Lost in China, and the spirit of the White Egret

It has barely been five days since I returned to the US, yet my mind is lost once again in China.

I had some shocking experiences, such as hearing stories from my heart surgeon friend in Beijing. I had to convince my father-in-law to give up on nucleic acids, and never take them again. I experienced a surprising detour on the way to Shaolin Temple, and realized it wasn’t really worth it. I am really alarmed by what I saw in Lijiang, watching a World Heritage site being capitalized to death.

But really, sometimes it’s too easy to get caught in the shadows of China — because there are so many shadows. I know I tend to react strongly when I see injustice. My husband John says it’s a good thing — it means I care about China, and I want the country to improve.

And, admittedly, there are improvements, especially in John’s hometown. His village of Zhongshan now has garbage service, curbs with greenery, parks with exercise equipment for seniors, basketball courts, bus stops with awnings and a bus station. But the stone factories still remain nestled among residential homes, churning out noise and water pollution 24/7. I mean, garbage service is great, but cleaning out those stone factories once and for all would be the ultimate improvement. Then maybe we could see those white egrets in the fields again, just as we did several years ago.

Still, I see hope in the people I love, whose lives are improving. Er Ge, John’s second brother, is happily married (after a devastating divorce where his wife fled with stolen money) and more talkative than ever. He was like another person entirely — there was this giddly glint in his eyes I’d never seen before. And with all of his work in the fields, he has built up a muscular figure fit for an Olympian God. He seems happy and healthy. Da Ge (John’s oldest brother) is doing well at his business (digging foundations for buildings), and just put a down payment on a riverside apartment, his second piece of real estate. His son, unfortunately, is even more of a terror than ever (threw things at his teacher, stole from classmates), but Da Ge is now aware of it and willing to take measures to solve the problem. Lao Da, John’s best friend who works at the radio station, seems to have a much easier time at his job (up to 6 times in month, he doesn’t have to clock in at work) — though he still hasn’t found that special girl. He insists on finding true love at first sight. Anya Wang is determined to get licensed as a counselor in China, and maybe even open her own private practice — all of this, despite the fact that she was dumped at the last minute by her fiancee for a girl with more money. And finally, after years of waiting and hoping, Peter is going to get married.

While I miss those white egrets in Zhongshan, I saw them alighting in rice paddies and fish nurseries all along the road from Hangzhou to Tonglu. Their alabaster silouettes stood out among the emerald green rice paddies dotting the countryside, like white messengers of hope — hope for a better China.

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