This week’s challenge: Memory. Recall an event, experience, or object that holds special meaning for you.
My sleepwear consists of old T-shirts and the first T-shirt in the pile is a white one that says: “I ♥ BJ”.
Flashback to 2008 when the “I ♥ NY” T-shirts were cool. I didn’t actually love New York – never even been to NY – but for some reason, I wanted a shirt like that. When I went to Hong Kong in 2009, my sister and I both got “I ♥ HK” shirts and I would proudly wear it out. Fast-forward to my high school graduation in 2011, I found myself flying to China after I got accepted into a summer exchange program at Beijing’s University of Language and Culture.
I got accepted into the program through a scholarship, so everything including the Mandarin course and the dormitory accommodations were paid for. All I had to do was pay for transportation and my own food/play expenses. My high school friend, Elizabeth, entered the program with me and together, we became roommates and enrolled in the same course. First week in Beijing, Elizabeth and I bought two white T-shirts that said, “I ♥ BJ”, and wore it to climb the Great Wall of China. We took dozens of photos with those shirts on, looking like hardcore tourists and naively displaying sexual innuendos. When our friends at home saw the photos, they laughed hysterically and even more at our oblivion.
My Mandarin improved significantly during the program and we met a class of wonderfully diverse exchange students from all over the world – Italians, Germans, French, Macanese, and more. It was the first time I lived without my parents or any type of guardian for so long. I got to decide what to eat for dinner, where to go on the weekends, how late I could stay up for, what to buy – I was an adult!
But Elizabeth and I were just 18. We lived frugally, calculating exchange rates in our minds and carefully monitoring our spending and budgets in case an emergency happened. We weren’t sure how to wash our clothes without a washing machine. We surely didn’t follow a balanced diet, had never been inside a pub, had no internet because we didn’t want to pay for it, and why the hell did our mosquito bites swell up? Beijing was a confusing, scary, and exciting adventure for the two of us but we managed to find our way.
To my mother, the “I ♥ BJ” T-shirt is just another shirt to add to the laundry pile. To my friends, it’s a joke. To me, it is a time when I had freedom in a foreign land, far away from all the people who normally looked after me. It was a time when I had to learn to take care of myself and another person. It reminds me of my first great adventure, childhood innocence, and when I wear it to sleep, it acts as a reminder that I can easily wake up one day in a different bed with a different view in a different country. I can go anywhere I want and fall in love with any country I want.
I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question.
― Harun Yahya