The Moon Represents My Heart

Authors: Go Chengdu

2017-02-17

Evening falls and I look out from my apartment in Longquanyi. I gaze at the twinkling skyline on the horizon.
The manifold construction projects springing forth from the ground fill me with an abiding awe. Chengdu is the future and it is being built with each whack of a hammer. The newness, the energy, it all seems so limitless. The de facto capital of western China and the second fastest growing city in the world, Chengdu bounds with a vitality not seen anywhere in the West. There's a sense that something bigger is being forged here, something beyond my comprehension and something that will only grow in its immensity. In the hazy distance, you can barely make out the skyscrapers that draw increasingly close to the heart of the city. In between the concrete canyons, the moon rises.
It's April 2015. I am standing in the chilly nighttime air of a New England evening. I'm at my parent's home, about 40 minutes south of Boston. The pale moonlight reflects off the water and softly grazes my face. I look down at my iPhone. A lilting melody and a sonorous voice emerges from the silence. The words are beyond my understanding, but the meaning shines through. Teng sings about one of the deepest human desires, the desire that we all secretly harbor for a love as enduring and as present as the moon. The love may wax and wane. It may even slip out of sight. But it will always return, as sure as the cycles of the moon. Isn't that the basic desire of the human condition - to love and to know we are loved in return? I am floored by the meaning, the pathos Teng's voice is able to convey. The late 70's music video is charmingly aged and quintessentially Chinese. I listen to the song on repeat for the next hour, watching the moon shimmering on frigid waves as the tide rolls into Duxbury Bay.
Eight months later, I am in a beginner Chinese class in Boston's Chinatown. I am barely able to say my name and get my tones somewhat right. My teacher tells our class that we have a choice to learn one of two songs - one of them is "The Moon Represents My Heart". My vociferous advocacy for "The Moon Represents My Heart" leads to its victory. Over the next few weeks, our class learns this song. Through voice cracks and bad imitative falsettos, I lead the class in weekly renditions of the song. I begin to sing it in the shower before work everyday. I begin to listen to it during my lunch breaks. To me, the song starts to represent the beauty of something visible, yet always slightly out of reach, just like the moon. Having learned that I had been accepted to serve in the Peace Corps in China, China itself came to represent this tangible, but unobtained, beauty. I could see Chengdu on a map in my cubicle and I could learn how to say "Ni hao", but I could never truly come close to understanding the heart of China while in America. China was a glittering lure, a phantasm that I could conceptualize, but could not truly know. I was in its orbit, but I had not landed on its surface.
The wheels hit the ground, the plane parks, and we shuffle off into the humidity of Chengdu in the middle of June. Feeling like a cultural astronaut, I observe how everything is slightly different than I had conceived. The pure rush of living in this country is unlike I have ever felt in my life. I begin to sense that there is a vibrancy in Chengdu that simply isn't present elsewhere in the world. Maybe it is the pandas, maybe its the hot pot, but there is an electricity to this city that I didn't anticipate. When we imagine ourselves in the embrace of a lover, there's a certain stillness to the moment, a certain placidity that our imaginations grant us. In reality, there's a pulsing, breathtaking chaos swirling around the encounter that sweeps us up and renders us incapable of articulation. Being immersed in Chengdu for the first few weeks certainly felt like that ecstatic, orgiastic rush - the streets were brimming with people and goods and smells and sounds that are unlike anything I've experienced in America.
But the heady rush of a new romance wanes with time. Eventually, I found myself less enamored with China than I imagined. Nobody likes to envision the downswings of a newfound romance, the silences after uncomfortable arguments. China was beautiful but it is chaotic and it can be overwhelming. Trying to bridge a linguistic-cultural gap with a poverty of language proved frustrating. There's only so much you can express when your vocabulary is limited to niceties and being able to identify fruits. There was so much I wanted to learn, so much I wanted to experience that I found myself dismayed. This country seemed too big, too old for me to truly know it in one hundred years, let alone two. I wondered if this was the right place for me.
Surely as the moon wanes and waxes, I found myself looking at the rising moon from my apartment in Longquanyi and came to a newfound appreciation - and love - for China. My love has now been tempered by patience and an actual (albeit very small) understanding of this country. Like any enduring love, you learn to navigate the lows and highs with stoicism and perspective. You begin to realize that the beauty you envisioned in your parent's backyard, while not perfectly adherent to the vision you conjured up in your mind, is nonetheless beautiful. You begin to realize that this place is now home - and it has begun to represent your heart.
Luke Cronin is a Peace Corps Volunteer serving at Sichuan Tourism University in Longquanyi. He is a native of Duxbury, Massachusetts, a small coastal town 40 miles south of Boston. He graduated magna cum laude from Boston College in 2015. He will be living in Chengdu for the next two years and is deeply fascinated by the rich and deep culture of the Sichuan province.
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