A Letter Home

A Vietnamese student describes his longing for Beijing

A year has passed since I left Beijing. Did the autumn winds blow away my memories of the city? Has the snow frozen the group photos taken with my friends last year? I am missing you, Beijing. How have you been?

Only four hours on a flight would take me to the largest city in my mind. The memories from my first landing in Beijing remain vivid. It was September, and I thought Beijing would already have snow, so I wore a winter coat. But it was sunny and warm. Everyone on the street seemed to think I had just returned from a trip to the Arctic.

It was my first trip abroad, so everything was very fresh, but I also felt small and lonely. On the trip from the airport to the school, I only exchanged a few words with the driver. I was closed off not only by inability to speak Chinese, but also due to an introverted personality. It has always been a little difficult for me to communicate with strangers. The trees along the way gently swayed as if they were welcoming my arrival, and the journey seemed long. The scenery outside the car window brought all kinds of emotions to my heart, and I started recalling voices from my family: Why spend four years of your youth away from us? Who will you turn to if you get in trouble?

Tourists at Badaling Great Wall in Beijing on October 1, 2020, the first day of the National Day holiday. (VISUAL.PEOPLE.CN)

I took a deep breath, looked up at the blue sky and white clouds, and an old saying came to mind: Only fish can appreciate the beauty of the ocean. Every choice has a reason. My family doesn’t understand that since my childhood, I have been obsessed with the 72 earthly transformations of the Monkey King, a legendary mythic figure best known as one of the main characters in Wu Cheng’en’s adventure novel Journey to the West. They don’t know about my love of Lin Daiyu’s tears in the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. They couldn’t appreciate my longing to climb the Yellow Crane Tower to imagine the scene of famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai (701-762) seeing off his friend Meng Haoran. I was determined to climb the Great Wall to see the outside world.

During my days in Beijing, I gradually realized that the city’s residents were often lovely liars. Whenever I spoke Chinese, my Chinese classmates would say, “Your Chinese is pretty good.” After standing at a podium and lecturing for five hours straight, my teacher would say “I’m not hungry” with a smile. Many small things helped me feel the warmth, hospitality, and sincerity of the people in the ancient capital. I don’t know when it happened precisely, but Beijing stole my heart away.

When I returned to Vietnam for winter vacation, I anticipated going back to Beijing a month later. I didn’t expect the COVID-19 pandemic to keep us apart so much longer. When a friend informed me that some people were referring to the novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan Virus,” I knew they were teasing, but I felt heartbreak and pain from loneliness. I suddenly realized how Chinese people have gradually amassed such strength.

The pandemic does not respect borders. Chinese people have been fighting on the frontlines, treating patients, and sharing experience with other countries. I shed tears for you. I am proud of you, and bless you!

Beijing, you have become part of my life. I will always position you in the most beautiful place in my heart. You are irreplaceable. Beijing, I love you because of your beautiful spring, brilliant autumn, and snowy winter.

Delicious food is defined by a single bite of Beijing Roast Duck. I strongly agree with the saying that “If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you are not a real man.” And hospitable Beijing welcomes people from all over the world with open arms. I will never forget the kindness and love the Chinese people showed to me.

Beijing, I will study hard to find ways to love you better and see you again soon. We are taking care of ourselves and staying safe. Shall we meet again next year? I miss you and wish you well.

By Thoi Hoang Phuoc

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