lives across the globe so well-known to me, regardless that I have only truly gotten to know them through ten broken weeks in my lifetime? "We're family," was my cousin's reply when he refused my gestures to return the gifts they had piled upon me. "Our belongings are your belongings."

This last return to Beijing was my first in four years. From the moment I got off the airplane, I was greeted by vaguely familiar faces smiling all around me, exclaiming at my height, age, and how tan I was. Am I hungry? Tired? Am I still airsick? Their almost overwhelming closeness to me made me doubt that we ever left China the last time.
Each night of our stay, three generations of our family joined, making each dinner seem like a banquet. Ladles of steaming food from the dishes were heaped into my bowl by my surrounding aunts and grandparents. Throughout the dinner more food was presented upon me even when I insisted I was too full to handle another bite.

There is a zero-distance relationship between Chinese family members, even when they haven't seen each other in four years. My relatives did not find it uncomfortable to comment on how I compare to my sister, personality-wise and academically, nor on how my weight compares to the last time they saw me. While this visit to China was an adventure and experience, it was also a return to a home that, though isn't my defined residence, is one I recognize unconsciously, my rooted ancestral surroundings.
To the country of China, I am a foreigner. I know not the strange lines and shapes that represent the language on street shops and signs, nor can I converse rapidly in Mandarin, resulting in awkward, broken up "Chinglish." When I plan a trip back, it is as a tourist, unused to the customs there. I lack the strength or familiarity to shove my way through subways and crosswalks, as well as the poker face required to bargain with storekeepers who find it their duty to con you. Yet when I return, in the midst of a family I've seen four times in my lifespan, I feel more at home than I have anywhere else.





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