Written for Higher English in 2012
It’s been five years huh? As soon as the crude metal doors of the train creaked open, I leapt out, glad to have more than ten centimetres of personal space again. The childish grin instantly disappeared as a tsunami of 38$^\circ$C air knocked me staggering back into the shade of the train. After draining a bottle of water, I crawled out of my shelter and slid towards the shadow of a wall nearby, trying not to collapse under the glare of the sun.
Renqiu County, Hebei Province; the location of the Hebei Oil Field, 395 square miles of semi-fertile land, housing 819,000 people at an average density of 2,073.5/sq mi. It is located 49 miles west of Cangzhou and 65 miles southwest of Tianjin. But above all, it fills the background of my childhood.
As I stepped into the taxi, memories of my distant past began resurfacing as more and more familiar landmarks came into view. However, when I finally arrived at the gates of my community, all was not as expected. The once peaceful gardens and laughter of children had been replaced by monstrous skyscrapers and the irritating sound of V12 Lamborghinis.
The first place I went to visit after arriving was my old primary school, DongFeng XiaoXue, or “East Wind Primary School”, which ironically has its front gates facing north. I strolled through the familiar scenery while my head was spinning all over the place like an over-enthusiastic tourist. Surprisingly, the school had not changed much; there had been new additions of pitches and a new department building. But my old classroom stayed exactly as it had been five years ago. It was part of a very rare collection of single floored buildings in China. In its white walls shimmered the memories of my old classmates. Those times that we had to stay after class to finish essays, by the time we’d have finally escaped, it would already be dark. We would shine our pocket lasers at the opposite building and pretend they were Beyblades. We would make them clash into each other while making overdramatic sound effects until our lasers ran out of power or the janitor kicked us out. This innocent fun made me realise the benefits of not understanding too much reality about the world. As time passed, parts of life were gradually replaced by more complex parts. Sentences were replaced by essays, essays were replaced by papers. Eventually, the pure and untainted meaning of the single ‘word’ became clouded by its endless connotations and implications.
A sudden shout in one of the classrooms dragged me back to the present; I had been spotted, and recognised too. Soon, the playground area was overflowing with students: some I recognised and some I had just met. Each one of them looked at me with awe-filled eyes as if I had just arrived through a time portal from the distant future. They bombarded me with questions: Where did you go? What did you see? Have you been to London? Did you meet Obama? After dismissing these questions one by one, I entered a classroom where my old English teacher started making me read English passages to see if I had improved at all. The subsequent pop quiz ended with a simple “satisfactory”. Since my mother was also a teacher at the school, I knew several of the teachers there. We each exchanged information on our last five years and ended the day with more questions and reminiscence. On reflection, I thought my return to my old school benefitted me because I no longer had to wonder how everyone was doing. It was also interesting to see how the people I knew had changed; as they had all stayed together in the same school for their entire academic career, it was clear that the bonds they shared with each other were much stronger, much more intimate. Like that willow that had grown so much since I planted it years ago, everyone seemed to have changed for the better. It feels as though they had each left on their separate journey of life while I stood unmoving, deluded by my unchanging memories. Even so, I do not regret leaving. Every decision I had made impacted, in some way, on the person that I am today. No matter how insignificant a choice seemed, the consequences of it would go on to trigger other choices; eventually leading up to something that could potentially be a pivotal point of someone’s life. As I glanced back at my friends, waving goodbye once more, I wondered to myself. How have I changed?
The next day, I went to visit my grandparents. A new modern house is easily affordable, but they still refuse to leave their small flat in the neighbourhood that they have lived in for almost fifty years. During these five years, little had changed. The small garden in front of the flat now had a few more trees around it and the ancient wooden benches had been swapped for new plastic ones. Changes inside the house were obvious too. My third aunt had moved out, and my pet turtle, which I obtained at a place and for a reason I no longer remember, had grown from pebble size to pillow size! After the usual interrogation about my life in a western civilization, I went with my grandfather to experience his new found hobby, fishing. After that, my entire family met up for dinner. Everyone I thought I knew had already changed. It was almost like meeting them for the first time, but when we started talking, we seemed like a normal family again. To me, however, the most significant change was quite simply that the manner with which my family responded to me showed me more respect by valuing my opinions. I was no longer just a resident in my family, I was a citizen.
After leaving Renqiu for the first time, I went on to explore many different countries and met many different kinds of people. France, Germany, Britain, Egypt, Japan, Peru. All these cultures and experiences have mingled into what I am today. But until now, I had never returned to any of those places. Looking back, it’s almost like my reality has been transformed. What I thought I would see differed greatly with what I actually saw. The scenery has changed, the people have moved and the entire city has modernized to be just like any other, nevertheless, whatever the physical changes and no matter where I’ve travelled, I’ve always kept a memory of Renqiu and I know it will always be like home.