Sometimes I think about how quickly these last 3 years have flown and how today the time is instead passing very slowly. When I received a scholarship to attend a Masters degree in Art History at the China Academy of Art (CAA), I was terrified by the idea of living in China for 4 years. You can only imagine how my mum reacted when I told her. It was a muggy evening of August when I announced to my family that I was going to leave for China that September. I think my mum almost passed out when she heard the news. Four years at the time seemed endless to me and I don’t deny that I left Italy thinking, “I can give up whenever I want, whenever I’m tired of being in China”. I arrived in Hangzhou on a sultry September afternoon, not really knowing what I was going to do.
Megan was the first person I met once I found the dormitory. Her room was right in front of the CAA’s International Office. At that time, she had much shorter hair than now and a broken toe. That afternoon she was really kind and friendly helping me orientating a little in that new universe, too bad that back in 2017 my English was not fluent enough to understand her Californian accent. Since that first meeting, the time has flown fast and I have lived many adventures with her. Megan was one of the most inspiring people to me, and her letter reminded me of how much she has helped me to mature over the past few years. I smile thinking that our friendship was born thanks to some dance classes and to a trip we began planning but never followed through on. We were caught by the thrill of the new life in Hangzhou: the first year in China we were forced by our University to do a dance competition, we also improvised as professional Lindy Hop dancers and we discussed having a trip along the Trans-Siberian. A few days ago, Megan and I realized how often we recall our first year in China, more than the second year.
I cannot forget my first spring in Hangzhou and it’s light scented breeze: days were lasting longer and we were spending entire afternoons sitting on the grass of the tiny garden of our campus in Nanshan Road.
Lulled by the wind, together with the weeds of the weeping willows, we watched the sunset and waited for the long night of dancing barefoot on the green fresh grass to begin. Spring is the best time of the year in Hangzhou and I miss it.
Maybe one day we will meet all together again for that much-discussed but never done journey along the Tran Siberian, how a friendship destined to last a long time began. I could write whole pages on what Megan and I have experienced in these three years, but I prefer to give space to the letter she wrote to me:
Someone had posted a photo on Instagram with a caption reading “quarantine or vacation?”. When I read that I immediately related. It’s an excuse to be a recluse and focus on art and for me finishing up my thesis and preparing to “graduate”, which currently has lost all meaning, seeing as I will not be having a vernissage or an actual graduation. That being said it’s also hard to focus when everything is online now, people have never been on their phones more than they are during this insane global pandemic.
Before I get into the good stuff, let me just fill you in on what my past three years of studying abroad have looked like.
Flash back three years and I am still living in San Francisco. I graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) in 2016. My mentor from SFAI told me about this new program his friend, the headmaster of our program, was recruiting students for, but there was one twist!! The program was in China!!! China?!?! For most Americans, China is such an obscure place. Every time I visited my home in America and told people I lived in China, the reaction was always the same. Incomparable to the reaction I got when telling people I studied in Ireland for a semester. That was normal, but China, wow, what a crazy place to live. Americans tend to be extra racist towards Chinese people specifically. They make a lot of assumptions based off of rumors that are passed down, and what they might see in America. Take for example China town in San Francisco. My freshman year at SFAI I walked through China town on the daily to get to school. The smells that penetrate from the trash filled ground is putrid at times but living in China I have not once I smelt anything remotely as terrible, besides 臭豆腐 (cho dofu, stinky tofu), but that is a story for another time.
Anyways, in August 2017, I landed in Hangzhou, China, and the struggle began immediately. My professor luckily greeted me at the airport and helped me get a taxi to my hostel, where I was staying until the dorms were ready for us to live in. As the taxi drove on the highway through the country side on a very foggy and probably very polluted day, all I could see were very tall gray utilitarian looking buildings. I immediately started to crying, thinking to myself, “What the fuck did I just do?!”
The more time I have to reflect, the more I understand how unforgettable my experience in china really was. Right now I am in the process of completing my entire final semester of studying abroad in China, online in America, which has now been quarantined. Although Americans can be so obsessed with this idea of ‘freedom’ that they forget about the safety and health of themselves and those around them. Meaning many people are crowding the beaches, hikes, and apparently golf courses? Telling themselves that this is just the ordinary flu, and ignoring that it is in fact killing people at extremely fast rates, and not only the older generation but young people as well.
My family and I have been self-quarantining for the past few weeks. I haven’t seen my friends or sister. My sister’s wedding might not even be able to happen at this point. My dad is working overtime everyday. I’m honestly doing okay, I am just busy with my online class, making art, and writing my thesis.
A few minutes ago I was doing a reading for an online film class. The reading talks about time not being linear in a physics sense but in a humanistic sense. This means there is little proof that time is linear but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel linear. If a family member passes, they will not come back and we will grieve for them, we will miss them. In the article, Digital Tarkovsky, Metahaven states;
In physics the distinction between past and future is so doubtful. We think about Albert Einstein after the death of his friend, Michele Besso. ‘Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,’ Einstein wrote in a letter to Besso’s family. That signifies nothing. For us believing physicist, the distinction between past. Present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
In this light, Einstein could have written the letter to Besso himself instead of to his family. But he didn’t, and it is easy to see why. For Besso’s family, their loved one was gone. To physics, this may have meant little. But to human existence, it meant a world of difference. Time has an arrow: Besso’s body would irreversibly disintegrate. He would not come back.
So how does it make any sense? How can time note be linear? Well, the way I think about time, personally, is that even if someone is gone, deceased, or just thousands of miles away, the memories of them still live on. And in that way time is not linear. The reason I felt inclined to write this right now, as I was in the midst of reading this article is because thinking about time in a non-linear manner made me think of my friends in China. The family that we built out of a bunch of pieces that normally wouldn’t have fit together. But when your “home” is one hundred thousand miles away you have to work with what you are given and through that we built irreplaceable friendships.
So here is what I wrote on the side on my reading:
“I miss you guys ❤ It wasn’t always easy and thus the best of friendships grew. Y’all are the realists and I’ve never felt so unapologetically myself. I could cry.”
And oh boy did I cry!!!!! I came to China knowing this was a great time to start fresh, to be the truest me I could be. I worked on being self sufficient and independent while also practicing my socialization skills. I focused on dealing with my anxiety and learning disabilities. I introduced myself as interested in men and women, which I had never had the confidence to do before. I continued to practice my communication skills with friends, professors, and faculty, I stood up for my program to the best of my ability. I struggled, I fell, I got back up, I got hurt, I healed, I made art, wrote my thesis, learned Mandarine, worked my ass off the entire time, but the most important thing I’ve learned from having this extra time by myself to reflect during this crazy pandemic, is that I truly built a family away from home and I am confident they will be in my life forever.
I love you guys so so much and I can’t wait till the day that we meet again.