To the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.
Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.
You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because
sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.
Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”
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.
It was what I thought to myself as I walked the dirty streets of San Francisco, surrounded by thousands of cheering people — straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, tall, short, fat, skinny, white, black, yellow, brown, purple, red, clothed, not-so-clothed, and sort-of-clothed, just to name a few. The air was thick with the smell of big-city trash and marijuana, and what little breeze I managed to catch was tinged with the stale heat of the crowds. Rainbows dotted my vision as flags, bracelets, tie-dye shirts, and other paraphernalia seemed to shout: “I AM PROUD TO BE ME.” I was standing in the middle of the biggest inclusivity celebration of the year, yet in the back of my mind a tiny voice kept whispering, you don’t belong here.
Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went to SF Pride expecting not to enjoy myself, and I really didn’t. It was a learning experience that I felt almost obligated to go to; for a newly minted baby gay, Pride is like the coming-of-age ceremony of induction into the gay community. After coming out to my whole college a month prior, I considered myself newly minted and in need of effectuation. Thus, Pride Parade.
I had expected there to be a partygoer spirit to Pride that I knew I wouldn’t like, but apart from that I thought I would find at least a little bit of common ground with the people there. After all, it’s called the LGBT+ community for a reason. But with the exception of the friends I went with (who kept the experience from being outright horrible), I couldn’t see myself relating to anyone around me on any meaningful level. I called myself gay, sure, but my gay was definitely different than theirs.
With a theme like Equality Without Exception, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent lack of justice surrounding the city. Homeless people were still begging for money while heavily commercialized booths and floats populated the streets. The male-dominated industry within the LGBT+ community was overtly sexualized and marketed in every other display I passed by (though thankfully, there was a tiny feminist section I had to smile at). And after the Supreme Court overturned all same-sex marriage bans across the nation just two days before, Equality had effectively magnetized itself to the concept of the right to marry. Everyone was happy. Everyone was celebrating. Everyone except me.