shaanxi girl at heart


My grandmother’s house in Shaanxi, which hasn’t changed a single bit in decades. There’s something intensely comforting about that consistency. Going back always feels like a full-body detox, a time to shed so many of the unnecessary layers that typically weigh me down, a way to simplify myself. Both electricity and running water were knocked out the days I was there, so I spent the afternoons watching my aunts and grandmother trash talk each other over mahjong with the occasional trip into town on the back of a bicycle. And, of course, nothing can compare to hardy Shaanxi feasts, plates of sautéed starch noodles/粉条 and zi juan (rolled vegetable pockets) that I can’t even find in Xi'an restaurants. If only I could’ve fueled up for an entire year. :(

It’s been an exhausting couple of days. So many people have reached out to me through text, e-mail, Facebook in concern, and I feel totally ill-equipped to handle the amount of compassion poured into Boston from all corners of the world. I keep tearing up in public, at work, on the bus, and I can no longer tell what’s driving the emotional backlash, whether the helplessness comes from aftershocks of fear and confusion or from an inability to process the overwhelming generosity of friends and strangers alike.

Despite that kindness, I haven’t felt so isolated in years. It’s magnified by how only a few days ago, I was surrounded by family and now I feel like I’m grappling alone through a blind obstacle course with no idea what lies at the end of it. The gut reaction of “I want to go home” and the harsh realization that I don’t mean Boston, not even with the number of years and contacts I’ve clocked here. I guess that saying about people and roots has merit. Home is where, etc. Maybe it’s because the attack happened so soon, not even 24 hours, after I landed and my head got stuck in the transition, stalled between two destinations without a clear answer of which one classifies as final.


Shaanxi countryside photo diary ❤ (a continuation from part 1):

  • Front door of my grandparents’ house (where I spent my toddler years!)
  • Snapshots of the master bedroom, washing station, neighboring rooftops, and front street
  • Burial ground and my great-grandmother’s 1-year death anniversary procession (burned paper money, set off some fireworks, left a giant flower wreath)
  • My uncle’s dog pipi, who roams free but always knows when and how to get back home
  • Abandoned house nearby + communism art deco…?
  • Handmade baby shoes!! My grandmothers/aunts used to sew these by the batches, but it’s gotten trendier to just buy manufactured shoes

I get easily defensive over rural China/农村. It’s not hard to see the disparity gap between the lightning development of first- and second-tier cities and then the negligence and hand-me-downs of the countryside, but what pisses me off more is the dismissive attitude directed toward migrant workers and farmers, especially in the urban areas. Different lifestyles and expectations, but the superiority complex gets tiring. Never do I feel as focused and clear-headed as when I get to go back, when I can surround myself with the type of comfort that’s already going extinct and let the usual distractions slough off like dead skin.


Xi'an is incredibly special to me - birthplace, eternal hometown, the best food I’ll ever eat in my life. Maybe it’s because my parents have so many roots there, but Xi'an always makes me feel like anything is within reach as long as I want it. This time, family friends took us up to their vacation house in the surrounding mountains for a day of natural hot springs and tea tasting, where I got to spend the afternoon rolling around in the sun and playing with their ridiculously adorable puppy (aptly named 可乐 ♡).

Every so often I’ll wonder how my life would’ve turned out if my dad had decided to stay in China after finishing his graduate degree instead of accepting the research offer in Texas. I think indisputably my quality of life was higher growing up in the States compared to the mainland (based on air quality and the public education system alone), though it’s hard to judge on outcomes; almost all of my parents’ friends sent their kids abroad to the U.S. or Europe for university, so chances are I probably would’ve ended up over here at some point anyway. I can tell sometimes my dad regrets leaving, even if the thought process had been simple enough; he emigrated in 1991, two years after the Tiananmen Square protests. Who knew China would blossom into such a stable economic powerhouse in 20 short years.


羊肉泡馍 (lamb stew with soaked homemade bread chunks), hand-cut noodles with vegetables, sauteed fish & tomatoes, and garlic spinach dumplings. I called ahead the week before I flew home to tell my mother all the things I wanted to eat. :> Growing up, I definitely didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to have authentic and nourishing Chinese meals on a regular basis and instead was so excited to go off to college and eat “American” food. Now I’d give anything to have access to my mom’s kitchen again.