When I was ten years old, my family went to Dunhuang. It was during summer break, right in that time of year where the sun feels too hot and the air feels too dry. That day, my family and I went to the Mogao Caves. In all honesty, I didn’t really see the appeal of this trip. Tucked inside a vast stretch of desert, the Caves didn’t look anything special to me. It was a couple of rocks and a wooden building placed in the middle of nowhere- big deal. I remember sitting by the creaky wooden staircases, waiting and wondering what could possibly be so special about this place while my mom went to buy tickets. A few minutes later, we had our tickets in hand and were on a tour, following the guide as she led us down a dark pathway and into the first cave. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I felt my voice getting quiet. Looming above me was a giant statue of a Buddha several stories tall and stretching towards the sky, its clay eyes turned towards me as I gazed up. The rest of the caves were just as breathtaking. Needless to say, I came out of this trip both in awe at the caves themselves, and at the fact that I was able to witness such a beautifully-crafted piece of history.

Aside from these few trips to China, however, I didn’t ever really give my heritage much thought. My identity as a Chinese-American wasn’t made a focal point of. As a result, I didn’t either. The few times I did interact with my culture always felt more secondhand. Sure, I was happy with being Chinese, and I really liked visiting China and hearing stories about my family, but I never really knew what to do with these feelings.

This disconnect towards the Chinese side of my identity beyond just surface-level appreciation became more and more apparent as I got older. I started noticing how my friends and classmates always seemed more knowledgeable about Chinese history and culture than I was. In Chinese class, they were always the ones that provided anecdotes towards what we were reading. At parties, they were always the ones talking to the adults with perfect Mandarin. I started feeling like my culture wasn’t a real part of my identity.

And so, I began to change my mentality, actively seeking ways to reconnect with this part of myself. At home, I made an effort to speak more Chinese with my parents. I’d read ancient poems, taking in the way the writers were able to convey vivid sceneries with only a few phrases. I helped my parents make dumplings and watched Chinese shows and participated in calling my grandparents. As time went on, I could feel my skills improving. I was proud of myself, and proud that my efforts were paying off.

A few years ago, my family visited China again. We didn’t go back to Mogao; at this point, they wouldn’t let us. The caves were losing more and more of its original appearance every day. Only a fraction of the original caves are open to the public now.

It may have seemed annoying at first, but I’m really glad I was able to experience Mogao before it got closed. Looking back, I’m also thankful that I took the opportunity to learn more about my culture. Because, just like the Caves, my heritage is the kind of thing that might’ve been lost to time, had I not gone in and taken efforts to restore and reconnect with it.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this essay does not represent the views of the contest organizer CAPA NOVA.
2 thoughts on “Reconnection”
  1. So beautifully written! I am very touched by your thoughts and feelings. Moreover, I am glad that you found that special connection!

  2. I agree with the author’s point of view. “Connection” and “Reconnection” are our magic keys to understand the world and explore the unknown. If each of us can approach everything we don’t understand with a “Connection” attitude, just as the author was shocked by the exquisite historical artifacts in the Mogao Caves, we will surely discover surprises and beauty!

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