An Ode to China – Elia Sommerlad

Throughout most of my life, I have been exposed to the grand history and flourishing culture of the Western world. The Far East always struck me as a distant parallel universe, unrelated to people like me. It was my mother who nurtured the first step towards the vast Chinese lands. Sure, I had heard many China-related stories — mostly of the kind that bombards the news — most of which seemed to affect my future but nonetheless provoked no emotional responses in me. However, the dragon of the East no longer lies dormant! Our world is overflowing with riches that seem never-ending. This is an undeniable truth. To the individual, the world appears to be filled with knowledge, with stimuli — a colourful patchwork of harmonizing and juxtaposing elements. Objectively speaking, planet earth is small. Given these overarching circumstances, how could one possibly not try to experience its every facet? Based on this aspiration, my discovery of China became an endeavour I chose to embrace. Given my sincere reluctance to discover the great “red dragon of the East” as an analphabetic, I enrolled in Beijing University’s Chinese Language Program for a semester. China. 中国. The day I set foot in Beijing for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Like a wave crashing onto the shores of a foreign land, I decided to fully embrace the unknown.

In retrospect, after having spent six months in Beijing and later a total of four months in Guilin, I have come to realize that I cannot and will never be “Chinese”. Although, on one hand, this statement seems to be discouraging, for me it proved to be enlightening. During my first stay in China, I tried desperately hard to blend in. Like a chameleon, whose skin changes according to the color of its surroundings, I tried to camouflage myself into the heart of China by becoming China. Naturally, however, both cultural and physical factors hindered me in my endeavour. That is when I realized that I am, by definition, a world baby, or in other words, a child of the world. I did not “need” to become Chinese in order to become part of China. I simply had to encounter it with an open mindset, removing my preconceived notions of it and letting my experiences dictate my relationship to it. Weltanschauung became my motto!

My love for China is unexplainable. I have been asked many times to explain what it is exactly that draws me back to it year after year. Ultimately, I believe that my love — and my drive to share my life (of which I only have one) with China — comes from a specific state of mind that I have come to cherish. Ever-evolving, China is a melting pot of juxtaposed truths, of a history so ancient and at the same time so new. The Cultural Revolution tried to brush away thousands of years of archaic history. Like most countries of the world, China has been subject to wars, to natural disasters, to cultural change, and, most of all, to the self-righteousness of man. At the same time, the past — and the present that has been born from it — is radiating creativity, youth, innovation, and, most of all, evolution. China, like all other countries, is no Disneyland. The gap between the lower classes and the upper echelons of society is still vast. Nonetheless, entrepreneurship is on the rise. Like buzzing bees, soaring into the skies carrying pollen, the Chinese youth are filled with a new and powerful desire to discover the unknown and nourish their curiosity.

When I am in China, I feel light as a feather. Suddenly, I feel the urge to make use of my talents and harvest my passions. I am not entirely sure whether this feeling is a fruitful by-product of China’s constant development, or whether the thrill of travel and the unknown is responsible for it. China’s mark on my life is deeply rooted within me. It is a source of great strength and inspiration that daily affects both my view of the world and the woman that I aspire to become.

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