Three Snapshots of Saliency

A series of poems written for a homework assignment exploring personal identity.

I. Peccatoris

It’s safe to come out when the sun has gone down —
when there’s no one to see you, to hate you, to burn you
and you’re tired of being everyone’s everything
during the daylight: when it’s not safe to come out.

You put on your masks when the world awakes:
perfect son, perfect student, perfect brother, perfect friend…
your daylight is no life to you, for you are someone else.

But you try, and you wait, and you wait day by day
for the sun to go down, and when the night falls,
you rise,

but all you ever do is walk,
walk,
walk…
because all you’ve ever done is run.

Run to church, run to school, run to play, and run back home,
run from sin, run from work, run from joy, run from — love —
and walking is all you can do anymore.

You’ve run out of tears. You’re tired of crying:
you’re not even sure what to cry about now.
The night’s all you have, though midnight is burning,
so you savor the air that you’ll lose in an hour.

Breathe deep, breathe slow.
Two decades to ask, who am I?
No one knows.

II. Ad Orientem

You’re not alone in the dark, so you’ve found:
there are dreamers, and hopers, and lovers, and givers,
and they’ve taught you how to breathe again.

The streets are alive with the sounds of the night,
and they beckon you in with warmth and delight.
Their house is a strange one — a bit queer, if one will,
but it’s home nonetheless, and you’re welcome within.

You find yourself asking if shoes are okay,
if they hug their parents, or if they eat rice.
(Isn’t that a bit nice?)

What did their parents worship? What are their weddings like?
Did they grow up speaking in more than one tongue?
Is there family they can never speak freely among?

Once again, you’re alone, yet surrounded by friends:
bit-by-bit, they turn you around to face West.
So you’ll talk like them, walk like them, love like them,
yet explain to them that

red is for joy,
gold is for wealth,

but white, strangely, is for death.

III. Corpus Christi

you’ve never quite understood why it is
that humans kiss. quite frankly, it’s gross.
you thought you’d figure it out for yourself
when you finally did it, but the closest thing
you can compare it to is pressing two warm oysters together
and you don’t like oysters.

you’ve never quite got the hang of arms and
legs, clumsy! tripping over things that don’t, exist and
your body is a broken car for your brain.
weighty. stiff.
aching —

If only your hands and your feet would obey!
Dance free, take flight, like notes off a page!
Your daydreams are full of a song at command,
but jostled awake, all thoughts crumble like sand.

But raise;
you’ve only got arms to raise in praise, and fingers
graze sheer grace in the Body and the Blood.
“God has no hands but yours”, as they say.

you’ve never quite been so full of light,
flesh being more than casing for your soul and
the only thing you have to love with.

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CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里

Yay blurriness?
A sloppy selfie taken after arriving in Hong Kong.

The last three months of my life were not what I was expecting. Romantic ideals of getting in touch with my “inner Chinese culture” and exploring the depths of the language were weighed down by social anxiety, isolation from loved ones, and overarching feelings of incompetence, and what I thought I was getting into quickly turned into a fight simply to stay in one piece. But it was precisely in those dark times that I learned the most about myself, about my heritage, and most of all about God.

No amount of mental preparation could have spared me the radical transformation to be effected in myself — the bursting of an ideological bubble so long held firm by a self-contained and sheltered existence — yet in the end I find that’s precisely what I needed after all. Between all the fun times and the fascinating explorations, the semester invisibly held me through a burnishing flame that not only melted away the façade of who I thought I was, but further illuminated the God who all people are made in the image of.

The China Studies Program (CSP), sponsored by BestSemester through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), was a three-part abroad semester hosted by Xiamen University (厦门大学 Xiàmén Dàxué, often abbreviated as 厦大 Xiàdà or XMU) on the southeast coast of Fujian province, right across the Strait of Taiwan.

After a brief orientation period in Hong Kong, Segment 1 focused on academics in Xiamen. During this month I took courses on Chinese Language, Intercultural Communication, Contemporary Society & Public Policy, and Tai Chi. This post will focus largely on Segment 1.

Segment 2 was a travel component we called “the Trek”: one week in the ancient capital of Xi’an, another week in the modern capital of Beijing, and a few days in the metropolis of Shanghai. During this Segment we were given a rigorous overview of Chinese History spanning about 5000-7000 years.

Finally, Segment 3 marked a return to Xiamen, where seven of the ten students would begin internships at various companies in the area, while three of us (me included) would continue with an elective course called Dimensions of East Asian Culture — encompassing short workshops about Chinese Home Cooking, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Painting.

Continue reading “CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里”