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My everlasting homesickness

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A couple of days ago, I walked down Sather Road with my friends to check out the Asian Night Market and was captivated by the piercing aroma of Asian street food. I spent the evening trying a bit of everything, including Taiwanese fried chicken, Thai noodles and sikhye. Not only were all the foods delicious, I was greatly impressed while watching Taekwondo, Chinese Acapella and other amazing cultural performances. 

It was a familiar event for me, one I desperately want to experience again. 

Street markets were a weekly occurrence in my life when I lived in China. Scallion pancakes, tanghulu and all the other delicious Chinese street food was what I filled my stomach with every Saturday morning. Right after, I would check out my favorite mantou (Chinese steamed bun) store and then bring some down the road to my grandparents house. 

I didn’t realize how much I would miss the street markets — seeing all the smoke coming off the different grills or hearing the shouts of dozens of people around advertising their food. But something about walking down Sather Road that night reminded me of how much I missed home. 

The feeling of homesickness is no stranger to me. I’ve been homesick ever since I moved from China to America in the 7th grade. No matter how much I try to convince myself that America is what I should consider to be my home, I can’t just shake away my connection to the country I grew up in. 

When I visited China during my summer before 9th grade, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders as soon as I stepped off the plane. I knew I was home once I felt the unbearable humidity and cigarette smell that immediately hit me in the face — a feeling I spent my childhood dreading but was grateful for in that moment. 

China is the home where I had my first day of school, my first crush, my first 100 on a test and regrettably my first F on a test. But more importantly, it was the last home where my family was all truly together. 

When my family moved back to America, my dad stayed behind to work in China. And when my dad moved back here during the pandemic, my older sister went away to college that following year. 

When I’m homesick and missing China, I’m not just missing the food,the cheap boba or the view I had from the 18th floor of my apartment. I’m missing the last place I was living with all of my family, the last place I felt like I was home. 

I haven’t been able to go back home since my summer before 9th grade, the year right before the pandemic happened. When the flights to China finally started opening up a couple years later, life just kept getting in the way. Whether it was problems with my visa or an important internship I had to secure that summer, I wasn’t able to go visit home. 

It’s been a little over five years since I’ve stepped foot in China. Five years of buying upwards of $6 boba here when it’s only $3 in China. Five years of spending Friday nights out with my friends or at home studying as opposed to the Friday family nights that we designated toward watching TV together in China. Five years of not seeing my cousins, grandparents, aunts and other extended family members I used to see frequently. 

Five years of constant homesickness. 

Although the memories I have of my childhood in China are painful to think about because they remind me of the home I miss so much, holding on to them is the only way to get through it. They remind me of how grateful I should be to have had a home that was filled with love and happiness. 

On days where I miss home, I try to acknowledge the fact that I am growing up and constantly adjusting to new changes in my life. I remember that everyone around me in college is also adjusting to life away from home and probably feeling the same way I am. 

It also helps to appreciate the fact that I live in California, a state with a large Asian population. I never have to feel like I am the only Asian somewhere or feel left out because I look different than everyone else. I don’t need to travel far to eat at Asian restaurants and lack of boba is most certainly not an issue in Berkeley. 

But even with all that, the feeling of homesickness nevertheless lingers around me. 

Unfortunately, I don’t know how long it will be before I get to visit China again. With all my family’s different schedules, it’s hard to come up with a chunk of time we can all take off work or school.

But one day, I and, more importantly, my bank account, will be ready for a long awaited trip to China. When that time comes, I know that the $3 boba, pollution-filled air and street food markets will be right there waiting for me. 

Audrey Zhu writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter