Remembering where I am

James Hur

“In Section 6b, enter our school name and address,” said the proctor for the P.S.A.T. With my yellow, #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil I wrote School Year Abroad China, 12 Xin Jie Kou Wai, Beijing, and, then, I remembered –– I am in China.

As one of my classmates likes to joke, “Last night, I went to bed, and I was in China. This morning, I woke up and realized I am still in China,” and that’s exactly how it’s been for me. These past seven weeks, which I have spent in Beijing as I attend the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad, have been a compilation of little reminders about who I am, where I am, and what I am doing here.

These reminders, which I usually get at least three to five times a day, are sparked in a variety of ways. Sometimes, as I sit on the public bus, looking out the window towards Beijing’s skyline, a series of tall, almost identical apartment buildings that look like New York City’s public housing projects, as I listen to Stevie Wonder sing to me about the hard knocks of life in a big city, I get distracted, and I look away towards the interior of the bus. Having completely lost myself in the music I get transported to another time in a place outside of Asia, and so I expect to see black, white, Hispanic, and also some Asian faces sitting in the red and blue seats in front and behind me, but, as my head completes its turn, I see that there are no black people, there are no white people, and there are no Hispanic people, and, then, I remember, “Oh yeah, everybody in China’s Chinese,” and I can see about half of them staring back at me curiously (or worriedly) out of the corners of their slanted eyes.

Other times, however, it’ll happen more subtly. Like when I don’t know what to fill in on the line next to the word “State” on the first page of the P.S.A.T. answer sheet, recalling that, instead of fifty states, my country of residence is composed of only 34 provinces.

It’s always very nice remembering where I am. It gives me that kind of light bulb turning on in my head feeling, which normally happens when I suddenly come up with a good idea or realize the reason that the graph on my paper and the graph my Precalculus teacher has written on the white board look different is because I forgot to factor                          .

But, sometimes, I worry that I too often lose my grounding in Beijing and let my mind fly the 12-hour, pollution ridden distance back to the U.S. I don’t think that daydreaming is bad, but I like China, and I would like to be present here, both mentally and physically, for the entirety of the nine months that I’ve signed up for. I thought that by now my daydreams would at least take place in China, but, more often than not, my thoughts are foreign, and I don’t know why. Unlike most of the other S.Y.A. students, I have not felt homesick even once while here, and I don’t think it’s very likely that I’ll ever be very homesick, but, for whatever reason, my thoughts always revert back to my life in Los Angeles, even on the P.S.A.T.

The last question on the Mathematics section of the exam asked about Vanita’s average driving speed if she sped up after this distance or slowed down after that distance or something just as confusing and complicated and College Board.

Vanita’s my mom’s name, and her problem was the only one that I left blank. I’m not sure if leaving five empty bubbles next to that problem holds any sort of spiritual or philosophical meaning, but it certainly made me think about home, giving me a sort of reverse revelation that, although I am in China, I am an American, and I am from Los Angeles, and my mother’s name is Vanita (that’s V as in Victor, a, n, i, t, a).

But, then, I remembered that I was in China, and I that was taking the P.S.A.T., and that, although I still had a few minutes left before the proctor told us to drop our pencils, I wasn’t very good at math, so I couldn’t answer the question, but I didn’t care about that question. I was in China after all, at one point in time thought to be the center of the world, and, at that point in time, the center of my thoughts.

The test ended at 11:11 a.m. I closed my eyes, and I wished for a National Merit Scholarship, and, with 30 seconds left before the clock struck 11:12, I wished to be in Beijing for a very, very long time.