Shanghai World Expo 2010>My View
UPDATED: July 6, 2010 Web Exclusive
'Home Is Where My Heart Is'

Interviewee: Cheng Xin, female, International Office, Renmin University of China

Place of birth: Taiyuan, Shanxi Province

Current residence: Beijing

Cities and countries visited: Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Suzhou, Zhouzhuang, Jiangyin, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Changsha, Guizhou, Zunyi, Guilin, Kunming, Xishuangbanna, Dalian, Harbin, Datong, Pingyao, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Macau (China); France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, the United States, Korea, Canada, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Ireland, Mexico, Australia, and Costa Rica

Understanding of "Better City, Better Life": If a city overflows with warmth, patience and tolerance, people will have no trouble calling it home. If it is of a manageable size and comes with modern amenities, even better. My ideal city would also have a clear lake as the final touch to bring people and nature into perfect harmony

Oral history:

I was born and grew up in Taiyuan. Now I reside and work in Beijing. Most of my life as a child or as an adult was spent in these two cities. However, there are other places where I have been as more than just a fleeting visitor. Shanghai, Durham in Britain and Paris in France have left indelible marks on my memory as cities where I stayed as a student.

At 19, carrying my luggage and a desire to see the world, I said goodbye to my parents and left my native town for China's biggest city, Shanghai, to attend college. Over the next four years, I acquired the knowledge and skills that would sustain my future career. My professors impressed me with their academic rigor and devotion to teaching. I also enjoyed the company and competition of my overachieving peers.

For someone alien to China's largest metropolis, the highest honor the locals can bestow on you is that "you look Shanghainese," which is their way of acknowledging your not-so-glaring lack of refinement. When the tables are turned and a Shanghai native is assessed by people elsewhere, "you don't look Shanghainese" is praise in disguise for not being so unbearably snobbish. I think I like Shanghai for its attention to detail, modernity and efficiency. But I never really felt like I belonged there. As someone from the north, I tend to like Beijing more for its majestic aura and inclusive posture. That is why I moved to Beijing after graduation.

In 2000, I received a scholarship from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education to attend the summer "Asia-Europe Program" at Sciences Po in Paris. The purpose of the program was to help young people from Asia learn about the process of European integration and the diverse aspects of EU societies.

The 60 days we spent in Paris were marked by intense classroom sessions, heated group debates and essay writing against tough deadlines. But what is most memorable are the friendships the 20 young Asian scholars in the program forged. Our backgrounds were diverse, with no more than two people coming from the same country. We also had very different prior academic specializations. We learned to work together, sharing and helping each other out by contributing our own unique strengths. Long after the program ended, we still keep in frequent contact. We all feel that what we learned from each other outweighs the things we were taught in the classroom.

Paris was an important stop on my life journey not for its luxury items or joie de vivre, but for the sense of warmth and security it evokes when I think about the Asian friends I made there. The values I learned in Paris about mutual appreciation and assistance will serve me in a lifelong way.

For 2003 and 2004, I was assigned to Durham University in the UK to teach the Chinese language in its Department of East Asian Studies. I also studied for my master's degree in management science there. Needless to say, multitasking as both a teacher and a student was physically and mentally challenging.

Beijing was then already a prospering international metropolis in its own right, offering all kinds of material amenities, and I own an apartment in Beijing. In the UK I was given accommodation as a teacher rather than as a student, but still the legacies of an aged empire could be found in every corner and crevice of my abode. My stay in Durham was only a year long, but I am still overwhelmed with emotions when I think about how nice the local people were.

To economize my time, I only went shopping once a week, so I was overloaded each time I returned from the supermarket. I would stop by a river on my way home not so much for a rest so much as to appreciate the beauty of a church built in the 12th century and listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Harry Potter's second sequel was there to shoot on location. Sometimes I also got a glimpse of the university's rowing team in practice. On one such trip, an old lady saw me putting down my fully packed shopping bags. She called to me, handed me a pile of paper napkins and asked me to use them to soften the weight of the packages on my hands. The gentle rays of a setting sun danced in her silver hair and sparkled in her smiling eyes. Under her tender gaze, I picked up my bags and continued the walk. Those kind words formed a picture more splendid than the scenery in front of my eyes.

At smaller stations in the UK, trains only stop for two to three minutes. I often wondered how senior citizens could manage to get on or off in such a short time. It turned out that my worry was unnecessary when I saw a young man at the front of the line waiting to board open his arms to help an old and slow-moving passenger land securely on the platform. I only saw his back, but I was touched by a most beautiful soul.

I recently went to Australia's Gold Coast for an international conference. I returned to my hotel room at the end of the first day and found on the desk a written note. The handwriting was neat, and I could tell it was from someone quite young. "Dear Renmin University Professor, welcome. I wish you a happy stay and a safe journey." It was signed "a student from China." I guessed that the hotel worker cleaning my room was a student from China and that he or she saw the invitation letter sent to me from the conference organizer on the desk and then knew where I came from. The note warmed my heart and also moved my colleagues on the same trip. On the last day before I checked out, I left in the room a university souvenir and placed an anonymous note on top of it. I wrote, "Thank you for your greetings. I wish you good health, academic success and happiness for every day you spend in Australia."

That was my second visit to the Gold Coast, a surfers' paradise. The first visit was in winter and the second in autumn. Speaking of weather only, I didn't feel like I was in paradise because I don't care for cold seasons. But all it took to bring me back to spring was that simple handwritten note. We didn't do any sightseeing there because our schedule was too tight, but that heartwarming, nameless encounter more than made up for it.

If a city overflows with warmth, patience and tolerance, people will have no trouble calling it home. If it is of a manageable size and comes with modern amenities, even better. My ideal city would also have a clear lake as the final touch to bring people and nature into perfect harmony.

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