Place Where You Live:

Yangtze River, China

A watercolor depiction of the Yangtze River

I’ve only been to the Yangtze River once. It was right before the Three Gorges Dam was completed and the small villages on the shore were still there. It was fascinating- beautiful temples in the side of the cliffs, coffins suspended midair in caves, monkeys watching us from the the forest. And here I was on an industrial cruise ship. A behemoth among the villagers in their quaint sampans- a metaphor of my alienation from this culture. Despite being completely foreign, I felt a kinship and a sense of belonging. I am half Chinese. This is where my grandparents were from before they made a new life for themselves in New York. A sense of understanding washed over me and my grandmother’s strange behaviors suddenly made sense. She lived in poverty. It was obvious from atop the ship. She couldn’t speak English but she also didn’t have the privilege of going to school. I never learned Chinese though I understood it as a child. We would have conversations where I spoke English and she Chinese and somehow we understood each other. My grandparents were ashamed of their Chineseness, of their poverty and humble upbringings. I was sheltered from my Chinese side after my mother’s and grandmother’s deaths. But walking through these villages, seeing people that could have been her neighbors, I had found a home- the memory of a woman that helped raise me. And although I’ll never truly belong here, I have found a piece of myself that I had long forgotten. After the completion of the Dam, the villagers were displaced by the rising water level. I am scared that this rich culture, that the memory of the life that my grandmother led will be erased and that the dam will affect the precious ecosystem. I want to better connect with that part of me that, despite my grandmother’s attempts, I am proud of. I want to live and work there and make the lives of those people better so that they don’t have to reinvent themselves in New York and so that they aren’t ashamed of where they come from.