I am now writing what will likely be my final blog entry from here in China--or at least here in Tianjin, for sure. Time seems to have slipped through my hands like sand in the palm of your hand escaping through the cracks of your fingers--so smooth, so quick, and so unexpected. The end is actually in sight now! It is a rush of emotions--excitement, sadness, and bittersweet in every sense of the word.
The last week here has largely been tying up all of the loose ends in my Tianjin life. I have been saying my good-byes to tutors, to friends I have made, and to friends who left before our group did that are now elsewhere in the last week. I went to Helen's on Saturday with Keegan and made some new Chinese friends there, but I doubt we will have time to ever see them again. Kind of a bummer, but we must accept what we cannot control in these types of situations.
There are also many sundry things to tend to: cancelling my cell phone plan, scribbling on sheets of paper my new friends' email addresses, postcards to write, return laundry cards and cafeteria cards, and Skype names to add. One last walk around the lake called Xin Kai Hu, meeting with tutors, and making the walk every morning to Bei Lou. Bustling away, I continue to remember other loose ends that I have cast aside in my mind until later, so hopefully I don't forget anyone or anything that I wanted to do here. I have also finished the majority of my packing, and it was also a mix of emotions that I have similarly felt just two months ago, packing up my belongings from my floor in my Holden Hall dorm.
We went out with our group of tutors for one last hurrah. We decided that we would visit the Italian Town in Tianjin one last time. This was my first time at night, and we all decided to eat at a nice Italian restaurant. We had great tasting spaghetti, and had an exhilarating fight over the bill with our tutors (as Chinese culture dictates that one must fight for the bill). After our dinner, we continued to walk along the boardwalk of the river Hai He. There, we walked until we reached the Tianjin Eye. As we walked along, there were beautifully lit kites across the river and the large bridge, and there were also lanterns that were being lit and let off. We bought one and decided to also let it float away into the night sky, as it gracefully swayed until you could only see but a small, glowing flame. What a great way to end our time with our tutors, and I know I will certainly never be able to thank them enough for what they've done for us. One of our tutors, Wen Huan, has an especially interesting story that I will tell if you ask me in person sometime about his background and personal life--it is very culturally grounded in Chinese ideology as well.
Happy Birthday, America! The Fourth of July will also be a memorable one. Here in Tianjin, there are no laws or restrictions on fireworks and firecrackers. Commonly, they are lit off at all odd hours of the day in order to commemorate the opening of a business, well wishes for a wedding, or for the passing of a loved one at night. We plan on getting together the groups of Americans from Nankai, including Oregon, Wisconsin, Utah, and us to light off fireworks at the lake in the middle of campus. I hope this happens. There are also some Brits that are here, so maybe we will even invite them too--that is, if they aren't still bitter about '76...
There are little things that I now notice in my closing days that give me just a peek into my progression in Mandarin. In my first Tianjin blog, I mentioned eating Da Bing Ji Dan--egg with tortilla and chicken. This is just one such small event. I haven't eaten one in a month, but today I decided it would be nice to have one last one before I returned. I was only fifth in line, and as I waited I wasn't even thinking about what I was going to say or what I wanted to order. As it was my turn, the lady asked me what I wanted. I told her the specific type of grilled chicken, that I wanted it spicy with this spice, and I wanted no lettuce, two eggs, with another additional spice. She never asked me to repeat a thing, but rather told me the total cost. Rewind to two short months ago. The first time I went to the stand, I was scared of what to say, how to say it, and used poor pronunciation. This time however, I could imagine myself in a position of "before and after". Moments like these give me a glimpse into that long process of growth.
One final example was at what will likely be Keegan and my final time at Helen's. We sat next to a Chinese couple, conversing separately for the first hour of the night. After I asked about the card game they were playing, we embarked on a three or four hour conversation, all of us speaking in Chinese. Times like these make those two years of excruciating work in Chinese worth it--to be able to understand and ask questions that you may have never thought you had.
The culture shock (or rather culture awe) has long subsided, but I still find myself fascinated with this place, these people, and this culture. It is certainly a thirst I will again need quenched in the future. The best journeys answer questions, that in the beginning, you wouldn't even think to ask. I have found some answers to these questions, but I have 1,000,000 more. This won't be the last time I come to China. Some people may ask why I like to travel. I find that T.S. Eliot puts it more eloquently than I ever could: "We must never cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time." I travel the world to jump out of the textbooks, into bypaths, and explore what to me is un-experienced. In this way, I hope to continue to dream and discover.
I plan on taking one last walk around the campus on Thursday before we fly out. 9pm is what I hear our departure time is, and this means that after our final ceremony on Thursday at 3pm, we will have a little free time. I was glad about this. I have to give a speech at our commencement, and it will be the longest in Chinese I've ever given--over one page single-spaced. My professor for my Senior Seminar International Relations at James Madison College, Professor Qing, will also be attending, along with diplomats from the Embassy in Beijing and other MSU graduates who live or work in China. I am really excited to meet these interesting people and hear their stories.
Now, most students have graduated. So now, as I walk through the near-empty halls of my dorm, the quieter walkways along campus, and into the cafeteria to eat my final meals, I find myself thinking: how this trip has made me think new thoughts, changed me as a person, and will affect me upon my return. What friends I have made, experiences I have had, and memories I have engrained forever--I don't have the answer to these questions yet, but I will certainly get back to you, though, after much reflection after my return. I can, though, certainly say that it is quite life-changing indeed. There is no monetary value that one can place on experiences like these.
As Rainer Maria Rilke said, "As the arrow endures the string and in gathering becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere." It is time to return home and begin the next chapter in the book of life. Thank you China, for everything. I will never be able to repay you enough.