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As site coordinator this year, I had hoped to contribute a blog post or two throughout the summer. However, instead I ended up with several bits and pieces of abandoned posts. I’ve collected those here and added a bit to them in the last few days. Some of these are 2017 program-specific, while some are related to my relationship to China as a whole as a 2013 DE Zhuhai participant, 2014 Duke in Beijing participant, and 2015-2016 Princeton in Asia fellow. We’ve had a great summer and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.



Scattered Thoughts:

The Beginning

WHY ARENT ALL THE STUDENTS IN LOVE WITH ZHUHAI YET I DONT GET IT THIS IS THE BEST PLACE EVER. Ok wait. Breathe. I maybe have romanticized my first trip to Zhuhai with DukeEngage in 2013. Just a bit. @Self, Think clearly. I spoke no Mandarin. I never had any idea what was happening. I was a bit freaked out when you couldn’t flush the toilet paper, but had to put it in a trash can next to the toilet. China hadn’t yet taken over four years of my life. Think back.

Our students will come around. The host families will help them settle in. The No 9 students will steal their hearts. And if the students don’t, well…at least the bubble tea will.



The Game

While laying on my bed, I teach my little sister how to play I Spy. I stump her by picking her pink pajamas covered with little cartoon bunnies (side note: bunnies are her second favorite animal; the peacock reigns supreme). She looks around the room for pink objects, not realizing she is wearing the very thing I spied. She points and points at different items. No. No. No. She points again. Then slowly turns her head down toward her own arm. She freezes. Suddenly she bursts with laughter. “ME!”



The Show

THEY DID IT. Wow that was a stressful week. The students, costumes, music, microphones, lights, WEATHER, seating — it all miraculously came together (looking at you incredibly ominous clouds which – praise – did not rain).

Shoutout to our 11 Duke students, the No 9 students, the No 9 international department, the stage crew (especially Mr Liang), and Hsiao-mei. You guys rock.



The Question

This is one we’ve talked about as a group during reflections and in conversation. I’ve told them to brace for it.

As I’m about to head back to America all I can do is brace for one question:

“How was China?”

The most dreaded question of my existence. I know you just want a nice, succinct one sentence answer. But how? I’ve now spent 1/6 of my life living in/studying/finding ways to come back to China. I don’t know how to answer your question. The world’s most populous is country is too big a topic for small talk. Our students were fantastic. The Number 9 students were incredible. Oh what’s Number 9? Please sit down, let me talk with you. I can explain it all…I just need about 15 hours.



The Family

Li Jianxin and Feng Huiping:
“Our door is always open for you. This is your home.”
My host parents. The ones who work long hours, buy groceries, come home, cook dinner, manage a (really) hyper six year old, take the neighbors’ kids to swim lessons, and then still insist on washing my clothes and taking my bowl to the sink after dinner. The ones who have opened their home to me not once, not twice, but six (!!!) times now. The ones who last year took me back to their hometowns for Spring Festival last year, bringing me into the most intimate of family holidays. You are two of the most hardworking, hospitable, and humorous people I’ve ever met. I don’t know how you do it. Your family is beautiful. I can never ever thank you enough.

Li Yue:
“Ba di ga la doo dooooo”
You’ve literally doubled in size since I first met you. We clicked then because neither of us could speak Mandarin. Granted, you were barely 2 years old so you had an excuse. I was just unprepared. We click now because your energy could infect a rock and get it to play with you.
You’re a Snapchat superstar. You cling to my arm during car rides. When you speak English, your voice goes up a half-octave. Your hair is bushy and the neighbor doesn’t like it but I enjoy seeing your bedhead when I come out of my room in the morning. You’re loud when I’m playing with you and loud when I want to sleep, but hey, what are kids good for if not noise?
I’ve been so blessed to be your “David GeGe” and I hope I can keep watching you grow up. Even if it means being subjected to a never ending chorus of “ba di ga la doo doo!!!!!”

Li Xian:
“Hey guy”
The house is strange without you. Monday through Friday, when you’re boarding at school, things aren’t quite right. Li Yue gets frustrated she ~only~ has three people to play with (I mean come on, do parents even count?). Your dad is missing his politics discussion partner. Your mom has no one who gets her humor quite like you.
Then on Saturday evenings, the door opens. “Hey guy.” Li Yue runs to the door. Your mom pops her head out from the kitchen; she’s in the middle of cooking that chicken dish that you love so much. Your dad comes in behind you, carrying a suitcase of clothes which he takes straight to the washing machine. You stumble in – I say stumble because by this point Li Yue has attached herself to your leg – and for a few hours the pressure of high school is gone. Every time, it all starts with a simple “Hey guy.”
Thank you for being my translator, my guide, and, of course, my brother. I’ve missed you this summer, but am grateful for the weekends when I could see you. Thanks for helping me out when adults (I’m still a kid ok) try to force me to eat insane quantities of food in the name of hospitality. However, I do not forgive you for being absent when I was force-fed durian. Your mustache is coming along nicely. Thanks for keeping me updated on American pop music. Sorry I can’t play basketball. I promise I didn’t tell your mom about your (not so) secret girlfriend toe years ago – seriously though, it wasn’t me. I don’t know how you get along so well with ever single person you’ve ever met, but  that’s a gift.

I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming.
Stay swaggy, guy.



The End?

What exactly is this the end of? The end of this DukeEngage, obviously. The end of summer 2017, too. I start medical school in 22 days.
The last four years of my life have, more or less, been given to my interest in China. How do these four years fit into the picture of my life as a whole – that’s the question I can’t answer yet. Will these four years be a random side plot chapter that an editor would cut out of a script on my life? No, I won’t allow that. I’ve invested too much here. I have a family here now.

But I’m tethered elsewhere for the near future. By school. By career. By debt. By another equally bright passion. How to bring these two parts of my life together? Looks like my endless pondering on that question won’t be ending anytime soon.

As far as China goes for me, I know this isn’t the end. It’s only an end.



The Thank Yous

Thank you to DukeEngage for this amazing opportunity (times two!).

Thank you to Zhuhai No 9 School for your warm welcome year after year.

Thank you to DukeEngage Zhuhai 2013 and 2017 participants for all of your hard work and support for this incredible program. (Other years are good too I’m sure 🙂 )

Thank you to Hsiao-mei for more than I can possibly say. For your infinite wisdom. For always pushing me to be better. For being my teacher, my boss, my life coach, and everything in between.