Monday, June 2, 2008

An Eternity of Happy Memories

“Where did the six weeks go?”

That was the question everybody was asking as we reluctantly packed our bags during our last day in Zhuhai. After an hour of stuffing and weighing the paraphernalia I accumulated over our six-week stay, my bag was finally prepared.

But my heart was not.

At that moment, I don’t think anyone among the fifteen of us was prepared to leave either. As we dragged our heavy bags, only our feet moved; our minds meanwhile, frantically and stubbornly held on to every last bit of our school and home. No one knew why time had to pass so quickly. No one understood why we couldn’t stay forever. No one dared to accept that it was finally over. No one wanted to wake up from the perfect dream.

Even after our airplane landed, we still clutched desperately onto our seats – a feeble attempt at prolonging, even for a few more minutes, the most wonderful and unforgettable journey of our lives.

I intended to write a detailed diary about our six-week exchange program in SYSU the moment I arrived in the Philippines. For one week I tried, but the words would not cooperate. I still believed that when I wake up the following day, I would be back in Room 213, with the friendly faces of my classmates to approach me when I come out of the room, with the warm smiles of our teachers to meet me when we reach the classroom. Putting it to words would bring about a closure to all of that.

Even after finally coming to terms with the truth, I still found it a struggle to write. I was afraid. I was afraid that no prose or poetry can ever paint the colorful memories. I was afraid to reduce such a beautiful experience into mere words. But today, after looking back once more at the pictures and videos of the trip, I realized something… words only reinforce what is already in the heart.

Suddenly I am back to where I was seven weeks ago…

The cool misty air, the lakes and mountains surrounding the majestic campus, the colossal classroom building, the cheap yet delicious cafeterias, the rowdy basketball courts, our warm comfortable classrooms, our lively dormitory... all the places where we left our footprints, all the backdrops where we formed our memories…

And it’s all coming back to me…

I remember forgetting how hungry I was after seeing the SYSU campus for the first time.

I remember how playing "Jack the Killer" became a means for me to get to know my tour-mates' names.

I remember Cai Laoshi frequently knocking on our door late at night to share his intriguing stories.

I remember playing card games and Truth or Consequence until 3 or 4 am.

I remember riding the "yikuai" solar-powered golf cart whenever we get tired of the long walk back to our dorm.

I remember that one wet day in our Zhaoqing field trip when everybody’s shoes got soaked.

I remember watching movies while we curled under the blankets, guarding ourselves from the mosquitoes and the cold.

I remember the small trips to the supermarket and the long, dark walks to Rongyuan Room 519 to play DotA with our Chinese friends.

I remember challenging SYSU students to play basketball, and complaining later on how violently intense they play.

I remember the shopping trips to Gongbei and to Wanzai, and how we all wanted a shirt with a Chinese flag.

I remember the Cantonese curse words and the “Oh Yeahs!” in the bus.

I remember the funny class skits, the rowdy class games, and the “pambobola” sentences that we always use during discussions.

I remember the painstaking shufa classes and the naptime Culture classes.

I remember the “yao la de ma?” barbecue, the xiaolongbao, the lamian, the chaofan, and the chicken caf.

I remember how I learned not only Chinese, but also biking, the proper way of walking, and trashtalking.

I remember, I remember…

And just like that, six weeks doesn’t seem short anymore, when I realize that it has enough unforgettable memories to last a lifetime.

I will never forget how warmly the SYSU students greeted us during our welcome party.

I will never forget the three-point shootouts with our Chinese friends, and how the loser had to treat everybody with tangshui.

I will never forget how I slept so deeply that I failed to show up for class, and even locked out my roommate.

I will never forget my concerned teachers who tirelessly looked for me all around the campus in my first and only attempt to cut class.

I will never forget bargaining until the vendors screamed and cried, whether it was a T-shirt, a flag, a PSP or a laptop.

I will never forget how we joined the university-wide singing contest, made Tonghua sound like a broken chant, yet still get applause for being Filipino students.

I will never forget the school choir who dedicated three songs to us with their angelic voices.

I will never forget the 31 bottles of Tsingtao beer we drank with the French exchange students, and the drunken sessions in the days that followed.

I will never forget studying until 4 am for our Chinese exams, because after finishing a lesson we had our PSP “xiuxi time.”

I will never forget the the kalabitan and sungayan when posing for pictures, lengxiaohua on the way to the bookstore, the trashtalking during Tekken, the spoon that cannot be flushed, the tissue paper race, the laundry room mishaps, holding a wet maopi brush while running to the Calligraphy class a mountain away.

I will never forget the jokes and stories we shared, the teasing we endured, the laughter we enjoyed, and the tears we cried.

Most of all, I will never forget the friendship that went through times of happiness and sadness, solemnity and insanity, wealth and poverty.

As I think of my friends, and recall their smiling faces, I can’t help but smile, too - the wistful, hopeful smile that can only come after the best of times.

I wish that we could watch a movie under the blankets again, play Tekken before the final exams again, climb the mountain to the library again, drink tangshui again, play DotA and watch NBA in room 519 again, sit in the Chinese students’ classes again, eat the 3.5 yuan xiaolongbao again, haggle prices at Gongbei again. We still had so many plans. If only we could relive every memory…

I really miss Zhongshan Daxue, our school and home. I miss all the people I met in the trip. I miss every moment of the six weeks that we were there.

Leaving something close to the heart is the most difficult thing. But as I move on, I am still happy; for these six weeks have been the best and most unforgettable six weeks of my life.

“Where did the six weeks go?” I have an answer now.

Into our hearts, as an eternity of happy memories.