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Spring and winter 3,527 kilometers away

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By Lim Qiao Wei | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: Jan 27, 2022

[Malaysia] Lim Qiao Wei, Harbin Institute of Technology

Lim Qiao Wei [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

China is a country that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Chinese culture has played a very important role in my upbringing, whose rich heritage has been passed down from generation to generation in Malaysia until this day, including from the compulsory recitation of the Disciples’ Rules as a child, to the ancient poems as a teenager, and to the eight virtues learned on campus – namely filial piety, fraternity, loyalty, trust, propriety, righteousness, integrity and shame.

Outside of school, many Chinese communities prepare for traditional Chinese festivals, such as making zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival and holding international dragon boat races in Penang. Although due to the epidemic such gathering activities as dragon boat races, Mid-Autumn Festival parties, and ancestor worshipping at Qingming are not possible, I am confident that when the epidemic is over, these traditional Chinese cultural activities will return and will once again show the charm of Chinese culture.

The campus of Harbin Institute of Technology [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The first time I stepped onto the land of China was when I was 16 years old. The plane took off from Penang and my excitement reached its peak when the plane flew straight up into the sky. I remember when I first got off the plane, the sky looked clear, and when I looked up, the sunlight was sprinkled on my body through the gaps in the clouds. The sunlight in spring was more comfortable than in summer, and I felt pretty warm. But on the way to Qingyuan city by bus the weather suddenly turned cloudy. Dark clouds slowly covered the sky and rain began to drip outside the window. The atmosphere inside the window seemed to have been affected by the weather.

The passengers did not say a word, who either played with cell phones or caught up on sleep. It seemed that I was the only one with a restless heart in full anticipation of the upcoming journey. The spring rain came and went quickly. When I arrived at the hotel and dropped off my luggage, it also stopped raining. I wandered around the hotel alone and happened to catch the local elementary school’s dismissing time. I watched the students go in and out of an alley, coming out with some trinkets in their hands.

I curiously followed them in. It was a hutong with a strong human flavor. The big trees at the entrance were thickly-leaved, and the sun shone through the gaps in the leaves without making people feel hot, but just giving enough shade to the people walking in the hutong. Looking from the tree, I saw meat stores, steamed rice noodle roll stores, mahjong parlor and shops. Since it was not yet mealtime, there were not many people in each store. Several uncles in the mahjong parlor were drinking tea as they played mahjong.

The boss of the steamed rice noodle roll store was making Wo Tsai rice noodle rolls, which were very different from Malaysian pig intestine rolls. What attracted me most was the shop with a group of elementary school students gathered in front of the door. Moving closer, I saw that the children were picking out spicy strips and various snacks. Some of them paid together for a large pack of spicy strips and played with their friends while eating on the way home. All of them wore smiles on their faces. I entered the shop and also bought some small snacks.

The boss lady kindly chatted a few words with me and then said I must be from abroad because my Cantonese accent was different from the local’s. After knowing I was not a local, she started to introduce me what to eat and what to play in Qingyuan City and even told me the notorious stores that I should definitely avoid. Later on, I often went to her store to listen to her stories and chat with her. During the chat, I told aunt that there were no spicy strips in Malaysia, and that I could only buy super expensive imported spicy strips when I returned to Malaysia.

It turned out that when she learned I was going back to my country, she gave me a lot of spicy strips for free! The deepest impression I had from that trip was not the food and the beautiful scenery, but the kindness and sincerity of the Chinese people. I still remember the sound of the wind blowing through the trees in the hutong, the rustling of the leaves, the sound of children playing together, and the lady smiling to me at the door and saying, “Hi pretty girl, come in and sit down.”

The campus of Harbin Institute of Technology [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

After I returned to Malaysia I couldn’t forget China. Whether the feeling from the country’s environment or the hospitality of the Chinese people and the convenience of living in China, all made me want to get closer to China. After graduating from high school, I knew my chance to go to study and live in China had come. But at the same time the epidemic which was sweeping the world interrupted my wishes. It was the end of 2019.

I saw on the news that epidemic had broken out in various Chinese provinces and cities and that Wuhan was in lockdown. But I was not able to do anything to provide any substantial help. At that time, fake news flew on social media and people were in panic and helplessness. But with the establishment of the mobile cabin hospitals, Chinese people’s concerted efforts to fight the epidemic and the joint efforts of the medical teams assisting Hubei, China gradually had the epidemic under control.

Chinese economy has recovered, businesses of all sizes have resumed operations, and business orders old and new keep coming in. Although people are busy, it also proves that China has officially come back to the way it was before the epidemic. I guess people must be busy and happy. I can’t return to China due to the epidemic control. I wonder if the rain is the same as the one I experienced on my way from Baiyun Airport to Qingyuan, and if I can also feel the slightly chilly wind blowing on my body after the rain.

After the preparatory education, I regretted that I couldn’t go to Hangzhou to experience the daily life of Hangzhou people, to eat Hangzhou cuisine and to experience the amazing beauty of “There is Paradise in heaven and Suzhou and Hangzhou on the earth.”

The campus of Harbin Institute of Technology [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

I was admitted to Harbin Institute of Technology after the preparatory education, and I am still taught online. The first snow came in Harbin in October. I heard from others that the snow in 2020 came earlier than before, and this snow was the one I had been looking forward to seeing with my own eyes before I enrolled. I had even thought I would drink hot water with my friends to welcome the arrival of the first snow.

But the reality is that I could only look at the snowmen and snow scenes on WeChat and QQ, imagining what snow looks like, and whether it is really a patterned hexagon like in cartoons. Are they the same feeling staying in the snow and staying in a frosted refrigerator? Will eyelashes and hair really freeze when stepping outdoors? With such doubts, I think I would be super excited and moved to experience the first winter after returning to school.

After I return to school, besides completing my studies, I would like to experience the fragrance of lilacs in spring on the campus of Harbin Institute of Technology, go to the morning market with several friends in summer, eat barbecue in evening summer breeze, watch the colors of the mountains in autumn and see how the autumn breeze has dressed the mountains in colorful clothes, and own the experience of the first snow in winter with skiing and skating and drop by the frozen Songhua River. I will live my college life in such a way that I will look back on it with a smile.

The scenery of Jiujiang in East China's Jiangxi. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

After a year of online studying, I find that my love for China has grown rather than diminished. I am looking forward to my life in China, to experience the interesting things that come from the differences between the north and the south. I also miss the taste of Chinese food. I just hope that the global epidemic will decrease soon, the world will be at peace, and I will be able to return to college soon!

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).