A Chinatown in My Heart

During my later years of junior boarding school, we celebrated New Year’s with a school-wide banquet. I was ecstatic that the school hosted a banquet, but this excitement was rather short-lived. We found ourselves receiving red packets filled with chocolate coins, and regretting the absence of must-haves like steamed fish, glutinous rice cakes, and dumplings. Each dish felt like a standard Chinese American takeout menu rather than a curated selection of dishes that each represented a different fortune for the coming year. Chocolates wrapped in gold foil simply cannot conduct the same connection as a red packet brimming with bills and my grandparent’s best wishes for my success. The new year was ushered in silently as fireworks were forbidden by the school and lights out was still enforced, stifling celebration. I was missing the intent behind every detail of Chinese Lunar New Year that doesn’t seem present. By delivering an experience that felt hollow, the school had sharply reminded me of what could have been back in China.

Then, Covid-19 hit—it was a double-edged sword. I was sent back to China for an entire year to spend my freshman fall and winter at home. Had it not been for remote learning, I would not have returned home to celebrate the New Year until after college. This unexpected visit home granted me relief from homesickness that short visits during breaks could not provide.

Returning back home, I arrived with an expectation that I would relive memories from years past. Seeing Shanghai during the New Year, I took in all the golden fortune decorations, faux firecrackers, and lights strung up on the streets. The corny skits on the spring gala were even better than I remember. I learned how to make spring rolls with my mother and grandmother despite having no interest in it when I was younger. When my family walked to our balcony to watch fireworks displays, I noticed that the floor was marred by previous years of celebration, marking the shared experience of pyrotechnics with my family. My city, my holiday traditions, and my home hadn’t changed. It was years abroad that had changed my perspective of home—home is about my family. I knew I wanted to share moments like these with friends in the states as well.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve left home again and on February 1st, I will celebrate my first New Year at Andover. Homesickness is present like many years before. But this time around, I know I have the agency to celebrate the way I want to. Being back in China for a year, I remembered that there were parts of home I can keep in my heart and take into the greater world. Now when I am searching for home, I only need to look inwards. The customs and beliefs instilled by my family and heritage aren’t something I can leave in China. My time at home may come and go but I’ll always carry a piece with me. I’ll always be able to cook my favorite Chinese dishes. Chinese food will always bring the taste of home anywhere I am. I’ll always be able to talk to another person with the same home. The language I speak will always be at the tip of my tongue. I’ll always be able to celebrate chinese holidays with friends even if I’m not with family. Traditions will always be in my life. Home is wherever I make it to be, whether that be Andover, China, or in my heart.