One of the biggest adjustments I have to make here in China is the lack of access to English. Although being constantly surrounded by Chinese speakers and Chinese texts was exhilarating for the first few weeks, I began to yearn the feel of an English novel in my hands. I missed the stories, the adventure, and the poeticism that accompanies a great book. Now I’m not saying that kind of thing can’t be found in Chinese, but I’m currently not on the level to be able to appreciate a Chinese story of that kind. I found myself rereading my old favorites online, but it still didn’t fill the void between my hands that a paperback would. However, one less than sober night in Wudaokou gave me a hope that not all of China was absent of great American Literature.
While walking to Helen’s one Sunday night, I noticed a spotlight shining down on a cart surrounded by hunchbacked foreigners. As I walked closer and closer, I could see flashes of shrink-wrapped books between the masses. I tried to wedge myself in through the crowd but was dragged on by my classmates towards our final destination. Although not before I managed to catch a glimpse of a blue bound book with the silhouette of a dancing army general in red. My heart jumped at the sight for my hands had run over and over this cover countless of times in high school and college. It was Catch-22. I promised myself that I would return to the cart after our night of revelry was over, but by the time we made our way back to the bus stop the portable stall had moved on. At first, fear struck my heart because I thought that I had missed my one and only chance at being reunited with something I loved. I returned to my dorm with a trodden heart, promising myself to return at the next possible chance.
The next day, I frantically returned to the exact same place in Wudaokou in an attempt to find my little English haven. I must have walked up and down the strip three or four times before I noticed a small Chinese woman hobbling down the sidewalk with a green tarp covered stall. On a suspicion, I followed this woman for a few yards before she stopped, lifted the tarp off the stall, and revealed her literary goldmine to me. I happily picked out my copy of Catch-22 and strolled to the bus stop. I tore the shrink-wrapping cover off the book with glee only comparable to a child’s first memorable Christmas, except this was my only present. As I read on the bus, I could feel my stress about Chinese melt away while the story of Captain Yossarian rejuvenated my over used brain. Although not more than three chapters into the book, pages started to fall from the binding, which was a sore reminder that things could never be the same here in China. In a way, this trip has allowed me to better appreciate my English Literature major.
After taking three English classes per semester in the fall and spring of my junior year, I thought I was sick of English and would be glad to have a reprieve of my daily hundred pages of reading. But I was wrong. I will come out of this trip with a better respect as to what the English Language has to offer me. No longer will I leave books unfinished or characters unanalyzed because I now realize how lucky I am to love something as much as English and should get the most of my education before I graduate in the spring. I fell back in love with something here, but it wasn’t the thing I was expecting.