Looking Back: A Chinese Girl Talks About Her Country and Her Dreams

Jim Marquardt

Several years ago, on a trip through China, I met a Chinese college girl who wanted to practice her English. She asked if we could exchange emails. I said sure. Her youthful letters may appear ingenuous but are a revealing peek into that extraordinary country, and a reminder that we all share the same hopes and dreams.

April: “Hello, sir, I’m the girl who you met in the museum…You also took picture with me. I was in white that day. Have you remembered now? I have studied in university for 7 months and I enjoy my college life very much… There is a little different from American universities. We put theories in the first place during the past but western universities always stressed more about practice. But we’re trying to change the way of study and now have made many progress in education. So I’m full of confidence for my school and my country. My major is news, but I don’t know much about it…I love study languages. I’m poor in math. I often listen American country music, like Today, Beautiful Sunday, Country Road Take Me Home and so on…

May: “You said you’re deeply impressed by the growth of our economy, as well as the prosperity you saw everywhere. However, I have to tell you, in fact, there are many places that are very poor, especially in mountain areas and western rural villages. Many farmers are living in difficulty. They even couldn’t pay for their children’s education. As I’m a volunteer, I plan to go to countryside to support their education – it means I will be a teacher for over ten days…the scenery there is beautiful, people are friendly, in spite of the condition is not good. But all of us are happy to do such things, and we are confident to our country. Our future is bright…While reading your mail, I found out Long Island on the map. I can imagine your leisure and peaceful life. Is it often snow in winter? I love snow very much…When I receive your mail, I feel very happy, and I’m glad to write to you. I want the people in the world to know more about my country and love our great culture; at the same time I’d love to make friends around the world, understand the world better.”

 July: “Today is your National Holiday. Happy Independence Day and how do your celebrate it? You must be very proud of your country, for its great power, prosperous economy, liberty and diverse culture.”

 May: “I’ve told my grandparents about you, and showed your photos to them, then my grandpa said, ‘why the American guy looks younger than me?’ I said, because you don’t like to do the sports. If you want to be more energetic and healthier, just start to run. What amaze me is that he really began running every morning now. Life is so interesting.”

September: “I’m appreciate we can know each other, a friend in the other half of the Earth. Although we have different culture, different customs, different thinking styles, maybe you are having eggs and bread for breakfast but I’m taking rice and Chinese dishes. Are they important? No, I don’t think so. Because we have the same emotions, we can care about each other and understand each other, and we love the world. That’s what I value indeed…Now I’m working…as an intern of journalist. You may remember that my dream is to be an excellent international journalist, now I’m on the way.”

October: “Be the journalist in China is not easy, sometimes we can’t tell what we have seen, I feel impotence at times. Meanwhile I can’t help believing the government and the society…At the same time, I must say we have got great progress comparing with the past. At least we can express and share opinions, the country has become more open…My college life will soon be over. Oh, it’s really a great and meaningful time. I love the days making me from a girl to a lady, from an empty bottle to a full one. There is also a pity for that I still haven’t meet Mr. Right yet. Sometimes we need to wait, waiting the only person to change our track.”

November: “Today I went to U.S. Embassy in Beijing, I hope to interview him (Obama). Last night, I wrote the interview letter and questions at 2:00 am, but I have no access to him! There’re so many guards there, and I don’t know one of them.”

November: “Hey, Jim. What I want to is to express ‘a little crazy,’ but I’m not sure whether the expression is right. There isn’t such expression in Chinese. I remembered my English (teacher) had taught me ‘as mad as a door,’ she said it means crazy.”

January: “When I met you I was a freshman, but now I will graduate from college. How time flies. You have been very precious friends of mine, when I see some old foreigners in Beijing, I will think of you… I think I should go out and try to understand different ideas and know the different people in the world. I hope I can see you then, maybe we can take a cup of coffee or Chinese tea.”

May: “I’m afraid that we have talked some taboo words, such as Zhao Ziyang. (I told her I’d read about this high government official who fell out of favor when he recommended leniency for Tiananmen Square protesters.) So I’ve changed the email address…However, maybe I’ve got a little nerve irritation about this…Well, it’s disappointed that I don’t know more about Zhao Ziyang, even I couldn’t find the information about him on internet. Maybe we have to take more time to face our history, a true and open history. You know I love reading, but it’s common to experience prohibit publishing…I’m sorrowful to think about such problems.”

June: “You know, you, as an American, you can read the books about China’s past, some sensitive, but I didn’t know it…I have read your columns (from the Sag Harbor Express) and shared with my friends, they are so interesting, especially the one about horseshoe (crabs). How do they look like? Do they just live near by the sea?”