Now that I’ve settled into this new idea of going home, like clockwork I start to get annoyed with things around me and get a little bit impatient. There are some things about the culture here that infuriate me, but the kind of anger you might have for a loved one who keeps doing bad things to themselves. I honestly can’t stand the pressure that people feel here. Okay, maybe it’s just the reaction that everyone has toward it that gets me fired up. More so than any other culture I’ve experienced, these people are just running around in a vicious wheel that isn’t going anywhere useful and is just killing them in the process. If you’ve ever been to a busy street in New York City, you can close your eyes, forgetting the sound of people, and can feel the energy of the city. More so than other busy streets anywhere else. It’s really amazing. It’s the same in China, except when I close my eyes I can feel the tension in the air. With that said though, there are some people who are brave enough to take a breath and look around them to find out what’s best for them and ultimately the people around them. Some of those people are my closest friends here. One of them recently sent me this picture.
The first moment I lay eyes on it, I’m completely immersed. The way the dull surrounding colors emphasizes that girl’s dress, the way the big objects are contrasted with her small body, and the way she’s ever so slightly off to the left from center. I love photography and this picture is just so subtle and beautiful. Take a look at it yourself and study it and see if it captures you the same way it did to me.
Then, I start to look a bit closer at the picture. I can zoom in a bit on my phone and look at more of the details. I start to look at her and notice her expression looks like she’s almost possessed, like she’s in a dream and being taken there without control. I don’t know where it’s coming from exactly, but all of a sudden I get a deep feeling of nausea in my stomach. I look closer at her feet and notice that if her body was that small, the only way you could still see the tops of her shoes is if she’s really close to the edge of the building. Well, that’s kind of scary, why would she do that just for a nice picture? Then I take a look at her face again, but it just gets fuzzy when I try to get any more detail … Oh my God … I know what this picture is about and what she’s doing. I ask my friend who sent the picture and she confirms my suspicion. This is the last time this girl was seen alive, as right after this picture was taken, she jumped from that building to her death. I’m glad when I realize this that I’m alone because I can barely hold it together. My heart feels this heavy burden, like I was just given this news about a friend. I can’t help but cry for this girl, her family, and the rest of the country.
One of the reasons I pieced this together was because of the conversations I’ve had about this happening to other students. One of my friends, who went to one of the best Universities in China said that this happened in her school 5 or 10 times every year. They even nicknamed one building, “the suicide building”. After hearing this, I was outraged and asked other people if they’d heard of something similar. Unfortunately this story is all too common. The worst part is that people talk about it like it’s something out of anyone’s control. I never heard about any of this happening at my University and yet we still had suicide intervention speakers coming to talk to us. I’ll never forget what one speaker said in my health class. He survived a suicide attempt, jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge, when he was just 17 and said that for an hour he was walking around the bridge crying his eyes out and if just one person had stopped to ask him what was wrong, he probably wouldn’t have jumped. His message to us was just to be there for people and be aware of people around you because you might recognize sometime when you can help someone in a small or big way. It makes me sad to hear that this situation exists here and yet there is no education about prevention, just a bombardment of talk about needing to continue work and become successful because that’s the only way forward.
If there was one way to put into words at why I feel attracted to China, it’s this situation. They have 5,000 years of tradition that teaches the people to understand their minds and body and how to express themselves through multiple different avenues that could be called the different Chinese arts. Yet, it seems as though people are forgetting those lessons and barreling toward the opposite end, with these terrible consequences to show for it all. I think if I start some kind of wellness, therapeutic or healing center, what better place to help people then a place where so many people feel that they have no other option in their lives, but to give up their hopes and dreams for the future. Whether it’s as simple as using the culture as an excuse not to challenge themselves or something as extreme as this girl in the picture, it’s hard to live in a place with this situation unless I’m doing something to make it better.
That really sent me over the edge of being negative about being here. I’m trying my best to digest this in a different way, but I need help from someone else on this one.
That’s when everything changed and will lead me now to witting about happy things. Through a family friend back home, I got in contact with an old professor from Beijing who is now living in the US. She comes back once a year and this time back she gave me a call so that we could go out and get dinner. One evening I travel to her house and meet her on the street before we walk up to her apartment together. I immediately get a good feeling about her, like she has grandmotherly love bubbling up from every pore. We get up to the apartment and her husband meets me and shakes my hand. He has the same wonderful happy old man aura about him. We go into their living room and all sit down. Their apartment is quaint and lovely, I don’t want to leave! Their English is really amazing, which comes as no surprise after I find out they’ve lived in the US for almost 40 years and have grandchildren who know less about their home than I do. We quickly hit it off talking about her mother’s painting, the way China used to be, and how they can’t stand where it’s gotten to now. In my darkest time relating to the Chinese culture, these two come in to save me and turn my gloom into optimism. We share laughs over the same complaints of how people are in the city. They even stop to greet their other elderly friend outside, both of them said hi and smiled right into each other’s faces. I was told by more people than I could count, that when I greet people and smile, they won’t understand because it’s not what they do in this culture. These two also complain about how people don’t pay attention to each other as they go around and then he talked about Beijing in the early 50’s when it was just farmland. I could listen to their stories for days.
We met her brother at dinner and she made him promise that he would take care of me here after they both go back to the US. The dinner was lovely too and we even finished with tea as they said, “there’s no rush just enjoy each other’s company”.
After these experiences I have to admit that I’m still haunted by that girl in the red dress. I can’t get it out of my head. But, I think it’s just a reminder, a sort of motivation, to remember to be aware of people around me, think of ways I can use my skills and experiences to at least help my good friends I’ve made here, always keep really old people, and really young for that matter, in my life, and instead of feeling tension or anger for people who are stuck in the viscous circle, just to remember that compassion, understanding, and love will be the only ways that I can help save the next girl in a red dress.